Harking back: Sharing memories of a ‘paradise’ lost forever

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Aug 24 , 2014

Description: - File photo

- File photo


She is very frail, in her eighties, yet sharp as sharp can be. While eating a sandwich for lunch outside a library in Cambridge, in the process talking on my cell phone to my brother in Lahore in chaste ‘well-lubricated’ Punjabi, she stopped and looked at me, almost lovingly, with her piercing eyes.

“Are you from Lahore”, she asked in a Punjabi that I recognised was from my city. I felt embarrassed at using ‘lubricated’ Lahori Punjabi within her hearing and told my brother I would ring later. She came confidently and sat next to me. “When I hear a Lahori speak, all my hate disappears”. That was a conversation stopper. “Why hate anyone?” was my response.

Ajit Kaur smiled, sort of embarrassed. She thought and replied: “The killings of Partition live within me. It will only go away when I myself am cremated. But I miss Lahore and dream of returning to our house on Chamberlain Road, and visiting my village in the Potohar. I am from Dumaili and my father had a huge business in Lahore and I went to Kinnaird College when 1947 came upon us”.

Her pain was understandable. I tried to tone down her fiery pain. “I know someone from Dumaili”, I tried a friendly response. “Really, who is it?” she shot back. “Oh, he was my driver-cum-cook, a sharp handsome six-footer who is currently trying to go to Saudi Arabia as a driver”. She smiled. A loving look appeared on her face. She went on.

“The men from Dumaili are handsome, tall, fair, always wanting to go on an adventure, even if it is to a desert”. She laughed throwing her head back. She was in the mood this frail old lass from Chamberlain Road. “Tell me your story” I suggested.

Ajit Kaur belonged to a Jat family from the Potohar and her father had a food supply business in Lahore. He has invested heavily in the education of his two sons and three daughters, and Ajit was the youngest, and she surely seemed to have been a very beautiful lady in 1947.

“I never believed Punjabis would stoop to such a low to kill their own kith and kin. They overnight became butchers. When the killing started my father rang a family friend Dr Yusuf, who warned us not to leave the house as armed men roamed outside. The next day he sent in the military and we were whisked away without our belongings to Amritsar. That is the last I saw of my beloved Lahore”. The old woman after all these years had tears developing in her eyes.

Weeping woman tend to paralyse men, so to divert her from her memories I suggested she tell me about her family and village. She tensed up. “My uncle (‘tayya’) lived in the village, and when Muslim ‘goondas’ surrounded the village he took out his kirpan and with the help of his son beheaded his two beautiful daughters”. I sat there utterly shocked and my inner sense told me to try to end this conversation quickly. But then I wanted to know the full story. She helped me out.

“If he had not done this they would have raped them and then killed them or taken them away to our family’s eternal shame”, she went on. “We respect him for his bravery. He now lives in Delhi and every time I mention the village he still cries. You have no idea how deep the scars of Partition are. This is a holocaust that will forever haunt us”. She wanted to talk on and on, but stopped. She probably did not want to embarrass me. “Son, what happened to your families in 1947?” she asked. This was the break I wanted.

“Well, my father’s family had two houses, one inside Mochi Gate in Lahore and the other inside Hatti Darwaza in Amritsar, which the Sikhs attacked and killed off two house servants”, I told her. She calmed down. “But my wife’s family lived in Amritsar and their house was completely burnt down. The family escapes a few minutes before the Sikh ‘goondas’ came brandishing their kirpans”. I was certainly not competing with Ajit Kaur on trying to equal my gory side of the story, but she had calmed down. This was my chance to move in with a little factual story.

“Bibi, do you know that Maharajah Ranjit Singh was invited in 1799 to take Lahore by the Muslim Arain community, who opened Lahori Gate for his troops to come in”. She smiled as if she was part of the secret deal. Finally our conversation took a turn for the better.

“Bibi, in history there is always reason to hate especially when mutual benefit does not exist. When it does exist, all lines of hate disappear”, I said. There was a long pause and she stood up to leave. “Son, the problem is I will not be around”. I watched her slowly walk away and thought of the pain millions live in every day in the sub-continent, yet shy from discussing. It was a pleasure meeting you Ajit Kaur. My city still loves you … unconditionally.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2014




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