At the Indian President’s ‘At Home’ 12 years ago, Shahid Malik, currently Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, found a group of octogenarians huddled together in a corner. What struck him about this group was their identical blazers: maroon, somewhat faded, and tattered at the seams. Malik walked up to them, to find that the crest on the blazers read ‘Government College, Lahore’. “It’s our memories, which we wear up our sleeves,” they told Malik.
In later years, he discovered that Lahorians, as the pre-Partition residents of Lahore called themselves, had formed a society in Delhi. Its sole purpose was to dunk rusks in tea and go down memory lane. Malik was invited to one such meeting. While he found it difficult to join in the tea ceremony, he shared a common sentiment: nostalgia. Two places have special significance for him. One is his ancestral house in Lahore and the other, the High Commissioner’s residence in New Delhi. On the first, he will happily tell you of the number of window- panes he broke while playing cricket or the kites that others conquered, which he clandestinely added to his ‘score’. “I caught more kites than I flew. Each time one floated near the ground, I was the first to get it,” he says. The house is still there. So are the memories. What are missing are friends, siblings and, of course, the childhood.
If there is sentiment attached to Lahore, there is what he terms an “awe-inspiring” sense of history in his official Delhi residence. Incidentally, Malik first lived there a decade ago. He temporarily moved into Pakistan House while waiting to move into his own place. “It was history coming alive. This was the venue of many pre-Partition meetings and one that belonged to the first Prime Minister of Pakistan. In fact, his wife’s name is still there at the entrance. The first thing I did was head to the library and leaf through the rare documents.” Of course, then, he could hardly imagine that one day, he would officially call the place his own.
“Now the street is called Tilak Marg instead of Hardinge Road. Now there are more vehicles on the road. But the sky is clearer,” he says. Commending the Indian government for bringing down pollution levels, Malik says he can “actually see the stars sitting in his lush garden”. That is when he doesn’t drive to Khan Market to savour Khan Chacha’s delicious kebabs. Or visit Oberoi’s 360 or Maurya’s Dum Pukht restaurants.