From Lahore in 1955 to Mohali in 2005

Ishtiaq Ahmed

Date:08-03-05

Source: Daily Times

I remember strangers were walking around in our locality of Mozang, some standing in front of houses and shops. Some of them had beards and turbans but most looked like our own elders. Some of them were crying and our own elders would embrace them and also start crying

Fifty year ago an India-Pakistan cricket Test match was played at the Lahore Gymkhana ground in the Lawrence Gardens. That match is still strongly etched on the eye of my mind. I was then a small boy, not yet eight. I remember sitting near the boundary line and an Indian player fielding very close to us. His name was peculiar: Punjabi.

We were all Punjabis so how could one have Punjabi as a name? I had wondered. Some people were talking to him and the atmosphere was very pleasant, but tense: Our Merry Maqsood was on 99. Suddenly there was uproar, ‘Howazzat?’ and before anybody really understood what had happened, Maqsood was seen walking away from the crease.

The Lahore crowd was stunned and suddenly everything became solemn, like a funeral gathering. We all felt shattered as we walked back home. I suppose I could not have grasped the enormity of the tragedy of getting out one short of a Test century, but I did sense that something terrible had happened. The next day, newspapers reported that a man died of a heart-attack when the commentator announced on the radio that Masqood had been stumped at 99.

Fifty years later as I prepared to write this column for today, March 8, which is the first day of the Mohali Test match, it was time to check the records of those four days when Lahore was in a festive mood. The records tell me that the 1954-55 India-Pakistan Test series comprised five Tests of four-day duration each. All four ended in draws. The Test played at Lahore was the third of the series. It was played on January 29, 30 and 31 and February 1. I learnt that Maqsood got out on the first day which was January 29. He was stumped by the Indian wicketkeeper Tamhane off a ball from the spinner, Gupte. The Indian player Punjabi had played as the opening batsman.

I just turned 58 the other day, on February 24 to be exact. My nostalgia bouts are now more frequent and last longer. Today I wanted to go back and sit at the same place at the old Gymkhana ground and watch that match again and talk to Punjabi but not see Maqsood get out on 99 again. But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Lahore and the Gymkhana ground and the Lawrence Gardens are still there and always will be. I visited them with a sense of pilgrimage only a few weeks ago when I was in Pakistan. But today I am sitting thousands of kilometres away in the northern suburb of Stockholm, Sollentuna, and of course this time round the match will not be played in Lahore but in Mohali: a name I had never heard before. I only learnt the other day that it is a suburb of the beautiful capital of the Indian Punjab and Haryana states, Chandigarh.

But something far more serious happened during those four days. I have a vivid recollection that it was a very different atmosphere: one that mixes joy with sadness and one can never really fathom its full effect. I remember strangers were walking around in groups in our locality of Mozang, some standing in front of houses and shops. Some of them had beards and turbans but most looked like our own elders. Some of them were crying and our own elders, Chaudrhi Sahib and Mian Sahib and Shahji and Sheikh Sahib and so many others, would embrace them and also start crying.

All this seemed unreal and strange because we had never seen grown men cry. I remember feeling perplexed. Somebody said the visitors were not strangers; they were the Hindus and Sikhs who had lived in our locality some years earlier before something happened, forcing them to leave their homes and shops and cross over to India. Many of our neighbours who lived in those homes now and ran those shops had crossed into Pakistan from India. But to be honest, my entire attention was taken up by the discussions between my elder brother and his friends about the cricket match. We just couldn’t get over the shock of Maqsood getting out at 99.

Now, when I checked cricket books and some newspaper cuttings from that time I learnt that in 1955 our high commissioner to India, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, had given visas to thousands of Indians to attend the match. How many actually attended the match and how many went visiting their ancestral abodes all over Lahore or did both, I really wouldn’t know. But the most intriguing thing about the episode was that for some reason such visitors never again came to Lahore and one almost forgot about those four days in 1955.

One day on September 6, 1965, we woke up to the thundering noise of a Pakistan Air Force F-104 as it flew at a dashing speed very low over our roofs. We learnt that the noise was caused not by a bomb but because the F-104 had broken the sound barrier. We were at war with India. Up until then I, like most other young men in Lahore, used to throng the cinemas to watch Indian movies. They all stopped being shown.

Then in December 1971 another war took place between India and Pakistan. We lost East Pakistan and blamed it entirely on India, not realising how unfairly we had treated our compatriots from East Pakistan. At any rate that trauma worsened the relations between our two states and indeed deepened the fears and anxieties of our two peoples.

This time in Mohali we are meeting again but not before in 2004 another historical visit to Pakistan of the Indian team and thousands of Indian spectators had brought the old animosity and bitterness to an end. They went back convinced that Lahore was truly the centre of the world when it comes to hospitality and generosity.

I am told that the Indians intend to defeat us not only on the cricket field at Mohali but also in hospitality. I am not sure if I want them to succeed in their first intention, but I challenge them to try and out-perform us in their second objective. Long live Punjabiyat (Punjabi-ness!).

The author is an associate professor of political science at Stockholm University. He is the author of two books. His email address is Ishtiaq.Ahmed@statsvet.su.se

 


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