The fondest memories of my life in Lahore were, of course, from my school days, especially the quality as well as the fun time I spent with Chhottu, my school mate, or better still, my bench mate throughout my school years from first class to the tenth. Chottu lived in a very big bungalow near our house. A twist of fate had turned his father from a man of modest means to filthy rich. He had moved to Punjab from the faraway eastern province of Bengal for greener pastures. Intending to set up a small unit of tin-plating, he purchased a small piece of land in our neighborhood. There was a very old dry well on the plot, which needed to be filled up to make the place safe for children. As soon as the work on the well was started, a big box of gold jewelry was sighted at the bottom of the well. Chottu’s father sold part of the treasure to buy a bigger plot adjoining to the land he already owned, to build a huge bungalow and a bigger factory than he had originally planned. In that period of time, when either the British or the big business tycoons owned cars, Chhottu’s father was proud to possess not only a car but also a two- horses pulled carriage, or ‘bagghi’ as it was called. The lawn in their compound was put to best use by us to start our ‘Boys’ Own Club’ under which besides playing badminton every evening we organised various other activities that included celebrating our individual birthdays. However, for Chhottu’s father the best use of the lawn was when it would be turned into a place of worship for yearly Durga Puja, where the entire Bengali community of Lahore would come to celebrate the biggest Durga Puja in the city. But the most memorable event organized on the lawn was yet to happen, which made the place a part of history.
Chhottu told me in the school that there won’t be any badminton that evening as his father was organising a big function on the lawn, which is likely to be attended by a big gathering of not only all the Bengalis living in Lahore but also by other big people. Being too young to know all the details of the function, we were only 7-8 years old then, he could not elaborate on it but insisted that I must come and attend the function. And when I did attend, the moment became so memorable that I wanted to live it whole my life. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was right in front of me and hundreds others, who had gathered enthusiastically to give him a reception on his, perhaps the only, visit to Lahore. The sight of his magnetic personality became still for every person present there, when he arrived. We had learnt a lot about him in the school and knew him as one of the greatest leaders fighting the British for our freedom from the Raj, but never did we ever imagine we would be standing so near him that we could snatch a moment to shake hands with him. When the gathering had settled down on their chairs and Netaji and other dignitaries had been seated on the dias, started the evening of melodious music by, who else than Pankaj Mullick, the greatest singer-composer-actor of that era from Bengal.. He had especially come with Netaji to perform at the reception. Oh My God, what an evening it was, over 75 years after, vivid memories of it so fresh in my mind. Why I did not share earlier on my blog is beyond me to figure out. But I’m so happy now to have shared the once in a lifetime experience of being so near to Netaji.
PS: For the benefit of those of my readers who may not have heard of Pankaj Mullick, I’m posting some information on him:
Pankaj Mullick, also known as Pankaj Kumar Mullick, was a Bengali Indian music director, who was a pioneer of film music in Bengali cinema and Hindi cinema at the advent of playback singing, as well as an early exponent of Rabindra Sangeet. Some of his popular Hindi songs: