Under my byline

Poet of many colours

Posted in Books by Rrishi on 8 May 2008

Gulzar’s verse, for the first time in English

Selected Poems
Gulzar
Trans. Pavan K Varma
Penguin Viking
xviii + 116

Gulzar has composed the lyrics for great, long-lived film songs. He has directed memorable films. He has written well-loved books for children. He’s a prolific, adventurous and award-winning Hindustani poet-of-many-colours and his words and vision have long since taken root in our minds. But, until now (barring a translation of his innovative biography of Ghalib), he has not been available in English.

In this slim, bilingual volume, Pavan K Varma — diplomat, culture czar and star author in his own right — offers selections from two of Gulzar’s poetry collections, translated into English to make this amazing poet accessible to non-Hindi and Urdu readers. Each translation is paired with its Urdu original, in Devanagari script.

Gulzar’s poems are full of nostalgia and nourished by absences (the dent left by a lover’s head in the pillow, her scent on the sheets…). They draw upon a melancholy sensuality well established in Urdu verse. But Gulzar, composer of such recent smash hit songs as “Kajra Re”, is also unmistakably a modern, and to watch new and old meet, fuse and sometimes bear awkward fruit is one great joy of this collection.

“Among my clothes hangs your colourful dress,” begins one poem, and “Against the sheet of the turmeric-coloured sky at dusk / Two long electrical wires stretch out,” begins another. They are nearly all short and succinct, to capture fleeting states of mind, and not at all self-referential or obscure like so much modern poetry in English. So they are easy to read and enjoy, yet ask you to pause, reflect and observe — and that’s what poetry is for.

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