It is difficult to come across a love song written by Gulzar and not like it. To be specific, it is difficult to come across a love song and not know it has been written by Gulzar. The reasons are many but what does the trick for me is his insistence on never sacrificing the mundane at the altar of grandeur, refusal to distinguish between poetry and prose as the preferred language of love, and never not being desperate and never not being respectful. You do not recognise a Gulzar song, you identify it like you want to find him somewhere along the way, like you always knew he would be there.
It was a friend who persisted with me to listen to Yaaram (Ek Thi Daayan, 2013), a love ballad so painful that it stings even when sung with a smile. She persisted in a way a new song needs to be persisted to be listened to; in a way someone who notices your need before you do persists to help. The song is all Gulzar: naked despair (Dil Se), hopeful hopelessness (Saathiya), and a convenient exoneration of self by holding the heart guilty of transgression (Ishqiya). And yet, for a writer who trades in metaphors to hide plight and diffidence, this perhaps is his most brazen work in recent times. It begins as a tease — Hum cheez hain badey kaam ke, Yaaram/ Humein kaam pe rakh lo kabhi, Yaaram — moves to an impassioned request: Sooraj se pehle jagaayenge/ Aur akhbaar ki sab surkhiyaan hum gungunayenge — and eventually devolves into knee-bending supplication: Peechhe peechhe din bhar/ Ghar daftar mein le ke chalenge hum/ Tumhaari filein, tumhaari diary/ Gaadi ki chaabiyan, tumhaari enakein/ Tumhaara laptop, tumhaari cap, phone/ Aur apna dil.
This first section, which precedes a response, sounds oddly complete in the way it encloses varying stages of loving someone with all its vanity and indignation. The first two lines are an invitation, a lyrical equivalent of two pairs of eyes meeting in a bar. It moves to a sharp plunging in — the metaphorical fall — where the headiness does not require the crutch of intoxication. There is a lot of convincing and so much conviction to change the world as per someone else’s liking to ease even a possible scowl. But it is the last six lines — the literal fall this time — which hit the hardest. Gulzar here not just renounces the majestic but makes even the mundane bleed. There is no declaration but complete submission, a shameful admission of being at mercy. It is a realisation of what love can reduce you to, and an unconditional sanction of wanting to be reduced. It is like meeting at the same bar and creating a scene while being tearfully aware of it.
I always read it as that juncture of loving someone where you know you have gone too far and yet the only way you make amends by is going farther. It is that point when everything you said you were had turned out otherwise, leaving you grotesquely bare even before your own self. This is where you recognise the way you love is all wrong but that is also the only way you know. This is where you strip yourself of all dignity and throw your hands in desperation, pleading with them to stay by promising to never leave. This is where you repent for your actions by agreeing to carry their every burden, even if that includes your own heart.
Yaaram is what finds you and also one where you find yourself. The last bit which I cannot listen to without tearing up is what my teenage self would have rejected. Now in my late 20s and sobered with some stabs in the heart, I see merit in wanting to try so damn hard; in using audacious hope as a cover on broken faith. It played behind my ears when I held the door for someone to leave while every part of my being wanted to close it. It is what I had not set out to be but have found myself becoming. The anguish is so prosaically blatant that it feels surprising Gulzar would write it and so jumping-off-the-cliff desperate that only he could have. Something tells me that if the tune was not this playful, it would be a hoarse cry.
The repartee is a gorgeous display of imagery, a stunning case of assurance without conceding defeat to absence: Raat savere, shaam ya dopehari/ Band aankhon me le ke tumhe ungha karenge hum. But notice the way it is depicted — words sung to someone and addressed to someone else. The plea has been rejected after all but as a final gift, the writer concludes with a promise to remember without clarifying who.
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