Prakash K Ray is the Editor, bargad.org. A version of this article has appeared in The New Indian Express (Feb 3, 2013).
Gulzar is one of the most versatile and respected creative personalities of our times. From poetry to lyrics for films, from ghazals to writing for children, from writing screenplays and dialogues to directing films- he has done all and received accolades, appreciations and, of course, awards. For last fifty years, he has been a constant presence in the fields of Indian literature and cinema. There are several books and articles on his ingenious and artistic contributions and two biographies- one by his daughter Meghna who is centre of his life, and another by Saibal Chaterjee, a veteran journalist with whom and noted filmmaker Govind Nihalani Gulzar edited a voluminous encyclopedia on Hindi cinema. We also have numerous interviews of him in our midst to know about his personal life and prolific career. Nasreen Munni Kabir’s book ‘In the company of a poet’ consisting of her conversation comprising many long sessions with Gulzar tells us about his prodigious journey in his own soulful style. The very nature of the book makes it tremendously interesting and enriching.
Kabir has done tremendous research on Hindi films for many years and has come out with several important books and documentaries. ‘In the company of the poet’ is the latest edition to her vast corpus in which she converses with Gulzar where he unfolds the complex and enigmatic inner layers of his life and works. Kabir just let him talk, but, at times, she brings him back on the particular aspect if he drifts away, and when needed, she gently provokes him to open up. The entire presentation of this interaction leads the reader to believe that one is also present in the some corner where this conversation is taking place.
Gulzar is known to surprise his readers and audiences with his unique use of imagery and words in his writings as well as in his films. And he does so in this book in his own ways. The first surprise is to know that the most of the free-wheeling as well as intense conversation was done through Skype, an internet tool for video chat. Even Kabir was amazed. Gulzar told her that it was A R Rahman who downloaded the application in his laptop and taught him to use. And then we know that this 78 years old genius is very much in the tune of the contemporary. That is why he could pen songs like ‘Aankhen bhi kamaal karti hain, personal se sawal karti hain’ or ‘Dil to bachcha hai ji’.
The conversation informs us about his childhood in Dina (now in Pakistan) and school days in Delhi in details. In Delhi, he used to sleep alone in his father’s storeroom after having dinner with family living in a separate house. To ‘pass time at night’, he started borrowing books from a nearby stall on rent and thus, his ‘obsession with reading began’. In high school, he started to write and also got published in Urdu newspapers occasionally. His father wanted to see him as a successful businessman, so he was sent to Bombay to join his brother’s business. However, he was determined to be a poet and writer. The book records his memories of his father and the large family with subtle warmth and profound reflection, and it is revealed to the readers that these years are crucial in the formation of compassionate and graceful Gulzar- the person and the poet.
With the same intensive contemplation, Gulzar talks about his seniors, friends, contemporaries, colleagues and juniors from literature and films with whom he has worked or interacted. While talking about individuals and events, he takes us on a romantic-historic journey of Bombay cinema with tremendous inputs on the changing environs. But, everywhere a conscious and enlightened poet is present who tells us about the literary scenario of the country with deep insights. Amidst all this, Gulzar, the person, is continuously present talking about his wife Rakhee, daughter Meghna aka Bosky and her husband Govind, and grandson Samay who goes to the park to play with him every evening. He talks about his staff and acquaintances beyond the literary and film arena with equal respects. Gulzar also talks of his daily routine and his life-long love for tennis with great enthusiasm. And we now know that he loves Gavaskar, Tendulkar and Dhoni too.
His relationship with Meena Kumari and the much-talked rumour of diary of her verses are also part of the conversation. Talking at length about the celebrated actress, he reveals his plan to publish a book consisting of her notes. Gulzar also tells us about pending books and scripts, as well as about his association with the welfare of hearing-impaired people, and mentions about those working with him.
When writings on Indian cinema is either confined to stars or based on the imported theories, this book is a great addition. The conversation may indicate that it focuses on Gulzar, the poet, however, it deciphers the grand persona of the legend and provides niche entry points to the vastness of his oeuvre.