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.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:ForewordThe creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!Murari Lal’s worries are longIf 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 habitThe creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!Murari Lal and DemonetisationThe creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!The world has changed but not much after allOnly a few currency notes have changedAs have their coloursThe names of several streetsAnd the boards on some railway stationsThe faces of the rulersThe old posters have changedAnd the models of some cars!Kanhaiyya, the chholey seller is still selling his chholey from the pavementThe cobbler Bhiku’s son is also a cobbler, sitting there mending slippersThe world has changed but not much after allThe creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!Farmer Suicides & Debts Worry Murari LalThe creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!How much I tried to reason with GajwaWhile he kept drinking, yet stayed in his sensesHe kept on laughing and licking away at the saltHe 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 printBut this time I have waved my thumb!”And he laughed once againAnd committed suicide that very nightThe creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!***I had learned this from my motherThat when you sit down to eatAlways break a piece of roti from your plateAnd give it to the catOr else she will begin to growl“What if we don’t?”“She will pounce upon it and grab itDon’t forget she’s a carnivore.”In a few days the dogs had begun to gather in our courtyardWe would toss a piece of a roti sometimesSometimes a morsel of meat to them too“What if we don’t?” Then they will growl, and bark tooNow we have come to the city to live in a flatNow 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 ProblemsI used to have two dogsOne was called Chhotu, the other MotuWhenever I came to sit at my dining tableThey too would sit down beside meFor they too would get a piece of roti and a morsel of meatFor a long time when I did not give them anythingThe elder said to the younger: “If he can save something from his taxHe 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 dayAnd the roads will become smoothBut the toe strap of his Kolhapuri chappal that had come offHas not been repaired for yearsHe 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 heHas never got the ‘Joker’Each time he pulls a card from the packHe raises a slogan:“O Master, Come!Redeem my ruination!”Now it has become a habitEven when he goes to cast his voteHe raises the same slogan“O Master, Come!Redeem my ruination!”The creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!Inflation, Poverty, & NeglectThe creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!The seas cover two-thirds of the earth’s surfaceShips sail on this water In our country, in our rivers and streamsWe bathe in them and wash clothesBoats ply on them Dams are built on themThere are many lakes tooThere are bunds to hold rainwaterThere’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 friendsPrices are sky highMy daughter’s marriage is upon meWith 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 goldThe creases don’t quite leave Murari Lal’s forehead!***YesterdayThere was a big political meeting in our neighbourhoodAll the leaders of the farmers and workers had comeThe road was choc-a-bloc with bumper-to-bumperMercedes carsMurari’s grouse is that there was no place to park his bicycleThe 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.) We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.