Lahore revisited

The revised edition of Pran Nevile’s new book on his hometown is now available

As the revised edition of Pran Nevile’s “Lahore – A Sentimental Journey” (Penguin) is formally released this Friday by Shahid Malik, Pakistan’s High Commissioner, there are a few aspects worth noticing. One must admit Pran Nevile seems one of the most hardworking people around.

As a retired civil servant from the Indian Foreign Service he could have just about sat back and relaxed with the frills hanging around; but he chose to clutch a pen and write on. No, no computers for him, but with the very basics ” pen, pencil and an eraser ” he has written several books. Some of his earlier publications include “KL Saigal: Immortal Singer”.

Yes, for a variety of reasons, Nevile is rather obsessed with the bygone era and the characters who flourished then.

His focus is on that period, and even the musical programmes he arranges focus on yesteryear’s stars, be it Saigal or Suraiyya or the others who left a mark on that era. Maybe a mark that’s not easy to bypass, for each of these musical evenings has seen a packed auditorium with the audience sitting lost in nostalgia and more ” as though their emotions were charged and stirred.

Abundance of emotions

With such a background, it is little wonder that Neville has written this book on Lahore with much passion and an abundance of emotions.

Lahore is the city of his birth and the city where he spent his student years, obtaining his postgraduate degree from there … till Partition came along.

And just as one’s roots play a definite role in building the personality and perception, so, perhaps, the biggest blow that can come one’s way is to be forced to leave one’s city or town or village. As Nevile writes in his preface, “This book on the Lahore of my days was conceived in the lonely dining room of Hotel Astoria in Geneva in November 1963. I was having breakfast when I heard someone calling me in Punjabi, `Motian aleo, Hindustan de o ke Pakistan de?’ (Prince of Pearls, are you from India or Pakistan?) I looked back, responding promptly `Bashao aao baitho, main Lahore da han’ (Your Royal Highness, please come and sit down, I hail from Lahore). In no time we became very friendly, a blend as it were, of ghee and khichdhi (clarified butter and curried rice) and talked about our glorious city. The conversation released a flood of memories deeply impressed on my mind for decades. I have tried in these pages to commit them on paper … ”

What is rather different and positive is that in the epilogue, written after he re-visited Lahore after all those decades, in 1997 and again in 1999, he does not come up with any sort of bitterness or bashing so to say … the epilogue seems a furthering or say stretching of his emotional bonding with that city and its people. As though none of the political dents created by the politicians there and here have managed to disrupt his bonding with the people of his birthplace.