Monday, 30th October 2017

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'I started writing because of Tagore'

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  • Published 13.04.11

Utsav was not the Gulzar of Beedi jalai le and Darrrrling. It was a different Gulzar, a Gulzar who only spoke about Rabindranath Tagore and how it’s important for every Indian to read the Bengali poet, right from childhood. t2 spoke to Gulzar before he went up on stage and recited his ‘Hindustani’ translations of Tagore’s poems at Alexandra Palace in north-east London.

At the Ananda Utsav inauguration, you just said one line about Tagore — that Bengalis have been possessive about him. Can you elaborate on this?

It’s true. Bengalis have been very, very proud of Tagore but also very possessive about him. That’s because he is part of the culture of every home. Every child starts with Tagore and then moves on to other Bengali poets. The possessiveness about him in Bengalis, I mean in a positive way. But it’s also true that there were too many restrictions on translating Tagore. You had to get permission from Visva-Bharati and then you had to get the translation approved. Not just translation, even film adaptations. I know of people who have suffered because of this. People like Ramanand Sagar, who wanted to make films based on Tagore’s works.

So, would you say the consciousness about Tagore has not spread as much because of this?

Definitely. Tagore was and is still looked upon as a Bengali poet. He is our national poet but is identified as a regional poet. There should be a feeling in every Indian, whether he is Marathi or Punjabi or Tamilian, that Tagore is our poet. But what happened was... yeh Bangalion ka jo Tagore hai, woh bahut bada shayyar hai. We as a nation have always had a bad habit of living in fragments. But nobody says that about Farid. Nobody says that about Bulleshah, despite knowing that he wrote only in Punjabi. Visva-Bharati didn’t allow outside publication... only they could publish Tagore. The moment this copyright thing expired, look at the way Tagore has flourished outside Bengal. Such beautiful publications have come out. Then you feel this should have happened earlier.

How difficult is it to translate Tagore?

That is the case with every poet. Tagore himself translated Kabir. Hai naa? It was not easy. But whatever be the level of difficulty, Tagore should have been translated before and should be translated even today in every language. I just released a book of Tagore songs translated in Marathi by Dr Narendra Jadhav, vice-chancellor of Pune University. It is such a beautiful volume and I felt very proud of releasing the book in Marathi. I have been living in Maharashtra for 50 years and I identify with the the language and the people there.

Won’t you bring out your translations of Tagore?

I am working on that, right now. It will be Tagore for children. It will take me a full year to compile the volume to my satisfaction. The idea is that Indian students should have Tagore in their textbooks, just like Bengalis have had for many years. It would be such a beautiful thing to have your national poet in your textbooks. And Tagore should flourish across the entire nation. It may help the integration and unity of the country. He had played and will play a big role in our nationalism. It will be an honour for me if I can present Tagore in Urdu and Hindi — Hindustani I call it — to everyone, starting with children. I am also doing an album of Tagore songs in Hindi with Shantanu Moitra. It gives me a lot of pleasure and fulfilment.

Is that why you have cut down on your Hindi film work?

Yes... otherwise where would I get the time to do all this? You have to draw the line somewhere and choose your priorities. And film takes up a lot of time.

Personally, how much has Tagore’s writing inspired you?

Tagore remains my greatest inspiration. He was the turning point in my life right from school. I think I took up writing only because I felt that his translations needed to be better. So, in a way, all my writing is because of him.

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