REVIEW: Triveni by Gulzar

Reviewed by Peerzada Salman 

Poet and filmmaker Gulzar is an imagist, and a brilliant one at that. Yet the kind of poetry that he writes cannot be, in terms of definition, fully bracketed as the work of imaginer. Therefore, it may be more accurate to define him as a painter without a paintbrush, easel and colour palette. In a manner of speaking, this is how Gulzar charms his readers: he creates a scene with readily understandable words, illuminates it by using familiar images from everyday life and brings it together, or rounds it off, with an inquisitive undertone. The poetic tools he seeks help from range from subtle paradoxes to delightful personifications. He treats inanimate objects like living beings, pieces of puzzle which are not hard to arrange.

In his career as a poet, Gulzar has experimented with both content and form without compromising on creativity. Supremely gifted, his poems have a cascading flow which doesn’t always require the crutches of recurring rhyme patterns. Obviously, such mastery cannot be acquired if the poet does not have a heart of gold. Everyone knows Gulzar’s political and social views. And this is what makes his poetry doubly enriching.

In the early 1970s, Gulzar toyed with a genre he himself named triveni. Despite the fact that his triveni poems got published in the magazine Sarika in 1972-73, they were not as well-received as his other nazms (and ghazals, to a certain extent). It would not be wrong to say that to date the art form hasn’t earned the kind of fan-following that the poet would have liked. However, the niche readership that it has been able to garner is quite significant.

When his collection of poems titled Triveni was first published a little more than a decade ago, it did manage to take the genre to a level where the scholars of poetry, Urdu poetry in particular, accepted it as an innovative addition to literature as far as its content was concerned. But as far as the form is concerned, they argued that something similar already existed in the shape of sulasi and haiku. However, triveni is different because unlike haiku, it doesn’t hinge on fixed syllables.

Gulzar explains the art form in the current edition of the book. He says, “I gave it the title triveni because the first two lines meet up like the Ganges and the Yamuna and complete a thought. But there is another stream beneath the two rivers, Saraswati, which is hidden and therefore can’t be seen. Triveni’s job is to bring Saraswati to light. This means that the third line is concealed somewhere between the upper two lines.” If readers closely study the trivenis published in the new edition, they will know what Gulzar is trying to achieve.

As for content, anyone who admires Gulzar would know that his poems are not confined to one particular topic. Metaphysics, love, the subcontinent’s partition, acknowledging the worth of film legends and so on, the poet has penned nazms about everything. Take, for example, this triveni which cannot be fitted into any one, definite category:

(This world and its blessings are His

This house and its inhabitants, everything belongs to Him

Ask God, why can’t He visit His own house?)


The most fascinating aspect of Gulzar’s three-line poems is his imagery. No one can miss it. And he does it with such grace that the images he builds seem perfectly in synch with the ideas he tries to propagate through them. In one triveni, while describing the plight of a poet, he finishes off the thought with an image that concludes the flight of fancy as if it had taken the logical route:

(I wish someone lent an ear to the poet

His words will take his life —

I saw him tasting moonlight all night long)

Gulzar’s storytelling techniques are also evident in his trivenis. The poet and the filmmaker cannot be divorced. Notice how effectively he tells a whole tale in the following three lines:

(He cut his foot with broken pieces of bangles

The boy was playing barefoot in the courtyard

Yesterday the drunkard father had once again twisted his mother’s arm)

This is Gulzar at his creative best.

Some of the trivenis in the book are accompanied by black and white illustrations and sketches which, I believe, restrict the visual interpretation of his words.

Triveni (POETRY)

By Gulzar

Available on





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