TWO, GULZAR’S FIRST NOVEL

India Today - - LEISURE - —Tabish Khair

Renowned for his po­etry and films, Gulzar be­longs to the gen­er­a­tion of great writ­ers who wit­nessed the Par­ti­tion and worked in the Bom­bay film in­dus­try—Is­mat Chugh­tai, Saa­dat Hasan Manto, and Bhisham Sahni among them.

It is fit­ting, there­fore, that Two, Gulzar’s first novel, trans­lated from the Urdu and also pub­lished in Dev­na­gari as Do Log, is about the Par­ti­tion and nar­rated as a se­ries of vivid cin­e­matic vi­gnettes.

The story fol­lows a group of Hindu and Sikh refugees be­ing driven in a truck by Fauji, a Mus­lim, from their home­town of Camp­bellpur (now At­tock in Pak­istan) in the win­ter of 1946-47. Some have paid Fauji to drive them to safety. Oth­ers Fauji has taken on for per­sonal or hu­man­i­tar­ian rea­sons. But the main rea­son Fauji has un­der­taken this dan­ger­ous mis­sion is to drive his best friend Lakhbeera to safety across the bor­der—of course no one knows where or what the bor­der is!

As the trip goes on, Gulzar of­fers vi­gnettes from the var­ied pasts of the pas­sen­gers and their fam­i­lies, some of whom are left be­hind. Towards the end, sim­i­lar vi­gnettes fol­low the sur­vivors into the fu­ture, lead­ing to the geno­cide of Sikhs fol­low­ing Indira Gandhi’s mur­der. For a short novel, Gulzar man­ages to cover a lot of ground, largely by em­ploy­ing a tech­nique that is clearly cin­e­matic.

“The roots of the Par­ti­tion were buried deep, its branches reach­ing out,” writes Gulzar towards the end of the novel. In this sense, Two is not just a novel about his­tory, home and refuge, but about a con­stant search for mean­ing.

Gulzar claims in an af­ter­word that we have en­gaged with the Par­ti­tion far less than oth­ers have en­gaged with the Holo­caust or World War II. But this is not our main fail­ing. In typ­i­cal post-colo­nial fash­ion, we have found and blamed the usual sus­pects: the di­vide and rule pol­icy of the Bri­tish and the vested in­ter­ests of some politi­cians. But we have not faced up to our own cul­pa­bil­ity.

Bad things hap­pen not be­cause they are in­sti­gated by oth­ers, but be­cause enough of us want them to hap­pen—and, even more, al­low them to hap­pen. This comes across in Gulzar’s mov­ing novel from be­gin­ning to end. “If Fazal was be­ing hounded [out of his birth­place] by a Verma or a Sharma,” he writes early in the book, “Rai Ba­hadur had a Rahim or Karim af­ter him.” And in the end, a mother kills her son be­cause he starts re­sem­bling his fa­ther—the man who raped her. It’s a warn­ing to harken.

YASIR IQBAL

TWO by GULZAR HarperPeren­nial `399; pp 179

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