Gulzar's maiden voyage -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

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Gulzar’s maiden voyage

One did realise this was no ordinary company. But it was far too short

By Masood Hasan

There are so many aspects of Gulzar Sahib’s recent visit and abrupt departure back to India that one does not quite know where to start. Most importantly, after reading all the media coverage, analysis and theories, both here and in India, it is quite clear that for once, there was no conspiracy.

Neither did the Paki spooks hassle Gulzar Sahib and his entourage nor did the Indian High Commission ferret him out post haste. Quite simply, his visit to his mentor’s grave in Lahore, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi and later his journey to his birthplace Dina near Jhelum, took its toll.

A visibly distraught and pensive Gulzar felt unwell and rightly, his friends advised he return to India, which he did. That is about it. As for ‘coverage’ of his visit, that was a bit of a problem because his trip was partially a private and partially an official one. That was the Karachi Literary Festival where audiences waited in great anticipation to meet this unique man.

I understand that he was delighted with the turnout in Dina and first saw his school where a block bears his name. It was the visit to his home that brought back a flood of tears and he broke down. I can so easily empathise with that.

Some years ago, I went through the same experience visiting our old home in Sialkot and discovering a house alive with memories, voices, sounds and aromas. Fifteen minutes later, driving back, I stopped the car and sat and wept for what I did not know. It was as if the floodgates of memory had come unhinged. Gulzar Sahib went through the same ordeal and he was coming home almost 70 years later! If anything this trait simply endears him more, because it is his essential humanity, his humility and his gentleness that comes through. He is a legend but more than that, he is a wonderful human being and he makes our lives richer by his very presence and his awesome body of work.

But who is Gulzar or Sampooran Singh Kalra as he was named at birth? He is an Indian poet, lyricist and film/TV director. He has dwarfed the Indian film and literary scene for decades — almost five decades with work of great merit and intrinsic excellence. He has been applauded by millions of devoted fans and has won just about every award there is to win. An Oscar for his stirring ‘Jai Ho’ from the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and a Grammy for the same work is but the icing on a delectable cake.

Gulzar has won numerous national awards, 20 Filmfare awards, India’s coveted Padma Bhushan Award in 2004 for his artistic contribution, Best Lyricist 11 times, Best Dialogue 4 times and the 2012 Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration. Audiences here will recall Naseeruddin Shah and Mirza Ghalib. That too is Gulzar Sahib at work. He has worked with the industry’s leading lights — music directors like R.D. Burman, A.R. Rahman and Vishal Bharwaj to name just a few. And what about the lives of millions he has fashioned, inspired and guided? An entire industry has glowed in his radiance and that is a measure of the man. I would urge readers to go to the internet and type a six letter word beginning with G and then sit and absorb.

I in fact had no idea he was coming to Lahore and met him purely by chance with my son, the musician Mekaal Hasan. Gulzar Sahib hardly spoke but watched and listened intently. I told him the Faiz Ahmad Faiz story when Faiz was asked by an impatient acolyte when the revolution would take place, he laughed at what Faiz had said. Taking a deep pull on his cigarette, Faiz Sahib blew out the smoke and in the softest of voices said, “It will come. What’s the hurry?”

Gulzar Sahib sat wearing a white cotton pajama and matching shirt, gold ‘khusaas’ and a fawn shawl carelessly draped over his shoulders. One did realise that this was no ordinary company. But it was far too short.

The next day took him to Dina and you know the rest.

I recall Jagjit Singh performing in Lahore and gradually getting irritated by the incessant cell phones. Said he gently, “we had heard that Lahore was a cultural city and we are here for the first time and hopefully not the last.” The irony went unnoticed!

The partition drew a line across the subcontinent and people like Gulzar Sahib were one day going to school in Dina and the next flung into another world. Home is where the heart is and Gulzar Sahib’s alas-too-brief-a-visit demonstrated that although he has built a great life across the divide.

The Indians value our musicians and our writers and singers which is why they come here. Were things to ever get better and the exchange between artists flourishing, a great deal of normalcy would result and the demons of hate that both sides subscribe to would simply evaporate. We need the Jagjits, the Gulzars and the Shahrukhs like they need the Abida Parveens, the Ghulam Alis, the Mehdi Hassans and our great ‘qawaals’ to name just a few. There can be peace and there can be music that lasts.

The Jang

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