There is something so very different about Gulzar saheb, that it’s difficult to describe or even pinpoint. It’s not just the way he dresses so elegantly in white cotton kurta pyjamas, but the manner in which he observes the happenings around him before documenting them in prose or lyrics or verse. Needless to add, there is an abundance of emotions wrapped around each word written by him.
This latest from Gulzar saheb – ‘Footprints on Zero Line — Writings On The Partition’ are his sentiments and thoughts and much more along the strain. Written so very powerfully that though I hadn’t witnessed the Partition and the pain it had dragged along, but reading his verse and prose tucked in the pages of this volume hit me hard.
Of course, Gulzar saheb had witnessed the Partition and experienced those upheavals, and the impact and imprints they’d left on him are largely present in his writings. That pain manages to seep in each one of those words. But there is no stopping at the juncture; his sentences and sentiments are powerful enough to nudge and remind one how the horrifying turn of events of the Partition have the potential to affect our lives to this day; words along the strain — ‘those who forget the errors of the past are doomed to repeat them.’
To quote Gulzar saheb, “I have witnessed the Partition. I have experienced the Partition. Standing on Zero Line I am still watching the trail of Partition. Seventy years have passed. Time has not been able to blow off the footprints. I don’t know how long it will take for them to sink into history and be the past.”
Dedicating this book ‘To Dina, my birthplace in Pakistan’, he dwells on Dina and its people. He also dwells on several other locales like the Kashmir Valley where people are going through pain of the severest sorts.
As I sit reading page after page of this book, it does get emotional, tears cannot be held back. Let me quote Gulzar saheb’s this particular verse titled ‘Zero Line’ tucked in this volume —
‘Walking up to Wagah with measured steps/
When I came to stand at the Zero line/
My shadow fell in Pakistan!/
The sun was behind me/
And my abbu was standing in front/
He saw me/
Resting his stick on the ground/
He smiled and said,/
‘When I had left my body there/
I came back home, Punni!’
Abbu used to call me ‘Punni.’/
‘I had hoped you would come,/
For you had not received the news of my death/
I knew you would come to bid me farewell!’/
Startled, the moment paused/
He tapped the ground with his stick/
Stretching his hand, he said:/
‘Come, let us go to Dina!’
My friends who had come to receive me at Wagah/
Held me by the hand and took me to Lahore/
In the din of the city no voices came back to me/
But I could see a trail of silence/
That led to Dina …’
What I have found remarkable in Gulzar saheb’s collection of verse and prose is the fact that he narrates his own emotional pain with as much sensitivity as he does yours and mine.
With that, that bonding takes off, taking readers to the varying locales here and there, where pain persists in high doses.
In fact, in one of his short stories titled ‘Search’ (which incidentally he has dedicated to me), he takes the readers to the Kashmir Valley, to the ground realities that persist in that Valley.
I read and then re-read that short story and then sat and wept. After all, Gulzar saheb has conveyed so beautifully the hurt and pain that Kashmiri goes through day after day.
In each one of the short stories in this volume, human situations take shape, there are destined twists and turns, bringing to the fore the fragility of forms and psyches. The helplessness of the hapless human being hits the reader.
Read this volume. Experience the emotional pain seep right into you through the words and verse of Gulzar saheb.