“Jis Lahore nai vekhya, oh jameya hi nahi (one who has not seen Lahore has not been born),” wrote the playwright Asghar Wajahat.
For Dr Kewal Dheer (81), a retired medical practitioner from Ludhiana who was born in Lahore, the Pakistan city and nine years of his childhood spent there, is a reminder of the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh harmony. The city also ignites in him the brutal yet heartwarming memory of a Muslim couple that gave up life to save two Hindus during pre-partition riots.
With this and several other anecdotes, observations and historical facts about Lahore, Dheer who has visited the city at least 15 times, released his book – ‘Main Lahore Hoon’, here Sunday.
The author who has 105 other books to his credit, mostly in Urdu, describes the effort as an ode to the city from its ‘Indian son’ who was born there and a tribute to the Muslim couple who were brutally murdered by the rioters when they hid Dheer and his father during riots in Gaggo Mandi of Lahore in 1947.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Dheer says, “I was born in Lahore in 1938. my father Hansraj Dheer was a doctor. We migrated to India during Partition. But the nine years I spent there gave me the most brutal and heart rending memory and those scenes still float in front of my eyes. My father had a Muslim assistant Abdul Karim, a newly married man. He and his wife were brutally murdered by the rioters when they tried to save me and my father from them. A Muslim couple gave up their lives to save us. It makes me think how can people still divide us as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.”
Dheer remembers Karim and his wife had hid them in fields for at least 13 days. “When rioters came to know that we are hiding in the fields, the couple took us to their home. The rioters attacked there too and the couple blocked their way on the gate saying there was no one inside. They were murdered. Soon military came and we were rescued,” he remembers. “We do not even know if their bodies were given a peaceful burial or not…,” he adds. “They died for us..”
Dheer says that people in India who have never been to Lahore would be able to see the historic city through his eyes in the book in which he has described its journey and transformation from being Loharpur to Lahore.
An incident that still gives him goosebumps is that of an old Hindu woman who refused to leave Lahore despite her son moving out and was cremated as per Hindu rituals by local Muslims. “These are the bonds that both countries still share and that is what makes me believe that Lahore is my own city.”
Dheer added that the work to translate the 300-page book in Urdu for readers in Pakistan has already started and is expected to be complete by October when he plans to visit the neighbouring country.
“It is a memoir in which I have tried to cover Lahore from every aspect. From Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s ancestral village to that of playwright Saadat Hasan Manto; Hindu temples, havelis, sufism, Salim-Anarkali, music, melodies, food- there is hardly any aspect left out in the book about Lahore of undivided India..,” he says.
And since some bonds never die, no matter the distances or differences- Dheer waits for Raksha Bandhan every year when Pak-based novelist Bushra Rahman sends him ‘raakhi’ – a ritual going on since 32 years. “Without her raakhi, the festival remains incomplete for me,” he adds.