Suman K Sharma
‘Embers the beginning and embers the end of Mirpur’ may seem rather an unwieldy title for a book. But the author, Dr Kulvir Gupta, who hails from the defunct town, must have felt a compelling reason to apply this label to his debut work. Old Mirpur, now in PoK, is said to have been founded by two holy men – Miran Shah, a Muslim fakir and Bodhpuri, a Hindu saint. As is the tradition among such evolved souls, Shah Miran and Puri Maharaj together installed a dhooni- a perpetually smouldering sacred fire – prophesying that the habitation would flourish so long as the dhooni burnt. And so it happened. In the turmoil that betook Mirpur in November 1947, there was hardly anybody left to tend the sacred fire and the centuries-old town was deserted. Hence, the title.
The slim volume of less than 160 pages turns out an autobiography, an historical narrative and a thoughtful reflection on our troubled times – all in one. Essentiallythough,it remains the story of old Mirpur, now submerged under the waters of Pakistan’s Mangla Dam. The core narrative is supplemented by an Introduction, a synopsis, a 73-line poem by the author’s daughter, Dr Shwaita (which is aptly titled ‘Essence in Verse’). Added to it also are two chapters, ‘Graduation and After’ and ‘Next Fifty Years’ (it is the life-story of the author, after all). There are photographs and drawings too (the last being the handiwork of the author’s architect son-in-law, Abhiney Gupta). Two photographs are of special interest as they effectively sum up the narrative – one, taken in 1950, shows the author as a school boy holding a book in his hands; and the other, taken seventeen years later, shows him as a young Army officer, oozing out self-confidence.
Dr Gupta is no Charles Dickens. Yet, he has a tale to tell and he tells it with the concision of a seasoned dental surgeon that he is. The narrative opens promisingly with the rhetorical question, ‘Wither the caravan?’ (page 30) and for the next 130 odd pages, he takes the reader on a heart-rending journey on his family’s fall from prosperity to penury and from abject penury to a gradual, inch by painful inch, rise to a position of repute. The author as an individual is always there, but the story of his life is immutably linked with the story of his family as also of his community at large. That imparts a much wider relevance to Dr Gupta’s autobiography.
Another remarkable feature of the book is the author’s honest, almost clinical approach to the facts that he handles. A few months before the fall of Mirpur, Babu, one of his father’s Muslim retainers, was murdered by Hindu and Sikh vigilantes. Here is how Dr Gupta describes the grim incident:
‘Someone from the crowd spotted him and shouted, ‘He is a Musalman, get him….Hardly had he walked a few steps when a young Sikh ran after him shouting, ‘He is a Musalman’ and put a gun on his occiput (the back of the head) and pulled the trigger. Babu collapsed upon himself without a sound, some of the youths pulled his body away from the crowd. In the process, his “Tehmat”….fell off and he was half-naked when his body was set on fire ….'(page 48).
And the carnage at the Alibegh Camp perpetrated by the soldiers of Pakistan army upon Hindu and Sikh civilian male captives –
‘Next morning (3rd December, 1947)…soldiers started blowing whistles and ordered all able-bodied men to assemble in the courtyard. Out of them, they asked about forty-odd men to march out of the main gate of the Gurudwara, my father was one of them….They were all (led) to the banks of the Mangla Canal near the bridge….All of them were asked to strip and leave their attire in a heap and line up….The first one nearest to the bank was brutalised by four or five soldiers who started hitting him with military boots on his genitals and abdomen. As he fell down, the butts of rifles were used to bash his head and bayonets on his abdomen before dumping him into the canal….'(pages 78-80).
Dr Kulvir Gupta appears to have spared no effort and expense in having his book published from Olympus, London (UK). Albeit, looking at the printing mistakes, one feels that our Desi publishers would have done a far better job of editing and proof-reading.
Suman K Sharma