Keep reading – it’s fuel for your writing: Gulzar

By Eudore R. Chand


SHARJAH 2 November 2019: The auditorium was already filled up by the time Sampooran Singh Kalra, popularly known as Gulzar, turned up for a conversation with radio jockey Gagan Mudgal, at the last session of the second day of the Sharjah International Book Fair 2019 at Expo Centre yesterday.

He took a good look at the eager audience and remarked quietly, “If only my films too had drawn such crowds!”

This then was Gulzar, poet extraordinaire, writer, filmmaker and translator, who apart from the numerous civilian and film awards he has won in India, also bagged an Academy Award and a Grammy for his song ‘Jai Ho’ from the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. His poems, literature and films reflect the same quiet yet sharp observations on the life of the multitudes.

Gulzar expressed his happiness at finally being able to experience Sharjah as well as SIBF. “I am very happy to be here and experience the friendliness of this emirate and its people,” he said. “It was such a pleasure just reading the theme of SIBF: ‘Open Books, Open Minds’. So lovely and so true.”

He had a word of advice to budding writers: Never stop reading. “When you read 100 pages you will possibly be inspired to write a page. As your writing increases, you may notice that your reading comes down. This in the end will tell on your writing. Keep reading. It is the fuel for your writing.”

Gulzar narrated an incident from his childhood in Delhi, India, that pointed him towards writing. “As a young boy I was very fond of reading thrillers,” he said. “An old man in our neighbourhood used to run a lending library. You could read all the books you wanted for 4 annas (Dh0.01) a week. I read so quickly that I ran out of books. So, he gave me a large volume of poems by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore to keep me busy. When I read it, I was hooked for life, and never looked back.”

Gulzar learnt Bengali to read the original writings of Tagore and ended up translating many of his poems into Hindi. “My latest translation project ‘A Poem a Day’ which will be published soon by HarperCollins, aims at amplifying the voice of young and dynamic poets writing in different languages and dialects from across the country. I have already finished translating 279 poems from 34 languages,” he said.

“I am fascinated by the sheer dynamism of poetry coming from different parts of the country, especially the North Eastern states. Translations help preserve the cultural identity of the original work.”