The archetypes of Garam Hawa

Garam Hawa is not a film merely about characters. It is a film about experiences that we have all had, generation after generation, and have settled as archetypes in the soul of this piece of land that we call India. For this piece of land is not mere land, but the feelings, sensations, dreams, and traumas that move the hearts of those who walk on it, and those who have walked on it through history. The film expresses something of the essence of that soul of India.

The sorrow of Salim Mirza is the sorrow of every Muslim who has been made to feel that this may not be his own country. When Salim Mirza, scarred and fatigued by the ravages of the times, goes to see the Taj Mahal for the last time before leaving the country he thought was his own, his sorrow is the sorrow of an entire culture.

It is the sorrow of my father, who, as an academic and writer,  spent all his life arguing for an Islam that is more open to the rest of the world, and for an India where harmony prevails over all religious divisions and all dogma. It is his sorrow, as he now spends the last years of his life seeing the nation being taken over by the Hindu nationalists, the lynchings, the frequent abuse of the Muslim. It is the sorrow of a dream crumbling.

The hopes of Sikandar, Salim Mirza’s youngest son, are the hopes of every young Muslim – practically every Muslim of my generation that I have been friends with – to live, to make friends, to work, to make a creative contribution in this confluence of streams that is our nation, and not apart from it. For we know no other nation. We have never been to Pakistan. It is quite another land for us.

The love of Amina, her longing, her innocent desire to spend her life with someone who truly loves her, is the love that palpates in the hearts of each one of us, young and old, Hindu or Muslim, or otherwise. Some of us are destined to experience the fulfillment of that desire, and some of us are not. Amina is a symbol of those among us for who the desire remains a desire only.

In her very relatability, in her tragic humanity, Amina emerges as far more than a Muslim woman. She is a human being whose heart is crushed by the brutalities of fate, brutalities to which no living person is a stranger. In her, the ‘other’ becomes uncannily identical to the ‘self’.

The film’s opening credits begin with an image of the map of India, now divided into two. It is followed by a picture of a smiling Gandhi, and then comes a series of pictures of partition. As the opening credits end, we see Gandhi again, this time lying dead as his funeral procession moves to the cremation ground. The birth of a nation is also the death of a dream. A dream that imagined India as a land where people of diverse ways of life live together. Gandhi, a man whose prayers included passages from the Gita, the Quran, and the New Testament, is a symbol of that dream, in his life and his death. The film that follows these images is an effort to recover that dream, if not in physical actuality, then in the actuality of the hearts of those who are moved by it.

All the other characters – the Hindu friend who unceasingly supports Salim Mirza, the refugees from Pakistan who desire revenge,  Salim Mirza’s wife who strives to hold a crumbling home together while her own heart crumbles, the youth who fight for their right to livelihood, the rickshaw driver who is oblivious to deeper political currents – these are not particular persons but archetypes, symbols of particular responses to the violence in our hearts, and to partition which manifested that violence in the physical world. They are the forces in us which either become complicit in that violence, or which refuse to give in to that violence, and therefore, remain rooted in goodness in the face of the harsh tragedies that history inflicts on us.

The film, then, remains a testament to our times, our lives, the dreams that we dreamt for ourselves as a culture. It has thus survived the death of most of those who made it, and lives as intensely, if not more, in the hearts of many who came thereafter.


~ by tdcatss on August 30, 2017.

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