A walk down familiar roads but in the wrong direction

I belong to an old locality of Lahore – Mozang – where my ancestors on the paternal side have lived for as long as they could remember. In the Civil and Military Gazette of 1880 a news headline read: ‘A man dies of snakebite in Mozang a village two miles from Lahore’ . By the turn of the 20th Century Mozang had been enveloped by expanding modern Lahore under British patronage. Temple Road, Lytton Road, Mozang Road and Queens Road constituted the triangle around Mozang. Temple Road in the middle touched the Mall in the north and culminated in Mozang Chungi in the south.

I grew up on Temple Road which must have been an upscale area when it was developed because many people had built bungalows and double-storey buildings. Ours was a row of houses on Chowk Bhoondhpura owned by my grandfather, Haji Mian Ilam Din. We are Arains, a community of hardworking farmers, known for their outstanding skills as cultivators even when they did not always own big tracts of land. The overwhelming majority of people in Mozang are Arains. In Lahore the Arains were the biggest group among Muslims before the partition and owned most land. Even now they constitute the biggest single biradari.

My grandfather had done well and each of his sons had a house of their own and were traditional middle class. He had several properties inside Bhoondpura on Jalaldin Road and on Chiragdin Road inside main Mozang. On my last trip to Lahore I took my friends Shahid Khawaja and Ajmal Butt who like me have settled in Stockholm but were visiting Lahore to see some of them. We even had tea at the famous Yhaakoo da Hotel which is directly below the house where I was born.

Today, after having lunch with my friend Mujahid Hussain Syed, General Manager Nawa-i-Waqt newspaper, which is situated next to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital on Queen’s Road I decided to walk once again on the familiar roads and streets of Mozang. As it happened last time I was not expecting to meet anyone who would recognize me.

I left Pakistan in 1973 and settled in Sweden but we had moved out of Mozang around 1970 to where my father inherited some land off Multan Road from his father. For me, however, Pakistan was Lahore and Lahore was always Temple Road. I was now very close to it so I walked down Jalaldin Road, having another look at Ghazi Street named after my father and arrived on Temple Road.

Once again I found nobody recognizing me and I too could not identify a familiar face. Of course when I was a child Temple Road and Mozang were places where we could move around easily, even play games and sports but now it was quite an effort finding my way without being hit by some motorcyclist or cyclist from the front or behind.

In the old days I and my friends would walk in the opposite direction from Temple Road to Queen’s Road and then cross some minor roads and streets to reach the Lawrence Gardens. It was almost a daily evening routine in the summers.

Now from Temple Road I walked to Saffan Walaa Chowk and then turned to Mozang Road and walked all the way to Begum Road from where I rented a Rikshaw to get back to Government College University.

I went past the Sikh Gurdwara Cchaveen Padshahi on Temple Road which suffered greatly during the 1947 riots. Its story figures prominently in my book, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed.

As I walked those places, some were familiar but so much had changed. It was hardly a place i could call my own but yet I felt I belonged here, once I was rooted here and the absence of almost 50 years had not really severed that relationship. I have many cousins who live in Mozang but I have not tried to visit them because those who were closest to us ended up getting the property in which I and my brother had a share because we had gone and settled in faraway Sweden.

I have always had a mixed feeling about my Mozang roots. The old buildings, roads, streets, Sufi shrines and mosques still stand there as if time has stood still but so much has changed that it is no more a place with which I can claim closeness or even close familiarity yet I keep coming to it as if I hope to meet all those friends whom I have not met since I left so many years ago. I am sure if they are alive they too think about old friends and perhaps about me because my room at the bottom of our house was where we all assembled every evening and enjoyed ourselves mostly by talking and having tea and buns and butter. The rent from the shops were given to me by my father and the hospitality was always on the house.

Close to Temple Road were all the cinemas, on McLeod Road and Abbot Road and the two English-language ones on Temple Road and Queen’s Road. The greatest attraction was going to see a film but those cinemas are all gone and the few which still stand are in a dilapidated and neglected state. The joys they once provided for a few rupees and even annas are all lost in the mist of time. Nothing is the way it used to be.

One day I would be no more but Mozang and its people would still be around, well around in some sense and others will come after me, walking down the same streets trying to remember old, familiar faces but they too would not be there. This is inevitable.

When I arrived in Sweden in 1973 the first book I read was that by Wilhelm Moberg, a famous Swedish writer, Din Stund På Jorden (Your Moment on Earth). It had struck me even then as a very moving reminiscing of the past by a 75 year old man. He remembered all the old faces and old times and realized that nothing is forever and he himself would be gone soon.

I felt the same today.

The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; Visiting Professor Government College University; and, Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He has written a number of books and won many awards, he can be reached on billumian@gmail.com