Monday, July 11, 2016

Of Bards more than one - An evening with Tagore and Gulzar

Recently, I read an article regarding research conducted on reading habits of people sent across by a well-meaning individual. The title of the article was pretty incidental I suppose: What you read matters more than what you might think. One observation that caught my fancy was the following statement: 'When volunteers read their favourite poems, areas of the brain associated with memory were stimulated more strongly than "reading areas," indicating that reading poems you love is the kind of recollection that evokes strong emotions - and strong emotions are always good for creative writing.'

Where do Tagore and Gulzar fit into all this?

I had always felt that poetry just...happens! Poetry is a single arresting thought, or a combination of thoughts, which searches for the apt words. I must admit that due to geographical and language-related factors, my knowledge of Tagore was mostly restricted to The Gitanjali and the short story The Cabuliwallah. Selections from his magnum opus and the quintessential story would always appear in English textbooks and supplementary readers and hence, I was 'too familiar' with them. However, every single time I went back to the story of the Cabuliwallah I had often wondered about the genius of a story-teller who could fill a simple narrative with such poignancy and emotion. I had often wondered, how he would have made Mini narrate this same story.

My knowledge of Gulzar was even more less. I faintly remembered that he had something to do with Bollywood cinema, and felt woefully ignorant. While waiting for the traffic jam to clear up, I quickly googled him, only to realise that the corpus of creative work done by this man beats anybody's imagination.

Listening to Gulzar only confirmed my assessment about poetry. He delved into his memories to recollect the incident that had led him towards an exploration of Tagore's works. And throughout the conversation during the book launch, his emphasis was on how Tagore was much more than the Nobel prize winning work, or the ubiquitous short story. Tagore was a poet who spoke to generations. And where better to find this Tagore, than in his poetry?

As I heard Gulzar reciting selections from Tagore's poetry, through the rhythm of sound, the depth of imagery and the precision of detailing, I felt myself being transported into very specific worlds quintessentially arrested in the stillness of time: the worlds of a bride who is being exhorted by her mother-in-law to answer the door and invite the 'guest', the child who brings alive a gripping tale of adventure and bravery, or a child who fancies himself to be a grown-up, like his Dada. . Yet, they were communicating a volume of meaning. They were almost like touchstones of human perceptions of everyday life.

While Tagore's achievement had been to arrest such moments and preserve them for an eternity, Gulzar's feat has been to render the translations in such a precise manner without sacrificing the rhythm for the meaning. His recitation managed to evoke pretty strong emotions; so much that I clapped with great gusto when Gulzar concluded a poem on a child's conversation with his mother with a sweet, ironic twist, suggesting that the child was aware about his make-believe world. 

For me, the greatest takeaway of the evening was the realisation that there is more to Tagore than The Gitanjali and his novels. And there is more to Gulzar than his movies. Further, I found myself nodding in agreement to his suggestion that Tagore's poems, especially those on children, have to be made accessible to children. These poems which foreground children and their narratives offer us precise but pertinent perspectives on how children think and imagine. A quick look at our current system (s) of education will show that the odds are stacked against the development of EQ (emotional quotient) as opposed to IQ. And where better to begin the process of change than with poetry. These are the readings that would trigger strong emotions and hence better creativity.

As Gulzar, in his sonorous voice transported us into lands and time far removed from the cold comfort of the air-conditioned hall that we were sitting in, I could not help but reflect that this was an evening well-spent with bards more than one!