When people in Lahore hear the word Shalmi (Shah Alam Bazaar) two things mainly come to their minds most of the times; a bazaar where they could buy anything manufactured in this world, and it used to be a Hindu neighborhood before 1947, the year when it was burnt down and its Hindu residents fled to India. The Bollywood movie “Earth” (1947: Earth) which is based on BapsiSidhwa’s novel Cracking India or Ice Candy Man, Amir Khan who plays a Muslim character could be seen saying “wo dekho Shalmi jal raha hai”. Bapsi Sidhwa was 9 at the time and lived with her parents in Lahore.
This is the story of Sheikh Muhammad Jahangir who was 16 then and witnessed these events very closely on ground. He still lives in the house where he and his father were born inside Delhi Gate in the old city. He is very fond of old Indian-Pakistani songs and Urdu poetry. He loves narrating verses from old songs to visitors who visit this old neighborhood. He closely witnessed violence and still clearly remembers those events and graphically narrates them even after seventy years.
He remembers there was religious harmony before Partition in the walled city. His father was a small time shoemaker and would make shoes for everyone regardless of their faith or ethnicity. His father continued making shoes for his Hindu clients even after Partition and used to send them across the border. He remembers most of the rich merchants in Lahore and in the walled city were Hindus living in large mansions who occasionally would go India for religious pilgrimage. The neighborhood children would accompany such India bound pilgrim Hindus up to the railway station where the children would be given sweets.
He witnessed several brutal killings of Hindus in Lahore during Partition. He remembers the killings starting in the part of thewalled city where he lived.A Muslim man killed a young Sikh man who was on the way to the home of his in-laws carrying some fruit in a paper bag. He was there when the enclosed Hindu quarters of the city at Shalmi was set on fire by Muslims. He said two Muslim young men crawled into Shalmi through the drainage line and set the neighborhood on fireusing petrol bombs. Muslim crowds initially,could not enter Shalmi as it was fortified and enclosed so the Muslim mob waited outside the gate until the gate was destroyed. He considers Partition as one of the most painful and unforgettable things he has seen in life. He repeatedly quotesthese Punjabi verses ofUstaad Daman (1911-1984), the most celebrated Punjabi poet at the time of Partition, who lived in the old city of Lahore.
“KujUmmeedHai, Zindagi Mil Jayegi
MoyeTussiVi Ho, MoyeAsi Vi Aan
LaaliAkhiyaan Di Pai, Das RahiHai
RoyeTussi Vi Ho, TouRoyeAssiViAan”
These Punjabi verses encompass the pain Partition caused on both sides of the border.
Published in Daily Times, July 16th , 2017.