Wednesday, 10 September 2014


By: Saba Mahmood Bashir
ISBN: 9789351160748
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers India
Format: Demy/Paper Back
Extent: 272  pages


Saba Mahmood Bashir is a freelance editor based in Delhi. She is a gold medallist in MA, English Literature from Allahabad University and has completed her PhD from IIT Delhi. Her first book, Memory-Past, a collection of poems, was published by Writers Workshop in 2006.

Her latest book is I Swallowed the Moon: The poetry of Gulzar (HarperCollins India, 2013). The book focuses on the poetry of Hindi film lyricist and poet Gulzar, placing him as a Progressive Poet in Popular Culture.


Gulzar is arguably the most well-known contemporary poet writing in Hindustani. As a poet he occupies a unique place being a Progressive poet in a popular culture. His poetry appeals to all strata of society, without compromising either on literary merit or on its ability to convey the most exalted thought in an accessible idiom. In ‘He Swallowed the Moon’, Saba Bashir attempts to analyse what makes Gulzar the poet he is. What is his signature style? What are the issues that concern his poetry and what are the recurrent images in it? She also draws a parallel between the poet’s film and non-film poetry and points out how they are used interchangeably. Including the most comprehensive list of all Gulzar’s poems, film and non-film songs, this is a valuable addition to the corpus of work on a great poet.


Pavan Varma has translated two volumes of Gulzar's poetry collections. In his words - Gulzar's poetry is studded with the kind of imagery that leaves the reader almost breathless. Two images are juxtaposed in such a manner that when the meaning suddenly falls into place, the reaction is near explosive. The power of this imagery, literally leaping at you from the lyricism of his composition, has few parallels. The range of his poetry is astonishing. His literary dexterity is surprising. Poetry for him is a perennial linguistic discovery, a never ceasing challenge of structure and message. He has spent a lifetime crafting words and imbuing them with meaning and beauty.

The author has taken us through the Historical journey of the use of Urdu, Hindi and Hindustani language in Gulzar's poetry. The poets and people who influenced him the most have found honorable mention. His association and the influence of the Progressive Writers' Association has also been traced.
She mentions that Gulzar has an interesting take on the development of Hindustani, which he says is not only a combination of Hindi and Urdu but is the local language of any part of the country.

THE IMAGERY of Gulzar's poetry: He uses unusual images and juxtaposes them to great effect. The author says - While traditional poets criticize him for his style of juxtapositioning  and using of oxymorons, many others contend that this makes his work diverse and distinct.

There are 3 sets of images that recur in Gulzar's poems: The moon, the sun and the tussle between them; the various aspects of water and its manifestations; and the image of the eyes.

"He himself claims laughingly that he has the copyright over the moon."

Moon is the metaphor, a catalyst too.

ASPECTS OF LANGUAGE AND FORM - In Gulzar's words, "I have used English to communicate the message. The aim of translation is to communicate. If the message is conveyed , it means the language is fine. He also points out that one has to modify language if there is a desire to change with the times, lest one becomes an antique piece that no one wants to buy. He adds that what is important is how meticulous one is in expressing onesel, that what one communicates should not appear like patchwork. To write as per today's norms and the new values is a challenge. There definitely is a change in vocabulary, a change of expression.

TRIVENI - The three-line form of poetry that Gulzar experiments with is unlike the other three-line form of poetry in Urdu, English or other languages. It is characterized by a hidden meaning. Triveni, the confluence of Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati, where Saraswati is the mythical hidden river.
"Triveni is neither musallas nor haiku nor verse said in three lines. In these three forms, there is a kind of continuity between the idea and the image. But the temperament of Triveni is different. At times, the third line enhances the meaning of the first two and at other times, it is a comment on them," says Gulzar.

His poetry is the product of the beautiful marriage between folk and classical music says, Ranade.

THE THEMES of Gulzar's poems encompass the world and beyond. Love, relationship, social concerns, nature, children and his seventeen movies he directed which portrays strong women characters with an identity of their own.

The book is a treasure trove of information and it is difficult even to choose the excerpts or examples of his poems to cite here.

MY VERDICT - If you like Gulzar, then this is a very delightful read as this goes beyond his poetry.

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