Raj ensured freedom of expression to Indians and, in the second quarter of the
20th century, this resulted in the flowering of modern Urdu literature in
Lahore. Why Urdu and not Punjabi? Because Lahore was, historically, the nursery
for a new “invasive” Persian expression and was, therefore, the court language
of the great Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh who had captured the city in 1849. Under
the Raj, it became the cradle of a new Urdu expression influenced by European
and Russian literature.
Lahore became the publishing capital of India and printed Urdu magazines with
circulation reaching across India to Burma, where the last Mughal king had been
exiled. The other cultural centre with a similar reputation was Bombay, where
the Indian film industry was taking birth, midwifed by great screenplay writers
in Hindi and Urdu, including a Lahore genius, Saadat Hasan Manto. Manto’s
friends in Lahore were, among others, three great writers — Krishan Chander,
Rajinder Singh Bedi and Kanhaiya Lal Kapoor.
book, Lahore: Shehr-e Pur Kamal (Lahore, a City of Genius, 2020) Mehmood
Ul Hassan narrates how three Hindu and Sikh men of Urdu literature ruled the
hearts and minds of Lahore, wrote and ran their publishing houses and were read
by a secular-literate population of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.
dominated the budding cinema industry in the city as a counter to Bombay,
writing scripts featuring the life of all cultural gatherings in the city. In
1976, when the Indian writer Ismat Chughtai visited Lahore, some friends of
Chander wept as they recalled him. Before his death, in 1977 in Bombay, Chander
wrote a tearful letter to a friend in Lahore to say how much he missed the city
of his youth.
novels “created” a new style of writing in Urdu, began life as a lowly clerk in
a post office while working as one of the editors of the famous literary
magazine, Adab-e-Lateef. He was soon employed by Lahore Radio, where he wrote
scripts for popular dramas — a genre that was catching on because of him. He
also wrote film scripts on a salary of Rs 600 a month.
By the time
Partition happened, he was running his own publishing house in Lahore’s Model
Town after his novels like Ek Chadar Maili Si, Dastak, Garam Coat and Phagun
had become Urdu classics. When rioting started in 1947, he sent his family to
Ropar to live with his brother, but could not stick around anymore when the
violence increased. He landed up in Simla with his family, in time to save a
Muslim family in his neighbourhood from a lynch mob.
become the centre of Taraqi-Pasand (progressive) Urdu literature, which
was carried aloft by Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs together. But what was
remarkable was that the non-Muslims of Lahore left behind more meaningful
memoirs of abiding love for the city. Bedi admired Rabindranath Tagore and was
fascinated by him when Tagore visited Lahore in 1938 to seek funds for
Shantiniketan. Bedi’s last days in Bombay are recorded by his Muslim friends
from Lahore who visited him there. Lahore city, where Bedi lived out his
creative days, was to change after 1947 although the afterglow of the literary
utopia created by the likes of Chander and Bedi was to last till the 1980s.
Urdu literature started packing up and was replaced soon thereafter by
Lal Kapoor was a Punjabi who did his MA in English — alongside the famous
Balraj Sahni — from Government College Lahore under the principalship of the
great humourist, Patras Bokhari. When rioting started in 1947, and Hindus and
Sikhs began to be killed in Lahore, Kapoor refused to leave, unpacking three
times after being persuaded by his friends to leave. Just like Manto in Bombay.
Ahmed is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan
Headline: Non-Muslim Urdu writers of Lahore left behind memoirs of abiding love
for the city
Source: The Indian Express