Lingering memories of the lost lanes of Ludhiana, Lahore
The heavily populated area of Field Ganj in Ludhiana, which many say got its name from the city of Wakefield in West Yorkshire, England, was the only home that young Anwar Ali knew of in pre-Partition India. It was in this vicinity that his father worked as a postal clerk.
Field Ganj, pronounced Feel Ganj in Punjabi, is the canvas on which Anwar (1922-2004), who went on to become Pakistan’s legendary cartoonist, painted his memoirs starting with the violence that coloured his boyhood as communal tensions broke out. A contemporary of poet Sahir Ludhianvi and painter Harkrishan Lal in the famous Government College, Ludhiana, Anwar penned his memoirs in Punjabi many years after migrating to Lahore.
‘Gawachian Gallan, first published in Pakistan in the mid-1980s in Shahmukhi, has now been transliterated into Gurmukhi by Paramjeet Singh Meesha and published by Sandeep Singh of Sachal Prakashan, Amritsar. Sandeep says, “It is a rare document of deep attachment to the roots, a photographic memory and a story of great struggle of a youth determined to be a cartoonist inspired as he was by the cartoons of the famed Shankar.”
The story begins with someone crying out in the poorer quarters: “The Sikhs have martyred Mohammada!” The tone of the nuanced narrative is set by this exclamation.The writer goes onto say in sarcasm, that no one saw his corpse nor did anyone go to fetch his body, not even his son Jira, the gambler.
Greed and lust
Commenting on Anwar’s memoirs, Lahore’s acclaimed fiction writer in Punjabi, Zubair Ahmed, says: “Like Manto (Saadat Hasan), Anwar Ali tells tales of the oppressed classes. During the Partition, they were not attacked and they silently changed their religion on both sides of the border.”
Zubair says that by telling the Ludhiana stories, Anwar exposes how looting and killing had ulterior motives of greed and lust and since the poor had nothing, the mobs forgot them.
Besides, the book has the story of Anwar’s determination to become a cartoonist while doing clerical jobs as well as anecdotes about his college mates especially Sahir. Anwar’s first cartoon appeared in ‘Dawn’ then published from Delhi and later he had long innings with poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz who edited the ‘Pakistan Times’. He survived even martial law and censorship by innovation.
Bidding Adieu to Sanyal and Fabri
The memoirs also have a touching account of how veteran artist BC Sanyal and the well-regarded art historian Charles Fabri, curator of the Lahore Museum, were humbled when they bid a final goodbye to Lahore.
Sanyal’s house was looted when he was in Delhi on vacation with his wife and little daughter but his works in the Mayo College of Art survived and Faiz and Anwar helped him take these away. One painting he left as a keepsake for Anwar.
Pakistani papers started maligning Fabri that he was a Jew and then one day when Anwar met him in the newspaper office, Fabri said: “They have abolished the post of a curator. I am no longer getting my salary. The chief minister does not give me time to meet him. There is no food at home. Faiz has given me 100 rupees to survive!”
Punjabi poet Amarjit Chandan went to meet Anwar in Lahore in 1998. He recounts: “I wonder why out of the blue he told me ‘aseen jee julahey hundey aan’ (I belong to the low caste of weavers). Did he mean to emphasise his affinity with the Sufi poet Shah Hussein (1538-1599) of the same caste or the inhuman aspect of caste-ridden Punjabi society? Or did he mean that he was naive in the folk idiom?”
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