August 16, 2022
A stately man dressed in a bandhgala and donning a Karakul hat — which Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah had popularized — knocks on a door to confirm whether the house is available to rent. When told yes, he says, “My name is Salim Mirza and I am a Muslim. Can I still see it?”
“Of course,” the owner says, much to Salim Mirza’s relief. The year is around 1948, and Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, has just assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. The British have already partitioned the subcontinent into Muslim-majority Pakistan and a secular India. Many Muslims have left for Pakistan. Other landlords have already turned Mirza away because of his religion. However, the eager landlord has a caveat. “You can pay one year’s rent in advance and move in right this minute,” he says. The landlord is wary because his prior tenant had left for Pakistan, owing seven months of rent.
To this day, Indian Muslims face countless obstacles in finding a place to rent. Even housing societies in cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi have loopholes to keep Muslims out. The pivotal moment in the M.S. Sathyu’s Garm Hava (Hot Winds, 1974) could have as easily happened today as in 1948. Starring Balraj Sahni as Salim Mirza, the patriarch of a Muslim family that chooses to remain in India after Partition, the movie explores the aftermath of the partition that separated a once-united people. Unlike other depictions of the historic event, which highlight the trauma and upheaval during the days up to, during, and soon after Partition, Garm Hava focuses on how Indian Muslims must reckon with their standing in an independent India and prove their loyalty, time and time again.