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  • Writer's pictureShailja Chandra

When time stood still… My moments with Gulzar…

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

(As published in Indian Downunder on Feb 1 2013)

Shailja Chandra, host of radio program Voice of India – Monika Geetmala (FM89.7, Sundays 10 am – 3 pm reminisces her meeting with her idol Gulzar at his residence in Mumbai

Car rolls onto ‘dhadkati’, pulsating roads of the maximum city, Mumbai. Not blinking…on my way to Boskiyana, where he, Gulzar, lives, breaths, reads, writes, creates!

Meeting Gulzar would be as easy as breathing – I have known him, read him, heard him, felt him since my teen years, but on my way to Boskiyana on this November 22,  2012, my breathing quickens, my hearts beats faster – I feel alive.

11:30 am, the moment, the ‘lamha’ touches me – I bend and touch his feet and collect it, possess it, possessed by it….eternally.

I tell him about what I said to Vikram ji – ‘Maroongi nahin jab tak Gulzar saab se na mil loon’. He smiles, ‘Ab to aapko jeena padega’.

Oh and we both share preference for chai over other hot or cold beverages! So over that one divine cup of chai, for 90 minutes or so, in his library, we talk about life…

Here is the essence of guftagoo with Gulzar – the creator of the most poignant lyrics in Hindustani poetry, whose every lafz, every expression, pulsates with life… of life’s pains and ecstasies – moments pregnant with past that one wants to relive, of nostalgia, of that fluent conversance with the body, mind and soul of the beloved…pregnant with the entire time.

Gulzar is perhaps the only conduit between literature and cinema  – bringing that beautiful sense of poetic aesthetics to enrich ordinary cinematic moments impregnating them with flesh and blood and bones and layers of life – unlike any of his contemporaries.

The conversation starts with ‘congratulations’ to him on getting the National Integration Award – he speaks passionately about how, for a number of years, he has been writing about communal harmony – in poems, short stories, in films and now theatre.

I mention about Akbar’s Din-e-Ilahi, a syncretic religion, and without us realising, the conversation has taken a beautiful turn towards Urdu, a language closest to Gulzar’s heart (he writes in Urdu). And the fervour with which he talks about Urdu, we can spend hours talking about it. But then he is equally passionate about translating Tagore into Hindi. His table sits under great weight of Tagore. Dozens of Tagore’s books wait for Gulzar’s ‘saans’, to come alive in Hindi.

The night before, as I prepared for the interview – I wondered what could one ask Gulzar. Questions about life that we contemplate about? After all he has been a witness to my life…he has known me, heard me, read me, felt me through his poems, nazms, songs…he has sculpted me, he is my Gulzar.

So we talk about ‘zindagi ke dard’. ‘Dard’ has a very positive connotation in his writing. Kya zindagi me dard achche hote hain? Kya kashish hai dard me? I ask. He answers with a question “kya aapne mohhabat ki hai? Mohhabat jaisi khoobsurat cheez me bhi dard to hai na? Pleasure, ecstasy in itself is a kind of pain. Iski shaklen badalati rahti hain, iski soorat badalati rahti hain. Aapki saari upaj us dard se hoti hai…”.

And what about pain of separation, ‘Usme bhi to pleasure hai ek tarah ka’, I say. Endearingly but with a hint of pain in his voice, he says “Hai to sahihai to sahi…aur wo zindagi ka dard hai”.

Aur wo zindagi ka dard hai’ resonates with me – ‘Zindagi ke dard ‘jinhe gale lagaane se, jinko sambhalane se’ our lives are enriched.

The library, where we sit, is throbbing with a vibe…do I only feel or does he sense it too? I am in the presence of this celestial moment, a ‘pilpila’ lamha (as Gulzar later refers to, when reciting a nazm, fresh from his diary). It’s surreal, but feels more real than reality itself as he reminisces about legends Bimal Roy and Shalendra when answering ‘how an artist’s personality and personal experiences are reflected in their work?’ He explains in an uncomplicated way how the layers of relationships lie outside the relations also. “Apke rishton ki tahen aapke charon taraf bikhri hui hain.Agar maine talaaq nahin diya biwi ko, tomeri behan ko jo talaaq de ke chala gaya, kya wo mehsoos nahin hua mujheTo koi jaroori nahin ki aap ye kahen ki saahab aapne talaaq par kaise likh liya, aapne to talaaq diya hi nahin biwi ko.

To be vulnerable, to be emotional, to make mistakes, where do you keep it all? My fingers are crossed. Despite his disclaimer “aisa nahin hai ki jo main bol raha hoon, wo main sab jaanta hi hoon…aur sab sahi hai”, I know his view will be pivotal. “Making mistakes… it’s one of the qualities, which comes in the process of making you what you are. Aapki banaawat ka hissa hai. Wo zaroori hai, wo breathing ke liye zaroori hai…so why do you want to be perfect and make life boring?” I can breath now.

We talk about Redemption – can we adopt individualistic view, focus on self-liberation and still achieve salvation. As an individual, how do we interface with the society, the world around us? Is our ‘mukti’ only possible collectively, with others?

The intensity, emotion is palpable in the room as Gulzar interprets his ‘Labon se choom ko, ankhon se thaam lo mujhko, tumhi se janmoo to shayad mujhe panaah mile’. His voice cracks with emotion “koi emotion ek tarah se kabhi nahin rah sakti, chahe wo mohhabat hi kyon na ho, chahe wo mamta hi kyon na ho. Every emotion evolves itself into next emotion… It’s like your beloved is sometimes like a mother to you, and sometimes like a child…kya bachpana karte hain, pyar bhi karte hain aap, ansoo bhi ponchh dete hain, naak bhi ponchh dete hain…like a child….and there are times when you just put your head into her lap and hold her and …kaash main tumse paida hua hota….so it’s an experience of that total surrender, total giving in to your love”.

Speechless. But I have a book full of questions. What goes behind these delectable metaphors…’namak ishq ka’, ‘mitti se lepa hua aasman’, ‘umar se lambi sadken’?

..these are not coined. Kahin na kahin aapko koi image aati hai. Usko pakadne wali baat hai…mere andar Shailja to nahin hai, par main Shailja ko mehsoos to kar sakta hoon, ye to dekh sakta hoon ki wo kaise mehsoos karti hai…now…for example  ‘laaga namak ishq ka’…namak ki feeling kya hoti hai….ik pheeki si zindagi me swaad aa gaya… so what could be a better expression than namak… arre is zindagi ko namak lag gaya ishq ka! Swaad aa gaya.”

Meeting Gulzar has added a ‘new taste’ to my life, ‘Zindagi kucchh namkeen si ho gayi hai Gulzar se milke’…

Listen to the complete conversation on YouTube: YouTube keywords ‘Gulzar’, ‘Shailja Chandra’, ‘Voice of India’

(Gulzar is one of the most acclaimed Indian Poet, lyricist and director known for lyrics in movies such as Bandini, Khamoshi, Andhi, Mausam, Khushboo, Maachis, Ghar, Gharonda, Golmaal, Masoom, Ijaazat, Maya Memsaab, Rudali, Lekin.., Dil Se, Satya, Guru, Slumdog Millionaire, Omkara, Paheli, Bunty aur Bubli, Kaminey, Raavan, and most recently Jab Tak hai Jaan and Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola.

His collection of nazms include: Pukhraj, Raat Pashmine ki, Yaar Julaahe, Selected Poems, Neglected Poems, Triveni and many more.)

Another version of this note is also available at: 

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