"I used to live in a house next to this temple," recalled an elderly lady. Another octogenarian found a picture of his old house among the collection. "We are trying to re-establish ties with former Wazirabadis who left the town after Partition," says Imran Mani, a photographer who founded the Save Apna Wazirabad Society (SAPS).
This small group of Pakistani artists are among the many who have been moving to and fro ever since the newfound amity bloomed between the two nations. Caught up, perhaps, in the positive mood swing that has descended among common people of both countries, theirs is a novel effort to revive old associations.
Akram Varraich, a painter and photographer associated with the society, said he had heard about an area in Delhi where many former Wazirabadis live. On arrival, they realised that was not the case. They, however, managed to trace an association started by old Wazirabadis. It is their foothpath exhibition, ‘Beyond Borders’, that has enabled SAPS to locate about a dozen of their old townsmen.
In fact, the ripple effect of their maiden sojourn is beginning to show on this largely scattered fraternity. Many are planning to take up Imran and Akram’s invitation and travel to Wazirabad to rekindle old linkages. K.K. Duggal of Delhi, whose house is featured in the collection of images, found this group the perfect means to send money to the family of his deceased friend in Wazirabad, who have fallen on hard times. "Sending money through foreign exchange channels would have attracted too many questions. I tried to do it through my daughter in the US but she couldn’t find a branch of the Habib Bank nearby. I have never met Akram and the others before, but I’m sure this money will reach my friend’s family," he said.
Incidentally, all seven artists who came to India belong to the post-Partition generation. Though they don’t share fellowships with the old Hindus and Sikhs like their parents, the desire to seek out links with their town is strong. For several years now, Akram, Imran, Azhar Jaffri and Shadi Khan have been taking pictures of old buildings of their town—and also documenting inscriptions in Gurmukhi or Hindi on old havelis, photographing wall paintings and doing their bit to preserve these old structures. "I used to often wonder about the people who built and lived in these beautiful buildings. I strongly feel these must be preserved as it is our common heritage," says Imran.
Wazirabad, they say, was once a major market for timber and gold. Most of the trade was in the hands of prosperous Hindus who left their splendid mansions behind and migrated to India. SAPS’ pictures of the 19th century Arya Samaj temple, a dak chowki of Sher Shah’s time, the Chiniot Mandi, the old cremation ground, and an old gurudwara called Guru Kotha have all reignited memories.
SAPS was in India at the invitation of Chandigarh-based Eclectica, an organisation which promotes artists, writers and photographers. Eclectica’s director Shumita struck up an association with Akram during the recent Punjabi conference in Lahore. One thing led to another and "we decided to have them over quickly," says Shumita. With Indo-Pak relations "see-sawing, you never know when things go awry," she adds.
Wazirabadis (and others) can contact the Save Apna Wazirabad Society by e-mail (email@example.com) or telephone (0092425730826).