My Lahore

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Chandra Sayal is a retired doctor, now living in Derby, England. She worked for over 30 years in the NHS in UK. She was a specialist in Community Medicine and Public Health.

 

Lahore, a place of fun, grace, culture and education had suddenly changed in 1947. The place where we roamed happily and fearlessly at all hours was suddenly different. Each day, it had become like a ghost town. We dared not go out alone. We dared not stay out till dark. We dared not go to unfamiliar and faraway places. The picnics, the late night cinemas, biking and roaming around in the parks were now full of danger.

So I started going to college not via Muzang Road, but via Temple Road and Mall, which was a longer route, but safer. Vachhowali Clinic in the walled city was out of bounds because that part of the city was full of danger. We took extra precautions and looked over our shoulders all the time so much.

By summer, we did not dare to enter our college across the road from the hospital, where we were now staying for our clinical training. For safety reasons, the female students were given lodgings in the only children's hospital in the country, yet to be opened. We were now prisoners confined within the hospital premises. At night, we huddled together and locked our rooms. When we went to the washrooms, we went in pairs guarding each other, in case an undesirable person was lurking around and made entry from the stairs below. Any unfamiliar sound scared us. We were like frightened little children.

We would hear stories of people getting stabbed in solitary places, of people being chased in the streets, of arsons in the city. We were even afraid of our own jamadars, who were employed to take care of the dead bodies in the Anatomy Hall.

I had moved out of the hostel with only a few possessions, not knowing that I would never return. By July 1947, conditions had worsened so much that we were asked to go home. Ferozepur was only about 70 km from Lahore. In the past, I used to make trips regularly on my own by bus at the weekends or for longer periods during vacations, but I could not do it any longer. I had to ask Satinder, a friend of my brother Bhupi (Bhupendra Hooja) to escort me to the bus station since it was in the centre of the city. I was not to know this journey was going to be my last and that I was to say ‘Goodbye' to Lahore.

Lahore has very pleasant memories for me. It was the capital of Punjab and had all the facilities. Besides the government offices, it had two large hospitals, two medical colleges, a dental college, an engineering college, teachers' training colleges and various undergraduate colleges, a library, a museum, a zoo, as well as many cinemas and the well-known bazaar called Anarkali for shopping, where all sorts of articles were available.

It was considered prestigious to gain admission in one of the colleges at Lahore. Lahore's University had the same reputation in India as Oxford and Cambridge in Great Britain. It was a Mecca for students, who came from all over Punjab. The students had a great social life with many cultural activities. They would roam around freely. Each student invested in a bike, which was a great asset and also a cheap and reliable mode of transport, providing access to various parts of the city and to various colleges at all hours.

Many things happened on the bikes, even great romances and dating. I remember a very popular Hindi film of that time, which had the opening scene with boys and girls singing in chorus on bikes. The song's title was saawan ke nazare hain-h-ha h-ha meaning that these are the days of monsoon season and let us be merry and happy.

Many a times, the boys would tease the girls on the bikes for fun. I remember, one day my cousin Vimal and I were on the Mall. We had just passed the GPO, the main post office, and were heading towards the upper end of the Mall. As we approached the crossing at Fein Road, we were given signals to stop. We thought it was the policeman on duty directing the traffic. Since there were no traffic lights in those days, the policemen used to control the traffic by hand signals. So we got off our bikes and waited for a considerable length of time, while the traffic kept passing in the opposite direction. Then we noticed a group of boys giggling at the road side and we realised that the man on the crossing was a hoax and was not the real policeman.

I remember another incident when I was really embarrassed. Boys in Lahore would often distract the girls or tease as they followed them on the bikes. I had been ignoring a boy, who was behind me. He was saying all the time, "Tuadian kitaban giran walia hein," (your books may fall). I took no notice of him, instead got irritated and shouted back, "Shut up!" But he still kept on reminding me and I kept on saying, "Shut up!" until one by one the books started to fall from my bicycle carrier. Before long, he was down on his knees helping me to pick up the books and said, "But I warned you." I felt so small.

Sometimes, the boys were threatening and a real menace, so one had to be on guard all the time. Once I was really frightened. On this occasion, as I was not feeling well after college, instead of going back to my hostel via Temple Road or Mall, I decided to take a short cut via Muzang Road, which after the crossing of Ferozepur Road, became very deserted and I was to pass through the kabaristan (Muslim graveyard) with hardly anyone on that route.

No sooner, I entered the Muzang road, than I sensed that a boy, who from his attire and appearance did not look like a college student, but a ruffian  was following me and I knew he would give me trouble on this solitary road, especially when passing through the graveyard area. He was already started talking nonsense as we left the main crossing, but I had presence of mind. I noticed that at the beginning of the Muzang Road at each side there were few bungalows with long drives. I pretended that I lived in one of those and I entered the gates boldly. I challenged him and said, "Come on! Come inside! Before long you will get a real hiding from our servants." The boy got scared and sped off. I turned back and decided to go home via Mall.

It so happened that most of the co-educational colleges had hostel facilities for the boys, but not for the girls. Our Balak Ram Medical College was one of those. It was newly opened with only fifty students, including six female students. We were the first entrants. The girls from my class were staying at home with their parents or their relatives, but since I was on my own I had to find a place in a hostel. Sohan Lal Training College was situated on Lake Road opposite University grounds and was the only one which offered accommodation to the female students from other colleges. My cousin Shyama had also stayed there a few years ago when she was a MA student at the Government College.  As I got a place there, I commuted to the college daily on a bike. It also gave me an opportunity to come into contact with girls from various colleges like Government College, Foreign Christian College, Sanatan Dharm College, and I made friends with them.

Among them was Sheela Ji, who was doing a teacher's training course at Sohan Lal College and was later married to Inder Gujral, who became India's Prime Minister. He was already a well-known figure in Lahore, being the President of the Student's Union, which had put up fight with the British to save the officers of the INA (Indian National Army). She still remembered me when I talked to her on the phone in 2005 - nearly sixty years later. Then there was Gurbinder, niece of Mr Kairon, the first Chief Minister of East Punjab after the partition of India. She was a MA student at the Government College and I was told that she used to accompany her uncle and acted as a hostess on his official engagements at home and abroad. Both of them were older than me, but I got on very well with them.

In the hostel, Sharda Ahuja was my best companion. She and I became great friends and enjoyed each other's company, as she was of my age. She was doing MA from the Foreign Christian College and was full of fun and mischief. We got on very well and I liked going out with her. She had a habit of challenging boys, sometimes unnecessarily, which would complicate the situation.

Most evenings, we went out on our bicycles to different places and different colleges, visiting our mutual friends and join in their activities, only to come back to the hostel late and tried to sneak in, avoiding the gatekeepers, called durbans. One of them, an old man, was very sweet and would turn a blind eye. But the other one was very strict and report to the matron and get us into trouble.

One day, Sharda and I were returning from Anarkali after purchasing kites, which we were planning to fly from the roof of our hostel at Basant Panchami (spring) holiday. As we left Anarkali, a couple of boys started following us from Neela Gumbad. Before we could enter the gates of the hostel, one of the boys dashed on his bike like a flash and pulled the kites from the bicycle basket. We were furious while he made away with the kites and we could not but swear.

Savitri Shori was another girl. She was a MA student at the Government College and older than me.  Her room was next to mine. On Sundays, we would go to Lawrence Garden on our bikes and leave the bikes locked up on the bicycle stand, while we took our morning walk before returning to the hostel in time for breakfast. One day, as we returned to the stand, we found the tyres of our bikes were flat. Someone had removed the nuts, which caused the air from the tyres to escape. We were very upset. It meant walking three miles back to the hostel on a hot summer morning. As we started the tedious journey home and reached the garden gates, struggling and pushing our bikes, we came across Mr Mahajan, one of Sarita Puri's college lecturers. When he came to know our plight, he told us that he would try to find the culprits. I do not know how, but he did manage to get hold of someone, because one day I found myself standing in a magistrate's court and in front of me was a boy, who had been accused of theft of the nuts, which he had allegedly removed from our bicycles.

Majida, a Muslim girl, was another friend of mine, but younger. She was doing Junior Training course (JAV) at Sohan Lal College. During the brief visits home, often girls from the hostel brought cooked foods to share with others. Majida's meat dishes and kebabs were most appreciated. From time to time, she would take me to her old school called Islamia School for Girls, a residential school, which was situated in the centre of the city.

On one occasion, as we were going there with her sitting at the back of my bicycle, a Muslim boy purposely hit my front wheel with his bike. Fortunately, I was able to put on the brake in time to save us falling, but we were badly shaken. By chance, Satinder, who happened to be close by, came to our rescue. He told us to go ahead and that he would see to the boy. Somehow, those were bad days when a communal conflict could erupt any time and create a huge problem, especially as Satinder was a Sikh, but he was fearless. I believe the boy was taken to task since many people had seen the incident.

In those days, there was already a kind of dislike for Muslims by Hindus of older generations, often orthodox and illiterate to some extent. I remember an incident when one of Majida's class fellows, a Hindu girl, was fetching a glass of water for her mother, who was visiting her and Majida's garment touched her daughter by accident as Majida was on her way to my room. The mother asked the daughter to fetch another glass, and this upset Majida very much.

But the younger generation like me did not see any difference between caste and religion. I had two other girls in my college called Rajinder and Raminder, both Sikhs and junior to me. I often visited gurdwara (Sikh temple) on Sundays with Rajinder and enjoyed halwa, the parsad given to the devotees after prayers. Similarly, I went to Golden Temple with Raminder, when she came to see me at Amritsar. I also remember that Satinder fancied a Muslim girl called Kesar, who lived in my hostel and often asked me to get them together.

Once, after I had finished my medical studies, I was visiting my mother, who was a Camp Commandant at Yole camp. Some family friends decided to go to Joginder Nagar to see the falls. The father happened to be a magistrate in Dharamsala and he asked me to join the party with his children, who were of my age. He had booked a Dak Bungalow, but when we reached there, the place was locked and the caretaker was nowhere to be seen. So I decided to call at the next bungalow. The lady, as she opened the door, immediately recognised me and invited us all to have tea with her. She was the wife of the chief engineer.

On our return journey too, as we stopped in a bazaar of a small place called Palam Pur, there was another girl known to me in Lahore. The magistrate was most impressed as I met more girls in Dharamsala. When I was studying at Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi I often came across many girls from Lahore in Connaught Place. As students, it was our usual practice to visit Connaught Place each evening when the college was over. After having our bath, we would get ready to go out for an hour or so before dinner and loiter around, also try the newly opened restaurants. But at every few steps, I would meet my acquaintances from Lahore and as I would stop to talk with them, my companions Usha and Shyama complained that they did not have much time left for other things.

Even much later, I met girls here and there who knew me at Lahore and we exchanged reminiscences of our great times, how in our spare time we often went to cinemas and saw both English and Indian movies.  The English films were a treat as these shown on Sunday mornings at Odeon or Regal Cinemas with air conditioning. The films were mainly the classics, like, Rebecca, Jane Ayer, Wuthering Heights, Oliver Twist, Jane, Little Women, Gas Light, Gone with the Wind etc., in which acted famous actors, like Charles Houghton, Clark Cable, Lawrence Olivier, Gregory Peck, Vivienne Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Olivia de Holland, Bette Davies and many more.

The other entertainment was to see dramas and shows at the newly built Open Air Theatre, produced by the enlightened group of students. Among those was my brother Bhupi and through, him I met very interesting and progressive young women like Perryn Barucha, Shiela Bhatia, Swntrata Bhagat, Suveera Malhotra and Suveera Mahay, who were fighting for women's causes, and highlighted the problems through these dramas. They were all older than me, but often Shakti Malhotra (Suveera Malhotra's sister) and I, the youngest were also asked to take part, for which we rehearsed for days. At the same time, we enjoyed the shows given by Uday Shankar (Ravi Shankar's brother from Almora) and his troupe at this theatre.

In those days, Bhupi and his friends, called Inder Sen Gupta, Inder Mohan, Inder Sen, Satinder Pratap Kapoor, belonged to the Communist Party and spent hours in the Coffee House discussing the current issues. Through this group, I met Sumitra Lakhwara, my school friend, who got married to Inder Mohan. Bhupi had tried to convert me to his doctrines too by presenting me with his literature, but I was not intellectual enough to absorb all that, though Primala Dhawan, my elder brother's sister- in- law could.  She was later to marry Satish Loomba, the Trade Union Leader (in Delhi) and herself became the Secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, also in Delhi.

However, I continued with my favourite pursuits by visiting Carry Home for ice-creams, Coffee House for coffee and Cheney's Lunch Home for freshly made omelettes and Chinese food. The Cheney's Lunch Home was run by my cousin Ashok and his friend Surinder Sehgal, therefore I used to have free meals accompanied by my friends. Another place I frequently visited was the restaurant at the Lahore Railway Station where we could get English style dishes. The Station itself was grand and had an imposing building built in Gothic style. Anarkali too was famous for eating Chaat (Indian hot and spicy savouries) and Kulfi (Indian style ice-cream) as well as for shopping. The tailors there would make garments in the latest designs. Lahore was considered to be the Paris of India with new fashions and all the students took pride in having the latest designs.

We also went for picnics to Shahdara at the banks of the River Ravi and Shalimar Gardens, two imposing monuments, reminder of the richness of the Mogul period. Rowing at Ravi in the cool summer moonlit nights was really romantic for the youth. The inter-collegiate sports, where all colleges participated were another interesting feature and so were the inter-collegiate debates with colleges competing with each other and winning trophies.

Besides having fun, students were also very politically minded, because in 1942 after the war was over, there was a great unrest in the country against British. At Lahore, it became worse when British considered the INA (Indian National Army) to be an uprising army against British. The INA's leaders, called Shah Nawaz, Dhillon and Sehgal, could have been hanged, because they were considered as deserters and also colluding with the Japanese, but the students of Lahore had demonstrations and carried out protest marches, holding political meetings in Gole Bag. At that time, Inder Gujral was the President of Students' Union, and some students, including my brother Bhupi, were even arrested. The voice of the youth was heard, and not only these leaders were released, but also acknowledged as heroes.

In short, students at Lahore had the heyday, but unfortunately it was to end soon and they did not realise that this blissful period, the dream of their youth was over, because suddenly this joyous and interesting town had turned into a frightening place. There were arsons, looting and anarchy.  So most of the people fled for their lives.  Many became homeless and many died. I heard that our gentle and kind durban, the gatekeeper from Sohan Lal Training College was killed, so was the man who used to bring our tiffin each day from the Dental College as we did not like our hostel food. Tragically, my sister's husband's sister, a medical student at KE Medical College was also stabbed and killed, because she refused to leave Lahore thinking that no one could ever harm her.


© Chandra Sayal 2018

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Dr JK Anand   |2018-12-17
Thank you, Dr Sayal. I was a few years junior to you. In 1947, judt before
partition, some of our family moved East. I used to cycle to DAV College from
Chowburji witb a knife in my “Dubba” completely forgetting that I could be
stabbed in my neck before I could alight from the bikre, take out the knife and
open the blade. Just as a matter of interest - to those who do not know - BR
Medical College was the Balak Ram Medical College. Balak Ram was the son of Sir
Ganga Ram - you know the eponumous Sir Ganga Ram Hospital which would have been
the teaching hospital of BR Medical College IF partition had not occurred. Sir
Ganga Ram Hospital remains there. Name not changed. Balak Ram Medical College
became Fatima Jinnah Medical College.
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