Gulzar's upcoming novel Two might be the writer's final exit from the horrors of Partition
Gulzar sahab’s novel Two promises to be the much-needed meditation for the young to know the horrors of the Partition.
Celebrated with much love, Gulzar’s birthday means a day to appreciate the acclaimed poet-lyricist and filmmaker’s brilliant body of work that stretches across six decades. Not one to follow customs or norms if they come in the way of making a good line better, this year saw Gulzar sahab doing away with traditions and presenting his fans with two wonderful gifts on his birthday. While the first brings to end a nearly three-decade anguish of seeing his film, Libaas, finally getting a theatrical release, the second is the upcoming release of his first ever novel Two, that in some way exorcises the horrors of Partition that he has been living with for 70 years.
Gulzar sahab is best known for his poetry and film lyrics. Despite having penned numerous scripts as well as short stories, the novel is a format that he had not attempted for the longest time. Originally written in Hindi as Do Log the book has been translated into English by the author himself, as Gulzar felt that anyone else perhaps might not have been able to do justice to the words, because not witnessing the brutality and the violence of Partition couldn’t make them understand the burden of the prose.
The novel begins in 1946, when the news of the impending Partition has begun to pour into the lives of millions of common men and women far removed from the corridors of power in Delhi. The narrative starts with a truck leaving the village of Campbellpur with people who don’t know where they will go, and having just heard words like ‘border’ and ‘refugee’, are struggling to understand how drawing a line might carve out Pakistan from Hindustan. As they reach the border, the caravan disperses and people go their own ways. Gulzar sahab’s prose tracks the lives of the people in that truck right from that winter of a nation’s discontent in 1946, to the riots of 1984, and finally, the Kargil war.
It’s hardly surprising that Gulzar sahab’s first novel is about what the Partition entailed for ordinary people. This is a theme that the poet-lyricist has explored time and again in his works in both a direct and not-so-direct manner, but never had the courage to put it all together. At a publisher’s event earlier this year in July where Gulzar sahab unveiled Two, he shared with those present that he hoped this book would put into words what he felt when life as known to him changed forever with the Partition of India. In a conversation with his editor, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, Gulzar sahab said that although he had written short stories and essays about the horrors that he witnessed during the division of the motherland into Pakistan and India and the nightmares that haunted him long after the events of 1947, he hoped that with Two, he would manage to "forget the Partition". In a way, Gulzar sahab perhaps wanted to look at life without the lens of ‘Partition’ — the singular event that often burdens all the memories of people who witnessed it, and somewhere, does not allow them to look at their own lives holistically.
The novel was also the perfect vessel for Gulzar sahab to present the characters that he acquainted himself with during the days leading up to the Partition and the months that he spent at the Refugee Camps in Delhi. They still haunt him, and images of his father looking at faces in the hope to find someone from his village are still fresh in his mind. Expressing how they never left him, Gulzar sahab says, "Maqsad sirf itna tha ki jo mere andar itna kuch jama hai main chahta tha iske baad na likhna pade, iske baad main Partition bhool jaaon, iske baad main iss baat ko dafn kardoon kahin na kahin, khatm kardoon kyon ki yeh ithihaas ho chuka hai." (The purpose was that I wanted to get whatever was inside me out and after this I do not want to write about those days… after this I want to forget the Partition, I want to end it, bury it somewhere and look at it as history that has already happened). [Click here to play an audio excerpt of Gulzar sahab’s talk]
Many filmmakers, including Ritwik Ghatak, have frequented the heartbreak of Partition but the manner in which Gulzar sahab has addressed it remains unique. Classical cinema such as Ghatak’s films might demand a little patience from the present generation to accept or understand them, but the style in which Gulzar sahab’s work has translated the pain of being uprooted, seeking familiar faces in the sea of strangers, or trying one’s darnedest to feel settled down, endlessly looking for a home is readily imbibed even by generations who stand at a great distance from the events of the Partition.
The simplicity of words from the song ‘Chod Aaye Hum Woh Galiyan’ from Maachis (1996) — "Ek chhotaa saa lamhaa hai, jo khatm nahin hota, Main laakh jalaataa huun, yeh bhasm nahiin hotaa," or the lines from the song ‘Ek Akela Iss Shahar Mein’ from Gharonda (1977) — "Din khaali khaali bartan hai, Aur raat hai jaise andha kuan, In suni andheri ankhon men, Ansu ki jagah ata hai dhuan, Jine ki wajah to koi nahin, Marane ka bahaana dhundhata hai" convey the torment of leaving behind everything and trying to rebuild in a way that anyone from any generation can understand. For a country that is getting younger with each day that it lives, Gulzar sahab’s novel promises to be the much-needed meditation for the young to know why for an entire generation the division of India and the carnage that followed kept happening inexorably and ceaselessly.
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