Op-ed: India, Pakistan and the Lahore connection —Ishtiaq Ahmed
He did not charge me the two rupees, saying that his father’s atma (soul) would be glad that some Lahori visited their shop. Obviously Lahore was a very dear part of his identity as it was mine. This innocuous fact should not be politicised
The nuclear explosions carried out by India on May 11 and 13, 1998 and a few days later by Pakistan on May 28 and 30 served as a catalyst for the peace movement in South Asia. Many of us in the diaspora were shocked and dismayed by the two states’ raw and vulgar display of brute power. It resulted in a spontaneous exchange of views on the Internet, and many Indians and Pakistanis began talking to each other via email. Some of us found out that we shared a Lahore connection.
Mr Sat Paul Arora, a resident of Delhi and formerly of Kucha Mullomata at the Pani Wala Talab in the walled city of Lahore, contacted me sometimes in early 2001. I visited Delhi in October 2001 and met him. He and his wife had many things to say about Lahore, but here I will narrate only one story.
Mr Arora told me that in 1995-96 a gentleman from Lahore, Syed Asad Husain Ezdi, attended a conference in Bangalore. “He wrote a letter to the English-language daily Indian Express enquiring: ‘Where can I find Doctor Khera of Lahore? He saved my life when I was a child.’ Dr Khera happened to be my wife’s uncle and we were very close to him, but he died a long time ago. He was a famous surgeon of Lahore. There is still a Khera Charity Hospital in Gowalmandi, Lahore.
“We went to meet Mr Ezdi in his hotel. He told us that all his life he had wanted to meet the man who saved his life by performing a bone operation on his leg, which was considered very dangerous at that time.
“Meeting Mr Ezdi kindled a desire to visit my city of birth. We were able to do so in late March 2001. I was only 11 when we fled Lahore, but as soon as the taxi entered the walled city I felt as if I was coming home. When we reached the locality where we once lived and began making enquiries a crowd gathered. The local people realised that we had come from India and wanted to help. I found my house after a while. For a moment all those years meant nothing; time had simply stopped. The people around us wanted to invite us for tea and cold drinks but I was too excited and wanted to see my home from the inside.
“I went forward and knocked at the door. An elderly gentleman with a flowing white beard and a very kind face came out. I explained him that we lived there once and only wanted to go and see it from the inside, if he did not mind. He said: ‘This is your house, please step in.’ The women and other members of the family were by now aware of our presence and allowed us to roam over the house. I found that 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 me and then my son Rajinder. He too 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.’”
I must now relate my own experience from the same October 2001 trip. It was a short visit and therefore I travelled directly from Stockholm to Delhi and back without visiting my native Lahore across the border. However, the Lahori connection accompanies me wherever I am. Whenever in Delhi I meet the Lahore group, which consists mainly of old Ravians and Formanites. They never tire of reminiscing about their college days, when Lahore was all glory and romance. Their anchor is Pran Nevile, author of Lahore: A Sentimental Journey who has visited Lahore several times lately.
One of the members of the Lahore group, Yuvraj Krishan, could not attend the meeting arranged for me, so I decided to call on him. He used to live in Purani Anarkali near Dhobi Mandi. Yuvraj Sahib retired as the Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General of India. He lived a long distance from central New Delhi in the locality of Vasant Kunj. The taxi I was travelling in was driven by a Sardarji. Sardarji was not particularly well-informed about the outskirts of Delhi so the trip became longer and longer.
However, we did enter the area of Vasant Kunj, but the problem was that it was arranged into several sub-sectors and we were unable to locate the exact place. Finally Sardarji came up with a brilliant idea: we should go into one of the shopping centres and make a telephone call to Yuvraj Sahib and ask for directions. We went into a general merchants shop from where one could make a local call for two rupees.
There was a young man of about 25-30 years of age attending customers in the shop. I telephoned Yuvraj Sahib and we naturally spoke in Punjabi. I handed over the telephone to Sardarji so that he could get the direction to the house. When the conversation ended the young man asked me: “Have you come from Lahore, Sir?” I was quite surprised because although I am from Lahore, technically I had come directly from Stockholm, where I have been living since 1973, and not Lahore. I replied to him in some bewilderment, “Yes... but how do you know?”
He replied: “My father had a shop in Said Mittha Bazar in the walled city of Lahore. You spoke Punjabi exactly like him and I knew you must be from Lahore.” He did not charge me the two rupees, saying that his father’s atma (soul) would be glad that some Lahori visited their shop. I was deeply touched by his kind gesture. Obviously Lahore was a very dear part of his identity as it was mine. This innocuous fact should not be politicised.
The author is an associate professor of Political Science at Stockholm University. He is the author of two books. His email address is Ishtiaq.Ahmed@statsvet.su.se