Knowing Gulzar

Knowing Gulzar

‘The art and achievement of Gulzar’ gives a detailed account of Gulzar’s life from his childhood to his triumphant rise in Bollywood with pictures of the broken down haveli in which he was born, Meena Kumari who was his lady friend for some years, his wife Rakhee and his daughter Meghna.

Gulzar’s original name was Sampooran Singh Kalra. He was born in Dina (district Jhelum in Pakistan). He was the son of Makhan Singh through his second wife who died soon after giving birth to him. Sampooran spent his childhood with his step-brothers and sisters from his father’s other two wives. The family were initially ‘doodhwalas’, selling milk door to door. Then they took to buying and selling cloth. They moved to Delhi.

Sampooran went to Bombay to stay with his step-brother. For a while, he worked in a garage patronised by film director Bimal Roy — then engaged in making ‘Bandani’. He was having trouble with his music composer. He asked Sampooran Singh to compose lyrics. His first foray began with ‘Mora Gora Ang Lai’. It became an instant hit. He realised he could not succeed as a poet unless be changed his name. So Sampooran Singh became Gulzar.

Looking at him, one would not think that Gulzar was a lady killer. But some of the most beautiful women of the time fell for him. The best known was the ravishing Meena Kumari.  Then came the equally beautiful Rakhee who bore him the lovely daughter Meghna, now on the way to becoming a mother herself. Women in Gulzar’s life complained of his being aloof and seeking solitude. All poets and writes crave for
solitude and make bad companions.

Hassan’s biography does not touch upon Gulzar as a poet. For that I had to turn to Sandeep Sen’s ‘Aria’. One entitled ‘Sketch’ reads as follows:

Do you recall the day
You sat at my table...
On a cigarette pad.
A small sapling’s
Sketch you had made
Come here  see....
On the plant now, flowers
The other entitled ‘Ash’ reads:
Behind bars, even the rebel’s eyes
Ash has begun to shed
When coal embers remain
unfanned for long —
Then even in the flame’s eyes
Pearl white cataracts start to appear
Punjabi Christians

The death of Uma Anand (nee Chatterji) on Nov 13 brought back memories of my Christian friends in pre-partition Punjab. Uma was the daughter of professor Chatterji of Government College, Lahore. She married film producer Chetan Anand and bore him two sons. Later, she married Ebrahim Al Kazi, producer and arts collector. Her brother Tiny Chatterji rose to become director general, All India Radio.

Punjabi Christians were divided into three classes which had little to do with each other. The aristocracy comprised the daughter of Dalip Singh, the last Sikh Maharaja who converted to Christianity in his early teens. The aristocracy included descendant of Raja Harman Singh of Kapurthala. His son and daughters included Maharaj Singh, later governor of Bombay, Sir Dalip Singh and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, disciple of Mahatma Gandhi and minister in Pandit Nehru’s cabinet.

The second class consisted of civil servants and educationists: Mangat Rai, the first Indian to become commissioner of income-tax, his daughter Priobala, who became the first Indian principal of Kinnaird College.

There was Professor Lal of Forman Christian College, his son Karl of the Railways, Arthur and John, both of whom got into the ICS and Rallia Ram, prominent figure in the Indian National Congress. My closest friend was Wilburn and his wife Usha.  Wilburn was an all India athlete working for an American oil company. One of their daughters was jailed by Indira Gandhi during the emergency.

The third category of Punjabi Christians were village folk, largely Dalits — who converted by the efforts of American, English and Indian missionaries. However, Sadhu Sunder Singh who was recognised as a saint was a land-owning sardar, who gave up his possessions to walk the Hindustan-Tibet road alone.  He was said to communicate with wild animals. He disappeared from the scene, no one knows when and where. And there was the Salvation Army (Mukti Fauz) often seen marching in formation around Lahore.

With the partition, the upper two classes of Punjabi Christians migrated to India. Village Christians remain in Pakistan, much discriminated and persecuted by the Mullah-minded Muslims. The history of Christian presence in Punjab is yet to be recorded.