“Lahoria' was a common term used for the citizen of Lahore, especially those living in the walled city. They were a group or brand by themselves. Their characteristics, often described by the people of other cities of Punjab in a light-hearted manner were: tight-fisted and miserly humans who bragged and exaggerated their actual worth and wealth; lacking in warm hospitality and also hypocrites. They never wanted to leave Lahore!

As to the absence of warmth and hospitality, I discovered that trait in my own family too. However, I attributed that to our small house and too many family members. We found it difficult to accommodate visitors except very close relatives. I often heard my own people telling the visitors – “We know your train departure time is near, otherwise, we could have had dinner together.” In response, only an adamant guest would say,”I have no train to go back tonight,” and would stay on to the dismay of the hosts. Others got the hint and left immediately.

Typical Lahorias seldom entertained at home. The first twenty years of my life were spent within the walls of the city. I hardly saw a major feast or party in our Mohalla. At the time of marriages among the local Hindu Khatri castes, wedding parties did march to the bride's place in a procession. They were led not by a band as is common today but by a barber ringing a bell announcing the coming of the wedding party. The bridegroom sat on the horse quietly with no Bhangra dancers leading the way as in today's Punjabi marriages. The Party assembled in the open at the home of the bride without proper canopies or decorated reception areas for the “milni” ceremony (an introduction of the closest male relations on both sides followed by their embracing each other). The relations on the brides' side gave cash to the relatives of the bridegroom as a mark of ‘respect’.

The assembled participants were then politely told “Achaji, Meherbani” or “Thank you, Gentlemen”. It was a polite signal to disperse. There was no feast. This was the signal for the rest of the people also to leave for home. Only the bridegroom and his close relatives were let in for a proper marriage ceremony and a hearty meal. I remember this as the general pattern among families from Lahore1. Apparently, this was done to economize on wedding expenditure through a consensus among the Khatri brotherhood of the area.

Lahorias were born, bred, grew up and generally married among their own folks living in the nearby areas. They could inter–marry with any other Khatri caste but they had their preferences and prejudices based on their own image of other castes. Every sub- caste had its ego and pride which sounds superbly foolish in today's context. The Khatris of Lahore did not marry among their own sub-caste. A Seth male would not marry another Seth girl but a girl from any other Khatri caste (like Khannas, Malhotras or Kapoors) was welcome. I recall the wedding of my eldest brother Trilochan – 20 years senior to me. The marriage took place in another street, only a l00 yards from our own street. We were Seths, a sub caste of Khatris or Kshatryas and the bride was from a Tandon family, another sub caste of the Khatris.

On death, Lahorias were taken to 'Ramu Ka Bagh', the cremation ground on the banks of the River Ravi. Their ashes were traditionally immersed in the nearby river Ravi but with the popularization of the railways, the new trend was to take the ashes to Haridwar (now in Uttaranchal) to be immersed in the Ganges, the most sacred river of the Hindus.

On return from Haridwar, the neighbours were given ‘prasad’ (the blessed sweets) brought from the sacred city. Whoever went also brought back cans of the sacred Ganga water. This was important as dying Hindu men and women were administered this sacred water in their mouths during the last moments of their life to ensure the emancipation of their souls. Peculiarly , the quality of the Ganga water , it is believed, does not deteriorate with the passing of years. Today, I am not so sure!

Travel outside the city was apparently not popular. I remember people going to Amritsar, just 50 kilometres away and neighbours requesting them to deliver letters to their relatives in Amritsar – even though a post card was available for 2 paisas each when I was a child. A common joke was that the children of the Lahorias who grew up in the walled city were so home-tied, that they often asked from their parents - “Dad, how big are the wheat trees?” (Somehow this does not seem so funny today with so many children growing up in cities with no ties to rural areas).

A common superstition among the shopkeepers of Lahore in the walled city was - it was a lucky omen if they met a scavenger when they left home for business in the morning. A cat coming in your way was the worst omen. And, there were several other bad omens. Life was full of superstitions.

A Brahmin, under any circumstances, was to be avoided – he brought bad luck. My father often returned home if a Brahmin came in his way as he left home. Brahmins, apparently, were not revered as much in Punjab as they were in other parts of India. Nor were they prosperous. Most Brahmins, from the hills of Himachal or Uttaranchal, were either water carriers or labourers in the shops of Lahore. However, each Lahoria family had their in-house Brahmin priest who was called on to do some prayers or astrological calculations at the time of weddings, engagements or other auspicious occasions.

Rulers changed but Lahore remained changeless over the centuries. Lahore was the same walled city with new ruins of the monuments of the old rulers and the Lahorias continued doing what they were good at, that is, business with the new ruling oligarchy. The advent of the British also brought to Punjab the technological revolution. We were introduced to the railways, electricity, piped water, ‘pucca’ roads, modern buildings, cheap printed books and newspapers. A newspaper cost only a paisa each before I grew up. When I started reading newspapers , price was one Anna – or four paisas for English as well as Urdu dailies. Hindi newspapers cost the same but they were insignificant and not popular except with Hindu women. And to top it all, the All India Radio brought people of India closer to each other as well as kept them informed about happenings in other parts of India and the rest of the world.

The beginning of the twentieth century saw electric bulbs illuminating the nights. Peoples' mobility increased manifold. In my childhood I recall seeing my house illuminated by electric power at night. I was told that we got electricity in our house after my birth – earlier, people had to do with earthen lamps and lanterns. My eldest brother (20 years my senior), had put in a condition that he would not get married till our house had electric connection as well as piped water. Electricity had become a status symbol at that time. Most of the houses in the city did not have electricity. They could not afford it even though the tariff was very low. Electricity had not reached the countryside - at all.

My father gave in to my brother’s demands. The electric connection was installed. Initially, the lights were not so bright. We were warned that electricity has to be paid for and was expensive but as I and my brothers grew up, we improved the power of bulbs from 15W to l00W to protect our eyesight. Our parents, however, continued to keep a watchful eye on the consumption of electricity! Our street lights were still fuelled by some liquid gas, perhaps kerosene. They were electrified by the Lahore Corporation when I started going to College- perhaps in the mid forties.

Piped water too reached our house in the late twenties but my mother did not dismiss the regular water carrier (called Mishraji or ‘Misra’ in rustic Punjabi.) He remained responsible for bringing in big brass jars called 'Gaggars' to our house from the well in our street. My mother felt that the well water was colder, sweeter and healthier and the piped water was not as dependable as the well water. Initially, she used piped water for bathing only. Water used in the kitchen was from the well because she felt it tasted better.

My elder brother brought about another 'revolution' in the house by adding some chairs and a table in the house. He called it his drawing and reading room. As the elder brothers started going to work, the room with chairs and a table was monopolised by me and used as my study during my growing years. My elder brother moved to a larger bed room after his marriage and I was the only 'student' in the family who used this drawing / reading room during the day.

The old fashioned Hindu shopkeepers living in these crowded Mohallas (with no radio or TV), retired early in the summer dusk to sleep on the open top floors of their homes. To cool off their bedding, they sprinkled water on the floor as well as on their beds. The house-tops became like clubs as women joined each other at their partition walls to exchange notes and the daily gossip. The men joined a little later and would talk loudly with their neighbours on current affairs as well as the ups and downs of the markets. All were welcome to join the conversation As children, we were very much interested in the shop talk of adults. Politics invariably was a part of such discussion. I used to love the conversations which they interspersed with humour and sexual innuendoes.

My father told us the story of the first car driven through the city of Lahore. It was bought by a leading citizen of Lahore – Rai Bahadur Lala Ramsaran Das who already owned several two-horse carriages. Rai Bahadur Das sent a messenger into the Lahore town to announce the arrival of a new vehicle imported from England. The announcement gave the date and time of its movements in the city and warned every one that the new vehicle did not create any noise and therefore, gave no prior warning to the pedestrians in the streets. Hours before the arrival of the magic vehicle, the city folks assembled on both sides of the road and occupied vintage positions. Ladies thronged the balconies of the houses on the road to have a glimpse of the new vehicle pass by. People were warned to watch for this vehicle and be careful. In the initial days, however, the Rai Bahadur sent a runner ahead of the vehicle to ring a bell to warn that the car was coming. My father said that the people were extremely worried by the dangers posed by this magical wonder vehicle and debated its consequences endlessly. Imagine, this happened only 85 years ago!

The city of Lahore had no system of underground drainage and the flush toilets. We used to have a small cabin called a latrine where all members of the family eased themselves in a mud container which often overflowed. Our family consisted of at least 12 people including children. There were scavengers who emptied the container in every house around noon. They emptied all human waste in a corner of the street where millions of flies feasted on the garbage. Sometimes during the day, a Municipal cart, often a bullock cart, came to remove the waste and carried it away giving people a sense of relief. One can imagine the fowl smell. The residents of the neighbouring houses where the waste was originally dumped and piled had a harrowing time.

Since most houses did not have piped water, the Mohalla well was a popular rendezvous for morning bath. A Mohalla often had more than one well, with built-in outlets for people to take a bath. The well near our house was like a club where people, usually males, gathered to wash and bathe and indulge in small talk before going to work. Water for the bath was taken out of the well by drawing several buckets at a time giving the users some exercise. Younger people helped to fill up the buckets for older folks.

During the British time, the walled city of Lahore expanded beyond the walls and Gates. At the time of partition, the population of Lahore was nearly half a million. New suburbs were developed with schools, colleges and a vast University area. Link roads, new residential colonies and bazaars came up making Lahore a combination of old and the new.

Anarkali Bazaar became the most popular shopping centre of the city during the British Raj. Shops on both sides of the wide road (that stretched for a mile) were built. They offered the best of everything including imported goods for a price. This famous Bazaar was named after Akbar's favourite consort, Anarkali. Akbar had Anarkali killed on the suspicion of having an affair with his son, Jehangir. The suspicion may have been correct as Jehangir, when he came to the throne, built a mausoleum in her memory which is located near the Bazaar.

Among the eating places in Anarkali Bazaar were some of Lahore’s best restaurants offering popular Punjabi food and drinks. Among the famous names were a (non-alcoholic) drinks bar called Kesari. There was a ‘Lassi’ (buttermilk) shop which sold you in brass glasses, Lassi topped with big lumps of fresh butter, generated from the 'Pedas' (milk cakes). Young people loved it and one large glass was enough to make you feel sleepy. Each glass of Lassi was prepared individually by the workers at the shop and the quantum of milk cake too was put in to suit different tastes. I was one of the regulars to the Lassi shop. This buttery ‘lassi’ was the principal attraction that drove me to Anarkali often. Anarkali was also the most popular place to meet friends in the evening , close to the walled city and yet outside it.

Not far from Anarkali was the Mall Road and Lawrence Garden (now Bagh-e-Jinnah) where I went for long walks. A new Coffee House had come up on the Mall and we young students often met there to have a chit-chat, spending hours there. Coffee drinking was still a novelty for the young and affluent class.

However, Lahore was changing as the independence struggle unfolded. The life of Lahorias was also changing. Subhash Chandra Bose, the freedom fighter, had set up an Indian National Army in Rangoon. We used to travel a mile or more to access a powerful radio in some shop to listen to Radio Berlin and his speeches broadcast from there. Needless to say, the sympathies of young generation were not with the ruling British. We all wanted freedom now!

  • 1Even after partition, one of my nephews’ wedding in Jallundhar was celebrated in this way.