by Khalid Hasan
Ahmad Salim, one of our most assiduous research scholars, whose linguistic and poetic work is spread over more than four decades, put together an anthology four years ago which opens a window on Lahore as it was during the bloody and historic year of 1947. It is good this was done because we forget. In fact, we have already forgotten 1947. A Hamid brought back the city for us as it was in the early years of independence. My translation of this nostalgia-tinged writing, published 64 weeks running in the Daily Times , is currently under publication as a book by Vanguard.
In an introduction to Salim’s anthology, British historian Ian Talbot writes, “The arrival of refugees with tales of atrocities supported by the gruesome evidence of trainloads of corpses encouraged revenge attacks on minority communities. In the longer term, Lahore and more generally Punjab can be seen as a victim of political uncertainties and communal polarisation elsewhere in India.” He notes that relations between Hindus and Muslims had been correct but lacked warmth because of the social distance caused by high-caste Hindu concerns about pollution and inter-dining.
The writer Fikr Taunsavi wrote in his diary on August 14, 1947, “Death with all its horrors awaited the unwary on Lahore’s roads and bazaars, at street corners, on closed shop fronts. It peeped out of the eyes of Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs.” On August 15, he wrote, “Anarkali felt like a corpse, and lay there as if it was a lifeless body. One of the buildings was still smouldering.” Fikr did not want to leave Lahore. His entry for August 17 ran, “A huge stately temple near the Anarkali Chowk was on fire. Openly and shamelessly, and nobody had the nerve to stop it from burning itself. The cloud of smoke was thick and intense. Scores of gods and deities had been imprisoned in this temple – Krishna, Rama, Shivji, Parvati, Hanuman – all were consumed by the fire. So were the laws of Manu, the Rig Veda , the Ramayana and the Shastras . Their souls had left their bodies, and they were now free of the material world.” On August 29, he wrote, “I walked on, looking at everything and trying to reacquaint my eyes with the ways of my beloved Lahore. These buildings, of which city are they? From where have all these people infiltrated my city?”
The Lahore of 1947, though, still had places like the hotel and night place Metro, where WAPDA House now stands. Ibrahim Jalees, who came from Hyderabad, Deccan to Lahore, where his old friend from Bombay, Hamid Akhtar lived (and still lives), subsisted on sporadic work at Imroze. It was Ayub Ahmed Kirmani, who was also from Hyderabad, who took him there one evening. Jalees wrote, “Metro is a very romantic place. When you come out of Shahalmi Gate or from the narrow, twisting and stinking alleys of Abdullah Malik’s Koocha Chabuk Swaran and suddenly enter Metro, you feel as if you have emerged from the war-battered ruins of China’s Nanking city that you see in newsreels and have reached Rainbow Island in the company of Dorothy Lamour. In Metro Pakistan you see the women in colourful dresses dancing with their boyfriends, breast to breast, and even lips to lips, while in Shahalmi Pakistan, a frenzied Muslim may be out with a pair of scissors ready to snip off the plaits of young girls not in purdah .” That Metro and that Lahore have disappeared. There is action still, but it has gone indoors.
Gopal Mittal, another Lahoria, wrote, “Whether the riots were pre-planned or spontaneous, there were various conjectures. Some people averred that the killings began when the hooligans of Amritsar sent women’s bangles to the hooligans of Lahore to indicate their contempt for the latter’s inactivity. Another version was that the Muslim League leaders had themselves provoked them. But then there was also the story that Nawab Mamdot and some other Muslim Leaguers were going from mosque to mosque telling their fellow Muslims to abstain from violence.” One of the most ironic killings in Lahore was that of economist Professor Brij Narayan , who alone believed that Pakistan would survive economically.
Khushwant Singh wrote, “Suddenly riots broke out in Lahore. They were sparked off by the Sikh leader Master Tara Singh making a melodramatic gesture outside the Punjab Legislative Assembly building. Inside the chamber, the chief minister, Khizar Hayat Tiwana, had succumbed to pressure from the Muslim League and resigned. It was now clear that the Muslims of the Punjab had also opted for Pakistan. As soon as the session was over, Master Tara Singh drew his kirpan out of its sheath and yelled, ‘Pakistan Murdabad.’ It was like hurling a lighted matchstick into a room full of explosive gas. Communal riots broke out all over the province. Muslims had the upper hand in the killings. They were in a majority, better organised and better motivated than Hindus or Sikhs.” He recalled how Shahalmi, which was a purely Hindu and Sikh neighbourhood, was set on fire in June 1947. The exodus of Hindus and Sikhs had begun. The first to leave were able to take their belongings with them; those who left later were allowed to take nothing. Arson was followed by loot. And it has continued.
Parkash Tandon from Gujrat, author of Punjabi Century , recalled that until July 1947, few Hindus thought of leaving. The attacks on non-Muslims were sporadic and seen as signs of another riot. As things began to worsen, people started to leave but “the thought that this was a going away forever never crossed anybody’s mind. A calamity might cause temporary uprooting, but afterwards you came back to what had always been your home.” Then a trainload of Hindus and Sikhs was massacred at Gujrat station, and when it arrived at Amritsar with its deathly cargo, the Muslims of the city were made to pay the price. There were also great killings at Shikhupura and on the other side in Jullandhar. Ironically, neither the British nor the leaders of the two communities had foreseen what forces of murder and mayhem they had unleashed. Som Anand, who lived in Model Town, wrote 40 years after Partition, “Lahore’s name has been etched in the memory of all those Punjabis who have ever been part of the pulsating life of that many-splendoured city.”
Pran Neville, who still considers Lahore his home, wrote in 1997, “The spectre of Partition was there but we did not think of leaving Lahore even if it became part of Pakistan. 50 years have passed but the memories are still fresh in the mind and most of us consider ourselves rootless. We are still groping for our identity. We cannot help expressing our disgust with the political leaders of the time and their responsibility for the sufferings.”
Mian Amiruddin, mayor of Lahore, wrote in a memoir, “The Shahalmi area within the walled city was the stronghold of the Hindus. It was like an impregnable fortress. Countless weapons and great quantities of ammunition were stored there, and the Hindus were sure that nothing could happen to Shahalmi. But when we launched our Molotov cocktails, the Shahalmi fort cold not withstand the attack. As the locality burnt down, the Hindus lost heart and began to move towards Amritsar. At some distance from the rear of my house, there was a big Hindu mansion which served as a stockpile of arms and petrol. It was consumed in the flames of its own petrol.”
What I found chilling about this account is its utter lack or remorse. Such, I suppose, were the times.
– Published in the Friday Times