Gulzar and the Anatomy of Heartbreak

The lyricist elevates themes of loss, grief, and isolation by metaphorizing the familiar and mundane, plucking at heartstrings in an extraordinary way.

Qurat ul Ain

December 9, 2020

Gulzar and the Anatomy of Heartbreak
Graphic: Radio Rani

It was a torrential monsoon Bombay day in 2014; I sat alone on Marine Drive, listening to music. My 19-year-old self had just left home behind, and the loneliness that accompanies freedom had slowly begun to pulverize my heart. I viscerally remember listening to “Pani Pani Re” and “Chhod Aaye Hum," both from Maachis (1996); the lyrics sent daggers to my heart.

That year, I would begin a lifelong affair with grief and the man who penned these gems: Sampooran Singh Kalra, whom most of us know as Gulzar.

Born in Jhelum in present-day Pakistan, Gulzar was already a literature-loving, story-writing 13-year-old when India was partitioned in 1947. His father wasn’t keen on his passion for writing, but Gulzar pursued writing nonetheless. Gulzar’s words tend to leave that kind of imprint on most. Whether in commercial film songs or recited Urdu nazm (poetry), the keen ear recognizes his watermark.

His words caused me to take cognizance of wounds I didn’t know I housed; it gave them a language, a corporeal existence, and healed them by mere acknowledgment. Over the years, there have been other brilliant poets in whose words I have sought refuge. But it is still Gulzar Sahab’s words that I clutch to my heart with a hot cup of chai and weep soft tears, pining for my “saawan ke kuch bheege bheege din” (a few rain-soaked days of monsoon).