(India, 1936)   

Gulzar is a significant presence in the world of Urdu poetry — a fact sometimes obscured by his celebrated career in Hindi cinema as filmmaker, scriptwriter and lyricist. His books include five collections of poetry, two books of short fiction, seventeen books for children and six published screenplays. His poems have been translated into several Indian languages. He recently translated a hundred poems by noted Marathi poet, Kusumagraj, into Urdu and Hindi. In acknowledgement of his contribution to literature, the Sahitya Akademi Award was conferred on him in 2002. He was also the recipient of the Padma Bhushan (a prestigious Indian civilian decoration) in 2004.

Born Sampooran Singh in Deena (in contemporary Pakistan), Gulzar moved to India after Partition — a disruptive transition that was to have a lasting impact on his poetry. He spent his childhood in Delhi, relocating to Mumbai in the 1950s, where he began working in a garage. His interactions with members of the Progressive Writers Group radically altered his life. He became an assistant to filmmaker Bimal Roy and in 1964 won nationwide success with his lyric, ‘Mera Gora Rang Lele’, in the film, Bandini. He went on to write over fifty film scripts, and directed several award-winning films himself.

The four poems in this edition (two previously unpublished) reveal a capacity for lyricism that never turns baroque, a direct, intimate tone that doesn’t lapse into the sentimental. The romantic poet persona (a pervasive Urdu literary archetype) is clearly not worn as a self-conscious mantle. If “the alleyways” of his poetry “are frequently damp” (by the poet’s own admission), there is also the uncluttered joy of ‘Welcome’ where the poet concludes with the quiet, non-flamboyant line: “Come again/ like this/ and engulf/ my room.”

As theatre director and translator Salim Arif points out, “Gulzar does not follow the conventions of nazm [an Urdu poetic form usually written in rhymed verse], but gives his feelings and images as honest an expression as he can.” If his critics were initially skeptical of his disregard for the proprieties of syntax and metre, they were later silenced by the coherent aesthetic rationale underlying his seemingly unfettered explorations.

There is no posturing in these poems. The register is unaffected and simple, unvarnished by rhetoric and artifice, the line lengths following the dictates of an emotional logic. “There are no sweeping statements in his poetry,” says Salim Arif, drawing attention to Gulzar’s ability to respond to his world through a sensitive, deceptively guileless poetics.

In an interview with Salim Arif (not included in this edition), Gulzar admitted that the literary establishment has often regarded him with suspicion “as a film songwriter who fancied himself a poet”. In his own view, however, the primacy of poetry was never in question: “I did start from literature, but met a maikhana (tavern: read films) on the way. Still I kept writing…”

Few would question the integrity of that literary commitment today.

© Arundhathi Subramaniam

Selected Bibliography

Raat Pashmine Ki (Urdu and Hindi), Rupa& Co., New Delhi, 2002
Triveni (Urdu and Hindi), Rupa& Co., New Delhi, 2001
Chand Pukhraj Ka (Urdu), Rupa& Co., New Delhi, 1995, (& Asateer Publishers, Lahore,1993)
Kuch Aur Nazme (Hindi), Radhakrishna Prakashan, New Delhi,1980
Jaanam, Vanagi Publications, New Delhi, 1962


Mirza Ghalib - A Biographical Scenario (in Urdu, Hindi, and English), Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2005
Ravi Paar & Other Short Stories, (Hindi and English), Rupa Harper Collins, New Delhi

gulzaronline: A website on Gulzar featuring latest updates on his work, detailed filmography and song info, nazms, interviews etc. Website with information on the poet
The Little Magazine:  ‘An Address’, translation of a Hindi poem by Gulzar
Muse India:  Translations of two poems by Gulzar
The Tribune: An interview with Gulzar - “I Wanted To Live Literature”


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