The Jnanpith Award, instituted by the Government of India in 1961, is recognized as the highest literary award of the country. This year, among three awardees of the Award, one name that everyone is familiar with is Gulzar. He is the only one who has bagged both the top awards in two different fields – the Jnanpith Award and the Dadasaheb Phalke award for his rich and long contribution to Indian cinema which he won in 2014.

At 90, Gulzar remains unfazed by his awards and he has won almost every award given for films including the Oscar. In literature, earlier, he won the Sahitya Academy Award and the Osians’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

The lines on his handsome face are a bit pronounced. His famous one-day stubble is generously sprinkled with his favourite colour, white. When asked how he manages to keep his kurta-pajama so spotlessly white, he smiles and says that everything is possible if you have the will.

He can still compose an Oscar-winning song like ‘Jai Ho’ for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ or a lilting ‘Chhaiyan Chhaiyan’ for Mani Ratnam’s ‘Dil Se’, filled with the spirit of youth. The song ‘Chappa Chappa Charkha Chale’ in ‘Maachis’ underscores the pathos of a zest for life because death is just round the corner, the dance beautifully choreographed to fit into the orchestration of the entire film plays itself out like a symphony on love.

The 11th Osians-Cinemaya citation went something like this: “A master of Indian languages, dialects and poetic idioms, the performance traditions of Gulzar’s cinematic work are committed to the idioms of language, music and human relationships that lend the right tone to the quietly dignified and passionate lives in the midst of historical and social chaos.

“His ability to trace his pre-occupations in a sensitive manner through a range of film subjects – politics, social drama or distinctive cultural worlds is without parallel in the history of Hindi cinema.”

Yet, Gulzar's name is conspicuous by its absence in a special issue (Focus on Directors) of ‘Cinema in India’, a now-defunct mouthpiece of the National Film Development Corporation published in 1991. Gulzar is unfazed. Knowing him, he may either have forgotten the incident or remains unaware of it.

All the National Awards he keeps picking up for his lyrics, or a documentary on a music maestro like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, do not seem to make much difference to his modest lifestyle. Nor is a sense of disappointment evident when many of his directorial ventures turn out to be commercial flops.

Quietly, we find the name of his dubbing theatre in the credits of a socially relevant documentary made by an activist, of course offered gratis. But ask him about these things and he clams up at once, in his own way, flashing one of those mesmerising smiles.

His directorial roster has films on the pathos of living and on the triumph of human survival such as ‘Mere Apne, Achanak, Aandhi, Koshish, Khushboo, Kinara, Meeraa, Parichay, Angoor, Kitaab, Namkeen, Lekin, Libaas’ and ‘Maachis’. He has also made television serials like ‘Mirza Ghalib’ and ‘Kirdaar’ besides creating biographical documentaries of outstanding merit. He has composed several volumes of poetry and used to publish a book for children every year to celebrate his daughter Meghna's birthday when she was growing up.

‘Humne dekha hai in aankhon ki mehekti khushboo,

Haath se chhoonke unhe rishton ka ilzaam na do…’

Remarkable is the manner in which Gulzar has served as an inspiration for audiences across generations. His films, dialogues and songs have swung from the romantic lyricism of a ‘mora gora ang layi le’ in ‘Bandini’ to that of ‘Aandhi, Parichay’ and ‘Kinara’, to the youthful moods of ‘Bunty Aur Babli’ (2005), ‘Omkara’ (2006) and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2008).

Asked to name his personal favourites as director, he says, “‘Izaazat’ for its mood, ‘Kitaab’ for its nostalgia, it had a lot of my own childhood, ‘Machis’ for its theme and ‘Namkeen’ for its lovely relationship and well-etched screenplay.”

His lyrics are legendary for their ability to transcend the mundane and reach the soul of love. His favourites are ‘mera kuch samaan pada hai’ (‘Izaazat’), ‘roz akeli aaye’ (‘Mere Apne’) and ‘phir se aayee o badre’ (Namkeen).

The biggest surprise about the Gulzar story is that he never wanted to step into films. It happened almost by accident brought about through a nemesis that rewrote the story of his life. “I wanted to teach in school so that it would give me the time to read and write the two things I loved to do. One day, Debu Sen, a friend who was assisting Bimal Roy in Bandini, took me to Bimal-da who in turn, introduced me to S. D. Burman.

“The reason was that S.D. had had a tiff with the film’s lyricist, Shailendra, who walked out of the project, leaving some tunes unwritten into. One of these had to be vaishnava in spirit. S. D. had reservations about me because my foundation lay in Urdu poetry.

“But I rose to the challenge and my first song was born, ‘mora gora anga lai le’, mohe shyam anga dai de’, that turned out to be a hit. By the time the song was done, S. D. and Shailendra had made up and I was left out. Bimal-da felt sad for me and asked me to assist him in ‘Kabuliwallah’. My life took a new turn.”

His only regret is that the day has just 24 hours. He would love to be remembered as a good human being and as a poet, first and last. "There is always an inherent silence in a poem. The poet hides that silence and yet he is loud enough to be echoed by those who share his heartbeats. Silence is an echo of my voice" Gulzar says, in a preface to his own book.

That reminds one of Albert Camus' hero in ‘The Outsider’. But there is a difference. And the difference is in the pain, the empathy he infuses his films with, the pain he feels within himself, as a man, and as a poet. His silence is eloquent. That is the real Gulzar who hides behind those black-framed glasses, the one-day-old stubble, the grey in his hair, the white around him and the modest smile that is the ultimate veil he hides himself within.