Footprints on Zero Line

by Gulzar

Read time: about 5 minutes

Partition was a rare occurrence where the humanity failed collectively. It still does when there are wars going on to fill a certain pockets and where kids are swept off to the shore because they are not given a safe shelter. We learn about such occurrences every single day and it makes you feel completely helpless.

In this book, Gulzar Sahab has tried to revisit his place of birth in Pakistan and touch the Dhaiyya. This is an incredible writing on the partition of India reminding us what we did to our own people for a piece of land and some false security.

Cover: Footprints on Zero Line

Cover page

On the cover is a fountain pen that is tracing the border line of India’s border that is common with Pakistan. The cover is subtle but at the same time says a lot about the content inside.

Content

The book is essentially divided into two parts. The first part consists of poetry and the second one is filled with short stories. In the poems inside Gulzar Sahab dreams of the memories of his birth place Dina. He remembers his friends and the games that they used to play. The teachings in his schools and the writings on the walls with coals. He is remembering the festivals they used to celebrate.

In The knock he talks about one such dream where he had guests from across the border at his door. They brought him jaggery from their harvest. In Millstone, the poet talks about the wheel of time where the stones, pebbles and marbles of one’s childhood grind to bring together the knowledge, experiences and lessons. He has been to the Dina once again in his old age and realised how the wheel has completed one full circle and come to stop at the same place again. Similarly, in Dhaiyya he culminates the entire childhood when he goes back to the city of his birth as if he has come of touch the Dhaiyya. There is a lot of pain in the poetry. It is innocent kind where a young boy has left his toys in the field while running away from his village. In Toba Tek Singh, Gulzar Sahab talks about the kind of madness that is still left outside the four walls across both the borders. This kind of madness is not incarcerated. It is tribute to Manto. It is one of my favourite poems in the book. Eyes Don’t Need VISA is another one that will stay with me forever. I have been reading it again and again. I wish I could pick up one poem and say you definitely need to read this one but I realise I can’t do that. All the poems have to be read patiently and let them sink in your soul.

The second part of the book consists of short stories. Crossing the Raavi is probably the most famous one where a Sikh couple is crossing the river Raavi with their two infants. One’s death becomes the life of the other. This story will haunt you. Two sisters is a story of two sisters who were saved by a truck driver who crossed the border and dropped them safely to this side of the border. Of course, it was only after the worst had already happened to both the sisters. This is a story of the creeping madness and demons of the past. Two soldiers is a beautiful story about two soldiers at the border who are each other’s saviours. They are afraid to lose each other. If one of them does what will be the purpose of the other? What is a soldier without an enemy to hate? There are some really beautiful stories in the collection. Fear ignites the worst kind of fear in you. Fear of the other person. The Jamun Tree describes the madness at the onset of partition. The Scent of a Man is one of its kind where the front he treetop is visible the worst kind of humanity. Search is a story finding Kashmir as its setting.

This book will not let you forget. It will keep taking you back to the time of a great madness. You cannot escape.

Language

This is what I love the most about Gulzar Sahab’s writing. His writing is the simplest but carries about the heaviest of the burdens. I absolutely loved the translations as well. I can only imagine the nature of original work.

Good points

The cover page is simple yet beautiful. The content is heart touching is so many ways. This book will not let you forget. The writing is the most beautiful part of the book. I am glad I finally got around to reading this book.

Bad points

I wish there was more to read. I don’t know if this is really a negative point but I never want to stop reading Gulzar. I wish the book never ended.

Overall

The book is a masterpiece. I wish more people read it and spoke about it.

Whom do I recommend this to

This book is for those who enjoy simple writing. Poetry lovers are going to cherish this as well.

Quotable Quotes

Let’s play Kabaddi at the border

And hold on to those who cross the Zero Line

Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com