Gulzar writes one of the most unforgettable ecology lessons, set in verse

“Some dry leaves dropped from the tree. The season was changing. But the rustle of the leaves had something more to say.” – Gulzar


The seams of the sky have begun to separate from the firmament

This tent is now coming apart in so many places

Using the stitches of my poetry

I spend my whole day darning!

(“Khulne lage hain aasman ke sire upar se”– “The Sky”)

Gulzar’s contribution to Hindustani poetry is well-known for progressive experiments in poetic expression. Creating beauty out of the mundane, his lyrics have been a true delight in mainstream Hindi cinema for over five decades. Saba Bashir’s 2013 critical work entitled ‘I swallowed the moon: Poetry of Gulzar brought to light the poet’s literary craft that inspired both the old and new. Drawing from Urdu colloquial idioms and the folk, Gulzar is skilled in discordia concors—of placing unusual metaphors side by side.

green-poem

What we got a rare glimpse of earlier in June, is a set of Gulzar’s poems on ecology, translated by author and diplomat Pavan K Varma and released on account of World Environment Day. Gulzar himself states in the introduction to this book-

Some dry leaves dropped from the tree. The season was changing. But the rustle of the leaves had something more to say. I heard them. What they said was profound, to save the globe from rotting.”

Peppered with simple earthly imagery, this bilingual edition delves into natural disasters, forest fires, and places of natural co-habitance, human psychology and relationships. The meditation on nature is exquisitely subtle and self-reflective.

There are stories of disused wells, ageing rivers, seasons and forests, told with a sensibility that’s both melancholic and speculative. Dedicated to Her Majesty the Queen Mother of Bhutan, the poem “Thimphu” narrates the family tree of rivers originating in Bhutan thereby taking a stance about the earth being one huge family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam):

Thimphu Chuu

Some rivers of your tribe flow too

From where I come

They flow around, just as you do

To take people to the other shore”

This poem is also a critique of the rampant spread of hydro-electric projects in countries.

Gulzar writes “Sometimes, their waters are whipped to produce electricity” and asks Thimphu Chhuu about its fated destiny – “Do you talk of your yearning to merge with the ocean/or quietly pray/that you be saved the prospect of being whipped.” The recent Beas tragedy in India is one of many such incidents that indicate the anger of natural forces upon the man-made policies.

This anthology reminds us once again that we need to re-think our lifestyle and its impact on the environment around us. Gulzar, by letting the clouds, falling leaves and rivers speak, is foraging alternative voices to defeat the exploitative and destructive machinery. As pointed out by the translator Pavan Varma, “The world is fragile for him, perennially endangered, forever held hostage to our effortless ability to unthinkably desecrate it, unmindful of the consequences that this can unleash on our own long-term well-being.”

…It comes down often to this poor settlement

To growl at people;

The helpless folk use tar to seal their walls

So that it is not able to peep inside,

But, even so,

This snarling, shrieking cloud

Often plunders the hamlet

Like some henchman of a feudal lord

Would misbehave passing tipsily through the village”

In the above lines from “The Cloud – 1” for instance, there is an interesting comparison of a “shrieking cloud” that plunders the village like a feudal lord does. For readers of Hindi poetry as well as English, green poems can translate into an exercise that connects you to your roots and what is truly important, in a very lyrical and artistic flavour.

Rooted in dexterous portrayal of the plant-animal life in locales of Kullu, Kerala, Chamba, the poet’s connection to earth is indeed a reminder of the old traditions of folk poetry and nature-songs. Have we forgotten this rich heritage? Gulzar’s creative vista leaves this question to us, the readers, who better act before apocalypse rings the doorbell.

Rini Barman is an editorial intern with The Alternative.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rini Barman has completed her Masters in English Literature from Jamia Milia Islamia and has graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in the same field. Her writings have been published in Muse India, The Northeast Review, The Seven Sisters' Post, Kritya.in, The Bricolage-An independent Arts and culture magazine, The Thumbprint News Magazine, Newsyaps, the Eclectic and several other dailies of the Nor... more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rini Barman has completed her Masters in English Literature from Jamia Milia Islamia and has graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in the same field. Her writings have been published in Muse India, The Northeast Review, The Seven Sisters' Post, Kritya.in, The Bricolage-An independent Arts and culture magazine, The Thumbprint News Magazine, Newsyaps, the Eclectic and several other dailies of the Nor... more

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