At a time when chest-thumping nationalism is glorified and jingoist vocabulary has seeped into everyday language, a counter-discourse that challenges it becomes all the more important. Since the Partition, both the Indian and the Pakistani states have defined and legitimised themselves by delegitimising the ‘other’. As both nations observe their 75th Independence Day, there is a need to question the very idea of the nation-state and that of borders.
Dhoop Ki Deewar, a Pakistani web-series on Zee5, starring Sajal Aly and Ahad Raza Mir, is a sobering, timely commentary on the question of war and hatred between the two nations who have forgotten that there is so much more in common between the two than just a wall; a Partition. In the series is a cross-border love story but also a palimpsest of sorts where the nationalist narrative is blurred and overwritten with a narrative of love and of companionship in pain.
The series revolves around Vishal from India and Sara from Pakistan, who have lost their fathers in a military skirmish on the borders. Blindfolded by the jingoist narrative of heroism, victory and nationalism, Vishal and Sara voice their enmity for the other through social media. But, gradually as they try to come to terms with the personal loss and face difficult familial and societal situations, they are brought as they are battling similar demons.
The episodes powerfully deconstruct the whole narrative of ‘dying for the glory of one’s nation’ by showcasing, in a raw and real way, the subjective losses that the family members of the soldiers have to undergo and live with each day. In one scene, Vishal’s grandmother points out that not everyone joins army out of deshbhakti (nationalism) but many do that out of majboori (helplessness). The series questions the absurdity of war in the name of the nation and of martyrdom by depicting how the nation fails to remember the families of the deceased who are left to fend for themselves in a largely patriarchal, oppressive society.
The series shows how war and its losses are not just borne by men but also by the women who are widowed, left alone and who have to fight an everyday battle in a society that oppresses them and demands conformity. Vishal’s mother is forced to wear light-coloured clothes and faces the dilemma of starting a new relationship. Sara’s mother had been dependent on her husband and after his death, she has a hard time dealing with the outside world independently. That the two women find solace in each other across the borders and speak and cry their heart out via phone call is very heart-warming as is the bond that develops between Vishal and Sara’s grandmothers.
Vishal calls his relationship with Sara ‘dard ka rishta’ (relationship of grief) and rightly so. Each of the characters in the series find solace in their counterparts across the borders with whom grief can be shared and memories sought after. The idea of collective memory, remembrance and shared tradition is very evocatively represented through the conversation between Vishal and Sara’s grandmothers who revel in the memories of the past when the territory was undivided, whole and marked by a collective sense of a community. Kartarpur Sahib, where in the end Sara meets Vishal’s mother and they sit together in shared grief following the death of Sara’s husband and Vishal in the Pulwama attack also reasserts the idea of shared culture and humanity that transcend the walls and the concertina wires of religion and territory.
The name of the series, Dhoop ki Deewar, in itself beautifully encapsulates the message of the series – that just like sunlight is a shared resource, so is memory, humanity, love, pain and cultural heritage.
Watching the series, one is reminded of poet Sahir Ludhianvi.
Jang toh khud hi ek masla hai
Jang kya maslon ka hal degi
Aag aur khoon aaj bakshegi
Bhook aur ehtiyaj kal degi
Isliye ae shareef insaanon
Jang talti rahe toh behtar hai
Aap aur ham sabhi ke aangan main
Shama jalti rahe toh behtar hai.
War itself is a problem
What solution can war provide
It will entail fire and bloodshed today
Hunger and deprivation tomorrow
Therefore, O innocent humans
It is better if war is never waged
It is better if the light keeps glowing
In your courtyard and mine.
Hunardeep Kaur is a student of English Literature at Lady Shri Ram College for Women.