Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities ---AMRITSAR- LAHORE

Amritsar and Lahore are the cities that had to bear the brunt of Partition. However, the cultural bond between Amritsaris and Lahoris remains as strong as ever, report -----------------By Rashmi Talwar (Amritsar)-------Bollywood-style movie posters dot the city of Lahore. — A Tribune photo It’s Magic: Street shows are popular both in Amritsar and Lahore.— Photo by Rashmi Talwar
Ajj Akhaan Waris Shah Noo Kitae Kabran Vichon Bole...” (Rise and speak up from the grave, Waris Shah). These most touching lines penned by Punjabi poetess, Amrita Pritam, portray the agony of women who fell victim to the communal frenzy on both sides of Wagah at the time of Partition. The agony of the two Punjabs (East and West), separated by Partition, continued to haunt Punjabis. However, the inseparable bond is likely to be revived with the much-talked-aboutAmritsar-Lahore Bus Service. Recalling the composite Punjabi culture ofPre-partition days, a Pakistani national, Ishtiaq Ahmad, says, “There was a time when Hindus would shower flowers on the Muharram procession, while Muslims flocked to the great Ram Leela festival held in the Minto Park behind the Badshahi Masjid, and took part in the Divali and Dussehra celebrations.” The legendary origins of Lahore can be traced to Lav or Loh, son of Lord Rama, the king of Ayodhya and hero of the Ramayana, the Hindu epic from the pre-historical period. Loh or Luv is still acknowledged as the founder of the city of Lahore even in the official website of Pakistan. UNESCO also recognises this fact in its information board located at Shahi Killa of Lahore where the shrine exists. Interestingly, Kasur in Pakistan was founded by Kush, the twin of Luv. Lahore became the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839) where Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims lived in communal harmony. For all lovers of Lahore, the announcement by the Nazim, Mian Amer Mahmood, that his “government” had decided not to go ahead with its idea to “make Lahore Islamic” by changing the names of 58 streets and roads that bear Hindu and Sikh names is a great relief indeed. Tourists from Amritsar would ‘relish’ the old names whenever they visit Lahore in the bus. The Amritsar-Lahore Bus Service may also throw light on the matchless contrasts and comparisons that join the two cities of Lahore and Amritsar in an everlasting bond. The thawing of tension between the two countries has rekindled the interest in the cultural affinity between the people of Lahore and Amritsar. Pakistani Hindus would love to visit Durgiana Mandir in Amritsar. The Bara Hanuman Prachin Mandir and the Banyan tree in the Durgiana Temple complex, Amritsar, also arouse the curiosity of those from Lahore. According to the Hindu mythology, Lord Hanuman was tied to the tree when he opposed the royal twins (who were the founders of the two cities that are now in Pakistan) and tried to prevent them from taking back the Ashvamedha horse. What is most heartening is that Lahore and Amritsar share a cultural affinity that cuts across the borders. Many Hindu customs like putting henna on hands and wearing bangles have percolated to the Muslim weddings across the border. Traditional festivals like Basant gave impetus to kite-flying nightlong competitions that have become a rage and obsession in Lahore, though the kite-flying has been denounced by many mullahs for its association with the Hindus and the Sikhs. Earlier, pigeons — the traditional folklore messengers — with their feathers smeared with Urdu stamps and couplets had brought cheer to Indian villages like Dauke (Amritsar), surrounded on three sides by Pakistan. Likewise, kites with portraits of Indian filmstars also brought thrill to the people of the neighbouring country. Pigeon-flying, once common in Amritsar, is still a craze in Lahore, where Indian breeds of pigeons like Rampuri, Ferozpuri and Jalandhari fetch a hefty amount. The sport was popular in both cities as were games like ram-fights, cock-fights and “lattu-bazzi”. Even the markets in both cities have some kind of uncanny similarity about them. Mr Ali Raza, a senior staff correspondent with “The News”, an English daily from Pakistan, while talking to The Tribune from across the border, says that there are many areas in Lahore that may be interesting for a visitor. For instance, a Landa Bazaar with the same name exists in Lahore and in Amritsar, selling goods from across the border. Interestingly, both bazaars are located near the respective railway stations of the two cities! The booming bazaars of Lahore like the Wholesale Market at Shah Alam where plastic goods, shoes, toys, perfumes, cosmetics, bakery items, utensils are sold remind an Indian visitor of the walled city markets. The Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore showcases readymade garments, including salwar-kameez. The “Paan Mandi” displays Indian paraphernalia like Banarsi sarees, “hajmola”, “paan masala”, “paan ka patta”, soaps etc. A bibliophile can get Urdu, Persian and Arabic books from the Urdu Bazaar. Liaquat Ali Butt and Tanveer Hussain, both from Lahore, say that while both countries are flooded with low-grade Chinese items, it is Indian goods that are liked in Pakistan and vice versa. People of Lahore find Indian banana, papaya, apples, and ginger better flavoured and these items are available there at half their price in India. While Lahore glitters with its gold market called “Suha Bazaar”, the “Guru Bazaar” in Amritsar is a nice shopping stop for jewellery buffs. Though there is not much difference in the prices of pulses and daals sold in Lahore’s Akbari Mandi and the markets of Amritsar, there are some pleasant surprises like fresh “kasuri methi” available in Lahore at merely Rs 5 per kilo or the famed Pakistani rock salt available there at Re I per kilo. A bicycle costs about Rs 1500 in India, while the lowest model of “Sohrab” cycle costs Rs 2500 in Lahore. A non vegetarian may find the best Punjabi cuisine at the Food Street of Gawalmandi and the Anarkali Bazaar. Among the best buys that a visitor can have here is a pair of the famed “Kasuri jutti” and this can be bought here at one-fourth of its price in Amritsar. The Hall Road in Lahore sells electrical appliances, while it namesake “Hall Bazaar” in Amritsar, too, sells the same. Mall culture Lahore boasts of three five-star hotels — Pearl Continental, Avari and Holiday Inn — at the Egertain road, besides posh Malls at Gulberg owned by cricketer Imran Khan, and a zoo and a race course, while Amritsar lags behind. Incidentally, most “C” grade hotels in Lahore are found near its railway station and bus stand, and the same is somewhat true for Amritsar. The Western influence has caught on more in Lahore with Mc Donald, KFC, Pizza Hut and posh restaurants like Village, Buffet, Ziafat and Smoke (located at Gulberg and the MM Alam Road) being hot favourites. Besides, “Bhaiyee-dey-kabab” and famous Chinese restaurants, Xinwa and Taiwah, are also located there. Haryanvi ‘paanwala’ in Lahore Royal Treat: Rana Bhai’s ‘paan’ finds many takers in Lahore.— Photo by Rashmi Talwar Gastronomical delights available across the Radcliff Line find many takers in Amritsar. The popularity of Rana Bhai, “Shahi-Paandaanwala”, has whiffed across the Indian territory. Basically from Ambala in India, Rana Bhai can be seen sitting in Lahore’s famous Anarkali Food Street. He is cozily perched on his chair that is shaped like a royal throne. His attire, too, is usually glamorous. He often dresses up like poets Sultan Bahoo, Waris Shah, Kwaja Farid, Bulleh Shah and Baba Farid. “Many a time he is mistaken for a Mirza Ghalib look-alike with “Turki topi” and “khussa” footwear, besides a string of “taveez” and rose garlands that rest on his wrists and neck,” points out Ms Neelima Naheed Durrani, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) and Principal, Lahore Training School. What sets him apart is his style. A customer is sprinkled with rose water and then showered with rose petals. “Paan” garnished with “vark” is served to the customer, who can see himself being pampered, as the close circuit cameras show it all. He gets orders from Dubai and Middle East countries for festive occasions and sets up his stall during festivals and exhibitions in Lahore. He has also recreated the “Lucknow Bazaar” scene with some Barbie dolls dressed up in “Lucknavi” salwar suits and others in burqa.


  1. Amazing blog, I have seen many but this one is way too unique and it has to be. Cuz its Rasmi Talwar's blog and she very well knows how to use words to create very unique and amazing sentences.

    Atamjeet Singh Bawa

  2. hmmmmmm ....u r a great story teller ....good work n gud luk