Art & Culture

How Tagore influenced Gulzar in poetry and life

Mona Ramavat
Mona RamavatJul 15, 2016 | 11:08

How Tagore influenced Gulzar in poetry and life

Gulzar Saab talks about how Tagore's poetry changed the course of his life, and why it is still relevant at the launch of his books, Baaghbaan and Nindiya Chor - translations of Tagore's poems selected from Chitra, Kshanika, Sonar Tari and Shishu.

1. How was the experience of working with Tagore's poetry?

In one line, it was tough and pleasant. The more I delved into it, the more I was fascinated.


2. What were the challenges you faced?

Feeling uncertain about your own capability when it comes to translating Gurudev. I was quite sceptical about the reactions of people, Tagore being Tagore.

It was not so much about how people would take it but more about whether I would be able to do justice to my translation in a language that is understood. Constantly checking and rechecking my work was rather tough too.

3. You have translated Tagore's work in what you refer to as Hindustani. Tell us more.

Translation of Tagore in the past was either in tough Hindi or chaste Urdu. But I have used Hindi-Urdu that we commonly use in the everyday. I wanted it to be in the people's language.

That was my motive for this work. And it was far from simple since it's not the meaning of a word as much as the shade of a word that needed to be translated.

More than meaning is the feeling behind every word. That and the phonetics of Tagore's lyrical poetry; I had to keep in mind all of these elements while translating.

Young Rabindranath Tagore.

Being a lyricist, I'm deeply aware of sounds in poetry and I had to consciously bring in the beauty of the sounds in the translation as well.


4. This is more than translation since you have also been studying Tagore as a person.

I was working on transferring the feeling in a poem that Tagore must have felt, especially the rural kind of living that Tagore writes about.

Since I've been reading about his life too, I knew what he was referring to in a poem and the essence of that had to be captured. Delving into his mind and personality helped me understand more of his art. Unless you know that, you can't get the ambience of a poem.

5. What was your inspiration to take up this work?

Tagore is a household name in Bengal. One personality and one poet is the culture of an entire region. But he belongs to the entire nation and not just to Bengal.

Everybody read Gitanjali since its English translation was easily available. But that's just one selection of his work that he chose for the West.

Gitanjali is not referred to in Bengal like it is in the rest of India. There's much more to him than just Gitanjali.

Tagore is a huge banyan tree. I wonder why we have delayed so much in introducing his work to people outside of Bengal.


The motivation behind this work was to get people to read Tagore and teach Tagore.

6. Is some of Tagore's lesser-known poetry included in these volumes?

Not lesser-known in Bengal but certainly lesser known elsewhere. People don't even know the romantic poems of his young age. They don't even know that he wrote romantic poems.

They don't even know that he was young! People know him as the bearded man who wrote the national anthem. So people take him in the line of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru.

He was a playful young man too. One should learn about this side of him as well.

7. It took you five years to bring out these two volumes. What was your experience?

Chancing upon the deeper essence of a poem hidden just below the surface was quite overwhelming. For instance, in the poem, "Shubh Ghadi" (in Hindi,) a young woman asks her mother what she should be wearing when the prince passes their street, how she should deck herself up, despite knowing that the prince will not so much as look up in her direction.

When you start to know Tagore deeper as a person, you understand that this was in argument with Gandhiji when he asked young revolutionaries not to waste their lives and pursue a revolution of ahimsa, instead.

Gulzar with professor Vijay Kumar and Mohanchandran, GM, Taj Krishna, Hyderabad at the launch of Baaghbaan and Nindiya Chor.

We then understand that the prince on his chariot in this poem is the independence of the nation, the national freedom movement that is passing and the woman's zest for dressing up refers to getting ready for it and giving your all despite your efforts making no big dent. When you get the point of something like that, it's total ecstasy.

8. When you were working on Nindiya Chor, with Tagore's poems of the world seen through a child's eyes, it must have taken you back to several of your own childhood memories and stories.

Yes, it did. And it was a lesson to learn. I think this is how we must write for our children. Don't write about fairy tales and magical gadgets.

Write about those moments which a child experiences so that the child can own the poem. I want Tagore to be taught in schools all over India.

Save for a handful of his short stories like "Kabuliwala" and "The Hungry Stones", children don't get to know of his other work.

9. In the future, do you plan to translate more of Tagore's poetry?

That will be an ongoing process.

10. What would you like to work on next?

I'm working on translating 17 poets from 32 languages including Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Oriya, Assamese, Malayalam and others. And all of them are young poets.

In the process of working on this, I discovered that the most dynamic poetry is coming from some very talented poets in the Northeast. It's amazing what they are writing about.

The generation of those who came down to India with Dalai Lama and their children who have not seen Tibet and are born here, write about longing for the land of their roots.

Also youngsters who have been brought up in camps and grew up drifting from one place to another; their poetry is intense. It makes us wonder about our ideas of motherland and home.

11. What will this work be called?

I've called it A Poem a Day. I will offer one poem a day from today's generation.

Poetry is not as irrelevant as you think it is. It is not just for textbooks. This is about what is happening today.

12. This seems like a lot of emotional investment.

It is. But what else do I pour my energy into now, in these last few years?

13. You had stolen Tagore's book from a library when you were a child and that, you say, changed the course of your life.

It did. Sometimes I have weird thoughts like if the Partition had not happened and if this refugee librarian from Pakistan had not come to India, what would have been my role?

When he picked up the book and gave it to me (which I never returned), did he know? Was he aware of what he was doing? He was giving a total turn to my life.

14. What does "destiny" mean to you?

Destiny is not something which is written anywhere. Destiny is going through that which was not written and has still happened.

Last updated: July 15, 2016 | 11:20
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