The Girl from Rawalpindi
The road is certainly leading to Lahore. What with the premiers of the two countries only too eager to hitch the inaugural joy ride to and fro. The past fifty and one years, it has been the lure of Lahore which has haunted the nostalgia of the migrants of the partitioned Punjab. Being the cultural capital of the pre-1947 Punjab, it has remained a symbol of togetherness. The oft-quoted lament, Jis Lahore nahi vekhea, Oh janmea nai (He who has not seen Lahore is not born), drew condescending smiles. But those who had to flee this city on the banks of the Ravi are perhaps the only ones who can truly feel the loss. Ask the Bengalis what would have been there lot if Calcutta had gone to the other side, and they understand. Lahore was the Punjabis' Calcutta.
But I happen to know someone who never thought much of Lahore. She was a girl from Raw-alpindi married to a man from Lahore. And what a comedown it was for her. Why? It's linked to anthropological linguistics. Punjab has these broad geographical, cultural andlinguistic divisions. Raw-alpindi falls in the supposedly superior position of being at the foothills in the area known as Pothoar, while Lahore is in the mainland of Majha just as Amritsar is. Never mind Lahore with its Kinnaird College, Panjab University, film studios, theatres, famed Anarkali Bazar and ill-famed Hira Mandi, this our girl from Rawalpindi had many prejudices against Lahore and Lahoris.For one, folks in her part of Punjab were fairer, taller, better-spoken, and more cultured. So she said. While people came all the way from Rawalpindi to shop at Lahore, she preferred Pindi's Moti Bazar. She remained loyal to her dialect of Pothoari and always said, ``Just hear these Lahoris speak, it's like they're hurling stones at you.'' The sari-wearing middle-class women of Lahore put her off. Most of them spent the daytime in just a blouse and petticoat and wrapped around a sari only when it was time for the men to come home from work. She came from parts where it had to be a salwar so wide that itcovered an entire clothes line. When worn it fell in graceful and modest fold upon fold. The Lahorans, according to her, were lazy. They bought fried savouries from hawkers. The Pothoarans were so kitchen-proud, cooking the most delicious dish of saag, curds, gram flour with just half a handful of rice thrown in. And who could beat their tandoor-fresh rotis of yeast-risen flour. They'd just melt in the mouth with white home-made butter.
With so superior a background she queened over the lesser creatures of Lahore who made up her husband's huge family of brothers and sisters, their children and relatives. A dig or two at her for the Pothoari being smooth talkers and much too clever would be made, but she retained her status of the faithful wife, ideal aunt, fond mother, caring sister-in-law. Each role she played out with immense ease. Now to understand the Pothoar girl, one has to go all the way to a poem written by Punjabi poet Mohan Singh. Called Kudhi Pothoar di (Girl from Pothoar) it describes the loveat first sight the poet feels for the tall, well-made lass trying to cross a bubbling brook with a bundle on her head. He goes to her and offers help. She hands him the bundle, holds his hand, smiles. But when she gets to the other end, she takes her bundle and wishes goodbye to the besotted man saying, ``May you live long, my BROTHER.'' Such is the guile, the simpler folks of Lahore never learnt.
The lass in the poem could well be the girl I happen to know. My mother. Now in her mid-eighties, she can no longer speak her sweet dialect. A paralytic stroke left her bed-ridden and bereft of speech. But she still smiles and queens from the bed with her so sure and superior an air. And when I am asked of my origins, I say, ``My father was from Lahore...'' But am quick to add, ``My mother's from Rawalpindi.''