Lahore Lahore Aye: The 1947 exodus from Lahore
By A Hamid
Before independence, several of Lahore’s residential localities had large Hindu populations: among them being Gowalmandi, Shah Alami, Chowk Sutar Mandi, Chowk Gurjan Singh, Qila Gujjar Singh, Naya Qila Gujjar Singh, Sant Nagar, Shyam Nagar, Krishen Nagar, Shisha Moti Bazaar, Ram Gali, Purani Anarkali, Nisbet Road and Model Town. There were mixed Hindu and Sikh populations in and around Nicholson Road and Beadon Road but the areas lying at the back of Shah Alami and Suha Bazaar were mostly Hindu. Gowalmandi and Shah Alami were considered Hindu strongholds.
Ichhra was a Muslim-majority area but compared with its Hindu residents, the Muslims living there were not well off. Model Town was where the Hindu elite lived, made up of bank managers, intellectuals, advocates, politicians, businessmen and judges. Most of the homes had been built over large plots of land. Model Town had its own bus service, which took passengers right into city neighbourhoods like Gowalmandi. The Model Town Bus Service remained operational for several years after the emergence of Pakistan, but went out of business in the 1950s, I think, and was replaced by the Lahore Omnibus Service. Lahore’s first double-deckers were run by the latter service.
The first route of the Lahore Omnibus Service stretched from Krishen Nagar to RA Bazaar in Lahore Cantonment. The last Krishen Nagar stop of the service was a block or two away from Suri Building. The poet Habib Jalib lived close by and would take the bus from there to get to Pak Tea House or Royal Park. I should mention that the famous Indian actor Kabir Bedi’s family lived in Model Town. The head of the family was the well-known communist leader BPL Bedi, who used to publish an English weekly called Monday Morning. According to Som Anand’s Lahore memoir, any Punjabi Hindu who wanted to make his mark in politics, literature, law, journalism or another profession or calling moved to Lahore. The links between Lahore and the Hindu community were strong, deep and highly emotional. The loss of Lahore to Pakistan was something that those who were forced to leave their beloved city feel to this day. Although more than a generation has passed, younger members of those families remain proud of their links with Lahore and although most of them have never even seen Lahore, it occupies a special place in their hearts. Some of these younger people who manage to visit Lahore go looking for the houses where their parents and grandparents used to live and get very sad when they recall how their elders left the world carrying with them an unfulfilled desire to return to the city which was once their much-loved home. “My father died longing for Lahore,” one of them told me.
I remember a conversation with Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabussum in 1953 or 1954 at Radio Pakistan, which was still at its old Simla Pahari location. Sufi sahib said, “I was recently in Delhi and I went to look up an old student of mine but it was her daughter who came to meet me. She told me that her mother had died two months earlier. I remarked that when she left Lahore in 1947, she was in such good health. ‘She never overcame her sense of loss because she loved Lahore and missed it terribly. Her life kind of ended when she left Lahore. She wasn’t much interested in anything any longer and she would not even eat much. She would keep talking about Lahore and sighing.’ It could never ever have occurred to the Hindus of Lahore that a day would come when they would have to leave their city.
Gopal Mittal writes in his poignant Lahore memoir, “The Hindus of Lahore just could not believe their ears when the radio announced that Lahore would become a part of Pakistan. An attempt was made even to have the city partitioned like Berlin, with the area stretching from Shah Alami to Krishen Nagar becoming the Indian part of the divided city. That of course was not possible; the die had been cast. In Gowalmandi, a Hindu family left its matriarch behind because she just refused to go. All she would say between sobs would be, ‘I am never going to leave Lahore. They were saying to me, ‘Granny come with us to India’ but I told them I would never leave Lahore. Never.’”
The poet Rajpal, the humourist Raj Baldev Raj, the progressive poet and intellectual Fikr Taunsavi and Gopal Mittal lived in Lahore as long as they could, because they really did not wish to leave. Fikr Taunsavi was in Taunsa Sharif where the situation was getting bad, so Ahmed Rahi and Arif Abdul Mateen travelled to Taunsa and brought him to Lahore. Sahir Ludhianvi and I invited him to share the lower portion of a flat we had moved into in Royal Park, off Mcleod Road. The only furniture the room where we all kipped in at night had was a sofa and a table lamp. Sahir and I used to take turns sleeping on the sofa. Later, Fikr wrote a book called Chhata Darya, in which he described his last days in Lahore in that abandoned place in Royal Park. When Fikr left, he was quite sure - as were most people at the time - that before long the trouble would be over, things would settle down and he would come back. That day never came for him as for millions of others.
My family moved to Lahore from Amritsar in September 1947. Most of my time in those early days I would spend mapping the roads. One day, in front of the Punjab government secretariat, I saw a man sitting under a tree selling guavas. His face was familiar and I recognised him. He used to sell fruit in Amritsar and would always come up with the most innovative sales gimmicks. When I saw him that day, he was cutting thin guava slices for a customer, which he then daintily placed in a plate and offered it to him. To one side, lay a basket bull of green, yellow and pink guavas, which he had put on top of another to make a kind of Christmas tree. Also at hand was a parrot – he used to have one in Amritsar also – who was nibbling at a guava. I asked him if it was the same parrot he had in Amritsar or whether he had bought one in Lahore. He smiled and told me that it was the same old parrot. “When our neighbourhood was attacked, I set the parrot free and instructed him to cross the border and fly to Lahore and I would see him outside the Lahore railway station. Well, believe me, there I was standing outside the station, having somehow managed to escape from Amritsar with my life, when a parrot comes flying down from a tree and lands on my shoulder. It was my Amritsari parrot.”
The parrot continued to nibble at the guava. “If you don’t stop him, he will soon have nibbled away all your fruit,” the man with the plate of sliced fruit said. “He can do what he likes. He is the boss,” our friend replied nonchalantly.
A Hamid, the distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer, writes a column every week based on his memories of old Lahore. Translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan