Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: Listening to Gulzar

Gulzar with his collaborator Vishal Bharadwaj (noted filmmaker & music directorat the festival


How well can you translate Gulzar’s works into English? Writer and diplomat Pavan K.Varma has walked the tight rope to do the same. As a result, in a brand new bilingual poetry collection, we have Gulzar’s Hindi originals on the left side of the page, to Varma’s English translations of the same, on the right. 

The story behind the book: One day, after a long gap, Gulzar abruptly called up Varma and told him, “As several of my poems have been lying neglected for the need of publication, we shall call this collection – Neglected Poems.” What was thus uttered frivolously came  to be the book title. Gulzar and Varma alternatively read some selections at the post lunch session on January 20th 2012 at the Mughal Tent. The session was named after a popular Gulzar song: Do Deewane Shehar Mein.

The audience that had accumulated at the venue was all ears to the poet’s rendition. Those who couldn’t find seats positioned themselves near the speakers, and were content to take in each word. Some sat with their eyes closed, some held up their recording devices even as Gulzar’s mellow voice flowed through the gathering. Varma’s translations did show that the work was in good hands.
Then there was a rare insight of the poet into New York, as his keen eye notices that there are no ants in the American city. Gulzar's words are translated here by this blog writer: “I dropped some sugar, but not a single ant came.” He continued, “There are plants here, flowers and beautiful trees…but I didn’t see a bee hovering over any flower…there are no leakages on the wall here, hence no cracks on the wall, at our place there are the leaves of Peepal sprouting from the cracks..”

Full of camaraderie and laughter, both Varma and Gulzar were also narrating anecdotes in between the readings. As Varma revealed, he was jostling with one of the difficult poems of the poet, and was in either a good or bad mood when he was doing his work. Gulzar used to send over some SMSes to cheer him up. One of them read:

Muddat huvee hai yaar se 
cheers kiye huve, 
Ghalib ne ab ke Eid pe 
kya sharaab chod di 

(It has been a while since
we said cheers,
has Ghalib discarded alcohol
this Eid?)

Even as the crowd roared in laughter, Gulzar chuckled and said that he would like to see how his friend would let out his other secrets… 

This wonderful, evocative session on poetry made a great start to what was the first day of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012.