As happens periodically, there was a spate of tensions between Pakistan and India some time in the mid-1990s. But since visas and travel between the two neighbouring countries remained unrestricted, work took me to India.
I had only one day to spare in Lucknow and eagerly wished to see the fascinating Urdu fiction writer Naiyer Masud. He was not keeping well, but not only did he insist that I visit him, he also arranged for my pick and drop from the hotel. Professor Anis Ashfaq — himself a formidable man of letters — was to pick me up after breakfast.
I was feeling lucky and excited. While waiting for Ashfaq in my hotel room — if my memory serves me right — I found a copy of The Pioneer. The English daily’s Lucknow edition had been slid under my room’s door. The newspaper had published its daily cartoon about the tensions between Pakistan and India.
In the cartoon, a few men in uniform sat on one side of a table and one man stood on the other side. The most senior looking officer was telling the man who was standing that, even if we decide to bomb Lahore, make sure nothing happens to Government College. Those were pre-internet days and I only wish that I had clipped that cartoon from the newspaper.
In India, Lahore has a unique place in most people’s imagination.
In India, Lahore has a unique place in most people’s imagination. It is not essential that they come from Punjab, or be descended from those who had to leave Lahore after the partition of British India. On my first-ever trip to India, at a conference in Mussoorie, I had met an elderly Gandhian lady from the Indian state of Gujarat, who ran schools in her native state. Tears welled up in her eyes and she had kissed my hands after knowing that I had been in Lahore just the day before. She had told me she wanted to visit Lahore before dying and kiss its earth.
In 2007, the writer Javed Siddiqui, famous for his film scripts and songs, hosted a dinner for some poets and writers visiting from Pakistan. He remarked how fortunate his guests were because they could choose to live in Lahore, or go visit whenever they wished.
Pran Nevile, the author of Lahore: A Sentimental Journey, and I instantly became friends for life when we met for the first time some years ago. Besides other interests we shared, it was also a minor detail involving my father. Nevile had not been friends with my father but, while Nevile was at Government College in the early 1940s, knew my father as a fellow student at Oriental College who had arrived in Lahore from Lucknow. Nevile’s book is a treat and has been translated into Urdu as well.
These memories — particularly of that cartoon — reappeared in my mind recently when we had a memorial reference in Islamabad for Mumtaz Ahmed Shaikh, a proud Ravian, or alumnus of Government College Lahore (now renamed Government College University). Shaikh was a notable writer and organiser of literary events in Islamabad, and later became one of our leading editors of Urdu literary journals.
His Lauh [Tablet] remained a serious journal which comprehensively collected and examined different genres of Urdu literature. It was primarily Shaikh’s own effort, supported by some other literati, but he would use the emblem of Government College on the cover and always wrote that the journal was a presentation on behalf of the Old Ravians’ Association.
Like Nevile, Shaikh and many others, two of my own friends have a passionate love affair with Lahore. One is Mudassar Bashir, who continues to chronicle and document the past and present of the city in his fiction and well-researched non-fiction. Mudassar has established himself as a prominent Punjabi writer, whose command over contemporary idiom makes him both accessible and fresh.
The other is Mehmoodul Hasan. The late leading writer and critic Shamsur Rahman Faruqi had once said: “Mehmoodul Hasan bhee aik chhotay motay Lahore hain [Mehmoodul Hasan is a miniature Lahore in himself].” Hasan has recently published Lahore: Shehr-i-Pur Kamaal [Lahore: The Perfect City] and, some years ago, came out with Sharaf-i-Hum Kalaami [The Privilege of Conversation], about an array of ideas and thoughts of the major fiction writer Intizar Husain.
Before coming to Hasan’s book on Lahore, I will mention Itahasik Lahore [Historic Lahore] by Bashir in Urdu. Bashir has written about leading Urdu writers, poets and journalists who are buried in Lahore — from Maulvi Noor Ahmed Chishti and Muhammad Hussain Azad, to Sufi Tabassum and Saadat Hasan Manto, to Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib.
Bashir commits that those who are not part of this collection will be mentioned in a future book. In giving a detailed and informative account of the life and works of 24 writers and their time spent in Lahore, he brings out the unique nature of the city, which remained a cradle for art and literature.
In the same spirit, Hasan’s book is about the passion for Lahore found among three great writers: Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Kanhaiya Lal Kapoor. At the outset, Hasan has also included brief comments by a few other renowned writers about the city, its people and culture.
The book is primarily about the three men and Lahore, but the narrative encompasses the social and political history of those times and introduces us to many other people with whom these three writers interacted or corresponded.
Likewise, Hasan’s book on Intizar Husain — which includes the brief opinions of Nasir Abbas Nayyar and Professor Shamim Hanfi — is a tribute to a master who lived in Lahore. Hasan was among the youngest friends of Husain and was privileged to spend time with him and other friends in his circle, such as Masood Ashar, Eruj Mubarak, Zahid Dar and Ikramullah. Bashir is prolific, but we expect Hasan to write more.
The columnist is a poet and essayist. He has recently edited Pakistan Here and Now: Insights into Society, Culture, Identity and Diaspora. His latest collection of verse is Hairaan Sar-i-Bazaar
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, February 27th, 2022