Thursday, 4 December 2008
Journey to Lahore
An Emotional Journey through Lahore and surroundings
I was trying to go to Lahore on 23rd March, 2006, seventy fifth martyrdom anniversary of Bhagat Singh. I had a wish that Indian and Pakistani people should together commemorate this historic event. That could not materialize due to various reasons. But this year an unexpected invitation came. This was to present paper on Dr. B.R.Ambedkar on his birth anniversary at Lahore on 13th April. The invitation came from Ganga Ram Heritage Foundation. The name of Sir Ganga Ram is well known in this part of Punjab and Delhi. Delhi, like Lahore has Ganga Ram hospital, quite known for its service. Sir Ganga Ram, a well known Architect, apart from Bhai Ram Singh, had designed the most beautiful buildings of Lahore. He had designed some buildings in Patiala and Amritsar too. But Ganga Ram Foundation should hold a seminar on Dr. Ambedkar, it was little perplexing to me. In any case I accepted the invitation and prepared my paper and sent in time. The other participant from India was- V.T.Rajshekhar, editor of ‘Dalit Voice’ from Bangalore. There were participants from U.K., Nepal and Pakistan as well. This was also known after reaching Lahore that not only in Lahore, there was another seminar on Dr. Ambedkar at Karachi on 14th April. In Karachi seminar too, some Indian Dalit scholars had participated.
I was born and brought up in Indian part of Punjab, that too after partition. My forefathers had been living in village Mehraj of Bathinda district, so I had no particular reason to be excited about Lahore or west Punjab. I am an atheist, so there is no religious reason also to go to Pakistan. Yet I had felt an excitement. Perhaps,for two reasons. One, I have been involved with the study of Bhagat Singh and his movement, Ghadar movement
and Kartar Singh Sarabha, also have been centre of my attention. Both these national heroes were executed in Lahore jail. Bhagat Singh’s life and activities were centered more in Lahore, so I wanted to visit the locations of his activities. The other reason was that I had read and heard about Lahore that ‘One that has not seen Lahore, he or she is not born’. This folk saying of Punjabi is title of well known Hindi play by Asghar Wazahat, which incidentally has been staged in Lahore twice. If going abroad for first time in life could also be considered a reason for excitement that can also be counted one. But as it turned out later, not for a moment, I felt that I am in an ‘alien’ country, where I should move carefully as a ‘foreigner’, particularly when the relations between two Governments, though at thaw, are not in the best of friendly terms. Frankly speaking this reasoning did not work at Lahore and I was so freely moving in Lahore, at any point of time in day or night, as any ‘Lahoria’ would be moving. In spite of the fact that after just landing up at Lahore airport, I was in store for a minor trouble. I was issued visa in the category of Sikh pilgrimage, the jatha for Baisakhi coincided with these dates. But the four copies of visa forms, which I filled up at my own, had listed eight different places to visit, including Taxila, Faislabad(Bhagat Singh’s birth place),Islamabad, Peshawar etc. Pakistan High Commission office in Delhi did not return me two copies of that, which was obligatory to submit at airport, after arrival and departure. However visa stamp was put on my passport, that was of Sikh pilgrimage. I was little apprehensive about it and had twice checked up with the concerned official at Pakistan High commission, who kept on assuring me of ‘no problem’. The young duty girl at airport, who was made to return from Delhi airport for the same reason, was adamant that in absence of those two papers, I must be ‘sent back’ by return flight. Even this situation did not unnerve me. She called her senior officer. I told him that if they want to send me back, they may. My tickets were sent by my hosts and they were waiting outside with ‘Rose Garlands’, as is the practice in Lahore to receive guests. They were rather more worried than me and sent message through some security personnel. I told them not to worry, since I strangely felt confident to handle this situation. I told the airport officer and duty girl, addressing her as ‘beta’ that I had come for a seminar and was among those, who want Punjabis on both sides to meet more frequently and want friendship among people. I showed them my invitation papers etc. I talked to them in chaste Punjabi, rather than in Urdu or English. Officer was convinced of my sincerity, even the duty girl was no more hostile and I came out of airport after forty five minutes or so, relieving my hosts, who welcomed me so warmly.
We were put up in hotel-‘Holiday Inn’, which is perhaps third biggest hotel of Lahore. The seminar was also to be held in the hotel conference hall. I reached 12th April night and seminar was on 13th April at 5.00 p.m. On 13th morning, as my usual practice in Indian cities, I came out for a morning walk, though I did check up with hotel people that if I need to carry my passport with me. They assured me that there was no need and I could just mention hotel name, if someone enquired. As it turned out, that not even once, during my eight days stay, I was checked by any police or security person. So I took a walk towards ‘Ferozepur road’, reaching ‘Luxmi Chowk’, without of course knowing the place. I returned from the front of Punjab Assembly, that too I did not know. Marvelous Allama Iqbal memorial building was in front of the hotel and ‘Al Hamra’, the cultural centre of today’s Lahore was just few steps away, so was Mall road and Lawrence Garden or Company bagh, now given the name ‘Bage-Jinnah’. Amritsar and Lahore both had these similar gardens in similar name-Lawrence gardens or company bagh in popular parlance. I wished to go out for a while as the seminar was in the evening, but could not. So the next best thing I did was to change my Sim card in mobile and take Pakistani sim temporarily, to be in touch with acquaintances in Lahore and at some other places. There was no problem of currency. Though I had taken some dollars at Delhi airport, every one has told me that Indian rupee is accepted everywhere. It proved to be true; I did not spend a single dollar during my stay and spent them on duty free shop at Delhi on return.
Malwinderjit Singh Waraich had given me contact of his village mate Wassey Khan, who came from his ancestral village- Ladhewal Waraich in Pakistan. The man became so emotional at receiving my call that he drove for two hours in his car to reach for the seminar. He wanted me to visit his and waraich sahib’s village, which I could not. Chief Guest of the seminar was Governor of Punjab-Khalid Maqbool. The seminar started nearly in time and the Governor came when I was speaking. The first speaker of seminar was Surender Valasai, President of Scheduled Caste Federation of Pakistan, from Karachi. He spoke in detail about the conditions of Dalits in Pakistan, which were given reservation in jobs at one time, like in India. Reservations were withdrawn at some stage and Dalits in Pakistan are demanding reintroduction of reservations for them. Dr. Ambedkar is quite popular among Pakistani Dalits, many of whom are Hindus and Christians. Dr. Rukhsana Sidiqi , a woman scholar from Lahore was to speak next. Suleman Asif, UN reprenstative in Islamabad was the next to speak. Asif has bold me out with his ‘shudh Hindi’, the earlier night during dinner. The man was so much exposed to Hindi and Sanskrit literature that I just wondered at our ignorance about Pakistani people. Dr. Shyam Katuwal from Tribhuvan University was next to speak. Dr. Faqir Mohamad Bhatti, a Pakistani historian from U.K. spoke after me and V T Rajshekhar before the Governor. Earlier Dr. Yousaf Bukhari, Director Ganga Ram Foundation has welcomed the speakers and spoke about the aims of foundation. V T Rajshekhar and I both spoke about the closeness among people of both countries, while I spoke little emotionally about Lahore city and Bhagat Singh. Apart from speaking about Dr. Ambedkar’s humanist philosophy, I told audience that the earth of Lahore was as pious for me as was for them, since this earth had the blood of martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Kartar Singh Sarabha etc. in it. I also said that the earth of Jalianwala Bagh was also as pious for them as it was for us, as the blood of Hindu-Muslim and Sikh martyrs was part of it. I told my audience that Bhagat Singh belonged to them as much, as to us, since he was born and worked there mostly and was martyred at Lahore. I almost admonished them for not owning him, while we have made him our national hero. I also spoke about the mad and criminal act of communal frenzy created by vested political interests during 1947, causing untold sufferings to lakhs of people on both sides and of all communities. While the past may not be forgotten, yet lessons can be learnt from it, that was my plea to my Punjabi brethren (and sisters) on other side of the fence. Governor Khalid Maqbool spoke very rationally and paid tribute to Dr. Ambedkar. After the programme was over, so many people came and warmly hugged me, they were touched by what I said about our common cultural bonds. At dinner, I met reprenstatives of Dalit community in Pakistan. Most of them from Christian background and were members of Punjab Assembly or District Assembly. Pakistan has evolved a system of assembly from Tehsil level to national assembly. Lt. General(Retd.) Zulifkar Ali Khan was also present at this occasion. He is chairman of Evacuees property trust board. This is interesting to know that Pakistan Government has allowed the formation of Ganga Ram Foundation and also Dayal Singh Research and Cultural Foundation in the last two-three years. Ganga Ram foundation is located in Aggarwal dharmshala in Aggarwal street. The dharmshala was in bad shape and now it is being revived. Many members of Sikh jatha were also staying in that dharmshala in those days. Pakistan Govt., on this Baisakhi day celebrations, which were organized by Dayal Singh foundation at Lahore itself has also announced the setting up of Guru Nanak University at Nankana Sahib or Taxila. Governor Punjab had participated in that programme also, which was attended by Indian jatha.
I was in Lahore till noon of 21st April, when I took my flight back to Delhi and I wanted to utilize my stay there in most fruitful way. My purpose was to meet writers/scholars, like minded people and to visit historical places. I began with tourism kind first. The first stop was Lahore Museum, quite well known. The section attracted me most was photographs, of course black and white, of freedom struggle. In Lahore, it was Pakistan freedom struggle, for me it was a mixed struggle. I saw the photographs of national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Bose and Baldev Singh alongwith Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan etc. Lot many photographs of Fatima Jinnah also. The photographs of Ratti, Parsi wife of Jinnah and their daughter Dina attracted my attention a lot. Then there was complete Gandhara Art section, having Buddhist tradition in art in NWFP area. There is now a complete section on Sikh art as well. Old ‘Deorhies’(Front door of house) were too attractive to be missed. Renowned National College of Art is located next to Museum, but I could visit it later. I saw three books published by college recently, two being on Sir Ganga Ram and Bhai Ram Singh. It looks like slowly but steadily, Pakistan, particularly Lahore is owning up its traditional richness, even when it is not Islamic.
Having a lunch in bazaar, where you can never get a good vegetable cooked. Lahore is a heaven for non-vegetarians, where the food streets of Anarkali and Gwalmandi have become such craze that Lahore remains awake all night. After visiting food street one night at 1.00 a.m., we moved to Shimla hills of Bage-Jinnah, where classical music programme was going on at 2.00 a.m. Farida Khanum had just completed her singing. Lahore is such a culturally alive city that one just wonders. I remembered my student days in JNU, when we used to go to Mavlankar hall for listening to classical programmes in late night. Those days are over in Delhi, but not in Lahore.
Visiting Shahi Qila( Royal fort) is not so exciting, it is not so well maintained, but the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh, who once ruled from this fort is almost part of the fort, which has Gurdwara of fifth Guru as well. Close by is Minar-e-Pakistan, built after 1947, which on its walls have the resolution of Pakistan, passed on 23rd march 1940. This resolution is carved in English, Urdu, Punjabi and Bengali.
Visiting sites relating to Bhagat Singh’s activities was another attraction of Lahore. Accompanied by Zubair, well known progressive story writer of Punjabi, I first went to Bradlaugh Hall, which few people know now. Hall is in dilapidated condition and some training school is being run from there. From the shape of building, one can well imagine that it was a grand building once. Fortunately, the foundation plate is still intact. The foundation of this headquarters of freedom movement was laid by Surender Nath Sen in 1900. It would be better if Government of India could impress upon Pakistan Govt. to get it declared as heritage building. Lajpat Rai Hall of Lahore, which housed famous Dwarka Dass library, now in Chandigarh, is now held by fingerprint bureau of Pakistani police. I could not visit this place; neither could I locate National College, where Bhagat Singh was a student during 1922-26. I could not locate Khwasarian village, nearby Lahore, which was the abode of Bhagat Singh family for many years. Even river Ravi bank, where Lala Lajpat Rai and later the remains of Bhagat Singh , Rajguru and Sukhdev were cremated or Bhagwati Charan Vohra gave his life in bomb explosion, while testing, could not be located. Ravi has perhaps dried up and people say it has become a ‘nallah’. They also say that India has stopped releasing water to river Ravi. However I could easily locate the place of Saundras killing and DAV college hostel nearby. There is not much change in that area, except that DAV College and hostel have turned into Govt. Islamia College and hostel now. But the SSP office remains the same as was during Scott’s time. I was also able to visit ‘Phansighat’, execution spot of Lahore jail, which has now been demolished and Shadman Chowk or’ Fountain Chowk’ instead has come up. It is a residential colony now, with no trace of jail or its historicity, where hundreds of freedom fighters were hanged. Democratic Pakistani activists do gather on 23rd March at Shadman Chowk and burn candles. They also plan to put a plaque nearby, indicating its historicity. Bhagat Singh lived in many houses of Lahore during his underground days and people still talk of those houses. One such house is said to be on Jail road. Najam hussain Sayeed, well known Punjabi writer lives on jail road, but he has no idea of that house.
I could go to birth place of Bhagat Singh with newly met local friends, who arranged a car, which took us first to Waris Shah’s mazar at Jandiala Sheikh. We crossed through Sheikhupura town, quite known and from distance I was shown ‘haran magar’, beautiful place built in memory of a deer, which got killed during shikar by Prince Salim. Visiting Waris Shah mazar was an experience, where every year competition of singing ‘Heer’ is held and it starts with singing of Amrita Pritam’s “ Aaj Aakhan Waris Shah nun………’. From Jandiala , we moved to Nankana Sahib. It is a small town, but the access road is huge. Pakistan has paid more attention to its roads and correctly boasts of its motorways from Lahore to Peshawar. But Pakistan lacks in railway services. Nankana Sahib has eight Gurdwars in its vicinity, including the main one, where in February 1921; morcha was started against Mahants, who were polluting the pious place. Mahants, supported by British colonialists had killed nearly two hundred Sikhs, before vacating the Gurdwara. Inside the Gurdwara, there is ‘Shaheed Jand(tree)’, where one protestor Lachhman Singh was burnt alive. In Nankana Sahib, most of the Gurdwaras relate to Guru Nanak’s childhood stories—where he was born, where he played, where he studied etc. I took ‘langar’ with my Muslim friends of Lahore, who had accompanied me there.
From Nankana Sahib, there was direct route to Jadanawala, though road patch was bad for few kilometers. Crossing Jadanawala, a tehsil town, we reached at the road leading to Chak No. 105, before we could ask someone on the way, a pleasant surprise awaited us. There was a tin board on roadside, painted with Bhagat Singh picture behind bars. Some Jasbeer Singh from Faislabad( Old name Lyalpur) had put this signboard, with his email address. It became easier for us. When we were reading the signboard, some people came close to us and seeing our interest in Bhagat Singh told us the lane to his village. They suggested that before going to village, we should meet one Farhan Khan nearby. As it turned out, Farhan Khan is 82 year old gentleman, retired as Excise officer, having his factory named as Gulab Farm, adding Bhagat Singh town on the signboard. He belonged to Chak NO.107, Pathankot nearby. We reached his place and he welcomed us warmly. In his drawing room, there was old but framed, glass broken black and white photograph. The typical hat wearing popular photograph. Farhan Khan was too happy talking about Bhagat Singh family. He was five years old, when Bhagat Singh was martyred, Bhagat Singh’ younger brothers, names he did not remember (Obviously Kulbir Singh and Kultar Singh), used to meet him. The man was such admirer of Bhagat Singh that I wanted to present him a copy of his writings, but I had no spare copy.I had taken few copies , recently published in English by Leftword and NBT. Farhan Khan got it photocopied, borrowing it for just one hour or so, the time, which we spent at house of Bhagat Singh. We moved to Chak no. 105, accompanied by the man sent by Farhan Khan. It was getting dark. The road to village was not very good. When we reached there, it was not the old house; it was now being shared by three Virk brothers. Pakistan have as many Virks, Randhawas, Sehgals, Bhattis,Cheemas, Waraiches,Gills or Sidhus etc, as much we might be having in our part of Punjab. It was almost four canal land area, which is now shared by Iqbal Virk, Sadiq Virk and Mushtaq Virk families- the three brothers, who were allotted this house after partition. They had migrated from Virk village from Amritsar. Out of the three, Sadiq Virk is no more, but his family lives there. When we reached there were few women working near Chullah, later on we could meet Akhtar Virk, son of Mushtaq Virk, who is now advocate at Faislabad. He told us that not only this house, they also acquired 17 acre Mango garden of Kishan Singh, father of Bhagat Singh. Asked about the value of this much land, we were told it was six lakh per acre, which meant that it has value of more than one crore rupees today. Though Bhagat Singh family also having garden at Chak no. 105, was not known earlier to us, yet it came as no surprise to me. The judge, who wrote judgment for the execution of Kartar Singh Sarabha, has clearly mentioned that Kishan Singh (father of Bhagat Singh) has contributed one thousand rupees (nearly one lakh rupees of today) to the cause of Gadar party in 1914 or 1915. The legend of Bhagat Singh and family becomes more fascinating, because their commitment to the nation overstepped their comforts in life. It is no wonder that Waqar Ahmad, a political science student from Peshawar becomes enamored of Bhagat Singh and reached me through mail, just to know more about Bhagat Singh. Waqar remained in touch with me on phone during my stay in Lahore and was hoping to meet me, as Peshawar University Teachers Association was trying very hard to get visa cleared for me, so that I could visit Peshawar. We had welcomed Peshawar University teacher’s delegation recently in JNU. And it was also during my stay in Lahore, Raza Naeem, a columnist for Dawn, reached me through mail to get a copy of ‘The Jail Notebook and Other writings’ of Bhagat Singh, compiled and introduced by me and published by Leftword on this 23rd March, for reviewing it in ‘Dawn’. I could leave a copy for him in Lahore, apart from talking on phone many times. Raza wanted to hold discussions in Karachi about Bhagat Singh.
Lyalpur was built by British officers as a planned city. This area has very fertile land, so the peasants from other parts of Punjab were encouraged to buy lands here, just as many Punjabi peasants had gone to Terai area to buy lands. Interestingly more people from Doaba went there. They were allotted lands in villages named as Chak with numbers. The families which shifted here attached the name of their village or area to these numbered chaks. Thus Chak no. 65 is Mukundpur, Chak no 67 is Gidderpindi, Chak no. 104 is Samra, Chak no.105 is Bange(From Banga of Doaba),Chak no 106 is Khurla, Chak no. 107 is Pathankot,Chak no. 109 is Bajajanwala and so on. These names continue after partition as well. Only the landowners and inhabitants of the houses have changed. We were told that prior to 1965, there were not many restrictions and lot many people used to visit these places. After 1965, restrictions increased, recent years, there again has been some relaxation and people are again coming to visit these places. We were told that a bus full of Punjabis from Canada had come to visit the place last year. After partition Lyalpur, renamed as Faislabad, became the centre of textile industry. It is now the third biggest city of Pakistan, after Karachi and Lahore. But the city has probably suffered the same problems as has been faced by Ludhiana. Faislabad cloth is rated high in Asian market.
From Chak no. 105, we moved to Faislabad, it was night now. After a while, we took the motorways from Faislabad to Lahore and reached in about two hour’s time. Only limited vehicles are allowed on the motorways, so the traffic moves fast, smoothly and safely.
I wished to go to Taxila and Islamabd at least, but the time was short and I had to meet people in Lahore yet. So I stayed in Lahore for the remaining days. I shifted from five star hotel to different locations. I spent one night with some young students, one of them Imran was teaching Urdu at Govt. College at Nankana Sahib. Another night I spent at the guest house of a NGO-South Asia Participation, who organized a talk with its researchers and staff as well. SAP Deputy Director Irfan Mufti offered me to take to Bulle Shah’s mazar at Kasur in one of the evenings. That was a pleasant invitation, which I readily accepted. Though the road to Kasur, which was under reconstruction, was somewhat irritable and sixty kilometer journey on car took almost three hours, yet the atmosphere at mazar made it just forget. At about eleven at night, the mazar was full of people, singing, dancing inside and outside the mazar. People were offering flowers, but the women were not allowed to go inside the sanctorum. They would give the flowers to the caretaker and watch inside from windows. That was unlike Bulle Shah, but everything else was just like Bulle Shah. People dancing traditional folk forms like Jhummar and singing Kafis of Bulle in most fascinating voice and with sweetest of musical chords.
After visiting Nankana Sahib, Waris Shah and Bulle Shah’s places and talking to cross sections of people, I felt that partition had paralyzed the Punjabi body of cultural oneness. Both sides of Punjabi people have strange kind of thirst for each other, which I could realize in Lahore that both are missing vital and healthy part of each other and inside feel incomplete without each other. The overwhelming emotion on both sides for each other, (perhaps more on West Punjab side), speaks volumes about the cultural losses, which both parts of Punjab have suffered due to this completely irrational division of one complete cultural unit, consisting of three major communities- Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, due to partition for purely political reasons of gaining political power. I think all Bengalis and Punjabis must be cursing the politicians on all sides of borders, for making their cultural units as sacrificial goats to obtain political power. Pakistani Punjab is almost three times bigger than Indian Punjab. The population of Pakistani Punjab is nine crores, which is more than half of total population of Pakistan. It is true that Punjabi language and literature has developed more in Indian part of Punjab, but the overall scene of Punjabi culture is still more alive in Pakistani Punjab. The ridiculing saying about Punjab culture that ‘it is just agriculture’, is contribution of post partition Indian Punjab, which has built no strong cultural centre of its own, whereas Lahore was always considered as one of the most cultured cities of undivided India, the tradition which is still alive in Lahore. Lahore has developed tremendously after partition, now its population has grown to nearly one crore, whereas, prior to partition Amritsar and Lahore were just like twin cities. Amritsar, has just shrunk and lost its eminence, except in religious sense, after partition.
I could not move around Androon Lahore(Inner city) and see its twelve much known ‘Darwazas’(Gates).About some of the gates, Yashpal has vividly depicted in his epic Hindi novel-‘Jhootha Sach’.Shahlmi gate, the worst centre of communal riots in 1947, Mochi gate, Bhatti gate, Hathi gate, Domoriya gate(Like domoroyia bridge in Jalandhar). But the last three night stay in Punjab University Lahore’s guest house gave me a little feel of my student days in Panjab University Chandigarh in 1971-72. The little market on new campus has that touch of Chandigarh market, though Chandigarh market is more developed. The hostels, where I took my morning tea and breakfast are almost similar to PU hostels in Chandigarh. The name of University has been changed to-‘The University of Punjab’ Lahore, after partition, yet buildings like Library, cafeteria carries the same old name- Punjab University Lahore. In Indian Punjab, the spellings of university were changed to ‘Panjab University’, to differentiate from Punjab University, Lahore. The visit to Oriental College in old campus of the University, which houses- Urdu, Persian, Punjabi and now revived Hindi deptt. as well was again interesting. To see the names of Dr. Mohan Singh Diwana or Bhai Santokh Singh to Sadhu Ditt Singh in Punjabi deptt. office was an experience. That Punjabi deptt. of Punjab University is as old as 1879, is perhaps not even known on this side of Punjab. Interestingly,the only one teacher working on temporary basis in Hindi deptt. in Punjab University Lahore turned out to be my student from Punjabi University Patiala. She is Shabnam Riaz, who migrated to Lahore from Malerkotla, after marriage and after doing her M.A. in Hindi from Patiala. Incidentally Lahore is known for its educational institutions. Falling prey to privatization, it has almost twenty five universities located in Lahore city itself, including one women university. Even the Govt College has been turned into Govt. College University, an odd name.
Meeting people was an enriching experience for me. I had already some contacts and also many references. I was keen to meet Salima Hashmi, daughter of legendry poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who along with Faqir Aazijudin, both well known artists and art scholars of Pakistan had recently visited Fine Arts deptt. of Punjabi University Patiala, in context of a seminar. So one evening I spent with Hashmis at their Model Town house, where once Faiz lived. Prof. Salima hashmi is now Dean, Visual Arts of Beaconhead University Lahore, after retiring as Principal of famous National Art College of Lahore. Her husband Prof. Shoib Hashmi, retired Economics Professor is columnist for some dailies and jolly person. Their daughter is named as Meera and granddaughter as Anya. Salima told that Faiz Ahmad Faiz had heard shots of firing on Saundras, as he was somewhere close to DAV College that day. These shots were also heard by legendry Communist leader of Pakistan late Mazhar Ali, this was confirmed by his wife and mother of famous writer Tariq Ali—Tara Mazhar Ali, whom I met at her house and presented Bhagat Singh’s writings, she is also among those, who celebrate Bhagat Singh in Pakistan. Tara Mazhar Ali, at the age of 82 years and Salima Hashmi, both are active in democratic movement of Pakistan. Salima had taken part in a women’s rally during my stay. Leftist activists in Pakistan are called ‘Surkhe’(Reds) in popular parlance . One such ‘surkha’, I met by chance at Fictionhouse bookshop, a progressive publisher and bookseller of Lahore. Fictionhouse has published almost all books of eminent historian Mubark Ali, both in Urdu and English. As I had taken some photocards of Bhagat Singh and Dr. Ambedkar to distribute in Lahore and I handed over one such card to fictionhouse owner, an old man present there asked me to give one card to him also. Then he introduced himself as Aslam Raheel Mirza, Communist Party of Pakistan’s worker. He said that we celebrate Bhagat Singh day every year. There is no ban on Communist party in Pakistan these days, but leftist forces are quite week. These are splintered in group’s like- National Workers party, Mazdoor Kisan Party, Labour Party, apart from Communist Party, which has strong base in Hyderabad Sindh.
About Communist movement of earlier times, I heard lot of stories, mostly true, in the company of Prof. Manzoor Ahmad, Prof Aazijudin Ahmad, Tehseen Ahmad, by whose courtesy I was invited on dinner in this company. 82 years old Prof. Manzoor Ahmad is considered Gandhian by his friends. Though no one agrees with his defense of Gandhi, everyone loves this genial man. I heard the fascinating story of Pran nath Seth , industrialist of Lahore, who refused to leave Lahore in 1947. Pran Nath Seth was the son in law of Lala Harikishan Lal, first time minister of Punjab in Fazal ul Hussain ministry. Pran Nath Seth was briefly arrested during 1965 Indo-Pak war. He came to India for some time and fell ill. He declared that he can’t live without Lahore. He returned to Lahore and became all right. During his underground days, Sajjad Zaheer, well known Urdu writer, who had gone to Pakistan in 1947, to organize Communist movement, took shelter in Pran Nath’s house under assumed name. When once police raided his house to arrest Sajjad, though he had already escaped, Pran nath , aristocratic in his habits, got angry with police for raiding his house without informing him , as DIG was his personal friend. Then he was told that the person he was keeping in his annexe as some Professor was actually underground Communist leader. These were the days, when Sahir Ludhianvi had also come to work in Pakistan Communist party and stayed with writer Ahmad Rahi.
I enjoyed listening to pre partition and post partition stories from these grand old men. I also benefited a lot by meeting Mubark Ali, the historian, who could say true things about Jinnah and offend people. One of the most fascinating meetings was with F.E.Chaudhary, 98 year old first photo journalist of Pakistan. Chaudhary worked with Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who took over as editor of ‘Pakistan Times’, in place vacated by ‘The Tribune’. Earliest photographs of Pakistani leaders have been shot by F.E. Chaudhary, a Christian. He is the one, who shot the pictures of Central Jail Lahore, when it was being demolished in 1960’s. He has kept that file of photographs, which includes the photographs of ‘Phansighat’, where Bhagat Singh, Sarabha and so many other freedom fighters were executed. I tried to capture these photos through my ordinary camera, but did not succeed. But I understand that Daljit Ami has shot these on his video camera, few days earlier. And what was the wish of Chaudhary, who is living with his son, Principal of a Christian school in Lahore ,a most pleasant man to talk? He wanted to locate his friends of pre partition days, who had migrated to Delhi, mostly photographers. One name he mentioned is of C.L.Soni and co., another Shankar Dass and Co. There were three brothers of this family-Sunder Dass,Harish and Jagdish. One of them was in photography profession and others in some other . The man remembers so many stories of his early twenties, when all Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian shopkeepers of Lahore lived in complete harmony and in deep friendship. The nostalgia of past lingers on in Lahore; this is getting even transferred to younger generations, who have only heard about the places from their elders. One Pathan family migrated from Ludhiana became very friendly with me. A waiter in hotel, while talking about his ancestors coming from Ludhiana, became so emotional that he brought bucket full of fruits and pastry, just to show his emotion. ‘Aap Hamare Mehmaan Hain’(You are our guest), is so common refrain in Lahore that one starts feeling guilty that we never speak of being host and never take care of people coming from other side of border as much, as Lahoris do.
There are many more things, such as attending ‘Friday Sangat’ at Najam Hussain Sayeed’ house at Jail road. Twenty plus Punjabi writers/scholars, including 4-5 women gather there every Friday evening, read Gurbani and the Najam interprets it. Later they have dinner together before dispersing. Najam is known in East Punjab as well for his enlightened writings. He is the one, who had refused to accept ‘Shiromani Punjabi Sahitkar’(Videshi) award in 2004, when Pakistani Punjab chief minister Parvez Ilahi was present in Punjabi University Patiala, at the time of ‘World Punjabi Conference. The refusal was just on principle and for no other reason. Najam’s wife Sajda has sung Sufi songs beautifully. One can go on talking about Lahore endlessly, but I shall conclude with the story of an interesting coincidence.
Nawab Mohd Ahmad Khan was a prosecution witness(Sarkari gawah) against Bhagat Singh and his comrades in Lahore Conspiracy case. He rose to become an honorary magistrate in Pakistan. He was murdered at the same place in 1970’s, where Bhagat Singh was executed i.e. Shadman Chowk. Further coincidence is that Zulifkar Ali Bhutto was trapped for the murder of this man by Zia ul Haq and hanged in Lahore jail in 1977. Now everyone in Pakistan say that Bhutto was framed in this case with US complicity. Also every Pakistani says that Zia ul Haq’s eleven year rule was the blackest period of Pakistan history, worst than all other military rulers like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan or Parvez Musharf. Zia regime completely smashed the secular, liberal and democratic fiber of Pakistani society and had thrown it into prolonged struggle to regain its democratic freedoms back. At this moment Pakistani society has awakened and is now struggling to overcome the most poisonous effects of Zia regime. Let us wish and hope that they succeed.
* Published in ‘Dalit Voice’ (Bangalore) with different title and in ‘The Tribune’ in abridged form