Lahore to Delhi : Synopsis

This 300-page book covers the period 1930 to 2007 and takes you into the world of an ordinary middle class Punjabi in India. It brings alive how the political environment of the time impacted the every day lives of people as India moved towards Independence. The author, Pran Seth spent the first twenty–two years of his life in India which is now called Pakistan. Born in the old city of Lahore, he witnessed the Independence movement take shape and then succeed under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Well before he was twenty, he became a budding journalist and followed the rise of Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the demand for a separate homeland for Muslims. The author gives his analysis of the leaders of the time and the events which led to the partition of India.

At the same time, Seth paints a very honest and at times hilarious picture of the social set-up in a typical Hindu ‘mohalla’ (locality) in the heart of Lahore. The challenge for a young man to complete his University studies in the context of the major events taking place around him while living in this social environments are brought home to the reader. The mayhem which accompanied the bifurcation of the country is well-known. Seth describes events of that time as he saw and experienced them – both in his professional capacity as well as the effect on his own family and locality in Lahore.

Seth arrived in Delhi as a refugee but had a young man’s optimism and chose to see this move as an opportunity. He began his life in free India as a journalist and thus covered many of the major events that the new Indian Government had to grapple with. He saw and reported on the aggression on Kashmir. He sat at the feet of Mahatma Gandhi in his prayer meetings daily till he died at the hands of an assassin. Hyderabad followed almost at the same time and the author rushed to the scene to write about the story. In recalling those events, Seth manages to convey how they were not some distant historical events but very personal experiences which generated pride in the new India emerging larger than what had been inherited from the British after ceding Pakistan.

At another point in the author’s eventful life, he worked with the Punjab Government in Shimla in their Public Relations Department. Seth had to opportunity to observe closely how the East Punjab Government handled the problem of refugee rehabilitation. He recollects with utmost honesty and admiration, the efforts of the key administrators to manage this most colossal of assignments - the rehabilitation of over 5 million people at one go. Seth’s career then moved into marketing India to overseas visitors. In this capacity the author was posted at various times to USA, Germany and Japan. Seth lived for fifteen years in these countries trying to sell India as a tourist destination and in doing so he met a cross-section of people. He brings out the lighter and brighter side of these countries as well as their limited understanding of India. He also presents from his own experience some of the challenges of trying to be innovative as a public servant in highly bureaucratic times.

This is a book which is vast in scope and highly varied in the topics it covers and yet united by the fact that it reflects the varied life of an ordinary refugee for whom partition brought extraordinary opportunities.

The book is a must read for anyone with an interest in the extraordinary times before and after India’s independence; the many descendants of Punjabi refugees who want a peek into the lives of their parents or grandparents prior to partition; and also students of Indian tourism who want to understand how the task of marketing India began.