The Lahore Effect

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

I am a long-time resident in Sweden where I have been living since September 1973. When the initial euphoria of living in a new place subsided and life assumed some sort of normality, it began to dawn upon me that I shared the distinction of longing for a very special place on earth which has a global following: Lahore, the city of my birth. It does not matter if the decision to leave was economic or political, voluntary or under duress and threat. For most old residents of this city, sooner or later, Lahore comes back in their lives as the centrepiece of a personal pride. The mystique of Lahore is special and grows on one with every passing year.

In Stockholm, a core Lahore connection has served as the basis of a continuous monthly rotating all-evening social get-together since 1991. It began on every Friday at six o’clock in the evening, but has now changed to Sunday afternoons. After dinner begins a long session of jokes, political commentary, argumentation on religion and God, Indian and Pakistani films and songs and so on, but as the evening wears on, most of us have travelled back many times to Lahore. We have some loyal Urdu-speaking members who have been with us all along. Over the years they have learnt enough Punjabi and vicariously experienced the Lahore effect to experience a high when talking about the city. Our evenings continue till about midnight or even later.

I don’t know how many such regular Lahori baithaks (sittings) exist in the world, but I do believe they exist everywhere. I have twice had the opportunity to attend such a meeting in New Delhi at the residence of R.G. Nayyar who studied at Forman Christian College before partition. I was introduced to that ‘Lahore Club’ by the most famous ambassador of Lahore in Delhi, Pran Nevile. His book, Lahore: A Sentimental Journey, is a great chronicle of the 1930s and 1940s [1]. These Lahore boys, all of them in their late 70s or early 80s, reminisce a Lahore of a bygone era, when it was prided as the most communally harmonious city of northern India. I was amazed and somewhat embarrassed by the fact that no one showed any malice towards me although all of them had fled to India to save their lives from Muslim attackers. On the contrary, I turned out to represent all that was good in the Muslims of Lahore.

Almost all of them recalled the help rendered by some Muslim friend or neighbour during the riots. Pran Nevile said that his father opted for Pakistan and they had left Lahore temporarily with the intention of returning as soon as things cooled down. Dr Jagdish Chander Sirin told me how an uncle and a cousin of his were stabbed and taken to Mayo Hospital. They mentioned his name to the doctor on duty, Muhammad Nazir, who happened to be a colleague of his. He looked after them as if they were his own uncle and cousin. Yuvraj Krishan provided a detailed account of fires that raged in the walled city as observed from his rooftop in Purani Anarkali. Ram Parkash Kapur described how five truckloads of his family members and their belongings crossed the border at Wagah thanks to the special favour of his father’s friends, the Muslim League leaders Nawab Mamdot and Sardar Shaukat Hayat. Dr Prem Sobti also had a narrow escape from Lahore but came back in the 1980s and met his old class fellows who received him with great love and affection.

The general impression I got was that neighbours were almost never involved in the raids on Hindu and Sikh houses. The one person everybody remembered with acrimony was a magistrate, G.M. Cheema, who apparently had connived at various plots to set fire to Hindu and Sikh property in the walled city of Lahore. They were pushed away by him for violating the curfew when they came seeking shelter. I later learnt from the Muslims of Lahore that Cheema’s ire was a reaction to being fired at from a Hindu locality. Though he escaped unhurt, he sought revenge from all Hindus and Sikhs. The Indian filmmaker and writer, Ramanand Sagar, mentions such an incident of firing upon a magistrate by Hindus in his immortal work, Aur Insaan Mar Gya (And Humanity Died), which is set against the riots and fires in Lahore in 1947 [2].  I spent a whole evening with him and his family in Mumbai on 18 October 2001. It turned out that Sagar was not only from Lahore but also from Mozang where my paternal ancestors have lived for ages.

Lahore before the 1947 riots: Ever since it fell to the Afghans in the early 11th century, Lahore had continuously been a religiously mixed and varied city. According to the 1941 census, the total population of the municipality of Lahore was 671,659, out of which Muslims constituted a majority of 64.50%. Except for a small Christian community and some individuals from other minor groups such as Parsees, the rest were Hindus and Sikhs who together made up 36% of the population. The situation was similar in Lahore district as a whole. Muslims constituted 60.62% while Hindus and Sikhs together formed 39.38% of the population. The Hindus and Sikhs, however, owned some 80% of the property in the city and the district. That Lahore ceased to exist at the time of the partition of India.

In his autobiography, Ek Dil Hazaar Dastan (One Heart and a Thousand Stories), Agha Ashraf describes at length his childhood spent within the walled city in the 1920s. Children of all communities studied together in the Dayal Singh School. He describes some of his Hindu and Sikh teachers in saintly terms. Ashraf played truant along with his Hindu, Muslim and Sikh class-fellows, often spending time in Hindu temples on such occasions. Drinking, opium eating, gambling and other such deviations were widespread in the inner city. Ashraf himself indulged in bouts of drinking, along with his friends [3].

In another major autobiography, Mera Shehr Lahore (My City Lahore), Yunas Adeeb mostly dwells on the period from the late 1930s onwards. He could casually enter orthodox Brahmin homes and go to the temple with the older, unmarried sister of his neighbour Pandit Bhagat Ram [4].  He notes that the people had evolved their own peculiar ways and means of circumventing the strictures of orthodox Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism, thus creating a heterodox way of life that was based on mutual respect and affection. He recalls that Hindus would shower flowers on the Muharram procession while Muslims flocked to the great Ramleela festival held in the Minto Park behind the Badshahi Mosque, and many took part in the Diwali and Dusehra celebrations. He observes:

‘I remember in particular Lala Ganpat Rai because of his typical Hindu dress and appearance. He wore narrow pyjama-type trousers, a kurta (long shirt), a waistcoat, and a black pointed cap on his head. Looking at his face one knew that he was extremely cordial and friendly. It was his routine that when he passed the mosque in Kucha Darzian (locality of the tailors) he would stop, bend down to touch the steps of the mosque with his hands, and then with both hands pressed together pay his respects [5].’

Communal harmony was on occasion seriously threatened and riots would break out. One such occasion was the publication of the book Rangeela Rasul (The Merry Messenger of God). It created a great commotion and Muslim tempers rose high. On 6 April 1929, Ilam Din, a Muslim youth, stabbed the publisher, Rajpal, to death with a knife [6]. The Lahore High Court found him guilty and sentenced him to death on 17 July 1929, and on 31 October the same year he was hanged in the Mianwali jail and buried there. It was due to persistent demonstrations and assurances by the notables of the Muslim community, that peace and order would not be disturbed if his body were returned to the family and buried in Lahore, which convinced the British authorities to comply with the demand [7]. A few years later, in 1935, the Masjid/Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj dispute between Sikh and Muslim zealots turned into a bloody conflict. It had its origins in conflicting claims to a place deemed sacred by both. Many people were killed and a veritable threat to law and order existed for some days [8].

Notwithstanding the occasional outburst of communal friction and confrontation, Punjab in general and Lahore in particular maintained peace and normality until the riots of 1947. The credit for this largely goes to the Punjab Unionist Party that had established a power sharing arrangement in the province since its foundation in 1923. It was the leading pro-British inter-communal party representing the powerful rural elite of Punjab. Tahir Lahori notes that the politicians of the 1930s observed high standards of honesty:

‘The finance minister was Sir Manohar Lal. His only son was an employee in a bank, but he did not hold any high position. If the finance minister had wanted he could have found him any high position. Sir Choutu Ram owned some agricultural land before he became a minister. When he left that job he still had the same piece of land. All leaders were of strong character. Muslim leaders were also of firm and exemplary patriotic character [9].’

I had met the late songwriter and music director of the Bombay film industry, Prem Dhawan, at his old house in Juhu in Bombay in 1999. He had the following to say:

‘My father was a jail superintendent who was posted in different parts of Punjab. It was while he was posted in Lahore that I came in contact with Indian revolutionaries in the Lahore jail. By the time I graduated from the Forman Christian College in 1942 my conversion to Marxism had taken place. The atmosphere in F. C. College was cosmopolitan. The students came from all the communities. Most of us got along very well. Things were the same in most other parts of Lahore. It was indeed a city of tolerance and light. I left for Bombay in 1943. I have never understood to this day what happened that four years later all Hindus and Sikhs had to leave Lahore forever. To me this remains a puzzle.’

My (author’s) father, Mian Ghulam Muhammad Ghazi (born 3 February 1913), told me that Hindus and Sikhs were a minority in Mozang. All the communities got along well because in the traditional order there was a belief that everyone had his own way of relating to God. Orthodox Hindus would not eat food cooked by Muslims, given their aversion to meat and some other ingredients. Muslims, however, were not bothered about eating food served by Hindus or Sikhs. The Hindus happily accepted fruits and other gifts from Muslims. He recalls how he and his other class fellows found a novel way to protest the harsh methods of one of their Hindu teachers, a Brahmin. They put meat on his desk. The old fellow was livid with rage and beat up everyone but nobody in the class, including the Hindu boys, betrayed the plotters.

My father played hockey and kabaddi for Forman Christian College and came second in the one-mile race in the annual Punjab University sports competition held on 18-19 November 1932. In 1964, F.C. College and Government College celebrated their centenaries and the Government of Pakistan allowed some Formanites and Ravians from India to visit their old alma maters. It was a moving scene as old and middle-aged men met and embraced each other, some crying loudly. My father got an opportunity to meet his sports instructor, a Sikh who recognized him although my father had left college in 1933. Among those who came from India to the centenary was Prabodh Chander whom our principal, Professor Sinclair, described as ‘once upon a time the life and soul of the college.’ It was many years later that I learnt Prabodh Chander was a leading Congress leader of Lahore.

In March 2004, I spoke to the well-known leftist Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan about Lahore before partition. She was very nostalgic and remembered Lahore as a serene and friendly city where all communities easily got along. Her father, Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, had been chief minister of Punjab and was an architect of the exemplary Hindu-Muslim-Sikh communal harmony represented by the Punjab Unionist Party. The poet Saleem Shahid from Mozang told me at the Punjabi World Congress held in May 2002 in London that Hindus and Sikhs lived very peaceably in Mozang. Despite the rise of militant Muslim movements such as the Ahrar and Khaksars who had a strong presence in our area, there were no communal attacks against non-Muslims. Such movements were basically anti-imperialist in their orientation and objectives.

On 29 July 2002, I met Professor Shaukat Ali, one of Pakistan’s most distinguished academics and educationists, at his son’s house in Mansfield, Massachusetts. He had taught several generations of students at the Punjab University from the 1950s onwards and later worked in the US where he now lives a retired life. He gave me the following sketch about his life in Lahore before partition and what happened during the partition riots. Despite his failing eyesight, I was pleased to know that he had read some of my earlier works. On 29 July 2002 I recorded a formal interview with him on pre-partition Lahore. Professor Shaukat Ali told me:

‘I was born in 1923 in a very poor Muslim family in the slums of Bhati Gate. We lived in a predominantly Hindu locality of Mohalla Jallotian, Kucha Nakarchian inside the walled city. We were five brothers and sisters with no earning member of the family except my widowed mother who performed various domestic chores for others, such as stitching and needlework. Of the 250 or more families living in that locality only five were Muslim. Our Hindu neighbours were gracious and God-fearing. Almost all of them kept a cow at home. Knowing that my mother was a poor but hard-working woman they would give us milk, butter and curd free of charge. At the time of Hindu festivals such as holi and diwali we would receive sweets from them. I don’t remember a single instance when they made us feel unwelcome in their homes. The only restriction was the kitchen where Muslims were not allowed. This was part of their religious practice and had nothing to do with discrimination as such. The Hindu women would come and spend hours talking to my mother.

‘I studied at the Dayal Singh High School. Most of my friends at school were Hindus. There was no discrimination at school, our teachers were fair and kind and very helpful. The school was located in Said Mittha Bazar and I had to walk that distance on foot from Bhati Gate. It was my great desire to become an academic, but my circumstances were most discouraging. However, my mother took on more work and my maternal uncle who lived in Said Mittha Bazar also helped me financially to get admitted to Dayal Singh College where I did well and gradually gained admission to the BA honours class.

‘Two of my Hindu teachers took special interest in me and inspired me to work hard. One was Prem Kirpal who had studied at Oxford University. His father, Rai Bahadur Ishwar Das, was the Registrar of Punjab University. They lived on Race Course Road. Prem Kirpal would invite some of us home for extra coaching. The other boys came from well-to-do backgrounds. I was the only one who was humbly dressed in shalwar-kurta and a Turkish fez on my head. We were treated to coffee and western delicacies, things I had never tasted before. The same was true of Lajpat Rai Nayyar. I used to go to his house too, which was located near Miani Sahib off Mozang Chungi. He also treated me very kindly.’

At this stage, Professor Ali broke down. He told me that the smell of burning flesh, and screams of the victims of the 1947 riots, still haunted him. Lahore was never the same again.

While in Delhi during March 2004, I narrated Professor Ali’s story to some of the older refugees from Lahore. To my pleasant surprise, Yuvraj Krishan Sahib told me that Professor Kirpal lived very close to the India International Centre where I was staying. Yuvraj Sahib himself had been a student of Professor Kirpal in Lahore and had kept contact with him. He mentioned that until very recently Kirpal Sahib was in good shape and his memory clear and sharp, but now his overall health was rapidly deteriorating.

On 14 March, I visited Prem Kirpal at his flat in Sujan Singh Park. I waited for a few minutes before he was brought into the room by some helpers. Both his eyesight and hearing ability were seriously impaired and his memory had indeed all but gone. I told him about his pupil Shaukat Ali and myself, but he seemed not to comprehend. Only once did his eyes open wide, and he gave me the kindest smile in the world. My great regret was that although after more than 56 years, Professor Ali would be delighted to know that his old teacher and benefactor was still alive, regrettably he may not be able to see the picture I had taken of Professor Kirpal because of his poor eyesight. I felt destiny had chosen my eyes to see them on each other’s behalf. It was a deeply moving experience. [Professor Kirpal passed away in early 2005; Ed.]

I have, however, met a number of Muslims who recall being humiliated by orthodox Hindu families. A friend of mine in Stockholm, the late Saif Ghauri, told me how once after school he had accompanied his school-fellow Premnath to his home. As soon as his mother realised that he was a Muslim he was asked to leave. He was only 13 at that time. Among the older generations such boundaries were understood and accepted, but for younger people who received a modern education such experiences only created resentment and bitterness. Som Anand, the author of Lahore: A Lost City, confirms this. He writes:

‘I remember how, if any of our Muslim neighbours ever sent any special dish for my father, it never went beyond the dining table, a place where she [my mother] did not take her own food. While eating she would never allow any of her Muslim friends or neighbours to touch her. During my childhood male members of educated Hindu families generally did not observe such inhibitions. (Women have always been more conservative in these matters.) Some decades earlier these rules formed a strict code of conduct for all, no matter how educated or enlightened a person might be…

‘The absurdities of such Hindu restrictions notwithstanding, the Muslims had come to accept them as a law of nature. Their older generation knew the limits of a relationship with the Hindus and considered it improper even to offer them drinking water from their utensils… The Hindus have always complained of Muslim fanaticism but they have never understood that the walls they raised around themselves could have not resulted in any other attitude…

‘It took many centuries for the Hindus of Punjab to realise how absurd and harmful their anti-Muslim prejudices were. In this respect the first current of change was felt during the Khilafat movement in the early twenties. Though the spirit of Hindu-Muslim amity saw many reverses in later years, at the social level the urban elite had changed its code of conduct for the better. This was due, in part, to western education. What this change meant was evident in my father’s attitude. When he was young, my mother recalled, he would come back to change his clothes if a Muslim had touched him while walking in the bazaar; but during my childhood in Model Town, father had several Muslim friends and he considered my mother’s inhibitions a sign of backwardness [10].’

It seems that the pre-partition Lahore was a culturally variegated society that was also transforming from a traditional to a modern structure. We learnt about both tolerant and intolerant types of cultural practices of the Hindus. Similar practices were also present among bigoted Muslims and Sikhs. The Muslims were in a majority and politically dominant, although economically the Hindus and Sikhs were the stronger communities. Thus, even while Lahore was a peaceful and prosperous city, the economic and communal cleavages existed and these became lines of conflict when the colonial system terminated and two rival states claimed it.

Post-partition Lahore: The departing Hindus and Sikhs left behind many remnants – buildings, residential colonies and charitable institutions – that are reminiscent of their once very visible presence. From time to time official policy has sought to ‘Islamise’ the names of places, localities and buildings bearing non-Muslim names, but for some time to come the Hindu-Sikh heritage will continue to be echoed in popular usage. Will the Lahoris ever learn to call Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Gulab Devi Hospital, Janki Devi Hospital, Dayal Singh College and Dayal Singh Library by some other name? I doubt it. There is the Dr Khera Government Hospital in Gawalmandi and many other such places which are still intact. The most dramatic change after 1947 is that Lahore became an essentially Muslim city.

Lahore received a substantial portion of newcomers, eastern Punjab refugees, especially from Amritsar but also other major towns such as Jullandhar and Ludhiana, and some from the Urdu-speaking areas of northern India and Hyderabad Deccan. In subsequent decades, the city has expanded in all directions and new residents continue to arrive from the other parts of Pakistan Punjab. Many old Lahoris whose roots predate the founding of Pakistan, complain that their sophisticated city and its relaxed lifestyle has gradually been subverted by the boorish and clumsy manners of these nouveau riche, especially since large number of villagers and small town dwellers, after making some fortune as migrant workers in the Persian Gulf region or in other parts of the world, have settled in the new localities on the outskirts of the city. Thus, demographic change has continued unabated and from a petite city of around 700,000 in 1947, Lahore is now home to some six million people. It is very likely that the majority of the people residing there have arrived after 1947.

I remember that Lahore of the mid-1950s and 1960s was a very dainty city. St. Anthony’s High School at Lawrence Road, where I studied, was a popular place and except for some Irish brothers who often beat us, the atmosphere was enlightening. The Mall, the Lawrence Gardens and the various restaurants made our city a most lively place. During the 1965 war with India, Lahore was very vulnerable, and the booming guns and deafening sound of supersonic air force planes breaking the sound barrier created a new sort of excitement. I remember watching the dog-fight over Lahore between an Indian and a Pakistani pilot. The streets were full of crowds following that spectacle in the sky. Nobody seemed to realise that they could be killed by gunfire from the two planes. We saw the Indian plane being hit and nose-diving towards the earth. I believe the Indian pilot was captured alive.

The next important period in Lahore’s history was the 1968 movement to oust Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan from power. It was soon followed by the meteoric rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on the political horizon of Pakistan. Bhutto quickly won the sympathy and admiration of the people of Lahore and, mammoth crowds would gather to listen to him or participate in the rallies arranged by his Pakistan People’s Party. The anti-climax to his popularity came in December 1972 when workers carried out takeovers of various factories all over Pakistan. He unleashed considerable repression and the workers were forced to run for safety. At that moment, Bhutto decided to elbow out the leftists in his party and welcome the landowners. It was at that time that I decided to leave Lahore for Stockholm where my elder brother had settled since 1965.

The coming to power of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1977 by overthrowing Z. A. Bhutto, changed the character of Pakistan from a Muslim state with some liberal graces into an Islamic state distinguished by its obscurantism. This meant that an Islamic identity had to be deliberately fostered on Pakistan, and indeed on Lahore. A cousin of mine tells the story of a friend, a producer with the Lahore unit of Pakistan Television, who was summoned by the military administrator of Lahore at the early stages of General Zia-ul-Haq’s takeover. He was ordered to prepare a script for a television programme on the history of Lahore.

Not surprising, the producer began the history of Lahore with the legendary origin of its name associated with Lav/Loh, son of Rama. Listening to the script, the colonel became livid with rage and demanded the deletion of any such reference. Instead, the story was to begin with the arrival in Lahore in 1039 of the Sufi-saint Data Ganj Baksh from Afghanistan along with the army of Masud of Ghazni. Thus, in one sense, Lahore embodies the underlying philosophy of ethnic cleansing, and efforts to erase all traces of its non-Islamic historical and cultural roots should be seen as part of the project of purifying it of all un-Islamic antecedents.

This brings us to the crucial question: Did Lahore transform into a homogeneous city (by implication one that is free of fissures and deep cleavages) when the non-Muslims left? Indeed, no comparable slaughter of citizens has taken place after 1947, but in 1953 a virulent anti-Ahmadiyya agitation broke out in Lahore, masterminded by some Muslim League leaders. There was considerable loss of life and property. The same Ahmadiyya community had played an active role in the demand for Pakistan in 1947, and the Muslim League had included them among the Muslims. However, in 1974 they were found to be holding beliefs contrary to the teachings of Islam and declared a religious minority by the Pakistan National Assembly.

Earlier in 1972, my alma mater, F.C. College, was nationalised along with some other colleges in Punjab that were under the control and management of Christian missions. Strangely enough, only colleges were nationalised while schools were not. It was indicative of a populist and erratic policy of nationalisation represented by the Pakistan People’s Party. This action ruined some of the best teaching institutions in our province. The tiny Christian community protested and pleaded but was ignored. From what I have heard, the police and other authorities carried out the eviction of Christian staff from the F. C. College in a most brutish manner.

From the late 1980s onwards, the Sunni and Shia communities have been victims of sectarian violence and terrorism. Sectarian militias have been engaged in recurrent and protracted terrorism in Lahore. They have not hesitated to kill people belonging to the other sect even while praying or mourning the dead. Desecration of each other’s mosques, graveyards and such other places has taken place. In the future, the Sunni-Shia divide might prove fatal to the homogeneity of Lahore and Punjab if the obsession for confessional purity is allowed to eliminate all anomalies.

Lahore in cyberspace: But Lahore continues to be recreated, idealised and idolised beyond all proportions, producing a nostalgia whose effects we never want to let go. It creates continuity both in space and time. The nuclear explosions carried out by India on 11 and 13 May 1998 and a few days later by Pakistan on 28 and 30 May served as a great catalyst to the peace movement in South Asia. Many of us in the diaspora were shocked and dismayed by the raw and vulgar display of brute power by the two states. It resulted in hectic communications and many Indians and Pakistanis began to talk to each other via the Internet.

I got involved on 25 June 1998 in such discussions through an email in which I urged Pakistanis to sign a petition against the nuclear blasts. Thereafter, it became a daily occurrence and first resulted in the establishment of Pakistanis for Peace and Alternative Development. Later in November 2001, I was invited by Pritam K. Rohila, Director of Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA) to become the moderator of Asiapeace. As the moderator of Asiapeace I came into contact with a cross-section of people interested in promoting peace in South Asia, but our membership is international and includes all nationalities and people.

Not surprising many of us discovered that we also had a Lahore link and that makes it a special relationship. It was through such a process that Sat Paul Arora, a resident of Delhi and formerly of Kucha Mullomata, at the Pani Wala Talab in the walled city, contacted me sometimes in early 2001. I visited Delhi and met him in October. Though he and his wife had many things to say about Lahore, I will narrate only one story:

‘In 1995-96 a gentleman from Lahore, Syed Asad Husain Ezdi, came to attend a conference in Bangalore. Later when he was in Delhi, he wrote a letter to The Indian Express in which he enquired about a Doctor Khera, who had saved his life as a child. As it happened, Dr Khera was my wife’s uncle and we were very close to him, but he had died a long time ago. He had been a famous surgeon of Lahore. We went to meet the Pakistani gentleman who told us that all his life he had wanted to meet the man who had saved his life by performing an operation that was considered very dangerous at that time. He was very pleased to have met us.

‘Meeting him kindled in me a desire to visit the city of my birth. We were able to do so last year. The problem was that I could not locate the house where we had once lived. The taxi driver proved to be an angel and went around making enquiries. After some time a crowd gathered and everyone tried to help us. Finally, we met an old man to whom I described my house, as also my father and family. He thought for a while, then he held my hand and took me into a corner of the street and then said: “Look in front now; isn’t that your house?” For a moment all those years meant nothing, time had simply stood still. Sure, in front of me was our house. It was clear to the crowd that had become even larger that we had come from India. Suddenly from somewhere Coca Cola bottles were brought and we were treated to a drink.

‘I stepped forward and knocked at the door. An elderly man came out to meet us. I explained to him that we had lived here once upon a time, and only wanted to see it from the inside, if it was all right. He had a flowing white beard and a very kind face. He said, “This is your house, please come in.” The women and other members of the family were alerted about our presence and they let us go about as we wanted. I saw that one of the chairs in the house was the one we had left behind, which they confirmed. Nothing much had changed. I was overwhelmed and tears rolled down my cheeks. The current owner was also deeply moved by our presence. He embraced my son Rajinder and me. He was crying and said, “Now that you have seen your old house, promise that you will help me get a visa to India because I want to see my house in Jammu once before I die”.’

Something very personal happened to me when I met Imran Munir in Vancouver, British Columbia on 21 July 2002. We quickly established our Lahore connection but the most amazing thing about it was that he used to meet his Marxist comrades at a tea-stall known as Mheeday da Hotel, which is directly under our house from which my mother had watched the Sikh carpenter being murdered in August 1947. In fact that whole building belongs to us and I was simply flabbergasted at meeting someone in Canada to talk about a place that is actually a part of post-partition Lahore. Mheeday da Hotel still continues to offer tea, bun-butter and other such delicacies 24 hours of the day. There are hardly any film people, revolutionaries, poets, writers and others who have not benefited from its services. Imran Munir made me re-live a life that will never come back. Though we moved from our Temple Road House in 1970, it still remains my father’s property.

Another such incident that took place recently revolved around Said Mittha Bazar inside the old city. It continues to be the pivot of great spiritual and emotional need of people in many parts of the world. Let me attempt an explanation. I communicate daily with people through the Internet where I moderate a discussion group called Asiapeace. We primarily concentrate on South Asia but our membership is international. Not surprising, many of us have found the Lahore link and that means a special relationship. My friend Liaqat Ali, an advocate, wrote to me on 7 January 2003.

Dear Ishtiaq,

Som Anand lives in Delhi. He is one of those deeply in love with pre-partition day Lahore. He has written Batein Lahore Ki, a book first published in India and later pirated by a publisher of your mohallah, Mozang. The book did good business. Whenever one talks to Som, he narrates his memories of Lahore. He still has tickets of the Model Town bus service that he purchased as a student. While living in Delhi, he can make you understand the map of Model Town – his ‘home town’.

On my visit to Bangalore last year I met a person who was just a child when his parents migrated to India. When he came to know that I was from Lahore he asked, ‘Is Said Mittha Bazar still the same?’ His family was from Said Mittha Bazar, part of the walled city of Lahore. He asked whether the ghati (slope) of the bazaar was still there. As long as we were together he conversed with me in Punjabi.

Liaqat Ali, Advocate

In reply, I wrote to him the following story:

‘In October 2001 I was in Delhi in connection with some research. I was looking for a gentleman, Yuvraj Krishan, who lived with his parents in Purani Anarkali Lahore near Dhobi Mandi. Yuvraj Sahib retired as the deputy auditor general of India. He lived in a locality called Vasant Kunj, a long distance from central New Delhi. The taxi I was travelling in was driven by a Sardarji who was not particularly well informed so the trip became longer and longer. Finally, I went into a merchant’s shop and called Yuvraj ji for directions.

When the conversation ended, a young 20-year old boy from the shop asked me whether I was from Lahore. I was quite surprised and asked how he knew. He replied: ‘My father had a shop in Said Mittha Bazar in the walled city of Lahore. You spoke a Punjabi which was identical to his and I knew you must be from Lahore.’ He did not charge me the two rupees for the phone call, saying that his father’s atma (soul) would be glad that some Lahori had visited their shop again.

Professor Kanta Luthra who lives in Salem, Oregon wrote to me:

‘I was ten at the time of partition. I lived in Lahore with my uncle on the Punjab University Campus, and prior to that in an old and rambling house near Ghora Hospital and D.A.V. College, as at that time my uncle was the vice-principal of Government Training College. It’s almost fifty-five years, but the memories of those two houses still haunt me, and I see my soul and spirit hovering there in my dreams. I want to make a pilgrimage to Lahore before I die. I pray there were no barriers between India and Pakistan, but friendship, goodwill, love for each other. As neighbours, we have so much to share: language, culture, love of music, literature, among other things. It’s a pity that as an American I can go anywhere in this world, but am afraid to go to Pakistan, my birthplace, where my heart is.’

Professor I. K. Shukla who is not a Lahori, wrote an email which he entitled ‘Memory as Manna’. He wrote:

‘Neither a Lahori nor a Sialkoti, I could not read through the pieces by Advocate Liaqat Ali and Ishtiaq Ahmed without my eyes moistening and a lump in my throat. It is to break loose from the emotional surge that I must resort a little levity. So, I begin with Ishtiaq Sahab. Not only did he save his two rupees in Vasant Kunj, Delhi, he also consecrated them, it would seem, with reference to the atma (soul) of a Lahori he had never seen. And amazingly, in the current culture of pervasive consumerism and cynicism, a 20-year old in Delhi talking about the atma of his father and so earnestly concerned to make it happy, does enviably credit to Ishtiaq for some hidden power or ability so to have stirred this youngster’s soul to these noble heights. Just by visiting a shop and finding himself welcome as a Lahori, a Lahori all the same, despite the ravages of dilution that his 30-year stay in Sweden must necessarily have caused.

‘I am left wondering about the so-called generation gap. I am left wondering about what adds to our “immortality”. Affinities imbibed and memorised, wittingly and unwittingly? Associations and affects cherished and stored in the treasure trove of memory, which is, on occasions, more painful than pleasurable to flip open. How much diminished and stifled we become when a trauma transforms the memory into a forbidden or fearful terrain? Do we suffer only as individuals? And only temporarily?’

These unwritten and unrecorded stories unravel our inner injuries much more gently than cold, statistical records of insensate history.

Despite a breach of 55 years, the two nations have incredibly much more to claim in a common patrimony than they realise. On this they can build. The alternative is to burn and bleed endlessly and in vain.

Humera Sheikh wrote from Los Angeles:

Dear Ishtiaq Sahib,

I just got back from Lahore; I was in Pakistan after almost 19 years. You can imagine my astonishment at the changes I saw. The first thing I noticed was that no chorahah (crossing) was recognizable to me. Mozang, where there used to be the only darul-mahi (fried fish shops and restaurants) now has tons of darul-mahis, the chorahah is congested and absolutely unrecognisable. The only place that still has the same look is the Mall road, but there too is the appearance of McDonalds, I just wanted to cry out, ‘Get them out of here, this is the city I was born in, watch out, beware.’ But too late – I loved being there, I am still in love with the people there and the city, I just have to get use to it. Although the disparity between the rich and the poor bothered me no end, but rather than cribbing about it I want to start something in collaboration with people there and here, everywhere.

Not just Lahore but Karachi too. I took my daughter Sophia with me; she was born there too, and it was delightful to see her loving everything. We went to the Wagah border for the flag ceremony, which takes place everyday between India and Pakistan. There were people shouting on either side for their chosen fronts; it seemed more to keep their soldiers riled up for fighting, like cocks in a pit, and both Sophie and me wanted to shout, if their young jawans die so will ours. We have friends on the other side; we want more friends, let peace live between us. Amin! My roots were made stronger; no matter how long I’m away, I still love Lahore.

Humera Sheikh

I think people like Kanta Luthra, I.K. Shukla and Humera Sheikh have spoken aptly and amply to convey the beauty and agony of Lahore. Lahore is always in our heart and will remain so as long as we are around to tell its tale over and over again.

Interviews: Pran Nevile, 75. 18 October 1999, at the India International Centre, New Delhi; Som Anand, 69. 18 October 1999, at the New Delhi Press Club; Ram Parkash Kapur, 75. 20 October 1999, at his residence in Delhi; Yuvraj Krishan, 79. 21 October 1999, at the India International Centre, New Delhi; Prem Dhawan, 76. 22 October 1999, at his residence in Juhu, Bombay; Dr Jagdish Chander Sarin, 79. Interviewed on 24 October at his residence in Delhi; Dr Ramanand Sagar, 82. 25 October at the India International Centre, New Delhi, again on 18 October 2001 in Mumbai; Sat Paul Arora, 24 October 2001, Delhi; Salim Shahid, 18 May 2002, London; Professor Kanta Luthra, 22 July 2002, Salem, Oregon; Imran Munir, 21 July 2002, Vancouver, Canada; Professor Shaukat Ali, 29 July Mansfied Massachusetts; Mian Ghulam Muhammad Ghazi, 15 April 2003, Lahore; Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, 25 April 2003, Lahore; Dr Prem Sobti, 9 March 2004, Delhi.

Email messages: Liaquat Ali, 7 January 2003, from Lahore; Professor Kanta Luthra, 8 January 2003; Professor I. K. Shukla, 9 January 2003; Humera Sheikh, 16 January 2003.


1. Pran Nevile, Lahore: A Sentimental Journey. Allied Publishers, Delhi and Karachi, 1993.

2. Ramanand Sagar, Aur Insaan Mar Gya (And Humanity Died). Hind Pocket Books, Delhi. 3. Agha Ashraf, Ek Dil Hazaar Dastan (One Heart and a Thousand Stories), Atish Fishan Publications, Lahore, 1989, pp. 415-448.

4. Yunas Adeeb, Mere Shehr Lahore (My City of Lahore). Atish Fishan Publications, Lahore 1991, pp. 118-119.

5. Ibid., p. 163.

6. Dina Nath Malhotra, Dare to Publish. Clarion Books, Delhi, 2004.

7. Zafar Iqbal Nagina, Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed. Jang Publishers Press, Lahore, 1988.

8. Lionel Carter, Punjab Politics 1936-1939, The Start of Provincial Autonomy: Governors’ Fortnightly Reports and Other Key Documents. Manohar, Delhi, 2004, p. 58.

9. Tahir Lahori, Sohna Shehr Lahore (The Lovely City of Lahore). Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore, 1994, pp. 223-4.

10. Som Anand, Lahore: Portrait of a Lost City. Vanguard Books, Lahore, 1998, pp. 3-5.

Ishtiaq Ahmed is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University and Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. This article appeared first in the web edition of Seminar (#567, November 2006, New Delhi) and is contributed to this blog by the author.

Blog Editor’s Note: Since this article was written an English translation (This is not that Dawn) has been published of Jhootha Sach, Yashpal’s definitive Hindi novel of Lahore at the time of Partition.


  • Hamid Khawaja
    Posted at 01:35h, 02 April Reply

    Lahore belongs to the Lahoriaz. Wherever they are and whoever they were. I am lucky to live in Lahore.

  • Balkrishna Panday
    Posted at 13:49h, 16 October Reply

    I am 81, born in U.P. but domiciled at Lahore. My father was a practicing allopath on Mayo Road , Dharampura on way to Lahore Cantt. Passed my entire childhood up Ito Intermediate class in Lahore.. Was student of Dayal Singh College , Lahore when we had to migrate in August, 1947. I saw Shahalmi Gate locality on fire with my own eyes. This evening I was looking for Lawrence Gardens of pre partition Lahore and chanced upon your deliberations. A very welcome diversion. Make me an associate in your ASIA PEACE.

    I intend writing a novel, almost an autobiography on my adolescence, loves, dalliances, ups and downs of life, politics of my times and finally my venturing into Sufiism and Spirituality.

    My regards and respects to so many mentioned in your article.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 06:08h, 19 October

      Dear Mr. Panday, It is a pleasure to hear from you. Please let me know if you would like to visit Lahore. It would be a privilege to invite and host you here. With warm regards, Anjum Altaf

  • Pingback:Mirror, mirror on the wall : Centre Right India
    Posted at 01:08h, 30 December Reply

    […] should have taken more precaution. Partition violence on Hindu community? It was definitely the consequence of their unwillingness to mix with Muslims. Similarly, if men can not keep their thing in their pants, it is definitely the fault of the […]

  • Sunita Sangra
    Posted at 14:27h, 05 May Reply

    Dear Sir
    My father studied at the DAV School Lahore during the days of undivided India. He had to come back to India during the sad partition and he had just given his 10th std exams. He lost all related records and results info as he could not wait there due to the volatile situation. He however later remembered that the city used to be a beautiful city of Gardens where students would be able to study there undisturbed till the partition issues surfaced. They had a home called Sangra residence in Dharampura near Lahore Cantonment and I was trying to track the old history of both his details from school and the old home location at least on googlemaps, Would be deeply grateful if u can help me track these next time u are in Lahore. Wanted to know the admission details as well as the 10th std result details if that is possible. His name was Avtar Krishna Sangra and he was son of Gopal Das Sangra.

    Thanking u in advance..

Post A Comment