‘Still watching the trail of Partition’

The manner in which Gulzar observes the happenings before documenting them in prose or lyrics or verse is quite elegant, writes HUMRA QURAISHI

Come August and its Gulzar saab’s birthday. Born on 18 August 1934 in the Undivided Punjab, he’s going strong. That grace, that attractive-poetic-romantic look to him hasn’t ebbed. He looks a shayar and also converses like a shayar with that gentle strain to his voice.

There’s something or everything so very different about Gulzar saab, that’s difficult to describe or even pinpoint. It’s not just the way he dresses so very elegantly in the white cotton kurta-pyjama, but the manner in which he observes the happenings before documenting them in prose or lyrics or verse.

Correct if I’m wrong but Gulzar saab’s prose and verse focusing on the Partition are hitting to such an extent that till date that pain and turbulence seems hovering around. He witnessed the Partition and experienced those upheavals, and the impact and imprints they’d left on him gets writ large in his writings; that pain manages to seep in each one of those words.

In fact, just before sitting down to write this column I re-read one of Gulzar saab’s earlier published volumes -‘Footprints on Zero Line-Writings On The Partition’ (Harper Collins) which he has dedicated to, ‘To Dina, my birthplace in Pakistan’. He dwells on Dina, and also on the masses going through turbulence… To quote Gulzar saab, “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.”

Tucked in this volume Gulzar saab’s this absolutely hitting touching verse:

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 …

The latest from Gulzar Saab

And now comes the latest from Gulzar saab. In fact, during this entire lock down stretch he has been busy writing prose and also verse. In fact, the latest issue of the Indian Literature carries three poems of Gulzar saab — ‘Migrants, COVID -19’, ‘A Death in Covid -19’, ‘A Day In Lockdown’ and also one of his short stories, ‘Online’, on the Coronavirus times we are trying to survive in.

I spoke to Gulzar saab earlier this month to take his permission to quote his verse in my column and he agreed and then gently added that I must make sure to mention the name of the translator of his works, Rakhshanda Jalil . She is one of our finest translators and has translated his recent writings, from Urdu to English.

Though I’m tempted to quote a paragraph from his short story, more so as he uses real names of the well-known character from real life, but space constraints come in way.

Leaving you with Gulzar saab’s verse.

His this verse titled

‘Migrants, COVID-19’:

The pandemic raged

The workers and labourers fled to their homes

All the machines ground to a halt in the cities

Their hands and feet moved with the machines

For, they had planted their lives back in the villages

The acre or two of land, or perhaps five acres

The sowing and harvesting were all back there

Jowar, wheat, corn, bajra — all of it

Those divisions with the cousins and brothers

Those fights at the canals and waterways

The strongmen, sometimes from their side and sometimes from this

The lawsuits dating back to grandparents and grand uncles

Engagements, marriages, fields

Famine, flood, fear: will the skies rain or not?

They will go to die there – where there is life

Here, they have only brought their bodies and plugged them in!

They pulled out the plugs

‘Come let’s go home’ — and they set off

They will go to die there — where there is life!

Also, his this verse titled:

A Death in Covid- 19

Coronavirus had caught hold of him

He was in the General Ward

The window was in the wall near him

Like in the Allan Seager story

From where he could watch his village all day long

The road going towards his village

The bus racing own the road in the evening’s glow

Trailing a cloud of red dust

Like a Spiderman

His house was in the village Beechak, zila Palamon

Only two capsules

A bottle of water

Half-sucked lime —

This was all the wealth he left behind and moved on!