Lahore - My Birthplace On Passport!
It was hard to believe that Lahore was now beyond our reach and we would never be able to return to the beloved city of my birth. On August 15, 1947, Lahore had become part of Pakistan, the newly created country out of the partition of India. As our plane took off from Srinagar for New Delhi, the capital of India, my mind started to fly back to Lahore with sweet memories of the first 15 years of my life that I spent in that great city.
There was a saying in Punjab, “Jinhe Lahore nahin dekhya, o jamaya hi nahin” (One who has not seen Lahore is like not born), and so true. Lahore was a very modern and clean city, with most of the areas street-cleaned every morning, and kept cool in summer months by mobile sprinklers of the municipality. Shining tongas, driven by well-fed and trained horses, were a pride of their owners and pleasure for the passengers. Anarkali Bazar, all the time bustling with browsers and shoppers, had the biggest and the most beautiful shops no other city could boast of. This also made it the star attraction for visitors and locals alike. Lahore was also an important historical place with many landmarks and monuments of the Mogul times, such as the Shalimar Gardens, built by the Mogul Emperor Shah Jehan, and the Fort where Emperor Akbar had his court for fourteen years. The museum, the Mall, Lawrence gardens and the zoo were other attractions where people liked to go again and again.
Lahore was the cultural, intellectual and educational center of not only the Punjab province, but also the entire country. No other city in India had so many schools, colleges, cultural centers and institutions of higher learning as Lahore. The fondest memories of my life in Lahore were, of course, from my school days. Indeed, I was very proud of going to D.A.V. High school, the most prestigious school in Punjab, which topped in studies as well as sports every year. The school had the biggest library, located in a separate building within the school compound, the most modern gymnasium, a great swimming pool and large play grounds, apart from the top ranking faculty no other school could afford. The sweetest memory from my school days related to the most enjoyable time spent with my friends, especially Bazal, my best friend and next door neighbor. The Government College, considered the greatest institution for higher studies in the entire province of Punjab, was in our neighborhood. Apart from all the top class facilities and faculties there, the college was known for its large tournament standard swimming pool, where I, along with Bazal, would spend most of our summer evenings, thanks to Bazal's father who was a faculty member, and got us permission to use the swimming pool.
Bazal and I were so close that there was hardly a day when he was not at our place or vice-versa, though most of the time it was he who would be at our place. Everyone in the family loved him, particularly my mother who pampered him all the more ever since the day he had a miraculous escape from what could have been a fatal fall from our terrace to the street, three stories down. It was the day when everyone in Lahore would be on the terrace, looking at the sky that was covered with colorful kites of all sorts and sizes, large and small, round and square. One and all, Hindus, Moslems, Sikhs, young and old, celebrated the Hindu festival of Basant, at the beginning of spring, as the festival of kite flying. As usual with all festivals, whether the Hindu Deepavali or the Moslem Eid, Bazal was celebrating Basant at our place by flying kites from our terrace. As he was totally engrossed in a match with a rival kite-flyer from another terrace, he suddenly slipped over the low fence and lost control. A split-second move by my brother to hold Bazal, saved his life.
Next to Mumbai and Kolkata, Lahore was the largest movie making center in India. Besides two big studios, Pancholi Arts and Shorie Pictures, that boasted of many super-hit movies, there were a large number of smaller units, which too had quite a few hit films to their credit. Many of the mainstream stars started their career in movies that were made in Lahore, and later moved to Mumbai where they became some of the biggest stars of Indian cinema. Lahore also had a large number of movie theaters where “House Full” sign was a usual sight, especially on Sundays and holidays. Wednesday matinees were reserved for women, when it was the “Ladies Only” show in all theaters at half the normal rates. My mother, a great fan of Hindi films, made it a must every Wednesday to watch the new release of the week, and I was her constant companion till I was twelve years old, the age limit for allowing boys in “Ladies Only” shows, if accompanied by a lady. That is how I became a movie addict, right from the time I was a toddler in Lahore till date.
Lahore always remained a living example of religious harmony where Hindus, Moslems, Sikhs and Christians lived in absolute peace till around the partition of India when communal tension started to spread throughout the city. It was then that my father decided to send the family to Srinagar (Kashmir) though he himself along with one of my brothers continued to stay in Lahore for quite sometime after the formation of Pakistan. My father firmly believed that sooner or later the atmosphere would calm down and life would be normal when the new Pakistan government settled down. But his logic proved irrelevant at that period of time, when mobs of fanatic Moslems attacked our house. He had a miraculous escape when Bazal and his brother, an army officer in the Pakistan army, not only saved their lives but also escorted them to airport for taking a flight to New Delhi. The brothers, Bazal and Aziz, truly represented the spirit of Lahore - the spirit of brotherhood.