As part of the media party to cover the visit of PM Vajpayee to Lahore in February 1999, some of us decided to see the city during our spare time. Lahore in any case has a special attraction for Punjabis like me, most of us have some connection or the other with the city. In my case, it’s my birthplace.
I was very keen to see our house on Nisbat Road but by then it has been replaced by a market. However at the nearby chowk we came across ‘Punjab Bakery,’ whose owner had moved from my hometown, Jalandhar. He informed us that Lahore also has a ‘Jalandhar Motichoor House‘ as well as a ‘New Jalandhar Sweets’ and that the former’s motichoor ladoos were famous throughout the city. Incidentally, the shop which was established in 1922 continues till today. There is ‘Jalandhar Sweets’ also in Gujranwala, Quetta and Peshawar and their ‘Jalandhari Mithai’ I was told, is quite famous.
In Lahore we were also surprised to see some houses with ‘Shri’ or ‘Om’ written on the outer walls. The original owners had shifted to India at the time of partition but these religious symbols had survived. There is also a real life story from Mekhtar Lorala in Balochistan where the inhabitants had left for India at the time of partition, but the shop remains locked with the original lock as the locals hoped that the Hindu owners will return one day.
Lahore still has Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Gulab Devi Hospital and Dyal Singh College. The original names continue to date. There is also a ‘Bombay Bakery’ in Hyderabad, Sindh. It’s 100 years old but is still going strong and one has to stand in a long queue to get its famous cakes. Founded by late Kumar Thadani, the ownership is still with the family.
In Pakistan the names of many of these institutions, shops or roads have not been changed though some others have had a different fate, but why are we following what is avoidable across the border? An atmosphere is being created that the more irresponsible and extremist a person is, the better ‘deshbhakt’ he becomes. Recently ‘Karachi Bakery’ in Mumbai shut down after Raj Thackeray’s MNS objected to ‘Karachi’ in the name. First the owners tried to cover ‘Karachi’ with a cloth but when the threats became too much, they decided to shut down saying it was for economic reasons.
Whatever be the reason, the fact remains that some people had protested against the name and MNS had claimed credit. The shop was founded in 1953 by a Sindhi migrant Khanchand Ramani. All these years no one had a problem in getting their mithai from there but in these days of competitive idiocy and chauvinism, the shop had to shut down as the owner refused to change the name. There is also a ‘Karachi Bakery’ in Bengaluru where a mob had demonstrated after the Pulwama attack but left after they learnt that the owner is a Hindu.
Such bursts of intolerance have given Pakistan a handle to criticise us. Sherry Rehman had tweeted, ‘Bombay Bakery is thriving in Hyderabad. No one wants to even think of changing the name. Erasing our past will lead to myopic exclusions’. This from the Senator of the country where temples are routinely vandalised and Hindu and Sikh girls abducted and converted before Nikah. But the comment from the Express Tribune of Karachi should make us ponder, ‘It was Pakistan that was considered intolerant…now there seems to be a drive at undoing all that is sane in India’.
During the Corporation elections Yogi Adityanath promised to change the name of Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar so that ‘it can be taken to new heights of development’. Question arises why is it necessary to change the name to take the city to ‘new heights of development’ ? Some complain that Hyderabad is drowning in Nawabi-Nizami culture. But have we ever asked the people of Hyderabad if they have any problem with the name or the culture of the city? This culture in fact makes them unique.
Our problem is that there are instant-patriots who sprout everywhere and claim that they only know what is good for the nation. But how many of this rabble rousing lot are ready to send their children to the army or the BSF to fight the ‘enemy’? Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal told an election meeting that ‘the Moghuls are attacking Assam’! Mughals? Where have they cropped up from? Logic doesn’t work here. The Uttarakhand CM said that aastha will save the Kumbh Mela pilgrims from Covid. A Mahamandleshwar has died and many sadhus have been infected.
When I was young, while travelling by train from Delhi to Kolkata and passing Mughal Serai, one romanticised about tired caravans resting there. Its name is now Pandit Deen Dyal Upadhyay Nagar. We have a past which includes a long history of invasions, looting, subjugation. These cannot be covered by a cloth. We survived because there is a lot of resilience in our culture, it does not need self-appointed guardians. Mughals in fact settled down here.
We do not have to follow Pakistan. Why is Pakistan always in doldrums? The extremist elements there do not let them become a modern nation. We never had this problem. Our ancestors always welcomed new thoughts and ideas. Travel and pilgrimage had a special place in our scheme of things because you interact with more people. Guru Nanak Dev’s travels totalled 28000 km, he even went up to Mecca and Tashkent. It was not only to spread his message but also to interact and learn from other cultures. Swami Vivekanand repeatedly went abroad. At one place he asked, ‘ Who am I? Asian, European or American ? I feel there is a mixture of personalities inside me’.
Fortunately in this atmosphere vitiated by terms like ‘love jihad’ there are also sane voices. In a seminal judgement in the Disha Ravi case, Additional Session Judge Dharmendra Rana while giving her bail has said, “Even our founding fathers accorded due respect to divergent views…there is no geographical barrier to communication…citizens have the fundamental right to use the best’. He quotes the Rig Veda, ‘we should be getting good ideas from all over that cannot be suppressed… and get information about unknown matters’.
Our 5000 years old civilisation is in no danger of being submerged by the ‘other’. Stop creating a monster where non, exists, our philosophy was always forward looking. We lecture the world on vasudhaiva kutumbakam but are ourselves becoming intolerant, edgy and insecure. The image that’s going out today is of an illiberal democracy. This has to change. Meanwhile, Karachi Bakery In Mumbai needs to reopen in all its glory-or sweetness. The mega city has a great tradition of tolerance and coexistence. Civil society there needs to wake up.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
END OF ARTICLE