Parsoon Joshi’s timeless Red Diary
A sunny afternoon, on a Saturday, mercury touching 45-degree Celsius, the heritage street leading to the Golden Temple is swarming with a sea of faithfuls alongside inquisitors, shoppers and revellers. Weekends are particularly loaded in the border, heritage and holy city of Amritsar, for a Darshan of the glorious Golden Temple and Wagah Indo-Pak beating retreat ceremony, the latter, in an attempt to glimpse the chequered history of this neck of the forest.
The heritage street is dotted with the Spirit of Punjab- of bravery, sacrifice and gaiety. On the same street, sun rays melt, dripping over the World’s First Partition Museum that sits gracefully yet humbly, in an otherwise majestic British Raj’s colonial building of erstwhile Town Hall; humming mournfully the stories of the city’s painful past.
Step in for a peep into the past and the Partition Museum grips the beholder in a recurring echo of a feeble whistle of a chuffing train leaving its platform. The haunting sound draws goose bumps on any sensitive soul. Resonating whistle, a poignant reminder, of the last forlorn call of escape, to tens of thousands of refugees, on both sides of the divide. Many of whom reached their destininations- slashed, cut-up, lifeless, hanging atop bloody exchange trains, in partition years. I am gripped with a memory of the holocaust museum in Washington DC USA, with its similar unnerving sounds, stories and heart-wrenching memorabilia.
Today, here, in this historic setting of the border city, we assemble, sit and talk to an extraordinaire creative guest wearing myriad hats and feathers- a class lyricist, song-writer and ad-man -Parsoon Joshi. His widely acclaimed screenplay of film- “BhagMilkhaBhag”- particularly sits in tandem with the spirit of the museum. The heart twisting partition scenes in the film relived in cine-dom, displayed raw, blood-thirsty killings prior to the nation-split of August 1947. Parsoon, is the second guest poet to the museum, with earlier famous poet Gulzar- a refugee from Pakistan- who too stepped gingerly into the precincts of this terra firma ensconced with countless memories and stories of loss and deep pain.
Amritsar’s Partition Museum is the brainchild of London based Kishwar Desai, Chairperson of The Arts And Cultural Heritage Trust (TAACHT) that established the Museum at this border city; reminiscent of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 1919’s Baisakhi, freedom struggle and eventually felt every bit the pre and post partition gory, inhuman episodes following drawing of borders.
In a crisp black and white salwarkurta, holding a red diary Parsoon, copiously sets the mood for the darkness of those reddened blood nights and days of the great (awful) divide. The backdrop in the hall is a huge fabric fantoosh lighted under, that reads- “9423 Abducted women recovered from India sent to Pakistan …5510 Abducted women recovered from Pakistan sent to India. On 6th Dec 1947 and 31st July 1948”. Amidst the audience juts out a giant FretSaw wedged and cutting a brick wall, a shouting symbol of raw cuts, wounds, of nations divided with the nib of an unmerciful pen. The pen of Sir Cyril Radcliff – now referred to as the Radcliff Line between India and Pakistan.
On Parsoon’s young 40-plus shoulders, rests the mantle of Chairman of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), a Padam Shree and several national and international feathers and recognitions. However he carries his enormous successes with grace and honest humility. The lyricist has an enviable inventory. Plug into songs- TareyZameen Par, Khalbali, Roobaroo, Behkaa, Zinda, SaansonkiSaanson, Maula, Rehna Tu, Achalagtahai,Hum Tum, Rang de Basanti and one is amazed at the remarkable diversity of his poetry. Hummable dewy softness of some of his creative work, curls and spirals alternating with forceful flush of words. Parsoon, took on the honoured guest chair, and remained unstoppable. His pearls of poetry gushed, soared and filled up the hall, dripping in a steady stream. Fans and guests invited by Phulkari, an NGO presided by Praneet Chopra along with Desai from London, paid heed and took back with them a huge treasure of word gems.
Parsoon, was instantly likeable, at ease in his Indian wear, skimming through his red diary to choose and recite an apt one, another, then, another. He reflected on the setting of this unusual venue for poetry – “The partition Museum here is ‘a beating heart of collective consciousness of the past’, albeit a painful one. I am happy there is a ‘gallery of hope’ he added. “My songs too have a strong connect to the past, yet it is consciously continuous, reaching the present and envisioning the future. For the museum, my idea is to further build it, as a bridge between the past, the present and future generations,” he noted. Throughout the interaction and recitation, Parsoon’s red diary conspicuously stood out as a character of an endearing past, in the modern tech-world of -Echo &Alexa – a far-field voice control audio device, where a command could play out any poetry recitation, written content or song or dialogue.
It came in a rush, with a familiar lyrics of song -TaareZameen Par-
DekhoInhein, Yeh Hain Oss Ki Bundein, Patto Ki Godd Mein, Aasmann Se Kudey, Angraayi Le PhirKarwatBadal Kar, Nazauk Se MotiHasdePhishal Kar…. Khoo Na JaayeYeh, TaareZameen Par. (Look at them, they are the dewdrops, in the lap of leaves, they slide from the skies, drowsily stretching, then tossing and turning, these delicate pearls slip and glow in laughter…May they never be lost, these little stars on earth…)
The writer’s flourish with words is widely perceived as his creative currency to transcend the usual with an unusual kink, especially in the ad-world. Remember – “Coca cola, Britannia Biscuits, chloromint”. But this afternoon was different; it was a solemn setting apt to his poem “Dard keParinde”. Now actively involved with upcoming film “Manikarnika- Queen of Jhansi” for an August release, Parsoon-the ad-man for “Swachh Bharat” campaign, on his political affinity, clears the air –“I am with anyone who thinks good for my country.” On another query to the CBFC’s chairman regarding controversy over a period film ‘Padmavat’, and closer home of film ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’, Parsoon took up for the filmmaker -“A filmmaker never deliberately makes an effort to disturb sensibilities, yet should never need to compromise with his /her creative instincts.”
The poet whose stirrings take on strongly for the girl child, with-“Iss Barr Nahi” (Not this time) has found favour with the likes of legendary Amitabh Bachchan, who recited this poem forcefully, to drill the message of empowerment of the girl child. The lyricist, who contributed tremendously to female gender upliftment through poetry, pegged in also as an enraged poet in –“SharamAtiHai?” (Do you feel shamed ?), yet another in the same genre – is an endearing one in folk style –“Babul”- Babul jiyamoraghabarae, Babul moriitniaraj sun li jo. MoheLohharkeghardeejo, jomohrijangeereinpiglaae. (Father, my heart is fearful, listen, to my only appeal, give me (in marriage) to a blacksmith, cause he alone shall melt my chains&shackles).
“There is an earthy granularity, texture, a tactile-tangibility in our language. I purely see it from a vantage point of detail and pour it into words,” Parsoon responds, on a query on creativity. “Plus the fact, of a childhood spent in scenic hills of Almora, my birthplace in the lap of Himalayas amidst hills of Kumaon, instead of a cityscape, truly gifted me a remarkable opportunity and ability to gain insight into the pulse of the real India”. Parsoon is undoubtedly a child of the earth, of idyllic spaces. Within him resides the soil’s unmistakeable innate fragrance, mirrored in his poetry. His years of quest with nature in quiet hills and love for books seem to have packed this delightful symphony of music and words within him. And he celebrates it at the slightest nudge; say those who have closely interacted with him.
“Recalling another song “Maa..” from ‘Tarrey..’And its whereabouts –Parsoon says –“It was a memory when my mother left me for the first time at home to fulfil an errand. And I carved – “Main KabhiBatlaataNahi, Par Andhere Se DartaHoon Main, Maa..”(I never tell you, but I fear the dark, Mama)”. For the audience, it became a poignant moment, when many a mother wiped a tear.
The largely female audience at once felt a connect, with a piece on the quintessential sister- “Bhen AksarTumse Bari HotiHai, Bhele Hi TumseChotiHo” (Often, a sister is elder to you, even if she is younger). The poet songwriter did not shirk from generously sprinkling the evening with poetry of other greats – Haraadmīmeñhotehaiñ das biisaadmī, jiskobhīdekhnāho, kaibaardekhnā (Every man has 10-20 men within his embodiment, whosoever you look at, look at him multiple times) of NidaFazili.
It seemed like an afternoon, on a soft breeze, that attempted to become the wind, climbed up mountains, lunged into the skies, carrying moist teardrops, erupting into sunshine and rain, and bursting into hues and shades of rainbows. Synchronically, sunrays quietly and quite unknowingly dipped into the horizon, slipped into an unacknowledged evening, and then a starry night, as poetry after poetry and encores on the way, loaded on emotions taking them into streets of relationships and labyrinth lanes of life.
In all this, my personal favourite was one relating to the feelings of teenage boys for their fathers –
Maakitareefkartekarte, patanahikabmein Pita kevirodhhogay – Kia pita ka dosh, pita hona, yasamarthhona, yapurushhona? Mein pita kesamnedheethhu, maakesamneshaitaan, Mein pita kesamnechattanhu, maakesamnenadii …Mein maakeliyechupjatahu ,aur pita sachuptahu, Mein maakesamneprashankigolaihu and pita kesamneuttar kin nok …Maakeacharkebayam agar dhoop se judahote, tohmeinunhedhoopmeinsarkadetahu, par pita kifileonkegirtekazoon par mujhekabhitarasnahiaya …
(While praising my mother, I recall not, exactly when, I grew against father. Was father’s fault in his being a father, or his capabilities, or plainly being male? Before father I am stubborn, before mother –naughty; Before father I am rockstrong, before mother- a river; I hide ‘for’ my mother and hide ‘from’ my father; I am a rounded globe of a question for mother, for father – a sharp point of a reply; if mother’s jar of pickle separates from the sunrays, I quietly push it in the fermenting sun again, For father’s dropping sheets from files, I show no such mercy…)
“Song is not an aim in itself’, but milestone in movies, where silences and unsaid emotions get frolicked or manifested in the words of a song”, the artist with words who beautifully penned – “Chaloohasikoriwazkar le …”( Let’s make laughter a culture, a tradition), inserts charmingly.
The rhythm of the evening carried through -“Sunshine Lanes” a repertoire hardbound, of pure, quintessential poetry. A book on a ‘Journey of songs’ added with the ‘howaboutry’ of when, where, how the particular poetry was born, penned by Parsoon Joshi. “Dipping into visceral emotions – I write in images… poetry is a distilled piece of random jottings,” Parsoon concludes with a poetic flourish.
The red diary closes, resting, finally asleep, in the underarm, lulled by the heart nearby of its creator.
The haunting sound of a long whistle blows and blows, beckoning the traveller, the escapee, for one last call to freedom …
Rashmi Talwar, an Independent writer, can be emailed at: email@example.com