Thursday, January 28, 2016

Memories of Lahore: Pakistans most Modern City

Visiting Lahore the capital of Pakistan Punjab: a Personal Memoir

Scenes from Lahore
Scenes from Lahore

Lahore was the Brightest jewel Before Partition

My Connection with Lahore
I have had a fond connection with Lahore. My maternal grandfather lived there and he had a resplendent ‘Kothi’ (bungalow). He would tell me tales of Lahore when I was young. He also would tell me that he will go back to Lahore one day. Alas! That day never came and he passed away, but he left behind an image of a vibrant and progressive city.
Communal Riots in 1947
Why did he leave Lahore? That was a sad occasion as communal riots had spread in the city after the call of ‘Direct action’ by Mohammed Ali Jinnah in 1946. There was widespread killing of Hindus and Sikhs as the Muslims desired a Pakistan (land of the pure) where only Muslims would live.
The Emotional Appeal of Lahore
Lahore also has an emotional connection with the Sikhs. It was the capital of the Sikh empire. Ranjit Singh was the Maharajah. Much construction work was done by Ranjit Singh who headed a secular regime. I had decided to visit Lahore and three years back I made it to the city. I travelled by bus from Delhi to Lahore. This bus service is one of the confident building measures between India and Pakistan. But it’s just about that and does not lead anywhere. The Pakistani’s officially are more correct than a welcoming lot.
My Father and Lahore
My father as a bachelor was also posted at Lahore. He had joined the Air Force and was posted in the cantonment there. Thus my desire to visit Lahore was double fold. As I crossed the border and entered Pakistan I realized the futility of Pakistan and the two nation theory. Do people know that more Muslims’ live in India than Pakistan?
Places to see in Lahore
I used my stay in Lahore and visited the Lahore Fort. This is an ancient relic and earlier was used by the Mughals before Ranjit Singh occupied it. Close by is the Samadhi (mausoleum) of the great Sikh maharajah with his 11 queens who were forced to commit sati along with him in 1839. As I looked at the Samadhi I had bizarre thoughts. How could the Sikhs have forced the queens to be burnt alive along with the body of the great King? Did he sanction it? Especially after the founder of the Sikh faith Guru Nanak had expressly forbidden it?
Other place to visit is the Lahore museum. This has a special section of Sikh rule and is very well preserved. At the entrance is the famous Zam-Zammah cannon that beckon visitors. It was the principle cannon of the army of Ranjit Singh. Lahore has a functional Hindu temple and the Sikh Gurudwara at Dera Sahib. Visiting them is a pleasure. But it’s all low key as in predominant Muslim Pakistan, the minorities must perforce keep a low profile.
Other Places
I walked the streets of Lahore and visited the Anarkali Bazaar. I was one among the populace; nobody knew that you are from India. It’s after all one race. The old Lahore is a treasure to traverse like Delhi. But the women on the roads are few and many wear the Burkha. I particularly enjoyed visiting the shrine of Data Sahib. He was a Sufi saint whose work “Kashf-ul-Mahjub" has been translated from the original Persian into several European languages. It is also a pleasure to visit the tomb of the fourth great Mughal emperor, Jahangir which lies three miles north-west of Lahore across the River Ravi. A visit to the Shalimar gardens can be a rewarding experience as well.
Lahore Now
The lack of women on the roads is a sad reminder that Lahore is the hot bed of the Taliban activity. It’s a far cry from pre-partition days when the famous painter Amrita Shergill decided to settle in Lahore in the thirties of the last century because she felt it to be the most progressive and cosmopolitan city. Alas that Lahore has gone. I do not know if it will return.
Reaching Lahore
Lahore is very well connected. There is a bus service from Delhi to Lahore and a train service as well. In addition Lahore is the hub of international travel and most major airlines touch Lahore from all important cities of the world. But one gets a feeling that till the Taliban is eliminated Lahore may never come back to what it was.