‘Pluto: Poems’: In which Gulzar touches the often dismissed and fragile space between the heart

Monojit Lahiri reviews Bollywood’s versatile poet Gulzar’s amazing exploration of the cosmos in the ‘Pluto Poems’, beautifully translated by the gifted Nirupama Dutt

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Monojit Lahiri

I have known Gulzar for over four decades – first met him at the premiere of Mere Apne (1971) and then through my cousin, famed film publicist of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, Colin Pal & of course, family friend Hrishikesh Mukherjee – and the funny part is that the man hasn’t changed one bit!

Blending scholarship with market forces, an acute sense of curiosity and concern about the human condition, a non-negotiable communion with both heart and mind that dictates words that touch the soul, a world view that salutes the past while energetically and enthusiastically embracing the future, a total sense of artistic integrity and single-minded belief that words must be respected because they are agents of change & create magic, living as they do in a special, sublime world of their own … Gulzar continues to remain a class act, hymned & celebrated by anyone with sensibilities & leaning towards nuance, layers & unopened windows of the mind … Poet, author, lyricist film-maker, screenplay writer, Gulzar remains a hugely respected figure in the world of cinema, art & literature.

A towering presence in the area of Indian literature, he is also rated as one of the finest Hindustani/Urdu poets with a collection that includes Pukhraj, Raat Pasmini Ki, Triveni, Yaar Julahe. His English translations include Selected Poems, Neglected Poems and Green Poems. He has also written several short stories and enchanting stories for children. This collection – Pluto Poems - emerged from a lamentation of the planet falling off the constellation, triggering verse of a kind only Gulzar can pen.

But to begin at the beginning – what is Poetry? Is it a form of delirium, an opate to dull the pain of living, a prayer, incantation, gentle nostalgia for a lost world of innocence, an anguished cry from the heart … or a new explosive to blow up an imbecile world, a clarion call to a change of heart and mind? Gulzar, for his turn, sees it “as a kind of energy that sits within you at some stage in your life. If you bring a pot of water to full boil, the pot will inevitably fill with steam. With the build up of steam, the lid will start to rattle because it needs an outlet. This inner energy can flow into anything … music, sculpture, painting – for me, it was writing poetry”.

In Nasreen Munni Kabir’s wonderfully engaging & insightful book In Conversation with Gulzar, the poet confesses that his leaning towards poetry didn’t get his conservative father to do handstands. “He did not believe I would make a living as a writer. Yeh Bhaiyon se udhaar mangega aur Gurdwara ke langar mein khaana khayega!” was his sweeping observation. He has other interesting things to share too.

While he believes that things have changed – for the better – for the artist with musicians & painters going beyond All India Radio and hoarding painting, the poet’s place, tragically, hasn’t moved beyond mushaira. His explanation of his writing is also very charming. “When I write a poem, I first read it aloud to myself to see whether the emotional experience I am trying to convey is coming through. I put the poem away and do not look at it for a while. So, when I read it again, I hope to have some degree of objectivity and only then can I tell if the words are communicating what I intended to say. Before a story or poem is finished, I must believe it has ripened … haan pak gayi!”

The Pluto Poems certainly have ripened and it shows from his Note on Pluto – which prefaces the collection –where the ‘orphaned’ aspect comes centre-stage, gently driving the soul of this exquisite bunch of gems, celebrating what the excellent translator Nirupama Dutt describes as “the metaphor of exile”, through the sensitive prism of a heightened poetic impulse. To the purist and rigid, the English translation may appear a tad lustre-less, but embraced in the larger spirit of the endeavour, it is likely to attract many more positives.

Gulzar’s charming wit flows from his first stroke – Verification, where he charmingly & categorically indicates his date of birth! I have a few personal favourites …. Sometimes, Tell him, Lost & Found, Nowhere to go, Tattoo, Sunlight, Dreams, Cracked Cup, Crossings, Blank Page, My Friend, the Poet … and of course “If it bleeds, it is but a wound, otherwise every hurt is a poem.”

The beauty of his poetry lies in his uncanny ability of tilting the scales of reality towards some transcendent equilibrium and entering an illuminating space that touches the heart while caressing the soul.

It is amazing that time has not tranquilised his passion, emotions, sentiments & feelings even of faraway and long ago and they continue to retain a seductive, lyrical edge that both cuts & cures. It is poetry that offers violence from within to protect us from violence from without.

Add to this glorious experience, his sketches – God, I honestly never knew the man sketches, but I guess surprise and delight is his USP! – and this Harper Collections collection is indeed a steal for anyone who treasures word-pictures that race to the frequently neglected, ignored and dismissed (fragile) space between the heart.

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