Mauritius Times – 60 Years
It was in Lahore, on the bank of the river Ravi, in 1929 that the Indian National Congress adopted the historic resolution for complete independence of the whole sub-continent. Prof Renga, a member of the Indian delegation, took me to visit the spot where the epoch-making Congress session was held. He was one of the leaders who took part in the deliberations. According to him, the session was held in December 1929, but for some reasons which I cannot now remember January the 26th was chosen to mark the date of the historic decision.
Prof Renga stood for a while in deep meditation on the Ravi bridge. I almost guessed what he was meditating upon. His mind must have rolled back to those hectic days in 1929 when the Lion of Punjab, Lala Lajpat Rai, was striking terror in the British, when Hindus and Muslims were speaking with one voice and Gandhiji was about to launch his second civil disobedience movement which was to shake the British Empire to its very foundation. How much water has flown under that very bridge since those days of 1929! Prof Renga, one of the architects of Indian Independence, was standing as a foreigner on the very soil which he helped to liberate from British domination. He suddenly realised it was 1957 and that he was a member of a delegation from free India visiting Pakistan as the guest of the Pakistani government. History had moved far and fast. There was no time to waste. We stepped into the car and drove to join the other delegates for a visit to Lahore Fort kindly arranged by the West Pakistan Government.
It is a far cry from Karachi to Lahore. After the heat, the dust and the flies, it was so refreshing to be caressed by a cool breeze and to smell the scent of the flowers in the trees. To the visitor from Karachi, Lahore is a garden full of fragrance.
At the airport we were greeted by lovely little boys and girls who offered us bouquets. After the formal greetings, our Pakistani hosts always anxious about our stomachs treated us to a copious snack in a typical oriental setting under a richly decorated shamiana (tent) of red striped canvas with the floor laid down with carpets.
Lahore is an oriental city in the traditional style. It was never planned. It just grew up. It is typically representative of a blend of Muslim and Hindu architecture and that’s where its real beauty lies. Apart from a few wide streets as the Mall, the main thoroughfare, the city has only narrow lanes such as the famous Anarkali lane where, according to legend, Emperor Akbar caused Anarkali, the court dancer, to be bricked alive for being in love with the Crown Prince Salim. Most of the buildings are old and built in a haphazard style.
In spite of some ugly spots, the narrow lanes, the congested bazaars, Lahore has an enchanting beauty which keeps the visitor enthralled. Without any exception, all the delegates fell in love with the City and we left it not without some regret. Before Partition, Lahore used to be known as the Paris of the East. It is still famed for the beauty and elegance of its women. The Punjabi women adorn the Indian film industry even to this day. The average Lahori has a dignified deportment. I met quite a few of the men and women from all walks of life. The tangawalla (tanga is a horse driven carriage with 2 seats at the back and one seat at the front beside the coachman) who works for twelve hours a day, will never grumble about his fate. He believes in kismat, fate, and is resigned to his condition because fate has ordained it to be so. But in spite of his poor station in life he will never indulge in flippant talks. The students from the Government college who were introduced to me by my friend Rassool, a young man from Port-Louis teaching French in the Punjab University, were very interesting to talk to. They spoke perfect English and were extremely polite but not in the least shy. They had no aversion for India except on the Kashmir issue.
The British have left their impress on the aristocracy. The women of the upper class in Pakistan, more particularly in Lahore, are rapidly tearing themselves away from purdah. The beauty that was hidden under the veil is now exposed to the admiring gaze of the menfolk. But unfortunately, perhaps inevitably, with the disappearance of the veil also disappeared many of the inhibitions which lend much charm and dignity to the women of India and Pakistan.
Of all the civilizations that flourished in Lahore, the Mogul civilization has been the longest to endure. The Lahore Fort with the Shish Mahal (Palace of Mirrors), the Badashi Mosque, one of the largest in the world, where some relics of the Holy Prophet are still preserved, the Jehangir’s tomb modelled on the Taj Mahal, and the Salimar Gardens, one of the loveliest in Pakistan, are some of the highlights of the splendour of Mogul civilization in Punjab. No description, however masterly, can do full justice to the beauty of the monuments.
But long before the Moguls came to India Lahore was already famous as the place where Valmiki compiled the Ramayana. According to legend Lav and Kush, the twins of Sita, were born in Lahore where she was spending her exile. Lav, again according to tradition, when he grew up built a fort which in Sanskrit means “awarana” or “awar” Thus the place came to be known as “Lau awar” i.e., the fort of Lau and later as Lahore. How far this can be supported by historical evidence I do not quite know nor do I want to discuss. The keeper of the Lahore Museum, a well-known archaeologist, told us the story about the origin of Lahore and he even pointed out to us a place which is supposed to be the grave of Lav and Kush.
As there were so many things which were not included in our programme, I took time off from my official engagements and went to visit certain places which were of great interest to me, having heard and read about them. Thus, I was able to visit from outside the mausoleum of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a Sikh Gurdwara, the shrine of Guru Arjan, the tomb of Iqbal and that of Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, the Prime minister of Punjab before Partition. After the death of Sir Sikandar, his friends decided to build a mausoleum to glorify and perpetuate his memory. The work which was started has been stopped because government, I was told, has forbidden further work to be done. Sir Sikandar was an anti-partitionist.
Prof Renga, through the courtesy of the Deputy High Commissioner of India in Lahore, took me one morning to visit the house where Lala Lajpat Rai lived. He showed me the room which he used to occupy when he visited Lalaji and the house where Bhagat Singh had taken refuge when he was hunted down by the British after the bomb incident. The building which was the residence of Lalaji has been acquired by the Government of India. It is in a dilapidated condition. The Pakistan government has not yet allowed it to be repaired. But negotiations are still going on.
Before stepping into the plane which was to take us back to Karachi, I took a last look at Lahore. I thought of the lathi charge which caused the death of Lalaji, of the hanging of Bhagat Singh and all those martyred sons of India who bravely went to their death for the freedom of their country and, almost unwittingly, the following verses of Sarojini Naidu came to my mind:
When the terror and tumult of hate shall cease,
And life be refashioned on anvils of peace,
And your love shall offer memorial thanks
To the comrades who fought in your deathless ranks,
And you honour the deeds of the deathless ones,
Remember the blood of my martyred sons!
Mauritius Times – Friday 24th January, 1958
5th Year – No 181
* Published in print edition on 14 January 2022
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