When nostalgia comes wrapped in words.
There is so much to say that is left unsaid
if you were here I would speak
you were so despondent on my account
Fearing my poetry would drown me some day
I am still afloat, father
No longer have I the desire to return to shore
the shore you left so many years ago
With those angst-defining lines of not being able to share his success with his father, Sardar Makhan Singh Kalra – accompanied by his photograph n turbaned livery – Gulzar begins his conversations with noted documentary film-maker and writer Nasreen Munni Kabir in ‘In the Company of a Poet’. Captured in real-time which included one-on-one sessions and Skype chats, this book of 200-odd pages has the poet, lyricist and writer talking, and having a chat.
And thankfully, as the cover promises, it is a conversation with Kabir interrupting, interjecting and engaging her subject just enough, at the right moments. And while I found the first few pages with a little bit of too much information to process, it was smoother once he started tracing his childhood, talking of his innate attachment to fabric of all kinds by virtue of his father having owned a fabric shop in Dina (in Pakistan now)and the other defining moments of his childhood. The reader is (almost) privy to the comfort level that sets the tone of the conversation as he retraces his position in the family after having lost his mother ak, compares himself to a “clay art object that initially enjoys every one’s attention and then comes in the way…It somehow doesn’t fit anywhere… Finally when it is put outside the house, it runs away (page 21).”
What follows is candid admission of how he dealt with the huge physical gulf that existed with his father who would be away mostly on work to Delhi, sleeping in the building storeroom from where began his reading obsession – a stall-owner across the road from the storeroom lent unlimited books for four annas a week from where began his Tagore fixation – to his bonding with his siblings who were in fact his step-brothers a step-sisters.
And Kabir does a fantastic job of steering Gulzar through his personal history. From his first job at a garage in Vichare motors in Bombay’s Byculla area to his brainstorming sessions at Bimal Roy’s studio and his bonding with lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi, college friend Sagar Sarhadi and Punjabi poet Sukhbir, she prods him gently enough to bring it all. He fondly recounts his Pancham days, the quirky tunes and compositions during his association with the composer, his love for Ghalib. And it is towards the end he admits that writing for children and not cinema any more gives him greater pleasure.Sad, because I was looking forward to more films from the master story-teller (his last film was Hu-Tu-Tu in 1999).
Gulzar’s love for children is a recurring theme through the book. First, it centres around his daughter Meghna (how he wrote a story on her birthday every year till she turned 13) and then progressively towards his grand-son, Samay. One can almost see the twinkle in his eyes as he talks of his little prince, translating Tagore for children and the difficult times in which most children are growing up.
Learning to Skype, enjoying tennis & Roger Federer, his asocial existence – the London-based Kabir has captured all that. She also gives us the man who has no illusions and sums it up in a pithy manner when he says, “I am not a star. If I draw crowds at Jaipur it is because I work in films and not because I am a poet.”
Gulzar’s assistant Kutty Saheb has been with him for 20 yrs. Sunder has been driving the poet for 40 years. He now drives his grandson around.
When you are through with the 200 pages of this delightful one, you know why they have been around.
For Gulzar is a man of all seasons. And all reasons.
P.S.: My only grouse – wish there were an audio CD of select conversation/s with the book!
Publisher: Rainlight Rupa; Publication Year: 2012; Language: English; Binding: Hardcover; Pages: 208 Pages
This review originally appeared here