My city Sialkot

I did not want to leave Sialkot city. This was my home. I was born and brought up here. Why could not I, a Hindu, live in the Islamic State of Pakistan when there would be hundreds of thousands of Muslims residing in India? True, the religion was the basis of the partition. But then both the Congress and the Muslim League, the main political parties, had opposed the exchange of population. People could stay wherever they were. Then why on August 14, 1947, I was unwelcome at a place where my forefathers and their forefathers had lived for decades. Our family had other reasons to stay back. Most patients of my father, a medical practitioner, were Muslims. My best friend, Shafqat, with whom I had grown up, lived in Sialkot. At his mere wish I had tattooed on my right arm, the Islamic insignia, crescent and star. I was a graduate in Persian. Pakistan had declared Urdu as its official language with which I felt at home. We had a large property and a retinue of servants. Where would we go if we were to uproot ourselves? Then our spiritual guardian was there. It was not a superstition but our faith that the grave in our back garden was that of a Pir who protected us and guided the family whenever it faced troubles. How could we leave the Pir? The grave was our refuge. We always found relief there. Our Maa, whenever harassed or after her quarrel with our father, ran to the grave for solace. We, three brothers and one sister, bowed before the Pir every Thursday in reverence and lit an earthen lamp. It was our temple. People of Sialkot were mild, austere and tolerant. They were cast in a different mould. Our religions or positions in life did not distance us from one another. We numbered about a lakh, 70 percent Muslims and 30 percent Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. As far as I could remember, we had never experienced tension, much less communal riots. Our festivals, Diwali, Holi or Eid, were joint and most of us walked together in mourning on the Moharram Day. Even our businesses depended on our cooperative effort. There was a mixture of owners and workers from both communities. Sport goods were the main industry and many labourers worked at home with their family to meet the order, given peace meal. Manufacturing surgical instruments was another vocation which engaged many. Such works had brought us together " Hindus and Muslims " in a common endeavour. Yet, we had Hindus and Muslim mohallas, not by name but by the categorisation of population of both communities. Some people belonging to one community lived in the habitation of the other. Many houses shared common wall. It exhibited a sense of accommodation. Even in other parts of the city, there was normal activity, people did not know " nor did they care " who was Muslim or who was Hindu. Women moved freely, a few in burqa, some in thick chaddar but most with just a dupatta, a mere scarf-like cloth. Every day was like any day and business was usual. Even at height of agitation over the demand for Pakistan, Sialkot did not experience any tension. Probably, there were two or three processions like the ones the Congress party had. There was burst of happiness when Pakistan came into being. The Muslim population was at the top of the world. Sikhs depressed. Yet there was no tension, not even a twinge of enmity. We spoke the same Punjabi. The Punjabi we spoke in Sialkot had a peculiar accent. I discovered this when I met Nawaz Sharif, then chief minister, for the first time at Delhi after partition. It took him no time to tell me that I was from Sialkot. He said that the way in which I spoke Punjabi had a distinctive twang, a kind of accent, which was confined to the Sialkotees. But why only I, subcontinent's two great Urdu poets, Muhammed Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who were from Sialkot, spoke Punjabi in the same way. I had heard Iqbal one day at his mohalla, Imambara where Shafqat had taken me. I was a child then and I never went near him out of fear. Even otherwise I would not have approached him at that time because he was speaking angrily in Punjabi. All that I remembered about him was his huge girth, sitting on a stringed charpai(cot) which almost touched the ground because of his weight. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the other renowned Urdu poet, became a good friend but after partition we never met in Sialkot. Probably the best in the Sialkotees flourished outside Sialkot. Faiz spoke Punjabi with the Sialkotee's accent. He was touchy about his Urdu pronunciation and gave up Urdu poetry for some time to switch over to Punjabi. He told me once that he did so because the Urdu circles made fun of his pronunciation. His much-talked trip to Lucknow was when he went there to meet a poet, Majaz, who would say ji han (yes please), in response while Faiz replied han ji, han ji', the typical way of Punjabis to say 'yes'. Poets are primarily saints. But saints are real saints. Our city had honoured the visit of Guru Nanak Dev, founder of Sikh religion, to Sialkot. He was on his way to Medina and by building a Gurdwara stopped at our city for a night. Scores of years before partition, Puran Bhagat, a well-known devotee, came to our city and healed many patients. We had dug a well in his memory. The city had also its ugly side. A dutiful son, Sharvan Kumar, became defiant when he entered Sialkot. He asked his blind parents, whom he had hauled across India for months, to pay him for his labour. Yet the city's innate goodness asserted itself at the time of partition. Some tension was natural before the announcement of the Radcliffe Boundary Award " delineating lines between India and Pakistan. But there was not a single incident of violence. Even otherwise, everyone had taken it for granted that Sialkot would be part of Pakistan. The Jain mohalla in the heart of the city did not go to sleep for nights. Its fears were allayed when the Muslim localities surrounding the mohalla assured protection. By then Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, had made the famous statement: "You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed " that has nothing to do with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens of one state. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is a personal faith of each individual but in political sense as citizens of the state." The categorical assurance made all the difference. Already vacillating, this made up our mind. We decided to stay back at Sialkot. Once again material comforts had a lot to do with our decision. My two brothers had yet to finish their medical studies, although I had earned the law degree from Lahore. The writer is a former member of the Indian Parliament and senior political analyst E-mail:

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