Last year I read the Urdu epic, 'Darwaza Khulta Hai' by Abdaal Bela, which though 1,800-page-long, held my attention throughout. The author recreates realistically and impartially the harmonious life Punjabis lived before the British split their identity on religious lines. Amarjit Singh Hayer writes...
It is a saga spread over 60 years, from 1887 to 1947, encompassing 300 endearing and enduring characters. The novel is unique and can be interpreted from different angles. It juxtaposes autobiographical anecdotes with historical events. It is a valuable documentation of social history of pre-1947 Punjab.
Abdaal, born after Partition, stored in his subconscious mind the nostalgic memories his grandfather Bela Khan narrated of his childhood in his native village Mao Mianwal on the right bank of the Sutlej and the adult life at Maanpur headworks along the Sirhind canal near Doraha. The memories of Bela Khan, whose name the family has preserved by making it their surname, form the warp and woof of this absorbing book.
The novel, which deserves wide readership, has been translated into Hindi by Kewal Dhir and is being published by Sang-e-Meel Publishers, Lahore. This will be the first book published in Hindi in Pakistan. It is also being translated into Punjabi by a Canada-based writer. Darwaza is a metaphor used by the author. It indeed has opened a door for the people of the two countries, who have been separated by a fence of barbed wire too long.
Abdaal came to Ludhiana this March to receive the Sahir Award given by Adeeb International. His mother belonged to this city. He received a standing ovation when he announced that though he was being honoured for his contribution to Udru literature he would speak in Punjabi, the language in which his mother used to talk to him. He spoke straight from the heart in the Malwai accent.
Another gesture that endeared him to the audience was the presentation of India and Pakistan flags on a common base to the organisers. This was his way of emphasising amity instead of enmity between the two countries.
I took Abdaal to Maanpur Headworks where he saw the ruins of the quarter in which once his grandfather lived. Fortunately, the room under the bridge in which his grandfather worked was still intact. The shine in his eyes and the serenity on his face I saw then, gave me the impression as if he were on a pilgrimage. Later, we visited the State High School, Payal, where his father had studied and also Chaura Bazaar, Ludhiana, about which he used to talk so lovingly to Abdaal.
It was rather late at night yet he insisted on visiting Mao-Mianwal where he prayed at the mazar of Khwaja Roshan Wali and kissed the earth that had once nourished his ancestors.
Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography: 'There never is a good war; there never is bad peace.' So like Abdaal, it is important to light a candle for Indo-Pak peace and illuminate the dark minds of war-mongers on both sides of the border.