Gulzar is one of India’s most respected scriptwriters and directors, and has been one of the most popular lyricists in mainstream Hindi cinema for over five decades. One of the country’s leading poets, he has published a number of poetry anthologies and collections of short stories. He is also regarded as one of India’s finest writers for children. Apart from many Filmfare and National awards for his films and lyrics —and an Oscar and Grammy for the song ‘Jai ho’—Gulzar has received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2002 and the Padma Bhushan in 2004. In 2014 he was awarded the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award. He lives and works in Mumbai.
These poems on nature are Gulzar’s lyrical and sensitive tribute to nature in all its many-splendored facets. It encompasses love, sorrow, joy, grief, human relationships, the ordinary and the extraordinary, and the daily, unnoticed and often remarkable minutiae of the ebb and flow of life. Nothing really escapes his relentlessly observing poetic eye. As part of this extensive canvas, nature has remained his consistent and sustained passion. In writing about nature, Gulzar gives to it a personality of its own. He does not so much write about it as he writes through it, allowing it to speak. In this process he is both an observer and a participant in its joys and travails. For him, a river or a cloud or a mountain, a tree or a leaf or the sky and the universe beyond are not objects of observation, but living, animate beings with a soul and a purpose and a will distinct from that of the observer. He is then in dialogue with them, combining humor and pathos and irony and great beauty in his compositions.
Interestingly, in Gulzar’s poetic lexicon, it is human beings who are very often the objects of observation for nature. Instead of being the observed, nature becomes the observer of our finite and puny worlds and our myriad irrelevant preoccupations. The dexterity with which he crafts this process simultaneously brings out both the majesty of nature and, by sheer contrast, the limitations of human vanity and endeavor.
Beyond the exquisite play of words, these Poems on nature are also a testament to a poet’s abiding concern about what we as human beings are doing to nature. As a poet, Gulzar would arguably rank among the most effective and genuine voices of environmental conservation and of the need to give respect to the natural world. He writes of this world fully conscious of what human ambition and greed are doing to it. The world is fragile for him, perennially endangered, forever held hostage to our effortless ability to unthinkingly desecrate it, unmindful of the consequences this can unleash on our own long-term well-being. Green Poems is thus a poetic text that reinforces the work of professional environmentalists.
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Muttering to himself the river flows along
Some small desires still alive in his heart
An entire life spent slithering along the sand
Now he wants to climb up and flow over the bridge!
In winter, when the fog settles all over his face
And the wind flutters by wiping his countenance clean
He wants, just once, to soar along with the breeze
And simply vanish from the forest.
Sometimes, when a train passes over the bridge
The flowing river stops momentarily
With one wish Maybe to see once again that girl’s face
Who had offered flowers and tulsi to him
For the good husband to find.
That image of the girl’s face Caught as a reflection
It has retained deep within!
The sky remains ill every year
It has some kind of allergy, perhaps …
The moment September arrives the rains begin to shrivel up
Pieces of clouds, like dirty, soiled nappies,
Lie around in the dry, irritable sunshine.
By dusk, a rash breaks out on the sky’s back
And a patch of the sky, as if stung by a poisonous scorpion,
Becomes an angry red. F
or many days a cough wracks the sky,
A crimson dark wind swirls around;
My sky in September remains very unwell!
The snow looked so innocent
When it came down
Like so many moths flying around.
The birds, taken aback,
Stared with their beaks half open
What they thought were moths without mouths, eyes or wings
Became, when caught, a drop of moisture in their mouth.
In complete silence the snow fell the entire night in the valley
No thunder as happens with rain
No door rattled, no window startled by a knock
No one woke up
No stillness was jostled
Quietly, it just snowed the whole night.
The morning looked so soft
Children rolled out of a fruit basket,
Slid about in the snow
Windows everywhere were like a Christmas card in water colours
The poor, bare tree branches
Scraped by autumn just two months ago.
Looked as if their fingers had cotton bandages on
The snow coming down in torrents appeared so innocent
But also without feeling or touch
It left no taste on the tongue
It couldn’t hurt
It seemed just a little impudent.
It has now snowed for eight days continuously!
Black-looking birds hover low over the ground
Searching for a morsel, a leaf, anything to eat
Even the rivers have covered their faces
In a thick blanket of snow
Roofs have hidden their eyes under a hat
Mansions wear a large Gandhi cap
Walls have put up their collars
To protect themselves from the wind.
How clever was this assault of the snow
The first thing it did was to choke off all avenues to food
Passes that could provide an escape from the mountains
Blocked by walls several feet wide
The city squares are closed
Doors and entrances all jammed
How ruthless is this snow that has taken an entire town
captive It looked so innocent
It turned out to be so merciless!
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The Story of a River
There is the story of a river
Who inquired of a poet:
Every day my two banks hold me by my arms
And make me walk a given path;
And, every day, on my back, I carry
Boats full of people to the other side.
Every day, like adolescent children,
The waves write something on my chest.
Can it not be
That someday nothing happens Nothing at all
And I put my back to my bed
And remain motionless for one evening
Like a poem lies inert after being read
Unmoving, at rest?
When I pass through the forest it seems my ancestors are around me
I feel I am a newborn baby
And these tribes of trees
Are rocking me in their arms.
Some play a flower rattle, others sprinkle fragrance on my eyes
One very old, bearded bargad
Takes me in his lap, surprise writ on his face,
And tells me:
Now you have begun to walk
But once you too were like us
With your roots in the ground
Straining with all your might to catch the sun.
You had just arrived on earth
And I saw you slithering around,
on our branches you would climb, jump down again,
But once, standing on both legs, you could run
You did not return
You became a part of the rocks, of the mountains!
But even so
The water in your body
The soil in your being
Is from us
You will be seeded again in us
You will return to us again.
Leaves in Autumn
When leaves fall in autumn
What do they say to the branches?
We have lived our season and must leave
But you must continue to prosper
You have to nurture the progeny of coming seasons
And bid them goodbye.
When the time came for the branch to be pruned
It said to the tree, addressing it directly:
May my years be added to yours
You have to grow, become even taller
Don’t miss me, other branches will grow in my place.
What did the tree say to the earth
When the ground was mercilessly dug up, disjointing its roots
And uprooting it from the soil?
The earth itself was forced to say:
Remember, when as a tiny seed you peeped out
And saw the leaves when they first sprouted?
Come again, to be born in my womb
If I survive!
The Tree at the Corner
Have you seen, at that corner, that ageing tree?
It is an acquaintance I have known for years.
When I was small I had climbed on to its shoulders
From the adjacent wall, to steal a mango
My feet touched one of its branches that was hurting
It threw me down with a thud
Angry, I threw many stones at it.
At my wedding, I remember, it gave its branches
To warm the fire for the havan
And when Beeba was pregnant
It threw, every afternoon,
Its raw mangoes at my wife.
With time, all its leaves and flowers disappeared.
I would be jealous when Beeba told the baby:
‘You have come from that tree, you are his fruit.’
Even today I feel angry when, as I pass the turning, he coughs
And says: ‘Hey, have you lost your hair?’
Today, since morning, the municipal authorities are cutting it to pieces
I do not have the courage to go up to the corner.
Some rivers of your tribe flow too
From where I come
They flow around, just like you, make the land fertile
And fill up boats, just as you do
To take people to the other shore.
Sometimes, their waters are whipped to produce electricity
There is an outcry:
The delicate bodies of the rivers must be breaking!
In the silence of the night
There is something that you chant Thimphu Chhu
What is that?
Do you talk of your yearning to merge with the ocean
Or quietly pray
That you be saved the prospect of being whipped?
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