Surely nothing new could be written about a song as legendary as this. So let's begin with an anecdote about the song, by Gulzar himself:
"When I gave him (Pancham) ‘Mera kuCH saamaaan tumhare paas paDa hai’, he waved the lyric aside and said, “Huh, tomorrow you’ll bring me the front page of *The Times of India* and expect me to compose a tune around it. What is this blank verse you’re giving me!” Ashaji was sitting there, she started humming the phrase, “Mujhe lauta do.” He grasped it immediately; from that one phrase he developed the song, which was quite a feat! This time Ashaji and I got National Awards. Poor fellow, he did all the work and we enjoyed the ‘kheer’." (Source)
'Mera kuchh saaman' earned Gulzar his first National Award for best lyrics. There were songs before and after, but this probably best defines the Gulzar way of writing them - understated, yet breathtakingly poetic.
In a movie where every dialogue is lyrical, and every character is nothing short of being a poet; the songs had to be extraordinary. They are. And how!
The stage is set thus:
Sudha and Mohinder have been happily married for some time now. But, also living in their home are vivid memories of Mohinder's enigmatic, whimsical, poetess ex-girlfriend Maya. To rid the house of this constant presence, Sudha sends Maya's letters back to her. Maya writes back, asking for her memories to be returned as well:
Lyrics, and translation:
मेरा कुछ सामान, तुम्हारे पास पड़ा है
सावन के कुछ भीगे-भीगे दिन रखे हैं
और मेरे एक ख़त में लिपटी रात पड़ी है
वो रात बुझा दो, मेरा वो सामान लौटा दो
[[Some of my things are still lying with you -
Some drenched monsoon days,
And a night wrapped in my one of my letters
Extinguish that night, and send these things back to me]]
पतझड़ है कुछ, है ना?
पतझड़ में कुछ पत्तों के गिरने की आहट
कानों में एक बार पहन के लौटाई थी
पतझड़ की वोह शाख अभी तक काँप रही है
वो शाख गिरा दो, मेरा वो सामान लौटा दो
[[Remember, it was autumn....
In autumn, I gave you the sound of falling leaves,
After trying it on as earrings.
That branch from autumn is still trembling in winds
Make that branch fall, and send these things back to me]]
एक अकेली छतरी में जब आधे-आधे भीग रहे थे
आधे सूखे, आधे गीले, सूखा तो मैं ले आई थी
गीला मन शायद बिस्तर के पास पड़ा हो
वो भिजवा दो, मेरा वो सामान लौटा दो
[[Remember, once when we were both getting drenched, since we were sharing one umbrella...
Half the things were drenched. The things that were still dry, I brought with me
But I think I left behind my rain-soaked heart beside the bed
Send that, along with the other things I've left behind]]
एक सौ सोलह चाँद की रातें, एक तुम्हारे काँधे का तिल
गीली मेहँदी की खुशबू, झूठ-मूठ के शिकवे कुछ
झूठ-मूठ के वादे भी सब याद करा दूं
सब भिजवा दो, मेरा वो सामान लौटा दो
[[One hundred and sixteen nights of the moon, and that one mole on your shoulder
The scent of undried henna, and those moments of mock tantrums
Let me also remind you about all those false promises
Return everything that's mine, but still lying with you]]
एक इजाज़त दे दो बस, जब इनको दफ़नाऊगी
मैं भी वहीँ सो जाऊंगी,
मैं भी वहीँ सो जाऊंगी
[[Just grant me this one wish, that when I bury these things,
I will also breathe my last]]
My two cents:
- In stanza one and two "वो रात बुझा दो" and "पतझड़ की वोह शाख अभी तक काँप रही है" might mean that (a) the night was still burning and (b) that branch from autumn, though devoid of leaves, was still alive; denoting that Maya has not yet got closure / has not gotten over Mohinder.
- एक सौ सोलह चाँद की रातें could refer to the fact that they were together for four months (120 nights - 4 nights when there was no moon). I don't know! Maybe it's a random number. (As pointed out by Divesh, it is as a matter of fact, a random number.) (As Gulzar puts it, "It's not the number which is important, it's important that somebody kept the count of the moonlit nights of which they spent together.")
Musings aside, go ahead and treat yourselves to this beautiful, haunting melody that could have only been created when Pancham, Asha and Gulzar came together.