With poet Rahat Indori’s sudden demise, the strong emotions that emerged brought to the fore the vital connect between poets and the masses. In fact, the moment news came in of his sudden death in Indore, his verses were read aloud by the young and the old , by the rebel and also by the submissive, in the different cities and towns and locales of the country.
The fact that stands out is that till date poets rule and hold sway over our emotions and our very being! With that in the backdrop, how I wish the Progressive Writers Movement gets revived and re-started! Maybe, the fascist forces stand countered to a great extent if this movement spreads out, from Kashmir to Kerala. After all, the Progressive Writers Movement wasn’t confined to any particular language or locale.
Its strength lay in its strong base among the poets and writers from the different regions right from the very first session of the PWM chaired by Munshi Premchand. This significant fact can’t be overlooked that PWM was the very offshoot of the anti- colonial struggle; with that, it expressed the aspirations of the exploited masses. It was a movement for the masses!
Of course, in the 1930s we were not as divided as we are today, with an ongoing partitioning of psyches. But in this situation, the poets of the day can perhaps rescue us from the present mess, from the horrifying political build-ups.
Gulzar Sa’ab, the magnificent poet is all set to celebrate his 86th birthday on August 18!
It’s rare to come across a poet whose eyes relay poetry. Look towards Gulzar saab’s emotion laden eyes. There’s something about his eyes, his very personality that makes a deep impact. And it becomes stronger, as one begins to read his verse, together with his views.
The more I read his verse I am left amazed by the expanse, that sheer sensitivity. Also, there’s that stark simplicity in his words and verse.And that instant connect which he strikes with the reader. No wonder, his fans are spread out, right from our land to those other lands. After all, poets don’t believe in boundaries or barriers.
As I write, I have been sitting thinking of the very first time when I met Gulzar saab. It was an experience in itself. I had first met him around the summer of 2005, for an interview for a national daily. He was putting up at New Delhi’s India International Centre, so it was decided that I meet him over breakfast at IIC’s tea lounge.
And within minutes as our conversation moved towards the Kashmir Valley, Gulzar saab was quietly crying and getting all too emotional. Telling me, “The Kashmir Valley has always fascinated me …fascinated me to such an extent that Raakhee and I decided to go to Srinagar for our honeymoon …Rakhee and I, would often tease our daughter Bosky that she was conceived there, in the Kashmir Valley . In Srinagar we’d stayed at the Oberoi hotel and the garden had two majestic Chinars. I called them Badshah and Begum, or Jehangir and Noorjehan,... I saw them again in these recent years and they looked so forlorn …Kashmir is an integral part of my emotions, it’s a region close to my heart. I was earlier even planning to make a film on the Valley. I’d even named the film – it was to be titled ‘Iss Vaadi Mein’ and it was based on Krishna Chander’s short story collection ‘Kitaab Ka Kafan’, and it dealt with two lovers in the two parts of the Valley and how they try to overcome the military barriers. Sadly, the film could not be made as the Kargil War had broken out.”
And about seven or eight years back when Gulzar’s story collection - ‘Half a Rupee Stories’ ( Penguin ) was released in New Delhi , I couldn’t attend its launch as one of my cousins had met with a fatal road accident in Uttar Pradesh so I had to rush there .On getting back it was touching to see that Gulzar saab has dedicated one of his short stories in this collection, to me , with this accompanying one- liner : “We shared a lot of Kashmir though neither of us is from there.”… And in another of his books - ‘Footprints on Zero Line - Writings on The Partition ‘ ( Harper Collins ) I was again very happy and surprised to see a short story dedicated to me .
During the course of another interview, Gulzar ssab had told me that Kashmir was there in his thoughts and he had even said that if Salim Arif would ever decide make a film on the Kashmir Valley he could do the script and story for that film …But he had also hastened to add that now , at this stage of his life, it is writing and only writing that’s centre stage, “There are several books in my head and I want to complete them …In fact, writing is very important. It is a shock absorber. It has the capacity to absorb all upheavals, shocks, pains, all the conditions you're going through. It is like driving along a road which could be uneven or bumpy, but writing becomes your vehicle, and it takes you along and you go atop it, as though you were riding a tiger. …I have been witnessing some stark realities since my childhood. When the Partition took place, I was very young but I could see and sense the pain around me, how thousands of people went through that upheaval. I have been witnessing realities and I have been writing on them all along.’
And Gulzar saab is one of those Bollywood personalities who till date writes and reads and converses in Urdu. With that in the background I’d asked him this- in the times we are living in, is it tough to be speaking in Urdu? Did you ever suffer from a complex on account of this?
“ No, never. I have always been very comfortable with Urdu. In fact, the only time I’ve suffered from a complex was from the fact I couldn’t complete my graduation. For a long time this bothered me as in those days a Degree meant a lot, but I couldn’t complete my graduation because of financial constraints. And, perhaps, to make up on that front I took to reading and writing. In fact, reading has been my passion right from childhood .’’
Gulzar saab had also told me that he was translating Rabindranath Tagore’s books for children. He had also detailed the significance and importance of Tagore’s writings in his own life - “after the Partition, our family shifted to old Delhi's Subzi Mandi locality . Somehow, very early on, I took to reading and became a voracious reader, borrowing books from a local shop. One day, I got hold of Tagore's ‘Gardener’. Reading that changed the entire course of my life and thinking — it could be called the turning point of my life.”
And whilst on children and childhood, he had also detailed – “Today we are snatching away childhood of our children by putting children too early into formal education, we are shrinking that crucial phase of life. My worry is that in the coming years, children could get extremely lonely, especially in urban locations.”
I leave you with these lines by Gulzar sa’ab. This verse is titled ‘Zero Line’ from his book ‘Footprints on Zero Line-Writings On The Partition’( Harper Collins) :
Walking up to Wagah with measured steps/
When I came to stand at the Zero line/
My shadow fell in Pakistan!/
The sun was behind me/
And my abbu was standing in front/
He saw me/
Resting his stick on the ground/
He smiled and said,/
‘When I had left my body there/
I came back home, Punni!’
Abbu used to call me ‘Punni.’/
‘I had hoped you would come,/
For you had not received the news of my death/
I knew you would come to bid me farewell!’/
Startled, the moment paused/
He tapped the ground with his stick/
Stretching his hand, he said:/
‘Come, let us go to Dina!’
My friends who had come to receive me at Wagah/
Held me by the hand and took me to Lahore/
In the din of the city no voices came back to me/
But I could see a trail of silence/
That led to Dina …