“Be yourself and be honest to yourself”
Iconic Indian poet, lyricist, filmmaker and writer, Gulzar, who is in the country for Mountain Echoes, the literary festival, talked to Kuensel about poetry, art and its importance to humanity
19 May, 2010 – What does Gulzar mean?
I have cut, subtracted, added, divided and I’ve just this name – Gulzar. There used to be a tradition when I was taught Urdu poetry in school that every poet must have a pen name, which is called ‘Tahalus’ in Urdu. So I also kept one, “Gulzar”. Not for its meaning or anything - but going by the sound, and then I removed all my other names. The name Gulzar got adapted and taken as a pen name right from school.
When did you start writing poetry?
From my school days but there is no specific time. It keeps boiling and boiling, and once you have put fuel in the oven, then you don’t know when it got cooked really.
How do you do it?
There is no answer to creativity. Whatever be your faculty or whatever be your craft – you keep practising it. If you play a sitar – you play sitar and keep playing it. How does one do it and from where does it come, often one doesn’t even know.
As far as the film songs are concerned, that’s a commissioned work, that’s like a profession. You are ordered to make two chairs and have to deliver it by Thursday, so you, as a carpenter, have to make them and deliver it by Thursday. Sometimes delay happens because you can’t get the right words or into the right mood.
Personal poetry is a commitment to society. You, like any other conscientious citizen of the world, have to react to life and then express it. That becomes the duty of any writer.
You have to recount and keep recording your times. It is literature, which will tell you what times you lived through. You have to record those times and, at times, it becomes a duty of a writer to remind you of the olden records, which we have read, which we call our shastras, you have to remind the people of your generation.
Unfortunately, writing has never been the reformist. It can’t reform, it can only record and can only remind you that look, this crisis has happened before.
What inspires you?
Life… it’s life all around. It keeps on brushing you, rubbing you and bruising you… what else can inspire a writer.
Bhutan is jumping from an oral tradition to an audio-visual media. How can we develop a culture of reading and writing?
There are gaps of technology but not gaps of growth- culturally. And Bhutan has saved its culture and has grown with it. In many places and countries, you can see that it is ruined and we’ve been trying to save it. In Bhutan, you have grown with its purity.
There may be a gap of technology but that does not stop one’s growth or knowledge. Technology – yes these are just comforts. And, as we have a subject during this seminar in the festival – those are only comforts and not happiness. We mix up and many a time mistake comfort for happiness, which is not really happiness.
You have said “The best way to start a day is to beat the sun.”
There is an Assamese folk song, which says that the wife wakes the husband and says, “Come, the lion has appeared on the cliff – you have to go and kill it.” That lion is the sun. Conquer the lion means conquer the day. It’s a great image and has come from our ancestors.
For late risers, I always say you have to beat the sun. So rise before the sun because the first service and attendance has to be of yours instead of the sun’s.
How important is arts, poems to humanity?
All fine arts, not only literature, are records of history, records of human life and of the growth of civilization.
At times, when you dig the olden cities, you find small little pieces of instrument or some painting of an animal on an old rock – by that you judge the life of those at that period. So the painter of that period has left that record for you to know the growth. You are doing the same for the future. That is why it is important.
That is why the pollution of art or a poem, a song or music, is a crime. That is why the remixes, which are being done, are destroying the era and the period in which they were recorded. The remixes, which have appeared, are like ruining the records of the year and ruining of history.
What would you say to aspiring writers or poets in Bhutan?
In very simple words, be yourself and be honest to yourself. That is the only way to create and create purity.
Who has been your idol in life?
I have a number of gurus, I try to learn from everywhere.
Could you compose a poem on Bhutan?
I’ve already started one and this is the first line after I saw the Thimphuchu and Parochu. Tere biradri ki kuch nadiya hamari yahan bhi behti hai (Some of the rivers of your community also flow here).