Contrasting memories of pre and post-Partition Lahore – Rehana Bano Bokhari

The Friday Times


I remember that pre-Partition, my two elder sisters studied at the co-ed FC College. Post-Partition, when I finished high school, Ab Ji, Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed, did not want me to go to a coeducational college because he thought that Muslim boys were less used to interacting with girls than Hindu boys, and did not know how to respect women. So I went to the Lahore College for Women. Ab Ji even encouraged me to wear a burqa because he thought this would be expected in a Muslim country, but after the novelty of being invisible had worn off, I threw it away.

I remember when there was a famine in Bengal, in ’43. My eldest sister, Sabiha Jilani, who was doing her Bachelors at the time, acted in plays at the YMCA to raise funds for relief work. Sabiha Apa would also participate in plays in the lady’s programme on All India Radio, Lahore. Apa. Laila Aslam, and I would appear on the children’s programme; I used to get Rs 3 for a live show. After partition, girls from moderate middle class families no longer performed on stage in front of the public.

I remember being a 9-year old communist. My oldest brother, Wajihuddin Ahmed, then a student, would take me to the meetings. . . where adults would give children full importance. The other children were all Hindus and Sikhs, both girls and boys. I would write the slogans “Surkh savera aiyga,” “Inqilaab Zindabad ,” “Hum nangae haen, hum bhookae haen, phir bhi Khuda ke bandae haen” on walls with charcoal. Even then, communism was frowned upon because the British were imperialists and we were a British colony; but there was never any danger that we would go to jail.

I remember when society was tolerant.

I remember Mira Ji. He worked with my father in the monthly magazine Adbi Dunya . I was 10-years old and he was in his 30s. When Ab Ji was in Bombay, Mira Ji used to come to pay his respects. I would receive him outside the house and Ami would send tea. We’d sit on the doorstep or in the veranda and have long chats. He would recite his poems and explain the symbolism, thinking aloud. He translated some of Kali Das’ poems about Krishna and Radha’s relationship. I remember that he also translated some Korean poetry.

I remember reciting my poems and him advising me on how to restructure them. We lived in Muslim Town then, where there were only fifty houses. We used to walk in the fields.

I remember moving to Model Town and then to a very intriguing antique, multi-storey house in Gumti bazaar that had belonged to my great grandfather. Each room contained different treasures.

I remember being the only Muslim girl to play in the mohallah; our neighbours were Hindus and Sikhs. The children used to play in our courtyard because it was the only open space. I would cheat devilishly in our games and they would make me swear that I was telling the truth. I would swear by Kaali Mata, conscience-free.

I remember being the sole heir to kites that fell on our roof or in our courtyard. I was the only girl in the mohallah who would fly kites.

I remember walking to the bazaar. There was no dearth of respect for me or my family and people rarely teased girls then. On the way, I would meet Baba Uttam, who sold ice in the summer and peanuts in the winter. He used to sit on an empty ice crate and when I’d greet him, he would ask: “Behna da kuch hoya?” I’d hang my head in shame and he’d tell me sympathetically, “Koi gul nahi, acha Rub karayga.” When Sabiha Apa got engaged, I could face him with pride. People were concerned about each other, regardless of religion or income levels.

I remember when the Partition riots began. My father’s friend came to give us safe passage to a Muslim majority part of town, armed with a dog, a knife and with twenty Muslim shopkeepers gathered behind him. Our neighbours were insulted because they felt that they weren’t trusted, though they had been our neighbours for generations. The only other Muslim family on our street left with the Muslim shopkeepers, but we stayed because Ami was afraid someone might throw a brick in the excitement.

Shortly afterwards, in March, 1947, a Hindu was killed in the Sunaaraa bazaar. A riot erupted and my parents were frightened that that would happen to us. My father picked up an antique sword; I peered through the window and saw that some people, strangers who had been watching our house, were no longer there – presumably they had joined the mob. A couple of Sikh neighbours helped deliver us to Kucha Hanu Man in the Muslim majority area of Sen Mitha.

Our house was burned down in June.

I remember taking it in my stride that Hindus had burnt our house down, because so many Muslims were burning Hindu and Sikh houses and it wasn’t our neighbours who had tried to harm us. There were mad elements on both sides. After we returned to Lahore from a delightful escape in Simla – where we laughed at the monkeys and mimicked the waltzing maims when it rained – we stayed for a couple of years in a Hindu acquaintance’s house in Anarkali. He had moved to India and was afraid that if Muslims didn’t live in his house, it may get burned down as well.

As told to Imaduddin Ahmed


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