In 1977, I got an opportunity to see Lahore again through an official visit. The United Nations has a wing called the World Tourism Organization WTO (Now the name has changed to UNWTO) with headquarters in Madrid (Spain) and six Commissions. One of these Commissions deals with South Asia and it was meeting in Lahore. I was fortunate to be nominated as the only Indian delegate by the Government of India to represent the country. It was a God-sent opportunity for me to rediscover my place of birth, Lahore.

The meeting lasted for two days only. The theme was how to promote international tourism to the countries of South Asia and the allied question of how to promote regional tourism among the member countries. The Member countries included among others India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives.

There were the endless speeches and discussions but this Forum could not solve the basis prerequisite to any growth of tourism. Tourism needs peace and stability to grow and this region had few areas of peace and stability. India and Pakistan alone had already fought three wars in thirty years. India was still recovering from the Indo-Pak war of 1971 when a new country Bangladesh took shape. Pakistan was yet not reconciled to the ground realities of losing to India and the surrender of its ninety-thousand soldiers and its other half becoming a sovereign country. But Pakistan leaders seemed reconciled to their new 'homogeneous' state. Bengalis to Pakistanis were as foreign as Burmese or Thais in language or culture. They hated Bengalis.

Although the discussions on tourism promotion to each other's country did not take us very far, it did not hurt to explore ways and means to promote travel especially between India and Pakistan and to establish mutual trust. We were able to explore ways and means to simplify travel which helped to some extent though marginally. Travel between India and Pakistan is subject to abrupt ups and downs depending on the political situation between the two nations. That is why India, for some time, had stopped counting Pakistani visitors as tourists because one year their number would touch half a million and another year go down to one hundred thousand or even less – most of them visiting relatives. Now India counts them as tourists.

After the WTO meeting, I asked my hosts if they could arrange for me to visit my old house in the Shah-Alami Gate. They were very kind and sent an official to escort and help me find the exact place as most of the areas within Shah-Alami Gate were destroyed by fire during partition. My particular area was saved as it was slightly away from the Main Bazaar of Shah-Alami Gate which was the worst affected.

The Shah-Alami Gate is one of the thirteen Gates of the city and named after Shah Alam, a successor to Emperor Aurangzeb who had a very brief stint as an emperor. The devastating fire in the area prior to partition had destroyed most Hindu homes. However, the original massive Shah-Alami Gate built of small red bricks was intact as I had left it thirty years ago. Just like before partition, there were also the familiar vendors as well as beggars beneath its tall walls – and boiled eggs for sale. I used to buy them as snacks as a boy.

Houses had been rebuilt on their old foundations changing very little. The main road leading to the city had been widened. The old familiar landmarks like a popular public well had vanished, causing me some confusion. I was looking for a street called Jaurey Mori where my small lane named Kucha Patnian was located. Or, another street called Kucha Berian (Kucha stands for street). No one in the area seemed to know them. My escort was a great help in putting people at ease as towhat and why we were looking for these areas. Curiosity about strangers is part of Punjabi psyche and it had always been easy to collect a crowd in Lahore. In our College days we played pranks with people by suddenly stopping in the middle of the street and looking at the sky. We would just say – it is right there – a new star! People would gather and start looking with us in the same direction. Some of them even nodded as if they too noticed what was in the sky. Obviously, this aspect of Lahore had not changed – in fact, gained strength.

An elderly gentleman who was of pre-partition vintage had a pretty good idea and directed me towards an area which looked like a cattle shed with many cows, buffaloes, sheep and dogs around. The street was wet with leaking public taps and toilets and lot of garbage scattered around. Encouraged by my escort, I moved on till we met a person who was actually a resident of Kucha Patnian where I used to live! On my giving him the description of our 'newly built Haveli in 1946', he recognized it . and asked me, “ Is your mother's name Gyan Devi?” I was stunned to hear the name of my mother from this Pakistani stranger but also curious about how he knew my mother's name. He smiled and said in an enigmatic way, “We will tell you all this when you enter your old house”.

We were immediately joined by a few other onlookers who accompanied us to the lane. It turned out my new Pakistani friend was named Ahmed and lived next to my old home which was still called Sethan-di-Haveli – Seths’ Mansion. Together with him, I entered Kucha Patnian and lo and behold, my old house was very much there! The house had never been repainted after we left and it now looked like a very old building. The yellow paint which we had chosen for the outer walls of the house, though faded, was still visible. I could see my room on the ground floor where I used to sleep and study as a student. The red cemented flooring was the same and even the chair where I sat had not been removed.

The word had gone round in the neighbourhood that the owners of Sethan-di-Haveli were in town. Virtually everyone came on to their balconies and craned their necks to get a look at me. In the four storeys of my old house, there now lived three families with a total of 25 or more men, women and children. The house-holders too came down to meet us.

An elderly gentleman, who introduced himself as Salim, told me that he lived on the ground and first floor with his family and took me in. Instantly a cold Pepsi was in my and my escort's hands. My escort told them the purpose of my visit in very polite language and explained that I (pointing towards me) lived here till the age of twenty and was now a senior officer of the Government of India and had come to Pakistan as a guest of the Pakistan Government on an official visit and was keen to see where he grew up.

It created a good impression and pleasantries became warmer. I was offered something to eat along with the soft drink which I politely declined. I told them that I was enjoying the Pepsi as we did not get this in India. The Indian government had banned Pepsi and Coke and replaced them with a local brand - called 77. It was an August morning and a warm house with so many people around. Fortunately, the fan installed by us at the time of construction, was still working.

I was more curious to know how the gentleman, who met me outside the lane, knew the name of my mother. In reply, a lot of voices joined, “Sir, we have known your mother from the lady called Mehran, who is now old. Mehran had worked as scavenger in this street well before the partition days. Apparently, your mother had been very generous, kind and helpful to her and she has been telling us stories of her generosity. “Your mother extended her loans and never charged interest. She gave her brand new clothes and shoes. She repeated these tales so many times that we all remember the name of your mother.” Now I understood the reason.

Yes, I knew my mother was generous to all poor people but the scavenger lady was somewhat exaggerating my mother's virtues. She probably wanted to make an impression on the new occupants of the house and set the rules on how they should behave .

Having talked about my mother's generosity, they wanted to know where I now lived and what I did to make a living. They were also deeply interested about how we coped with the life after partition. I told them honestly that my family had escaped to Hardwar before the riots and fires broke out in Shah Alami Gate area and that we did not lose any member of the family during partition chaos excepting our house and other belongings. And, since my brothers had either completed their education or were on their way to do that, rehabilitation in Delhi was not very difficult. Only one of my brothers had moved to Jalandhar as he had got a job there with a newspaper.

In response, they started telling their own stories, the fact that they were originally from Amritsar and butchers by profession. They were now also engaged in the same or allied occupations. Everyone was talking and each of them had questions to ask me about what was happening in India. What would be the fate of Indira Gandhi who had been just defeated in the polls? How were the Muslims in India being treated? The new occupants were refugees from the Indian side. They had concerns and misgivings on the basis of very hostile and critical reports on India in the Pakistani press. During my seven days in Pakistan, newspapers were full of stories of atrocities on Muslims in India. God knows how these stories were manufactured as India, at that time, was totally at peace and there was no communal strife anywhere in the country.

The focus shifted to Zulfakar Ali Khan Bhutto who was already in jail and the threat of execution was looming large on the head of the poor Prime Minister of Pakistan. My sympathies were with him (though I certainly did not voice any opinion there). The new dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq had created a tremendous anti-India atmosphere on Kashmir, introduced strict Islamic laws against petty crimes especially against women who were unfaithful to their spouses. My interaction with the journalists at the official tourism meet had convinced me that the local people were very hurt after the defeat of the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan and India capturing 90,000 prisoners of war. It had hurt their Islamic pride and the new dictator was trying his best to keep the hate-India campaign on the high . The journalists who sought me out wanted to know about Indira Gandhi and her fate after her defeat in the general elections. They had hated Indira Gandhi for defeating Pakistan and wanted her to be dumped in the dustbin of history.

However, in this house, I avoided any discussion with my audience by telling them that Indian democracy was alive and kicking and Indian industry and agriculture were doing well and told them Indira Gandhi may again be elected to become the Prime minister .

They were not pleased.

Thereafter, I took out my camera, opened its shutters and showed my eagerness to 'shoot' them all, with my camera. They were apparently happy to be photographed and started re-arranging their clothes and the younger among them took out their combs to reset their hair. I took a few minutes to take their pictures in groups and some of the elderly ones alone or in very small groups. I promised to send them the copies which I did.

Later, I moved outside the house and photographed the exterior of the house and the neighbourhood. After finishing my photography, I wanted to take leave. By now, we had become a very friendly and congenial group and some of them hugged me one by one and extended the invitation to visit again .

I agreed to revisit them with a smile and told my escort to move on.

In the main Bazaar, we made another attempt to locate Kucha Berian where I was born and to re-discover my childhood memories. But, no one seemed to have a clue. I got the feeling that Kucha Berian was perhaps destroyed in the fire and if it was not, it had acquired a new name.

I had a luncheon appointment. I bade good-bye to Shah Alami Gate and ventured to our meeting place in a restaurant.

In the matter of food, I had no major problems as I ate virtually everything (except beef) but I loved my vegetable dishes. The only problem in the Lahore that I re-visited, was that there was no pure vegetarian item. Even the lowly Dal was often mixed with or decorated with minced meat. The Chanas which were available in every restaurant were topped with minced meat again. To get a pure vegetarian dish I had to tell them either to remove the meat decoration or to create a new dish. They readily obliged once they knew that I was an Indian and a Hindu.

In the afternoon, I gave up the official vehicle and hired a taxi to visit places which were still fresh in my mind – even after thirty years. The first thing on my mind was the Garden known as Lawrence Garden of Lahore (now renamed Bagh-e-Jinnah). As a college student, this was where I used to go every evening for a walk to meet old friends and make new acquaintances. My memories went back to those old friends, both Hindu and Muslim. Some were lost for ever and some of us were now on opposite sides of the border. The Lawrence Garden looked to me larger and greener. I walked on the well-known Simla Pahari – an artificial hillock created in the garden. I saw the Oval in the Central Park where international cricket matches were played in my time. Lahore used to be the hub of India’s cricket. The Indian team included some well known players of our time like Lala Amarnath – who was a popular figure in undivided Punjab. I now saw young Pakistani boys playing cricket in various corners of the Park as much as it used to be in the past. The British Club which used to be there at the end of the Garden was no more. Instead a new library called the Quaid-e-Aazam Library had been established.

Life in the new Bagh-e-Jinnah (old Lawrence Garden) did not look any different from my days. I decided to revisit the Park in the morning. It was the same. There were quite a lot of morning walkers except that I did not see any female face – covered or uncovered. The Park seemed to be reserved for men only in the morning. The boys were already there playing cricket. Most people talked in Punjabi but the Punjabi was often mixed with Urdu, the new national language of Pakistan.

In 1947, the Government of Pakistan had declared Urdu the national language of Pakistan even though less than 10% of the population identified it as their mother tongue. The majority in Pakistan were Bengali speaking and the rest spoke Punjabi, Sindhi or Pashto.

Despite these ground realities, in 1948, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Liaqat Ali Khan declared, “Pakistan is a Muslim state and it must have its lingua-franca, a language of the Muslim nation. Pakistan has been created because of demand of hundred million Muslims in the sub-continent, and the language of hundred million Muslims is Urdu. It is necessary for a nation to have one language and that language can only be Urdu and no other ”

This was enforced in all parts of the country including East Bengal which was Bengali speaking. The Bengalis protested but the Federal Government based in Karachi did not bother. Repressive measures were taken leading to ultimate transformation of East Pakistan into Bangladesh, a new sovereign country. Even Punjabi language in Pak-Punjab was taught and written in Persian script. The Gurumukhi script was hardly known to the Muslims.

The Lahore I revisited still had a few English daily newspapers. The old war-horse, The Dawn (set up by Mohamed Ali Jinnah well before partition to propagate the goals of Muslim League) was still there. Pakistan Times, a new paper established after partition had closed. Among the new dailies were the News, the Nation and Daily Times. There were a large number of Urdu papers now. The prices of newspapers and magazines were relatively higher than in India and the number of pages much less. The Indian newspapers, I believe, have more advertising revenues than their Pakistani counterparts. (In 2007, I learnt that the English newspapers in Pakistan sold for 15 to 20 rupees a piece against the price of Rs.2 or 3 in India.)

My next important stop was the great Fort of Lahore which I used to pass by every day as I cycled from home to the river Ravi. I seldom saw the inside of the Lahore Fort during my days in Pakistan before partition but now I was keen to see it closely. Built by the great Mughals, the Lahore Fort is a city within a city where people retreated when enemy attacked. The Fort rises above the city, an impressive complex of buildings surrounded by high walls and bastions. It was like other familiar forts in Delhi and Agra and also built by Moghul kings.

The Lahore Fort had its usual Dewan-e-Khas and Dewan-e-Aam. The former to meet foreign envoys and ambassadors and the elite of the town and the latter to hold court for the common people. The Diwan-e-Khas is still an elegant place but the Diwan-e-Aam looked like an abandoned courtyard.

From the elegant intimacy of Dewan-e-Khas, I had an overview of the city of Lahore – its walls, some Gates and the new monuments of the new state of Pakistan. On the one side was the Minar-e-Pakistan, a new monument built to commemorate the establishment of Pakistan. The monument looked more like a futuristic minaret or even a ballistic missile. It is surrounded by a big public Park for people to come and relax. Outside the Lahore Fort is a massive area, called the Parade Ground, where Hindus and Sikhs used to celebrate the annual Dussehra Festival. It was the place where the most popular Dussehra was staged. The effigies were set up many days before the Dussehra and were the centre of attraction for children. Having grown up to boyhood, I always made it a point to attend the big Dussehra at the Parade Ground. After the burning of the effigies, we tried to get a slice of the structure of the effigies – perhaps a burnt piece of wood as a souvenir from Dussehra and bought home some sugar canes too as these were considered auspicious.

I saw the Sheesh Mahal in the Fort. It was here where young Anarkali, a favourite consort of the Emperor Akbar, is believed to have given a glad eye to Salim, the son and heir-apparent of the mighty Emperor. Akbar noticed the treachery of his consort reflected in the glass walls of the Palace and ordered that Anarkali be buried alive. The orders were executed, leaving young Salim heart-broken. Later, when Salim assumed the throne of Hindustan, he ordered the construction of a magnificent hexagonal Tomb over the spot where Anarkali was buried alive. A marble gravestone is inscribed with a Persian verse which says,

Ah, could I behold the face of my beloved once more, I would give thanks unto my God until the day of resurrection.”

This was signed by the 'profoundly enamoured Salim, the son of Akbar.' Anarkali is now commemorated by the most famous street of Lahore, known for its shopping attractions. The Tomb is not far from this street and lies inside the civil Secretariat of Punjab Government .

Right opposite the Fort is the massive Badshahi Masjid again built by the great Mughals. The mosque was reputed to be one of the largest in undivided India and it is the largest in Pakistan. Here thousands of believers kneel down and pray to God. It is an enormous sandstone and marble building. As I entered, it was almost deserted except for some people who looked like homeless beggars. I was dressed in western clothes and perhaps looked like a foreigner. Suddenly an old man with a golf cap appeared on the scene, bowed and asked me “Are you an American? Where do you come from?” He was keen to ask many questions. As I hesitated, he became even more curious.

Then he asked me, “Do you want a guide? I will be your guide, okay, young man?” He flattered me. I was nearing middle age at that time. I had left my escort outside and was alone. Not sure of the reaction if I told him that I was an Indian, I remained silent.

Then as I saw my escort walking towards me, I became bolder and told him - “No, I am your neighbour, an Indian who once lived in this city and who was born here, not far from this place.”

The old man was perplexed and added, “You look like an American – I do not believe you are an Indian.”

“You better believe it,“ said my Pakistani escort, who was coming near me and thus ended the conversation.

In the same neighbourhood, was the Samadhi (memorial) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh located within the precincts of a massive Gurudwara. It used to be a popular place for Hindus and Sikh visitors. As a young lad, I loved coming to the Gurudwara to have a lavish bath on Sundays and holidays. Its wash room had many taps with water gushing out to please the bathers. It was a treat in summer months. But alas, the Gurudwara as well as the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was closed to visitors or tourists though a blue and saffron Sikh flag with two crossed swords was still flying symbolically.

My rediscovery of Lahore in the late seventies showed me a city which was the same as in my youth and yet totally changed in terms of population mix. It was now a very crowded city which had been affected by the population explosion like all other South Asian cities. The redeeming feature was that while it had considerably expanded in the last 30 years, it had retained its character of an an ancient city. Though the walls of the city were crumbling, the streets inside the walls retained the old ambience to the delight of old timers like me. The old ruins are visible in abundance but the city has also flourished during the decades. It has not lost its character and old monuments have been generally well-preserved excepting the Hindu and Sikh temples.

The Anarkali Bazaar that I revisited was not the same. It appeared to me to be a replica of the Chandni Chowk of Delhi, perhaps even more crowded. It was no longer the destination of young College students for a leisurely walk. It was a very busy commercial centre where it was not easy to walk except by rubbing shoulders with fellow pedestrians. It was no longer a place where you held a glass of lassi in hand and stood for fifteen minutes to sip it slowly. In any case, neither the lassi shop of Bhagwan Singh nor the KESARI shop of soft drinks now existed. We used to sit for hours to drink one soft drink to relax.

The street was virtually littered with two wheelers and bicycles on both sides of the road. Every fifty yards or so, we came across a gully which let you enter another street with smaller shops on both sides where barely two people could walk together. These wholesale and retail shops seemed to sell everything on earth, from ladies suits and bras to hair clips and cosmetics. The shops were doing roaring business and the shoppers did not seem to mind the pushing! Indian connections were evident with the presence of Delhi Muslim Hotel, Lucknow Perfumes or Ambala Shoe House. There were many saree shops but they mainly sold Salwar Kameez outfits which was the new trend in Pakistan. Hardly any saree was on display.

Having got tired of walking, I sat down at a snack shop to have my favourite Chana Bhatura. The Pakistani version of Chanas tasted the same - excepting that they had decorated them with some minced meat. The Pakistanis seemed obsessed with meat as it was difficult to find any dish without a dash of meat. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the food while eavesdropping on the interesting conversations of the other customers in the shop,

My journey to Lahore was exciting and interesting. There was no irritation. There were no barriers excepting that the Army could be seen everywhere. Walking in the streets alone, no one noticed that I was a 'foreigner'. We all looked the same.

I was told of a well known Punjabi folk poet, Ustad Daman, who quipped,

Pakistan Diyan Maujan e Maujan

Charon Passe edhe Faujan hi Faujan!”

Pakistan is in a state of ecstasy,

In every corner there is an army unit”

Needless to say, the poet was jailed soon after.