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How India's Gorgeous Monsoon Gets a Poetic Drape in Gulzar's Words

Gulzar's vast corpus of non-film poetry has an astonishing variety of poems evoking the rains. Here's a sample.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Nothing evokes the magic of the monsoon quite like Gulzar.</p></div>
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Influenced by ancient and medieval texts and a vast and varied tradition of rain-related poetry, Urdu and Hindi writers continue to write of the magic of the rains. If Harivansh Rai Bachhan and Suryakant Tripathi Nirala speak of the drama of massed clouds and rumbling thunder Intizar Husain evokes the tremulous beauty of freshly-bathed trees and a life that was once more attuned to the seasons: the songs and rituals, mostly among women, of cooking pakwan, singing kajri and saawani.

However, for me nothing evokes the magic of the monsoon quite like Gulzar sahab in his uniquely individualistic manner. In the vast corpus of his non-film poetry, there is an astonishing variety of poems evoking the rains in their many moods and his contrarian view of it.

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Love in the Time of Rains

Here is one on the age-old relationship between rains and the anguished yearning for letters from the beloved in ‘When it Rains’:

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gulzar's poem on rains.&nbsp;</p></div>

Gulzar's poem on rains. 

Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

The first chaste encounter of cool water and hot earth, grey sky and parched land, preceded by damp masses of moisture-laden clouds scudding across the skies, bringing darkness at noon and followed by days upon days of uninterrupted deluge have been described in myriad ways since time immemorial.

Gulzar sahab describes his rain-drenched Mumbai thus:

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gulzar's poem on rains in Mumbai.&nbsp;</p></div>

Gulzar's poem on rains in Mumbai. 

Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

How Gulzar Perceives 'Varsha Ritu'

Given the importance of rain in a primarily rain-fed agrarian system such as India’s, it is little wonder that literature and popular culture have always dwelt extensively on the monsoon rain. The ancients called it Varsha Ritu, ‘the season of rains’; Gulzar sahab calls it a ‘tree of water’:

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gulzar's poem on monsoon as a tree of rain.&nbsp;</p></div>

Gulzar's poem on monsoon as a tree of rain. 

Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

Not for Gulzar sahab the totemic images associated with the rains: dancing peacocks, croaking frogs, the fragrance of the kadamba that classical texts have always evoked; instead there is this:

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gulzar's poem on rains.&nbsp;</p></div>

Gulzar's poem on rains. 

Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

And this:

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gulzar's poem on rains and his personal relationship with them.&nbsp;</p></div>

Gulzar's poem on rains and his personal relationship with them. 

Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

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Rains and Longing

The virahini of the medieval baramasa (‘songs for the 12 months of the years’) feels the pain of separation most keenly in the month of saawan for it is during the rains that men traditionally stayed home or came back as business was slack possibly because roads became un-passable.

Gulzar sahab’s “Sona” reacts differently to the rains:

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gulzar's poem on rains and inconvenience.&nbsp;</p></div>

Gulzar's poem on rains and inconvenience. 

Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

Tradition demanded that a young bride be called to her parents’ home when her brother would be sent to fetch her at the beginning of the season; shortly after a token visit, she would return to her husband’s home and resume her conjugal life. Gulzar sahab’s lovers, refreshingly modern in their sensibility, react thus to the rains:

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gulzar's poem on rains and love.</p></div>

Gulzar's poem on rains and love.

Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

Watch Gulzar sahab recite this poem here.

The exuberance the rains cause, especially among the young, is captured in this poem entitled ‘In the Alley”’:

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gulzar's poem on rains and youth.&nbsp;</p></div>

Gulzar's poem on rains and youth. 

Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

Rains Also Evoke Sadness and Fear

If the rains bring joy, they also cause sadness by their relentless, steady dripping:

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gulzar's poem on rains and sadness.&nbsp;</p></div>

Gulzar's poem on rains and sadness. 

Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

Despite the excitement with which the rains are anticipated, there is also the fear of rains:

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gulzar's poem on rains and fear.&nbsp;</p></div>

Gulzar's poem on rains and fear. 

Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint

To conclude, here is a sampling from his shers on the rains, a mere selection from a large number of rain-ghazals:

"God knows what happens to the night as it begins

To laugh when rain starts to ring out on the tin roof"

***

"A soft muffled rain falls faintly in the darkness just so

Like you passing by the lane hugging the lee of the wall"

***

"Every night I hush the surging rain

But it raises past subjects each day"

***

"Though eyes don’t rain always

They carry water all year round"

***

And this one my personal favourite:

"I even saw trees walking about yesterday

Holding the hems of their trousers in the rain"

(Dr 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.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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