Lahore Lost and Found

Writer Pran Nevile revisits the city of sin and splendour

Paromita Chakrabarti

Pran Nevile barely looks his age as he briskly strides out of the India International Centre library in Delhi, clutching a handful of paperbacks. “This is the one,” the octogenarian points to the third edition of his book Lahore: A Sentimental Journey (Penguin), which was released recently.

A former bureaucrat with the Indian Foreign Service, Nevile’s story is the tale of Lahore, the city of his birth, before Partition displaced him along with a million others in 1947. “Lahore Lahore hain (Lahore is Lahore),” he says, “That city defies description — it is a wonderful melting pot of cultures. You have to be there to feel it.”

Maximum cities — old, new and medieval — are the location of non-fiction that is becoming a rage in India. And Lahore’s new edition allows a passport-less travel across the borders. It takes you back to the 1930s and ’40s before blood flowed in the city of sin and splendour — it was a cosmopolitan place where poetry and politics, Urdu and Punjabi, coexisted peacefully.

What is new though, in this edition, is an epilogue on Lahore revisited. It contains Nevile’s recent experiences of the city that is at once the source of his nostalgia and the focus of his social commentary. “A lot has changed, for the better and for the worse. Now women are more active in issues like empowerment and education,” says Nevile, whose interests include art history and music.

So next is a coffeetable book, Marvels of Indian Painting: Rise and Demise of Company School, due to be published in March. “I spent five years researching the book. It is a genre that has rarely been written about,” says Nevile. He is also busy organising a programme in memory of singer Malika Pukhraj whose voice once made boundaries meaningless. He walks away, his fascination for the Raj and the LoC-less days as company.