Saturday, November 26, 2016

Lahore

A photo posted by Manik Doomra (@manikdoomra) on


Old man pours him milk, breadcrumbs dipped in it. Early morning pedigree.. 7:20 am north-bound mail just departed 15 minutes ago. Peeling oranges, he instructs Chotu to arrange bread on display and sprinkle water to settle the dust on the street. A red Coca-Cola truck parks in front, laden with bottles - black, orange, green and white. Marigolds plucked fresh being sewn into garlands...

An hour later, sun has risen up in the sky. Old wrinkly hands carefully oil his young body, working oil deep in his skin. Sun has started burning their skin, but towering old figure commands him to finish the exercises. Flesh of his young bony figure yearns for touch of water. Burnished he sweats hard - the regular Sunday routine. It is now that he doesn't mind those silent moments of being drowned into water, mornings that he would wake up underwater. The magic touch of water comes in due course, followed religiously by buttered Paranthas.

By afternoon, the old man is dwelling on a bed, clad in his trademark white attire - a shirt and a lungi. His moustache glorious and charming. Turban sitting pretty on his perennially bald head. Young lad adores the crisp touch of his white shirt and bony body, looking forward to the stories from eternity. Stories of Mughals, Marathas, Rajputs, but mostly stories from Lahore, stories from lost Punjab and stories of adoring English masters.

He would hear of classrooms full of Musalmans and Sikhs, reading Urdu and Sanskrit, together. Sikh villages surrounded by Muslim populations and vice-versa. Memories of a rickety truck distributing ice in Lahore and 20 miles around, leaving dust trails along the Grand Trunk Road. He would tell him, "Musalman aurataan dudh vargiyan chittiya si" (Muslim women were white as milk). Long tales of his pursuits and how he managed to please Maulwis (teachers in Madrasa) with intellect unusual of a Jatt. The boy was particularly amazed to hear of Mughal lineage, stories of Harems and how Aurangzeb taxed Hindus and imprisoned his own father, viciously with a clear view of Taj. These were not stories from text books, these were oral stories generations told each other.

Out of curiosity, he would ask him to write "Delhi" in Urdu. The result was pure art, a calligraphic imprint. Sifar, he learnt, was how zero is called in Urdu. So much more seductive than any pronunciation in any other language. Amazingly, he didn't hear much negative about English, people or language, from old man's Punjabi mouth. Cheerful mentions of English madam wishing to take him to England and tears she had when India was being left behind. Little guy had often wondered how England would have been... While English dream was never fulfilled, Fortunes and toils left behind in the land of Five Waters. But, little could anyone complain, it was but shared fate of everyone they knew.

Delhi to begin was a refugee camp. Societies having little choice, but to flourish. Coming together in honeycombs spread across city, the beginnings were needy and benign. Fortunes were founded on qualities of perseverance, collaboration, spirit and vigour. We could say it was a Phoenix...