“City of Sin and Splendour - Writings on Lahore”, edited by Bapsi Sidhwa is one of the most fascinating, immense and profound literary experiences I ever had. May be frequent talk and discussion with friends on the 1947 Partition of India is the reason. However, literature written on this most tragic happening in human history and occasional presentations of the same on the small screen and silver screen, and, with almost nothing on the aftermath of this – how the uprooted on both sides endured life with superhuman courage and fortitude for a re-start- have often shaken and badly disturbed my sensitivity. It has always been frightening to even imagine those ill times. Bapsi Sidhwa edited book on the subject is a collage of the city of Lahore - its antiquity and modernity, its history and her story, its culture and civilization. It is a kaleidoscopic picture of the prosperity and penury of Lahore, its life, its people, its daily round of activities, in the lanes, by-lanes and bazaars of the old city and in the city on the outskirts, its open roads, parks, gardens and gentry habitats. Its glitter and glamour, liberties and licence, its meetings and rendezvous- all underline the city’s richness, even in the midst of poverty. What a heady cocktail of life prepared from a colorful variety!
The book is a panorama of humanity always pre-occupied with its delightfulness whatever be the social or economic status. It is a sumptuous feast with a rich spicy and creamy salad and soup with the enticing and entrancing flavors of the east and the west, the old and the new, the pre-partition and post-partition Lahore. The book creates a living atmosphere of the Arabian Nights. All the writers whose contributions in verse and prose, translations and original, have been selected for this great anthology on Lahore, have expressed their longings and belongings with the rare honesty and candor of concerned artist. Their reminiscences of the lived experiences in the city cute, life’s chic, the swinging cradle of Helena and Romana, have been recorded with the intensity and passion, sensitively felt for any loss or gain. Each writing included in the book leads the reader on a journey into the mind of history - said, unsaid, felt, unfelt, seen, unseen; it is history compressed and history comprehensive, its lastingness alive in human world. It is vibrant in every nerve and vein of the writer and every pore of his or her skin. It is past in the present and present in the past. Every writing here reflects the glory and offers a tearful and smiling tribute to the Lahore that was and the Lahore that is.
Storms and tremors and floods of hatred and inhumanity, shame and disgrace suddenly played disaster with the very core of Lahore’s being. All sense became non-sense, all sanity insanity, nectar of life poisonous. The barbed wires of goondaism pierced through the flesh and spirit of the age-old common bonds. The total edifice of life creaked, cracked and collapsed and the devil reigned supreme. Even today, the wounds ache, the mind feels dazed and the soul ruminates. 1947 Partition of India and the birth of Pakistan were an event of immense and intense tragic proportions and dimensions, unparalleled in human history. The arrangement of writings in the book shows a fantastic artistry.
As I moved on, word after word, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, I felt the sensuous and sensual delight of description and narration till it was punctuated by bloody dread of the times. It would be a miserable failure of even a casual reader if these writings are viewed and reviewed individually. In fact, the whole is a splendid tribute of the splendid humans to the splendid city and the sin is that none of them will ever be able to live through the same life in the same Lahore. I wish that history moves us all back to those times of sinful splendour in Lahore. After reading the book, I curse myself for not having been born and through that Lahore minus its trauma and tragedy.
Well done, Bapsi!
I have deliberately avoided, in the interests of the lasting graces of critical sensibility and judgement, quoting anything from the writings included herein.
“City Of Sin And Splendour - Writings On Lahore” - Edited by Bapsi Sidhwa; New Delhi
Penguin Books; ISBN-14-303166-X, Pages 373, Price Rs.395.