Notes from Javed Akhtar- On Writing

Image from Deccan Chronicle

In the heart of the India’s capital, when poetry lovers and book readers wonder about the future of ‘culture, languages and poetry itself’, writers like Javed Akhtar remind you about their crucial necessity in our lives.

Even though he needs no introduction, Javed Akhtar is a poet, lyricist and scriptwriter with a vast and memorable body of work.

Recently, Javed sahib’s poetry collection has been translated into English by Ali Husain Mir in the book In Other Words. At the India Islamic Cultural Centre, Harper Collins brought both Javed and Ali together for a book reading session.

Here, I am putting together my notes from the evening- the poetry that caught my attention and the questions asked and answered.

Poetry and Translations

Javed Akhtar clearly points out the purpose of the simultaneous reading in both Hindustani and English by saying, “Languages were created for the very purpose that I understand whatever it is that you want to talk about and vice versa. But sometimes, it is the language itself that becomes the barrier. In that case, translation serves as the only window in that wall.”

One question that I immediately got an answer to was: Where does Farhan Akhtar get his sense of humour from? And the answer is Javed Akhtar. The man, humble and witty, didn’t let the listeners have a moment of boredom during the session. He also fairly notified us to ‘cough’ if ‘the verse gets too long and you feel bored.’

The poem that struck my consciousness was Waqt/Time.

You can listen to the entire poem and its English version in the video and read it in Hindi here.

The second poem Yeh Khel kya hai?/What is this game? was another poem that made me pause for a moment and think. You can read it here.

Javed says that he has realised that he doesn’t attempt to answer any questions through his writings but rather, his writings are merely questions that he puts on paper.

This was quite evident from the readings selected for the evening which included Ansu/Teardrop, A poem from his second collection- Lava, Khuda Hafiz, Itraf/ Confession, Montage, Relic and Safar among others.

On Writing and being a writer

Akhtar says that you need to have a childlike quality in your writing.

You need to understand the difference between incident and experience.

Incident is what happens to you and experience is what you learn from it. That is what leads you to be more understanding in your work.

Whichever vocation you belong to, it becomes your way of seeing the world.

Writers deal with human beings and their emotion. They look at people with such curiosity that helps them in deciphering human emotions and actions.

The Process of Creativity

He says that there are no hard rules in the process of creativity.

There is no permanent reason, topic or initiative that makes a person write.

Everyone faces the writer’s block as well but it can be dealt with.

He says that many people who would’ve become writers, didn’t due to hesitation and fear.

Don’t let hesitation and fear hold you back from finishing a piece of writing.

Writing and Rewriting: The process of writing something and then rewriting again and again is where you find the voice of your story and the control over the incidents of the story.

On dealing with his writer’s block:  He says, “I used to fantasise about running away to Sangli when I faced writer’s block after a heavy signing amount for a movie script. There was no television those days and people didn’t recognise us by face. And I had never met a soul from Sangli so I imagined that it would be a safe place to run away to.”

He also added that professional writers have no choice but to get inspired and start writing.

Deadline is the inspiration!

Types of writers

According to Akhtar, there are two types of writers:

  1. Routine writers- those who sit at a particular time everyday and write as much as they can. They find their voice in writing and rewriting and get what they were looking for.
  2. Inspired writers- those who come up with an idea and let the story cook in their head for days and in a sudden moment of inspiration, sit and write down the entire story in one go.

Writers in everyday life

When asked by a writer’s wife as to why her husband, who extensively wrote romantic poetry, wasn’t romantic in real life.

Akhtar’s amusingly answered with another question.

If an acrobat works on the trapeze in the circus, should he hang upside down at home also?

He then gave the example of the legendary Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar and said that Tendulkar wrote such hard hitting plays but in person, was a soft spoken and gentle person.

Similarly, he said Krishan Chander, the urdu writer wrote 80 pages in long hand without a single correction but in real life, he was so shy that he couldn’t put two sentences together.

But that is not the case with every writer as some writers are exactly like their writings.

Karthika V. K., the chief editor at Harper Collins, ended the evening by saying this-

Poetry does something to the brain that no other kind of writing can.

On that note, I leave you with an excerpt from Ali Husain Mir’s translation of Waqt/ What is time?

Sometimes I think

When I see trees from a moving train

It seems that they are going in the opposite way

But in reality, the trees are standing still

So can it be that all our centuries,

Row upon row are standing still

Can it be that time is fixed and

We alone are in motion?

Can it be that in this one moment

All moments, all centuries are hidden?

No future, no past

What is gone by, is happening now.

What will come about, is happening now

I wonder, is it possible

That the truth is

We are in motion

We pass by.

What we imagine is moving,

Is really motionless.


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