Month: September 2009

In Awe…of Gulzar

I am no Gulzar. And can’t be. No one can. Never. But I’ve always wanted to write like him. If there’s anything in the world I want to imitate (no, really) and be proud of it, it’s the way he writes — a cascade of expression that sweeps you off your feet by its immense imaginative quotient, astounding authenticity and superb imagery — deliciously intense, joyously experimental, distinctively modern (he must be the only man of his generation to write in a language that speaks to the rock-addict, pop-loving generation). The man is a genius, no doubt! I have loved his films — from Ijaazat, Aandhi, Koshish, Khushboo, Parichay, Mere Apne, Mausam, Kinara, Kitaab to Libaas, Lekin, Maachis and Hu Tu Tu. I wonder why doesn’t he direct movies any more! Besides the songs of the movies I have just mentioned ( Ijaazat‘s Mera kuch saaman and qatra qatra are among my all-time favourite songs), I have also loved his songs and words in films like Thodi Si Bewafai, Guru, Rain Coat, Dil Se, Saathia, Maqbool, Omkara, Bunty Aur Babli and yes, Slumdog Millionaire (though it was definitely not his best). Kaminey‘s soundtrack is something that is still keeping me hooked, specially meri arzoo kamini and pehli baar muhabbat ki hai. I remember these lines from Rain Coat, he recites with his characteristic cadences: Na din hota hai aur na raat hoti hai, Sabhi kuch ruk gaya hai, Woh kya mausam ka jhonka tha, Jo us deewar pe latki hui tasveer thidchi kar gaya hai. I just love this!
Guru has four lines I am enamored of: Jaage hain der tak hamen kuch der sone do, thodi si raat aur hai subah to hone do, aadhe adhoore khwaab jo pure na ho sake, ek baar phir se neend mein woh khwaab bone do.
There is a short poem he wrote for someone which keeps coming to me whenever I think of him: Tum ne ek mod pe achanak jab, Mujh ko Gulzaar kah ke di aawaz, Ek seepi se khul gaya moti, Mujh ko ek maani mil gaya jaise, Ah yeh naam khoobsoorat hai., Phir mujhe naam se bulaao to! It’s beautiful.
I remember when I met him once I asked how could he manage to put a stamp of sorts on whatever he writes, so much so that it becomes distinctly Gulzar, uniquely Gulzar. He smiled and said, ”We all react to things differently. May be my idiom has to do with the way I react to things in general.”
I noticed how he doesn’t bring himself to think highly of his exceptional talent. He, in fact, underplays his genius. While when you happen to be around him, you are almost tongue-tied, forever looking for the right expression, the right word, the right phrase.
Even when Gulzar panders to the popular taste, he has a class (Kajra Re, Beedi jalaiyele, Namak ishq ka etc). His poetry is like flowers blooming in the desert, like silence breaking into melody on its own.
Besides being a sucker for his songs in films, I also love his ghazals. The two albums that he launched with Jagjit Singh — Maraasim and Koi Baat Chale — has some of his best ghazals. Even now, I often find myself listening to haath choote bhi to rishtey nahin choota kartey, ek purana mausam lauta, ankhon mein jal raha hai kyun bujhta nahi dhuan, woh khat ke purze uda raha tha, shaam se aankh main nami si hai, zindagi yun huyi basar tanha or din kuch aise guzarta hai koi.
Koi Baat Chale
has some three-line poems which he calls trivenis. My favourite is the one on Kashmir: Saari waadi udaas baithi hai, mausame gul ne khudkushi kar li, kis ne barood boya baaghon mein.
Sample some other trivenis from the album:

Teri soorat jo basi rahti hai ankhon me sada
Ajnabi log bhi pehchane se lagte hain mujhe
Tere rishton mein to duniya hi piroli main ne.

Ek se ghar hain sabhi ek se hain bashinde
Ajnabi shahr mein kuch ajnabi lagta hi nahin
Ek se dard hain, sab ek se hi rishten hain.

Zindagi kya hai janne ke liye
Zinda rahna bahut zaroori hai
Aj tak koi bhi raha to nahin.

Woh mere saath hi tha door tak magar ek din
Mud ke jo dekha to woh aur mere saath na tha
Jeb phat jaye to kuch sikke bhi kho jaate hain.


Inspired by Gulzar, I have written a couple of trivenis or the three-line poems. Here they are:

Udaas lamhon ne yun jaal bun ke rakha hai
Qafas mein band ho tareek zindagi jaise
Tumhare bin to kahin kuch nazar nahin aata.

(Qafas: prison; tareek: dark)

Har ek lamha hai ek bojh din ke kandhon pe
Kisi maqaam par aakar thahar gayi hai hayaat
Nahin jo tum to nahin kayenaat gardish mein

(maqaam: spot; hayaat: life; kayenaat: universe; gardish: revolving)

Bahut dinon se udaasi ka bol bala tha
Gham-e-hayaat ne ranjoor kar ke rakha tha
Jo tum mile to huyi Eid aarzooon ki

ranjoor: saddened

Tumhare honton pe yun khelte hain harf sabhi
Ke jaise phoolon pe shabnam ne ki ho sargoshi
Tumhare lafzon ne mashoor kar diya hai mujhe

sargoshi: whisper; mashoor: entranced

Tumhari ankhon mein sailaab hai umeedon ka
Tumhari palkon mein hai qaid waqt ki harkat
Nazar uthate hi chalta hai kaarvan-e-jahaan

Tere gudaaz badan ki mahakti khushboo ne
Simo liya hai hamen aise ek bandhan mein
Ke jis ko chah kar bhi tod tum nahin sakti.

gudaaz: soft

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Ruchir Joshi: An interview

WHEN WAS the last time you read a collection of short stories which had lips and limbs spread across its pages? If it has been long, it’s time to indulge in a bit of erotica as Tranquebar releases Electric Feather at the Love Hotel (what a well-thought out choice of venue, you wonder) in New Delhi recently. Edited by Ruchir Joshi, the book is a celebration of the sexual desire, that natural and basic part of the human make-up, and compiles 13
stories of South Asian writers. They include: Ruchir Joshi, Paromita Vohra, Kamila Shamsie, Samit Basu, Rana Dasgupta, Sonia Jabbar, Sheba Karim, Jeet Thayil, Niven Govinden, Parvati Sharma, Abeer Hoque, Tishani Doshi and Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy.

When you meet the author and filmmaker Ruchir Joshi, he is hanging out with his friends at Latitude at Khan Market. When you join them, one of his friends asks if he could order a cake for you. You think of a polite way to say no. And, then, Mr Joshi comes to your rescue. “You don’t want a cake, do you?” he says. We move to an empty table in a corner for the interview.
The music is a little loud for us to hear each other. He asks the waiter to switch it off. The waiter says he could only lower the volume. We have no choice. We begin.
At 49, Mr Joshi bristles with youthful energy and talks animatedly, enthusiastically. The interview, brief and barely half-an-hour, is mingled with peals of laughter, joyous chatter and streams of “goodbyes” and “see yous” emanating from the bunch on the table at the other end.
Mr Joshi, in the preface of the book titled “Repairing Brindavan: An Introduction”, writes about the “varied and interesting” responses of writers he approached for the collection. All he wanted was “sex writing for the sake of sex writing” and not sex as an “organic part of a larger narrative out something else.” In the introduction, Mr Joshi writes how some writers responded: “Me write porn for you? No fucking way!”
So, do most Indian writers (and we are talking only about those writing in English) shy away from writing about sex? Says Mr Joshi: “I don’t think writers have been shying away from sex in writing. It is just that writers are busy people and if you are asking them to write a story for the book, although they are very excited by it, they need some time.”
For Electric Feather, different writers took different time frames. “There was one writer who delivered one and a half years later,” says Mr Joshi. His own story “Arles” – which has Samiran (“he’s been alone with his own hand for so long, he doesn’t know what his c*** will do when confronted again with a real woman”) travelling down the lanes of passion – took a
long time. Niven Govinden, the English novelist, was busy with his book Graffiti My Soul.
Some of the writers, who have contributed to the collection, are getting known only now, says Mr Joshi. “I think it is an interesting collection of Indian writing. I wish I had worked a little hard to get Sri Lankan and Nepali writers, but may be next time,” he says.
In Indian literature, says Mr Joshi, certain subjects have always been taboo. While love has always been there, certain kind of restrictional sex has been regarded as exciting. But of late, the climate has been more and more repressive. “You can’t write about incest, caste, homosexuality, religion, sexual graphics. These things are slowly falling away. This book is a marker of that falling away. The erotic and the sexual should be the central part of our zahn (“there is no English word for it”), says Mr Joshi.
With the changing times – “people travelling, getting married, divorced, remarried” – Mr Joshi says he can see things changing. And the book, he believes, only reflects that – the kind of awareness and the changing outlook.
You are curious to know about the writers who refused to write for the collection. “I don’t want to name names. They refused to write, but they are still my friends. It was not that they didn’t want to write, but because they didn’t have the time to,” says Mr Joshi.
There was one writer, says Mr Joshi, who said, “How can you write specifically about sex. Sex should be the part of the story. You can’t just set out to write about sex.” Electric Feather, Mr Joshi hopes, is a “good reply” to that writer.
Real writers, according to Mr Joshi, are not afraid to write about sex. He mentions Hanif Kureshi and Vikram Chandra. Hanif Kureshi, the British novelist, playwright and film director, was working on a play, he didn’t have time. Vikram Chandra was launching Sacred Games. So, he couldn’t be a part of the book. That gave way to a lot of “young writers”.
Says Mr Joshi: “We initially had a set of writers who were invited to write. They said yes and the deal was done. And we decided that unless something was really bad, we would incorporate all. We thought we would take from whatever they had to offer. Out of the submissions, however, there was nothing that was not good. And then we asked some younger writers to contribute. Some of those younger writers suggested some other names.
That’s how the young writers came together.” One such writer includes Parvati Sharma, whose collection, The Dead Camel and other Love Stories (Zubaan), is due in 2010.
Mr Joshi says that he is concerned with people using religion and so-called idea of sexual offence for completely regressive political agendas. It is disturbing even more so as “we are starting to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the banning of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses“.
When the colonised countries, says Mr Joshi, were fighting for independence, they were also fighting to be free from the yoke of mullah and the priest and things like sati and dowry. “The freedom of choice, the freedom to do whatever you like is a very important thing,” he says.
Mr Joshi, whose enchanting first novel, The Last Jet-Engine Laugh (HarperCollins, 2001), which debated whether the story of a nation can be the story of a self, was critically acclaimed as an outstanding novel of the post-Rushdie era, is currently working on a historical novel, set in Kolkata during World War II. Before independence, there was a “huge pressure” on Kolkata. And the characters of his new novel live in that continuum. When
does the novel see the light of day? “It is getting closer and closer to completion and I am hoping to come out with it next year, inshaallah,” says Mr Joshi.
For his debut novel, Mr Joshi says, he took quite a few “risks”. He had easy options to write some straight stories. “I chose not to as I felt that that had been done by others already wanted to do it differently. I didn’t want to go down the magical realism lane of Salman Rushdie or Gabriel García Márquez. There were other inspirations like Milan Kundera who I love and admire, but didn’t want to write like him,” says Mr Joshi who tried to find
“my own form, my own handwriting, so to speak”.
The reviews were heartening. They kept him going.
WRITER, journalist, photographer and filmmaker Sonia Jabbar, who was the last-minute resort for Mr Joshi, was approached in January this year. Sonia had just a week to come up with “The Advocate”, which tracks the story of the downfall of a lusty advocate in Sitapur (Uttar Pradesh), narrated by his protégé, Salim. “At first, I said no as I was miffed. But then I was actually delighted as it was my first public fiction. I normally don’t write fiction and this was a great relief,” says Ms Jabbar, who has been travelling and has not read the other stories in the collection. Talking about her story Ms Jabbar, who feels that Indian writers writing in English have written about sex when called for and it has not been a major preoccupation with them, says: “My story is about sex becoming a prison for certain people.
However, it is also about a whole lot of other things like sexual attitudes. In the story, all the other social mores, structures and prejudices also get played out.” Ms Jabbar, who has read Mohammed Hanif’s “homoerotic” The Case of Exploding Mangoes (Random House) and Kamila Shamsie’s
Burnt Shadows (Bloomsbury) which bristles with exquisite, sensual passages (“I was deeply moved by them”), is currently working on a book on Kashmir. One of the contributors, Paromita Vohra, whose “Tourists” is the story of a famous Bollywood star, says: “Ruchir and I are friends so it was part of the on-going conversation that we had. One realises that things are getting politically contentious. It has become such a Victorianised and Ramsena-
ised kind of climate that it has become difficult to talk about such things.”
Ms Vohra is a filmmaker (Unlimited Girls, Q2P, Morality TV, Loving Jehad) and writer. She wrote the screenplay for Sabiha Sumar’s Khamosh Pani. She feels that Indian writers in their attempt to write more pan-Indian novels which speak to a larger audience, somehow get inhibited to write for pleasure.
According to Ms Vohra, in literature, as well as cinema, there has always been “the desire for pleasure, sensuality, romance and eroticism” which have coexisted with the traditional, conventional forms. With societies With societies becoming more multi-dimensional, there is more space now to talk about such things, holds Ms Vohra, who loved reading Kiran
Nagarkar’s Cuckold and Kamala Das’ poetry (“No other man has written like that”). She is currently working on a non-fiction book on love in contemporary India.
While you were speaking to Ms Vohra, Mr Joshi slips out for a smoke. You look for him outside for the photo shoot. At first, he refuses, but then relents. However, he keeps saying, “Don’t use my picture. I am not being vain. I seriously feel you should use pictures of pretty people.” You take his leave as he joins his gang. As you shake hands, he says, smiling: “Enjoy writing it.”