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  • Ramanjit Singh

Our Loss Is Immeasurable


With the passage of time, as the year 1947 is becoming a distant memory, so is the geographic and historical awareness of the various Punjabi cities and towns that were once so familiar to the pre-Partition generation. Most of us have lost the proximity, the cultural and social relationships that were once so vibrant between these various cities and towns of western Punjab. And I believe the same is true for the people on the other side who also have lost all the historical links they once had with eastern Punjab.

Centuries of settlement and migration within Punjab created a rich diversity of people belonging to different religions and castes all coexisting under one Punjab province till the time of Partition. They lived together, they worked and did business together, they were farmers, they were government employees, they were teachers, they were artisans and shop owners, they were wrestlers and money lenders, they were singers and soldiers. They celebrated each other's festivals. Their homes, their mosques, their gurdwaras, their temples were interspersed in a complex social mosaic that had evolved and matured over centuries. Their lifestyles were so interwoven that once upon a time Muslim rababis sang Shabad Kirtan at Darbar Sahib, Amritsar. Sikhs and Hindus payed homage to Hazrat Mian Mir's dargah at Lahore.

It is this Punjabi identity / شناخت / ਪਛਾਣ that was lost in 1947.

And this loss is immeasurable.

It is said that after Partition, author and diplomat Sardar Khushwant Singh of Hadali used to go to Delhi's Khan Market to talk to shop owners in chaste Lahori who like him had also migrated from Lahore. It was his desire to relive his roots, to talk to his people in a language that he grew up with, it was an attempt to deal with the shock of losing one's home, one's heritage, of losing centuries worth of life-experiences that all of a sudden got destroyed during Partition.

The splintering of populations removed the necessary prerequisites of secular free thinking, sharing of ideas, and cultural appreciation that created the cosmopolitan Lahore. Great artists such as Noor Jahan of Kasur, Mohammad Rafi of Amritsar, the Kapoors of Samundari, Yusuf Khan urf Dilip Kumar of Peshawar, Anand Bakshi of Rawalpindi, Balraj Sahni of Rawalpindi, Sunil Dutt of Jhelum, Dev Anand of Shakargarh, Rajendra Kumar of Sialkot, Yash Chopra of Lahore, Pran of Lahore and so many others were starting their careers at a time when Lahore was the cultural capital of India. They were singers, actors, poets, and film makers who, at the time before Partition, made Lahore the epicenter of Indian cinema. After Partition however, this cultural powerhouse of a city lost its cosmopolitan spirit, it lost its creativity, it lost its artists, the very people who were making this city great. India's largest film studio at the time, Dalsukh Pancholi's Pancholi Art Pics was in Lahore.

And this loss is immeasurable.

Another consequence of Partition, which hits close to my heart, is the loss of Urdu language and the loss of Sufi culture from eastern Punjab. The void of not knowing Urdu or be able to read the stories of Waris Shah in its original form is a great loss to the generations born after 1947. Urdu remained the lingua franca of united Punjab. The fact that Daata Ganj Baksh of Lahore is one of the most venerated Saints of Punjab or when Maharaja Ranjit Singh used to lead a procession to mark the urs (death anniversary) of the Punjabi poet and Sufi saint Shah Hussain during the three-day annual festival of Chiraghan Wala Mela is hardly known to most people in east Punjab. Our loss is not just about the land across Ravi, it is the loss of shared history that enriched us for centuries. Our Saints and Gurus were common to all us and not just to one community.

And this loss is immeasurable.

Most of the cities in central Punjab exist within a 50 to 80 mile radius (80 Km to 128 Km).

Sheikhupura is north-west of Lahore. From Amritsar it's about 75 Km.

Nankana Sahib is south-west of Lahore. From Jullundur it's about 107 Km.

Gujranwala is north-west of Lahore. From Amritsar it's about 79 Km.

Kasur is north-west of Ferozepur. It's about 20 Km from Ferozepur.

Lyallpur is slightly north-west of Ludhiana. It's about 125 Km from Amritsar.

Sargodha is about 260 Kms from Ludhiana.

These lines drawn from one city to the other is not just to show you the proximity or the geographic distance between the different locations but it is to realize the fact that for centuries people travelled between these cities and towns to work, to get married, to do business, to attend festivals and fairs, to visit dargahs and temples, to sell grain and cattle, to live as one Punjabi society, imperfect but peaceful, burdened by history but modernizing, secular but at the same time religious. A society that celebrated Eid and Baisakhi, a society that was shackled by the British but still always remained unabashedly true to its individualism, remained true to its confidence infusing spirit.

And this loss is immeasurable.


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