Sunday, April 01, 2012

Review of Neglected Poems in The Hindu

April 1st, 2012

Title of the book: Neglected Poems
Poet: Gulzar
Translator: Pavan K Varma
Publisher: Penguin India
Price: Rs. 399

Sampooran Singh Kalra-- better known as Gulzar--  has been enthralling the connoisseurs of Hindi film music since 1963 when he made his debut as a songwriter.  Teaming up with great music directors like  S D Burman, R D Burman, Salil Choudhary, Madan Mohan and A R Rahman, he has created many timeless classics and has won countless number of accolades including an Oscar and a Grammy. But, not all of us are aware that Gulzar is also a very respectable name in the world of Urdu poetry. His poems have been translated into many languages including English. This volume ‘Neglected Poems’ has his original Urdu poems (Nazm)  in Devnagri script and the English translation side by side. The translator is career diplomat-cum-writer Pavan K Varma. This is the same Mr. Varma who is also known for his beautiful renditions of  Kaifi Azmi’s works in English, a  highly readable biography of  Mirza Ghalib and a slightly ‘controversial’ book on the Indian middle class.

As you glide through this collection, you feel amazed: How easily Gulzar is able to create beautiful poetry out of the mundane events of his life? How ordinary people and places sound extraordinary in his words? How real becomes surreal?  And from where he borrows all those imageries and metaphors to employ in his songs and poems?

Let us taste something from this book:

When it rains
Drenched figures begin to emerge
On these mud and mortar walls;
Then the rain, falling gently, like muted hiccups,
Writes a familiar script:
The rain conveys something.

Perhaps you may recall having seen
A letter drenched in tears
That looked something like this?

On the one hand there is a melody of romance and tender love in his poems, on the other hand there are hard-hitting commentaries about the state of affairs in our country and elsewhere. For him Gujarat’s Godhra and post-Godhra riots become ‘a feverish rash over the whole body’, Iraq is a place where ‘the debris of war has collected..’ and Sardar Dam  is a valley ‘where a river will now sit coiled like a snake between three mountains.’ 

Sardonic Tones

The tone of these poems is a bit sardonic but also some sort of sadness permeates through the verses. Then he talks about megacities like Kolkata, Chennai , Mumbai, Delhi and New York.  In the poem titled New York , he says: In your town, my friend, how is it that there are no homes for ants? …… in your town lineage of insects and spiders never grow. These lines sound simple but they are not. These are the metaphors used to describe how the megapolis has got rid of simple pleasures of life and has made it more complex and unhappy. And how those who are not able to cope with the drastic changes around them, have been either shunted or pushed to the margins.

Each poem of Gulzar has its own story and each of them helps you to understand ‘the complexities of human relationship’ and offers a totally new perspective on life.

Coming to the editorial aspect of this collection, this reviewer feels that the Hindi part of the book has not received enough editorial attention. The spelling in Denavgari version has inconsistencies as some words are spelled differently at different places. Perhaps, the attempt to imitate the exact Urdu pronunciation may have caused these mistakes. Additionally,  the inclusion of original Urdu texts would have given this book a different aura, and it would have been a great favour to those who can read Urdu.

While discussing the translation of literature during the Calcutta Literary Meet, Pavan K Varma had quoted Gulzar: “Translation is like a mistress, if she’s beautiful, she’s not faithful and if she’s faithful, she is not beautiful.” Here, Mr. Varma has tried to strike a balance between the beauty and the faithfulness, but his emphasis clearly is more on the faithfulness factor.

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