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Pakistan Diary: Part IV
Lahore: Day 1

Mall Road and a Mula Jat

By Yoginder Sikand

27 October, 2006

t's my first day in Lahore. I have to see every place that's said to be worth visiting here, I say to myself, because I don't know if I'll ever be able to get a visa to come to Pakistan again. I get my pen and notebook and sit down. I must meticulously plan out how I am going to spend the next week that I've given myself for Lahore. But then, it strikes me, precise plans like these never actually work and so I give up the idea. Better to let things just happen, I suppose.

I decide that the first thing I need to do is change some money. And so I find myself jostling my way into in a crowded bus heading for the famed Anarkali Bazaar.

I manage to get a seat, which is in itself an interesting story. Diep has told me that my Urdu is fairly good by Pakistani Punjabi standards. Many Punjabis speak the language in a very accented sort of way, and my accent, Diep says, is somewhat Karachi-like. She assures me that I could easily pass off as a Mohajir from urban Sindh if I want to. However, she tells me, two words I sometimes use—dhanyavad in place of shukriya and bhaiyya in place of bhai sahib—give me away as
an Indian.

'Bhaiya, Will this bus go to Anarkali Bazaar?', I ask an elderly man wrapped up in a thick muffler.

'Jee, Jee', he replies, looking at me up and down rather curiously.

'Dhanyavad', I utter spontaneously.

'Oh, so are you from India', he asks.

'Yes', I reply, suddenly remembering what Diep had said about the twowords that I have just uttered. I am not sure how the man will react.

'Oh, you are most welcome to Pakistan', says the man effusively, grabbing my hand and giving it a firm shake. He removes an enormous load of sweaters that he is carrying in a bundle, which he has placed on the seat next to his, and beckons me to sit.

'You have come all the way from India, so you have to sit here', he insists. I willingly comply.

He tells me that he's Mr. Shahid and that if I have any problem in Lahore I should not hesitate to contact him. He runs a hosiery business in Anarkali Bazaar.

Mr. Shahid tells me how his family migrated to Pakistan from East Punjab, now in India, in 1947. Several of them were murdered by Hindu and Sikh mobs. This is the other side of the Partition story that is rarely heard in India. Needless to say, the Indian side of the story is hardly recounted in Pakistan, at least publicly.

'But now we must be friends, there is no other way out', Mr. Shahid says firmly. 'America and England want us to keep fighting so that they can sell us their weapons and keep us permanently weak', he says gravely. 'Imagine', he exclaims, 'if India and Pakistan were united or at last were good friends, we would be a veritable super-power'.

I share in the man's enthusiasm, although I tell him the dream might possibly not come true in our lifetime.

'Inshallah, however, we might, some day', I say.

'Inshallah', he replies.

We pass the university grounds, along the road lined with a canal that comes all the way from the Indian border. We drive past by localities with large bungalows and leafy gardens, surrounded by high walls. The roads are broad and the traffic brisk. I could just as well have been in some upper middle-class locality in Delhi. There's nothing about the men and women I see outside to distinguish them from Punjabis across the border in India. Mercifully, and this is something that strikes me almost at once, I see few women outrageously dressed, as is fast becoming the norm in urban India. Few don the burqa. All of them are in shalwar kameez, many with dupattas demurely placed on their heads, and this, I think, gives them a certain grace. A welcome contrast, I tell myself, to the pathetic and mindless Westernisation of women's attire that one observes in India today, with seemingly no resistance to this, not even from the self-styled advocates of 'swadeshi' and 'Hindu culture'. Certainly the billboards I see on the roads are not a tenth as lewd as their Indian counterparts.

We turn off into a broad, tree-lined street, and Mr. Shahid points out various colonial buildings—clubs, schools, colleges and government offices. These are well kept and exude an imperious air, appearing to announce that those who occupy them think that they are important and want others to think likewise. Mr. Shahid offers to take me on a tour of these structures. I thank him but I tell him that I'm more interested in meeting people than seeing buildings. And, most certainly, I add, colonial buildings hold no charm for me. I'd rather spend time in a dargah or a temple I say and he smiles. 'Yes, yes, I entirely agree. These big buildings hold nothing for poor people. Only oppression. Poor people go to mosques and temples instead', he says enthusiastically.

We then head into Mall Road in central Lahore, the city's main commercial area. Much of the area dates back to colonial times. Most of the grand buildings here, which now function as shops, restaurants and offices, were built by the city's rich Sikh and Hindu traders. 'Before 1947, there were just a handful of Muslim shops here', Mr. Shahid explains. 'The Hindus monopolised everything, and that was one reason for the Partition'.

I decide to get off the bus and explore the place. Mr. Shahid beckons the driver to halt and I crawl off.

I imagine how this area must have looked in pre-Partition days. This is meant to be the Lahore that my grandparents never stopped talking about, the Lahore about which many Punjabi migrants in Delhi never cease raving. It is the 'Paris of the East', as a woman accompanying me on the bus from Delhi had described it and as numerous writings by Indian Punjabis portray it. But that, when set against the chaos that now spills before me, is obviously was pure romanticism. The road is choked with unruly traffic and clouds of smoke. The pavement is blocked with milling crowds and with stalls selling all manner of trinkets and food. It's all so Delhi-like. I wonder why Delhi Punjabis, like my own folks, persist with the myth of a Lahore that probably never existed.

There is just one ATM machine here that accepts the bank card I am carrying and it isn't working. So I have to do with the fifty Pakistani rupees I am carrying till I find a moneychanger. I'm
famished, and look for a place to eat. The few eateries on Mall Road are well beyond my budget. In fact, as I shall discover soon, almost everything in Pakistan, barring cigarettes and mobile phone calls, is more expensive in Pakistan than India.

I venture off into a narrow lane that leads off the Mall Road. The lane is filthy, lined with semi-finished or decaying (depending on how one views them) buildings, piles of rubbish and clogged drains. These are features that are pervasive throughout those parts of urban Pakistan that I visited, barring the few posh localities. The chaos and depression of it all is overpowering.

I enter a grubby tea-stall. A giant kettle sits on a coal fire, spewing out clouds of smoke. The stall is run by a Jat family and caters mainly to autorickshaw drivers, artisans, small shopkeepers and daily wage labourers. 'Do not discuss politics here', announces a slogan on the wall, above a blow-up of half a dozen scantily-dressed Bollywood actresses, whose presence here makes me feel decidedly embarrassed.

Choudhri Sahib, the amiable patriarch of the family, sits on an ornate, delicately-carved chair that seems at least a century old but is now badly worn-out. He bears an enormous turban on his head and puffs away at a clay hukkah. When he learns I am from India he refuses to take any payment from me. Instead, he insists I should drink another cup of milky tea. 'I was born in India', says Choudhri Sahib. 'Your grandparents were born in what is Pakistan. But you live in India and I in Pakistan. Strange, is it not?'.

'We are Mula Jats, originally from what is now Haryana in India', Choudhri Sahib explains. 'There are Hindu, Sikh and Muslim Jats. Jats live in both India and Pakistan. We follow different religions but we are all Jats', he adds.

Mula Jats, Choudhri Sahib tells me, followed both Hindu as well as Muslim customs and could not easily be classified as either Hindu or Muslim. Perhaps they were a bit of both. Starting in the early twentieth century, Hindu and Muslim revivalist religious organisations began targetting the community, trying to convert them to their respective faiths.

'Some of us became Arya Samajists, others became better Muslims. Many of us remained just as our ancestors had been', Choudhri Sahib reveals.

Then, in 1947, the Mula Jats were faced with an unenviable choice. Choudhri Sahib lowers his voice. 'We owned a lot of land. So, Hindu mobs attacked our village. They said that we should either convert to Hinduism, abandon our lands and flee to Pakistan or else be ready to be killed'.

Scores of Mula Jats were killed in the Partition violence. Many more fled across to the newly-created Pakistan. But a small number of remained in their ancestral land. Many of them converted to Hinduism through the Arya Samaj. Some continued being Muslim, in some sense.

Some of those who became outwardly Hindu retained their faith in Islam secretly while others lost completely their association with Islam. And there were others who became Hindu for a while and, after peace was restored, turned Muslim again after a few years. 'Their conversion was probably just tactical. They found that despite their conversion the Hndu Jats refused to eat or intermarry with them', says Choudhri Sahib.

'My brother, Shiv Khan, decided to stay on i India. The last time I heard from him was around twenty years ago', the patriarch reminisces. 'He was the most hardworking and sincere of us all. Now I don't know what has happened to him. I sent him so many letters but I have had no news. Allah bless him'.

I see tears well in Choudhry Sahib's tired eyes. I decide to leave. I still have not changed my money and that, I remind myself, I must do at once, for, today being Friday, the shops will probably close early. I bid farewell and reluctantly head back for the chaos of Mall Road.

Also Read

Pakistan Diary: Part IV : Lahore: Day 1
Mall Road and a Mula Jat
By Yoginder Sikand

The pavement is blocked with milling crowds and with stalls selling all manner of trinkets and food. It's all so Delhi-like. I wonder why Delhi Punjabis, like my own folks, persist with the myth of a Lahore that probably never existed

Pakistan Diary-Day 1
In Lahore: Of Nomadic Odhs And Parathas
By Yoginder Sikand

Crossing The Border- Pakistan Dairy: II
By Yoginder Sikand

Pakistan Diary- Part I
Heading for the Border

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