Nobody expresses the turbulence that India witnessed in 2017 better than Gulzar

Gulzar was at his frankest best on Dec 5, when he spoke not just of the prevailing violence but also of the communal build-ups and Rohingya refugees, among other topics


Humra Quraishi

The year passing by has heaped much pain on us, on our nerves, on our very sensitivities. It wouldn’t be amiss to say that it has been a rather turbulent year. News reports of killings, violence, torture, rapes and molestations, injustices have been an ongoing feature.

In fact, very recently, Gulzar saab had aptly commented that if you pick up any of the day’s newspapers, it would so heavily be laced with news reports of violent killings that if you were to squeeze those pages blood drops would spill out!

He was speaking in New Delhi, in the backdrop of his two very latest books : his debut novel Two and Footprints on Zero Line - Writings On The Partition. And as always, he spoke along the emotional strain, from his very heart.

He’d said what pained him was today’s ground reality. We are seeing those tell-tale signs of partitioning. As though we haven’t learnt a lesson from the killings of the past, we are not visualizing nor comprehending what lies ahead.

Yes, on December 5 evening, Gulzar saab was at his frankest best, if I may say so. I have heard him before but never before did he look and sound so pained with the halaat around. That evening he spoke not just of the prevailing violence but also of the communal build-ups, the plight of those seeking refuge amongst us. Yes, the hapless Rohingya fleeing from one border to the next…

He’d got nostalgic about his birthplace – Dina, in Pakistan, and about his roots, people and places.

Quoting these lines from his volume - Footprints on Zero Line

‘It has taken me seventy years

To return to Dina and touch the dhaiyya

How much have I run in the wasteland of Time

How long have I played hide-and-seek!

An old picture of the railway station

The smoke from the engine hovering mid-air.

Its colours had begun to fade

And standing at one of the doors of the train

Was my Abbu.

The picture was beginning to flake off

When I reached the dhaiyya

The board was still there at the station

So was the name.’

Also, these lines of his:

‘ Silence at the Border

Why is everything so still at the border?

I am scared of his frozen silence

This stork -like silence is very cunning

While standing on one leg

Meditating with one eye closed

It keeps the other open.

Cactuses of thorny voices sprout

At the slightest stir

On either side of the border.

In the deserts along the border

Even the wind moves holding is breath

And the sand blows rubbing its neck against the ground.

A stillness has descended on the border

I am scared of his icy silence along the border.


And as I’m filing this column on December 27-which happens to be the 220 birth anniversary of this subcontinent’s greatest poets – Mirza Ghalib, so it would be apt if I end this column writing about him.

Born in Agra on December 27, 1797, as Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, he used pen name ‘Ghalib’ (the conqueror). When still very young, he moved to Delhi, where he’d witness turbulent times during the 1857 revolt and also the subsequent changes that followed, including the changing socio-political scenario.

Ghalib wrote the Diwan-e-Ghalib at his house in Old Delhi, Ghalib ki Haveli, (now a heritage site). And its in the same haveli that he spent the last years of his life, till he died on February 15,1869. He was buried close to the dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya and the grave of Amir Khusro.

Leaving you with these lines of Ghalib - from Khushwant Singh’s volume – ‘Celebrating the Best of Urdu Poetry (Penguin).

‘Love me the lust for living

To ease my pain it gave me something for sure

It gave me such pain that nothing can cure

And also, Ghalib’s this verse,

‘To be united with my beloved was not writ in my fate

Had I lived any longer, it would have been the same long wait

I lived on your promises, I knew they were not true

Would not I have died of joy had I believed in you?

Ask my heart about the pain of love and it will tell you’

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