By Zulekha Qizilbash
A friendship that was forged on the first day of college and lasted a lifetime, that stood the test of time, despite the trials and tribulations thrown its way by Partition: that is what describes the bond between Pran Nevile and Saeed Ahmed Khan.
Pran Nevile the great Indian writer and S.A. Khan, my late maternal grandfather met and became friends while studying in Government College Lahore in 1937. They remained friends until my nana died in Nov 2000.
When they met again for the first time in 1997 nearly fifty years after their last meeting it felt as if they had never been apart. Pran uncle mentions the details of this meeting in the revised edition of his book Lahore, A Sentimental Journey (Oxford University Press) accompanied by photos of their reunion.
Pran uncle had always wanted to write a book about his memories of Lahore but whenever he visited Pakistan, he went to Karachi, deliberately avoiding Lahore so that his memories of the city he remembered would remained untainted until he could write a book about it. In the late 1980s he heard from somewhere that his friend, my grandfather had died. This spurred him to write Lahore, A Sentimental Journey, which he dedicated to his late friend (S.A. Khan).
However, as luck would have it was not my grandfather who had died but his younger brother. After the book was published Pran uncle visited Lahore and asked an old friend to arrange for him to meet Saeed's family; still thinking that his friend was no more. The mutual friend located nana and informed him that his old friend was coming to meet him shortly.
When he discovered Saeed was still alive, Pran uncle couldn't contain his excitement. He presented nana with a copy of his book but not before tearing out the erroneous dedication page. Their epic reunion has been immortalised in the updated edition of this book, published by Oxford University Press.
We had heard a lot about Pran uncle from nana when he would come and stay with us in Rawalpindi but never had the honor of meeting him. He was a respected writer and we derived pleasure from the fact that he was nana's best friend.
On March 14 this year, my younger sister announced that Pran uncle was in Islamabad for the Sufi Conference arranged by Pakistan Academy of Letters and we would be going to meet him at his hotel. Unfortunately I had classes at university so I asked my sisters to invite him for dinner at our place. They met and invited him, and he kindly agreed to come over the next day. It was a very happy evening that we enjoyed in his company because of his affable and charming personality. He exuded warmth and love and we felt overjoyed to be in the company of our nana's old friend talking enthusiastically about his past. Hearing him air his views on just about every topic under the sun made the evening a very entertaining one and time flew rapidly.
Overjoyed as we were at his coming over, we made a foolish faux pax that day: forgetting his religious belief we made haleem, egg sandwiches, and chicken bread. Fortunately, the dahi baras and vegetable samosas saved the day. Although, being a perfect gentleman, he did not make this mistake obvious. The evening ended on a high note and we promised to keep in touch by the age old method of letters because he does not use email. He told us how he and nana exchanged letters until his death; letters he has saved till today. Remembering his friend, he recalled how nana had planned a trip to Delhi with another friend but sadly death did not give him a chance.
We found his remark about Pakistani women very encouraging - citing the examples Asma Jahangir and Madiha Gauhar whom he holds in high regard, he said he finds them more liberated than their Indian counterparts.
Sitting across him I kept thinking that if the common people of these two countries can sit and converse with each other without drawing swords why do issues at the government level remain unresolved? The great divide has created a wide chasm between families, friends and relatives which people try to cross whenever the borders and communication lines are opened. I have met many people in Pakistan who yearn to see the land of their birth which they had to leave because of partition and it is now part of India; just like Pran Nevile who yearned for Lahore.
Reaching an agreement acceptable to both sides can take decades but at least the people on both sides of the border can make efforts to keep the lines of communication open. Even after the death of his friend, Pran uncle has tried to keep in touch with us and his birthplace; not categorising us as 'enemy' Pakistanis, but as part of the family of his friend Saeed.
The question that arises now is whether, despite cross-border relationships between friends and families, this is a bridgeable divide, given that we are locked in battle on so many fronts?
The author is a freelance writer based in Islamabad email@example.com
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
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