Economy, Farmer Suicide & Water: Worries of Gulzar’s ‘Murari Lal’

Gulzar’s Murari Lal, like Laxman’s ‘Common Man’, holds up a mirror to his age and shows us multiple realities.

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Opinion
5 min read
Gulzar’s Murari Lal, like Laxman’s ‘Common Man’, holds up a mirror to his age and shows us multiple realities.
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Gulzar shares quite a lot with the legendary cartoonist R K Laxman. Both have used their craft to comment on the mundane aspects of human life. Gulzar’s ‘Diary of Murari Lal’ is one such example.

Featuring Murari Lal––a character who first appeared in the film Anand (1971) whose script was written by Gulzar––this series, in the nature of a work in progress, is a comment on our times. Murari Lal, a bit like Laxman’s ‘Common Man’, holds up a mirror to his age and shows us the good, the bad and the indifferent.

Murarilal, a character in Rajesh Khanna-Amitabh Bachchan starrer Anand. 
Murarilal, a character in Rajesh Khanna-Amitabh Bachchan starrer Anand. 
(Screen-grab from film Anand)

In this sharply nuanced series of short poems, each Haiku-like in its brevity and compactness, Gulzar looks at the world with his tongue firmly in his cheek. Much like Saadat Hasan Manto’s iconic ‘Black Margins’ (Siyah Hashiye), these vignettes offer a slice of life but without the black humour.

Here is a translation of these poems:

Foreword

The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!
Murari Lal’s worries are long
If someone asks why he is thin, he says:
“I am always fearful of the city!”
To complain and to be always irritable have become a habit
The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!

Laxman’s Common Man was a mute but omnipresent spectator who watched the ironies and pathos of life in the post-Independence India. 
Laxman’s Common Man was a mute but omnipresent spectator who watched the ironies and pathos of life in the post-Independence India. 
(Photo Courtesy: rklaxman.com/screengrab)

Murari Lal and Demonetisation

The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!
The world has changed but not much after all
Only a few currency notes have changed
As have their colours
The names of several streets
And the boards on some railway stations
The faces of the rulers
The old posters have changed
And the models of some cars!
Kanhaiyya, the chholey seller is still selling his chholey from the pavement
The cobbler Bhiku’s son is also a cobbler, sitting there mending slippers
The world has changed but not much after all
The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!

Farmer Suicides & Debts Worry Murari Lal

The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!
How much I tried to reason with Gajwa
While he kept drinking, yet stayed in his senses
He kept on laughing and licking away at the salt
He had taken a steep loan from the money-lender this time
“You will lose your land... you have put your thumb print!”
He laughed...
‘I used to put my thumb print
But this time I have waved my thumb!”
And he laughed once again
And committed suicide that very night
The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!

***

I had learned this from my mother
That when you sit down to eat
Always break a piece of roti from your plate
And give it to the cat
Or else she will begin to growl
“What if we don’t?”
“She will pounce upon it and grab it
Don’t forget she’s a carnivore.”
In a few days the dogs had begun to gather in our courtyard
We would toss a piece of a roti sometimes
Sometimes a morsel of meat to them too
“What if we don’t?” Then they will growl, and bark too
Now we have come to the city to live in a flat
Now my father says:
“A cheque has come for you; deduct the tax and pay it all.”
“What if I don’t?”
“Don’t you remember what would happen when we used to eat?”
The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!

Murari Lal, too, Has Tax and Governance Problems

I used to have two dogs
One was called Chhotu, the other Motu
Whenever I came to sit at my dining table
They too would sit down beside me
For they too would get a piece of roti and a morsel of meat
For a long time when I did not give them anything
The elder said to the younger: “If he can save something from his tax
He might give it to us.”
The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!

***

He is hopeful that the potholes in the roads will be filled out one day
And the roads will become smooth
But the toe strap of his Kolhapuri chappal that had come off
Has not been repaired for years
He has to drag his foot when he walks!
The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!

***

Murari Lal plays ‘Rummy’
But his grouse is that he
Has never got the ‘Joker’
Each time he pulls a card from the pack
He raises a slogan:
“O Master, Come!
Redeem my ruination!”
Now it has become a habit
Even when he goes to cast his vote
He raises the same slogan
“O Master, Come!
Redeem my ruination!”
The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!

Inflation, Poverty, & Neglect

The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!
The seas cover two-thirds of the earth’s surface
Ships sail on this water In our country, in our rivers and streams
We bathe in them and wash clothes
Boats ply on them Dams are built on them
There are many lakes too
There are bunds to hold rainwater
There’s water and water, and more water!
But why is there no water in my tap?
The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!

***

The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!
Everything is so expensive, my friends
Prices are sky high
My daughter’s marriage is upon me
With such difficulty I have managed her “mangal sutra”
What else shall I give in her dowry?
Shall I add some onions?
Their price is as dear as gold
The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!

***

Yesterday
There was a big political meeting in our neighbourhood
All the leaders of the farmers and workers had come
The road was choc-a-bloc with bumper-to-bumper
Mercedes cars
Murari’s grouse is that there was no place to park his bicycle
The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!

(Rakhshanda Jalil is a writer, translator and literary historian. She writes on literature, culture and society. She runs Hindustani Awaaz, an organisation devoted to the popularisation of Urdu literature. She tweets at @RakhshandaJalil. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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