May 25, 2020
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Satish Gujral

He hoped for a Lahore, India, address. And fled only when history dictated otherwise.

Satish Gujral

I was 21, living on McLeod Road, Lahore, making a living as a graphic artist. It was a great city: the hotbed of design, architecture, culture. The arson started in July '47. To be fair Punjab was set aflame not by Muslims but by Akalis in Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana. Breakpoint was when they raised swords in the Assembly, saying they wouldn't give an inch of Ranjit Singh's turf. Till then, Muslims were communal only in UP, Maharashtra, Bihar, where they were in a minority and insecure. This sabre-rattling and Akali-instigated rioting changed it all.

That July-August I'd stand on my rooftop and watch the fires rage in the old city. I lived near the railway station. All day tongas crammed with people, boxes, beddings creaked past. Hindus shifting their things, even as they stayed on hoping for a Lahore, India, address. I escaped certain death on August 6. Many Hindus were butchered at the station. I escaped only because I'd gone off to borrow money for the tickets.

The Radcliffe Award ceding Lahore came on August 12. There were green flags everywhere; posters saying DO NOT BURN. PAKISTANI PROPERTY. I heard similar posters appeared in Amritsar. Jinnah sounded father for a ministerial post. He became a member of Pakistan's Parliament. Don't forget Jinnah was whisky-swilling secular, with no theocratic hint. At Jhelum, Muslim leaders implored father to stay. History dictated otherwise. In September '47, Jhelum was launch pad for the Kashmir invasion. Drunk, moneymad tribals surrounded Hindu camps. "The death of a dream," father said. We shifted.

Memories? Girls from the Muslim Hostel in Amritsar being dragged out, disrobed, marched through Hall Bazar, raped, murdered. Of Muslims with manic eyes in Lala Moosa dancing the bhangra holding aloft babies skewered on spikes. Of week-long lines of bedraggled refugee-laden bullock carts that stretched uninterrupted from the border to the interiors.

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