I Swallowed The Moon (The Poetry of Gulzar)

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Item Code: NAG959
Author: Saba Mahmood Bashir
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9789351160748
Pages: 260
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.0 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 230 gm
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Shipped to 153 countries
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Book Description
About The Book

Gulzar is arguably India's best-known contemporary poet. He occupies a unique place in Indian literature as a Progressive poet in a popular culture. Without compromising on literary merit or content, his poetry appeals to a cross-section of readers - a popularity that is perhaps moulded by his ability to convey the most exalted thought in an accessible idiom.

In 'I Swallowed the Moon'; The Poetry of Gulzar, Saba Bashir looks at what makes Gulzar the poet he is. What is his signature style? What are the issues he addresses through his poetry and what are the recurrent images in it? Bashir also draws a parallel between the poet's film and non-film poetry. She points out how they are used interchangeably, unlike with most other poets and lyricists, and how Gulzar thus brings literature and cinema closer.

The book also includes an interview where Gulzar talks of his art and craft, his influences, his 'copyright on the moon', his experiments with various forms like the ghazal, the blank verse, the film song, and the form he has created, triveni. Along with a comprehensive list of his poems, film and non-film songs, this makes it an invaluable addition to the corpus of work on a great poet, one who is a bridge between the popular and the artistic.

About The Author

SABA MAHMOOD BASHIR is a freelance editor based in Delhi. She is a gold medallist in MA, English literature, from Allahabad University and has completed her PhD from IIT Delhi. Her first book, Memory- Past, a collection of poems, was published by Writers Workshop in 2006.


I have had the great privilege and joy of translating two volumes of Gulzar saheb's poetry, and am about to finish the third. Translating someone else's poetry can sometimes be a tedious job, but not in the case of Gulzar's writings. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, I believe that Gulzar has gradually evolved a new kind of poetry which breaks with the stock imageries of the past and celebrates the emergence of Hindustani, as against rarefied Urdu or pure Hindi. Of course, this has been attempted by several other poets too, but Gulzar was arguably the first to do it as a lyrical extension of his poetic sensibilities and not as a self- conscious expression of what should be done. Secondly, Gulzar took a pioneering leap from the security of rhymed couplets to the seemingly easier but far more demanding genre of blank verse. Without mostly having the safety net of rhyme and meter to peg a poem, he soared into the limitless space of chiselling words on the strength of their inherent power. This he could do because - and that is the third reason why I admire him - his poetry is studded with the kind of imagery that leaves the reader almost breathless. Two images are juxtaposed in such a manner that when the meaning suddenly falls into place, the reaction is near explosive. The power of this imagery, literally leaping at you from the lyricism of his composition, has few parallels. Fourthly, the range of his poetry is astonishing. Most people are perhaps more aware of his lyrics for films, but he has written much more poetry than his cinematic output. Nature, relationships, the lives of ordinary people, the many shades of living, social injustice, the changing seasons, birth, death, sorrow, joy, and above all love - all of these have been the preoccupations of Gulzar the poet.

And finally, as a lover of poetry myself, I am continuously surprised by his literary dexterity. He is not a causal poet. Poetry for him is a perennial linguistic discovery, a never ceasing challenge of structure and message. He has spent a lifetime crafting words, and imbuing them with meaning and beauty.

For all these reasons - and perhaps more - it is surprising that Gulzar's writings have not become a mainstream subject for students of modern Indian literature. Saba Bashir is the first person I know of who has done her doctoral thesis on his poetry, and for this reason alone her book has path-breaking importance. A person of obvious poetic sensibility herself, she has tackled her elusive subject with commendable academic rigour. Starting with an introductory chapter that provides a window into the poet's life through a well-chosen and illustrative use of his own poems, she essays the very important historical background to his emergence as a poet, touching upon culture, the oral traditions, language and films. She then has separate chapters on his poetic imagery, aspects of language and form, the many-layered themes of his poems, and a well-considered conclusion. What is particularly nice is that Saba uses, as illustration or embellishments, liberal excerpts from Gulzar's poems throughout the narrative. But that is not all. As a bonus, the book has a detailed and in-depth interaction with Gulzar, in the form of a conversation, on the issue of language, poetry and form. The book concludes with arguably the most comprehensive listing of Gulzar's poetry, culled from literary anthologies, film songs and his non-cinematic literary oeuvre; each poem is painstakingly categorized by title, book, theme, imagery and interesting characteristics. An extensive bibliography in the final appendix provides any lover of Urdu and Hindustani poetry an enviable reading list, and is an indication also of the kind of research that has gone into the writing of this book.

Gulzar enjoys huge popularity across India. I have, on many of my travels with him, personally b en a witness to this public affection and adulation by people fall ages. His popularity is based on genuine respect for his literary talent. We now need to give that popularity the depth and' sight of readable research .on his poetry, including the remarkable ones he has written outside films. Countries like India, with literary traditions in multiple languages which are thousands of Years old, need to honour their beloved poets. Saba Bashir has done just that through a labour of love. Her book is must reading for all those who want to know more about Gulzar, his life and his poetry. And may there be many more books on him to follow.


This book has been adapted from my doctoral thesis at IIT Delhi. The writing of the thesis was a process of sheer poetic pleasure. While other research scholars would be looking at boring data, tabulation and analysis, struggling to source interviews, I was listening to lyrical and romantic songs, reading poetry and then going back to listening songs. How much they would envy me. 'Data analysis', generally a tough part in the process of writing a PhD thesis, was actually the best one for me, what with my data comprising the songs and poems of none other than Gulzar saab.

I have often been asked why I chose Gulzar saab's poetry as my topic for research. To be honest, I do not have a specific reason.

All I remember is that, like many others, I have been fascinated by his songs and his films right from childhood. I remember watching Namkeen on Doordarshan when I was barely ten. It left such an impression that I clearly remember every scene from the film. I hummed his songs not knowing they were his. Gradually, I realized that I could guess the poet from the words. There was a common thread running through all his film and non-film poetry. He is my favourite poet and I have always wanted to bring ou t the differences in the juxtaposed imagery, which happens to be his signature style, and pen them down. I have always wanted to read between the lines, connect the common dots The book is not a compilation of his poems and songs. I t is a humble effort to place Gulzar saab as a Progressive poet in popular culture. His imagery and language have been delved into. A parallel has been drawn between the poet's film and non- film poetry and how they are used interchangeably. All the translations and the transliterations in the book are mine. Although many translations were available, I have made an attempt to translate all poetry myself and have tried to be as close to the meaning as possible.

I would not have been able to write this book without the help of some people. First and foremost, I want to thank my PhD supervisor, Dr Syamala Kallury. Poetry is her love, and so is mine. I t was Dr Kallury who initiated me into translating poetry. I would like to thank Phupajaan, my uncle Mr Zia-ul-Haq, for the indulgent and continuous flow of books and various newspaper cuttings, and Papa, my father-in-law Syed Asif Bashir, for helping me with the Urdu dictionary and for translating difficult Urdu words into Hindustani. I want to thank Amir, my other half for making me believe in myself for being my strength, for buying me all the books that I would see in the library! And, of course, for coping with my stress. How can I thank Sana, my daughter, who was only three and a half when I started my research. From an age as tender as that, she understood not only my love for studies but has been a part of my thesis, listening to all the wonderful songs that I kept on hearing for the analysis, sitting with me while I appeared for my synopsis or research plan or even the defence! Thank you Ammi and Abbu, my parents, Saadi and other members of my family, and my friends for their support and help. I am particularly thankful to Prasanna, my friend, for various long-distance brainstorming sessions, for painstakingly going through every word that I had written, and for her enthusiasm for my study. A special thanks to Shantanu for such a detailed eye while editing and a valuable contribution to the exhaustive list of film songs. He helped in the metamorphosis of my thesis into a book. I would like to thank Pavan-ji for being kind enough to write the foreword to the book.

Gulzar, one of India's best-known poets, is as popular with the masses as he is in literary circles. Although his fame may be attributed to his association with Hindi cinema as a lyricist, dialogue writer, scriptwriter and film-maker, he is first and foremost a poet. His poetry permeates all his creative endeavours. He possesses a keen eye for detail, and his sensitivity is reflected in the nuances of his language, the subtlety of his images, and his ability to grapple with various human emotions. He is undoubtedly one of the most significant poets of post- Independence India. It is rather difficult, however, to classify him as an Urdu or a Hindi poet. One can definitely say that Hindustani, although denied a place in the eighth schedule which lists the official languages, is still alive due to the efforts - conscious and unconscious - of wordsmiths like Gulzar.

Gulzar writes both poems and songs, many a time interchangeably. Although these are two different genres, there are many similarities between them. Poems and songs both rely on the use of language. They engage the reader/audience on an emotional level and are mostly lyrical. I t is not necessary that they follow a rhyme scheme but they will surely have a rhythm. Both have syntax and a metre, and metaphors, symbols and images. Even when a poem is recited and not sung, one can discern its rhythm. Gulzar himself defines poetry as nothing but the binding of words in rhythm, starting where music ends. He adds that in the course of time, poetry dropped the rhyme and has only retained rhythm and metre.

However, there are also striking differences between songs and poems. If the poet has the freedom to write whatever he or she wishes to communicate, the songwriter is constrained by the situation, the character (Gulzar goes to the extent of writing songs in the language of the character), the need to maintain the continuity of the film's narrative, and at times, even the set tune for the song. If a poem is an entity in itself by virtue of words strung together, a song is inextricably tied to, and dependent on, the accompanying music; and, at times, even on how the singer renders it. A song may be divided into the antara and mukhra, and have an initial stanza that functions as a chorus. A poem has no such limitations, unless of course a poet decides to engage in forms like the haiku, the sonnet, or as Gulzar does with his 'trivenis', Also, the poem has the potential to have a complex structure with more elaborate metaphors; the song, by and large, is linear. Another noticeable difference between the two is their length. If the song is constrained by screen time, the poem can go on as per the wishes of the poet. Last but not the least, a song has to have popular appeal.

In Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief, Stephen Alter asks poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar about the qualities required to write a song, and he says: 'By versatility I mean that you must be able to write in different styles and voices. Here in India, every film has songs, so poets are required. Earlier there were at least ten good poets working in the industry. Now there are only two: Gulzar and myself. As a lyricist, you must understand the ethos of a story and its characters. The intellectual level. The milieu. For one film you must be able to write a bhajan, a devotional hymn and for another a cabaret number. You must have the flexibility to adjust to the period as well.' Gulzar too has expressed in the interview at the end of this book that there is creativity in cinema itself and there is no need to look for it outside.

Gulzar believes in changing with the times. This is reflected in the conscious effort he makes in his films to portray gene rational changes in the use of language. For instance, in his film Namkeen, Amma, the mother, uses the word 'beghairat'. Her daughter asks her, 'Yeh kaun sa shabd hai?,' To which the mother replies, '''Shabd'' kya hota hai, "lafz" bolo.'

With regard to the place of music in one's life, Gulzar says, 'Music has a natural place in our lives. Right from the shlokas you recite in your morning puja and the milkman who comes whistling on his cycle to the fakir singing as he begs for alms and your mother humming around in the kitchen, music fills our world naturally. It is always dear to us.'


Foreword by Pavan K. Varmaix
ISelfportrait: Introduction1
IIWoh Yaar Hailo Khushboo Ki Taraah, lis Ki Zubaan13
Urdu Ki Taraah: The Historical Background
IIIRooh Dekhi Hai, Kabhi Rooh Ko Mahsoos Kiya Hai?: The Imagery30
IVLamhon Par Baithi Nazmein: Aspects of language and Form62
VIChaand Parosa Hai: The Themes78
VIAbhi Na Parda Giraoo, Thahro, Ki Daastan Aage Aur Bhi Hai: Conclusion111
In Conversation with Gulzar119
Poems from literary Anthologies141
Film Songs188
Non-film Songs228
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