The Anger of Gulzar: Unlike his softly musing romantic poetry, Gulzar sahab's political verse is hard-hitting and edgy

Saba Mahmood Bashir
Saba Mahmood BashirAug 18, 2019 | 13:56

The Anger of Gulzar: Unlike his softly musing romantic poetry, Gulzar sahab's political verse is hard-hitting and edgy

On his birthday, a look at the poet extraordinaire's writing on communal violence, corruption, unemployment. The tone and words here are different from Gulzar's beautiful romantic verse.

Anpnee marzee se to mazhab bhi nahin usne chuna tha

Uska mazhab tha jo maan baap se hee usne viraasat mein liya tha

Apne maan-baap chune koyee ye mumkin hee kahan hai?

Us pe ye mulk bhi laazim tha, ki maan baap ka ghar tha isme

Yeh watan to uska chunaav to nahihn tha.

Woh to kul nau hee baras ka tha usen kyon chunkar

Phirkadarana fasaadaat ne kal qatal kiya...

(He did not choose his religion

He inherited it from his parents

How is it possible for anyone to choose their parents

The country was by virtue of where his parents lived

He had not chosen his country.

He was only nine, why was he picked up

By communal rioters and slaughtered...)

- 'Viraasat’, Raat Pashmine Ki, p 18

Gulzar, a contemporary Indian poet, is a household name.

Although he is largely recognised as a romantic poet, there is a huge body of his work on the social concerns of the nation.

He himself is an eye-witness to the Partition and has struggled to come to terms with the gory memories of violence. What is striking is that his writings are not provocative in any form but only show his sensitivity and arouse sorrow amongst his readers/audiences.

gulzar-reuters_081719025300.jpgEveryday. Yet, exceptional: Gulzar's political poetry, angry and anguished, like his romantic Bollywood lyrics, moves many. (Photo: Reuters)

Always troubled by the unrest and the killings that he saw around, there are a series of poems that Gulzar has written questioning God, titled, ‘Fasaadat 1 – 6’ in Raat Pashmine Ki.

He questions the very presence and existence of God, in his poem ‘Fasadaat 2’.

Moazza koyee bhi uss shab naa hua

Jitney bhi log the us roz ibaadatgah mein

Sab ke hoton pe dua thi

Aur aankhon mein chiraagan tha yakeen ka

Ke Khuda ka ghar hai

Zalzale tod nahin sakta ise,

Aag jala saktee nahin

Saikdon moazze ki sabne hikaayat sunee theen

Saikdon naamon se un sabne pukara usko

Ghaib se koyee bhi awaaz nahin aayee kisi ki,

Na Khuda ki, na police ki !!

Sab ke sab bhune gaye aag mein, aur bhasm hue

Maozza koyee bhi us shab na hua! 

(No miracles occurred that night

All those who were in the place of worship that night

Had prayers on their lips

And the light of conviction in their eyes

That they were in the house of God

Earthquakes cannot damage it

Fire cannot burn it

Everyone had heard of hundreds of miracles

Everyone remembered God with hundreds of names

No one heard any divine voice

Neither of the God – nor of the police!

All of them were torched alive

No miracles occurred that night)

- Gulzar, Raat Pashmine Ki, p 16

And, goes on to put God on trial in the ending couplet of ‘Fasaadat 3’:

Aazmaish ki thi kal raat khudaon ke liye

Kal mere shaher mein ghar unke jalaye sab ne!!

(The Gods were under trial last night

Their homes in my city were torched yesterday!!)

- Gulzar, Raat Pashmine Ki, p 17

There is a marked difference between the kind of writing that Gulzar does for films vis-à-vis what he has published in his anthologies of poetry.

Although there are political songs for films also, especially in the films that he himself directed (such as Mere Apne, Aandhi, Maachis and Hu Tu Tu), the political poetry in his anthology is stark and blunt.


One can come to the conclusion that with regard to the former, Gulzar is bound up with the storyline and market dynamics — but with the former, he has the free will to express his innermost anguish, his take on the socio-political reality in a manner that he wishes to. An apt example would be the manner the poet treats the issue of elections, and the intentions of the politicians, as he writes for Aandhi (1975) and for a poem. The song, 'Salaam Kijey', a parody on the elections, draws a comparison between the situation, pre and post-elections. Respect, bubbling with sarcasm, is given to the politicians who come out to reach to the masses, canvassing before the elections, in our democracy.

Salaam kijeye, aalijanab aaye hain            

Yeh paanch saalon ka dene hisaab aaye hain

Hamare vote khareednein humko ann dekar

Yeh nange jism chupa dete hain qafan dekar

Yeh jadugar hain, yeh chutki mein kaam karte hain

Yeh bhook-pyas ko baton se Ram karte hain

(Pay regards, Her highness is here

Has come to answer for the last five years

Want to buy our votes, giving us grains

They hide naked bodies with shroud

They are magicians, they work in a jiffy

They kill hunger with the talk of the Gods)

When expressing his mistrust in the democratic elections in a Triveni (a three-line poem form propounded by Gulzar, where there is a hidden/unsaid meaning between the second and the third line), Gulzar writes,

Parcheeyan bat rahi hain galiyon mein

Apne qaatil ka intekhaab karo

Waqt yeh saqt hai chunaav ka

(Pamphlets are being distributed in the lanes

Choose your murderer

These are the testing times of elections)

 - Gulzar, Triveni, p 33 

In Mere Apne (1971), his directorial debut, Gulzar brings out the helplessness of a common man. The song, 'Haal Chaal Theek Thaak Hai', on the unemployed youth and its frustration, peppered with wit, humour and satire, and written about five decades ago, has become timeless, as the situation still seems to be the same.

Haal chaal theek thaak hai

Sab kuch theek thaak hai

B.A. kiya hai, M.A. kiya hai

Lagta hai woh bhi aiwain kiya hai

Kaam nahin hai warna yahan

Aapki dua se sab theek thaak hai

(I am doing fine

Everything is fine

I have done my B.A and M.A

Looks like, have done it just like that

I don’t have work, else

With your blessing, everything is fine)

suchitra_081819015832.jpgThe song, 'Salaam Kijey', a parody on the elections, draws a comparison between the situation, pre and post-elections. (Photo: Reuters)

Be it questioning God for all the killings and misery in the world, or expressing his distaste at the manner in which politicians exploit the masses, there is an inherent anguish in Gulzar’s writing when he observes the socio-political situation of the county. An apt poem to conclude would the ending couplet of ‘Akhbaar’ which expresses a certain grief and anger at the various killings and unnecessary bloodshed in the nation.

Roz subah akhbaar mere ghar

Khoon mein lathpath aata hai

(Every morning the newspaper

Comes drenched in blood to my house).

- Gulzar, Pukhraj, p 9 

(The present write-up includes excerpts from the author's doctoral thesis. All translations are by the author herself)

Last updated: August 18, 2019 | 14:37
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