"Urdu faqiri mein bhi aristocracy ka mazaa deti hai." When Gulzar started speaking about the language that has much more to it than the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, Jashn-e-Rekhta was steeped in the essence of Urdu.
On a Saturday morning, a hujoom (crowd) had turned up to listen to Gulzar, dressed in his signature immaculate white; it was fascinating to witness a charm that went beyond age.
A college student got a death stare when she put "Who Manto" and "Thanda Gosht" in a sentence together and earned a few gasps when she "joked" that the session was "boring". Gulzar's "Ye Kaisa Ishq Hai Urdu Zabaan Ka" session, moderated by author Sukrita Paul Kumar, didn't draw any "oohs" or "awws".
The Diwaan-e-Aam at Rekhta would unstoppably resonate with "waah-waahs" - some "paan se bhari" and others not.
For the love of Urdu, here are few ghazal-like takeaways from the poet extraordinaire:
1. On Partition: Calling the Partition a disaster, Gulzar says, suddenly, the midnight's children began treating each other as "untouchables". They said "it's Pakistan, don't touch it" and "Urdu has also left India with the Pakistanis". Though that never happened. It was bureaucracy that created an atmosphere of prejudice. Gulzar stressed language and culture make the heart of a democracy. Siyaasat kuch bhi kare, awaam toh awaam hai. When politics subdues public conscience, the latter escapes from the vise-like grip like mercury, to drift away and reform itself.
2. On origin: Always on the front foot of contemporary issues, when asked about the origin of Urdu, Gulzar quips, "Ye zidd janm ki humein pehle hee le doobi yahaan pe, ke Ram janm kahaan hua tha." He says, birth is not a "debate", it is historical knowledge and that's about it.
3. On Urdu and other languages: There are only two things that turn strangers into friends - Urdu and cricket commentary. Wherever Urdu went, it created "bastiyaan" or colonies in the hearts of the people and till date, no other language has managed to do that. You can't Persianise or Sanskritise a language. In India, it will always bear a subtle watermark of the region it is spoken in, as happens in other countries. Say, Hindustani Urdu will be slightly different from Pakistani Urdu (with a hint of Punjabi and Pashto).
He says different shades of Urdu only make the language reach out to more people. Like Urdu, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, and even English aren't spoken in just one manner, so why fret over it? A language evolves and dissolves over time; to rise in a new form. To promote Urdu, what is required is to popularise its script so that the pronunciation doesn't suffer. It would not matter if Urdu was to be written in Devanagri; in face, it would be to Hindi's credit if it accommodated Urdu under its ambit.
Though Ghalib and Mir are core to Urdu, Gulzar asserts that the works of progressive and contemporary writers such as Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sardar Jafri must be made a part of the curriculum.
4. On ghar wapsi: When Sukrita Paul Kumar, the moderator for the discussion, asked what made Gulzar translate her Poems Come Home from English to "Hindustani", he coolly says, he could see her struggling with self-expression and that's when he decided to bring her "home", as "tis the season of ghar wapsis". But for him, the writer said, there's only one home and that is Deena, in Pakistan.
5. On technology: He recited one of his popular nazms, "Kitaabein", which points to how we seem to have "broken up" with books and how daily life is slowly losing charm in the wake of digitalisation.
Towards the end of the session, it was Gulzar's "Goonga" that ironically left the audience spellbound. It shook you with a force from within and made you reflect on how we treat farmer suicides. "Kahin koi nahi utha, na koi inquilab aaya."