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It was the evening of Friday, August 14, 1998, and I was in a car bound for the Wagah border with Kuldip Nayar. Nayar Sahib has been doing this pilgrimage for some years. On the evening of August 14, he punctually reaches the border at Wagah with a few writers, artists and intellectuals. While the troops on either side beat the retreat at sunset, this motley crowd shouts slogans in support of India-Pakistan friendship. And at midnight, they light candles to welcome the new day of Indian Independence.

The road was long and straight. As evening fell, Nayar Sahib said, "If we drove straight on down this road, if no gate or wire came in our way, if no one asked us for visas or passports — then I could have taken a quick trip around Pakistan. Tell me, would I rob that country of something? Anyway, there are robbers everywhere — they scarcely have to travel overseas in order to rob." Then, after a spell of silence, he added: "After all, that too is my land. So much of me is still there, in that country.

My eyes probably betrayed askance, for he explained, "My master Dinanath and Maulvi Mohammad Ismail… my primer of the Urdu alphabet… my school bag — all belong to that land. Our roots are still out there. We could only lop off the branches and bring them with us."

Nayar Sahib’s voice was choking. He had mentioned Sialkot, his hometown, several times that day.

"All my uncles and cousins lived nearby. There was a big square right outside our house, an unfenced commons. There were other houses on the far side of the square. There was so much land that the question of grabbing it never arose. On our side of the square there was an old, shady peepul tree. Beneath it was a grave. Who knows whose it was, but Ma had everyone believe that it was Pir Sahib’s.

"Ma would put a tilak of the puja sindoor on the trunk of the peepul and light a lamp at the grave. After putting the vermilion powder on the tree, she would wipe her finger on a brick of the grave — then she would perform the puja, present the light of the lamp to the peepul and then place the lamp in the broken alcove of the grave. The peepul would get the prasad and so would Pir Sahib. If she was unhappy about anything at home, she would rest her back against the tree and talk to Pir Sahib. Sometimes, she would sit there and weep. After a good cry, she would feel lighter and return home, bringing her Pir Sahib along with her. There was no salvation for the poor Pir Sahib. Examination time, festival time; happy times and sad, it was essential for her to have Pir Sahib participate."

In a very earthy Punjabi, Nayar Sahib was saying: "If something bothered her, she would pose a question to Pir Sahib. When we tried it, we never got a reply. But Ma would always get an answer from him. Sometimes, Pir Sahib would come to her in her dreams and give her detailed information about what would happen and what could not."

We had reached Wagah…

The day was coming to an end. The flags of the two countries were being brought down with elaborate ceremony. There were a few people on that side of the border, and a few on this. Raj Babbar joined us. Asma Jeh angir was ex pected to be present on the other side, but she could not make it. The Pakistan government had prevented her from making the journey.

At midnight, we lit candles. Cameras clicked. We raised Indo-Pak friendship slogans. And so we returned from Wagah with our throats somewhat dry and our voices choking.

Next day, we were en route to Delhi, but I wanted to linger on in Sialkot. So I asked about Pir Sahib.

"Nayar Sahib! Your mother had seen Pir Sahib in her dreams. Didn’t you ask her what he looked like?"

Nayar Sahib was bemused. Smiling, he said, "I started my career with investigative journalism. So it was only natural for me to put her this question. And you know, he turned out to be just as Mother had described him."

"What do you mean? ...You met him? How come?" Nayar Sahib smiled at my confusion and continued with his story:


p. 1 p. 2  

Poet, filmmaker and lyricist, Gulzar is celebrated as much for his contribution to Indian literature as to Indian cinema. He lives in Bombay and writes in Urdu and Hindi