A walk down familiar roads — in the wrong direction

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 along the road. Ours was a row of houses on Chowk Bhoondhpura, owned by my grandfather, Haji Mian Ilam Din

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 around it. 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 amongst Muslims before the partition and owned most of the land. Even now, they constitute the biggest single biradari.

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. 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 finally arrived at my destination

My grandfather had done well and each of his sons had a house of their own; they were traditional middle class. He had several properties inside Bhoondpura, on Jalaldin Road and 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 Nawaiwaqt newspaper, which is situated next to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital on Queen’s Road, I decided to once again walk 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 own 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 finally arrived at my destination.

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

In the old days, my friends and I 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, walking all the way to Begum Road, from where I rented a rickshaw to get back to Government College University.

As I walked down those places, some were familiar, but so much had changed. It was hardly a place I could call my own. Yet, I felt I belonged here. Once, I was rooted in this area, and the absence of almost 50 years had not severed that relationship

I went past the Sikh Gurdwara Cchaveen Padhshahi 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 down those places, some were familiar, but so much had changed. It was hardly a place I could call my own. 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 as those who were closest to us ended up getting the property that I and my brother had a share in; this was during our absence, when we had gone and settled faraway in 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 had stood still. Despite this, so much has changed that it is no more a place I can claim closeness over or even close familiarity with. Yet, I keep coming to it as if I hope to meet all the friends that I haven’t met since I left years ago. I am sure if they are alive, they think about their old friends too and perhaps about me as well; my room was at the bottom of our house where we all got together every evening and enjoyed ourselves in conversation, having tea and buns and butter. The rent from the shops was handed over 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. The two English-language ones were on Temple Road and Queen’s Road. The greatest attraction back in time was going to see a film, but those cinemas are now 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 will be no more, but Mozang and its people will still be around, in some sense or the other, and there will be people who come after me and walk down the same streets trying to remember old, familiar faces, but they too, will not be there. It is inevitable.

When I arrived in Sweden in 1973, the first book I read was by Wilhelm Moberg, a famous Swedish writer, titled ‘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 realised that nothing is forever, and that he himself would be gone soon too.

I felt the same today.

The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; Visiting Professor GC 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

Published in Daily Times, January 31st 2018.