This is Lucknow.
With the partition of the country, the mohajirs migrated from Lucknow to Karachi. And, here too, as soon as they regained some balance, they raised the old Chowk of Ameenabad. Here too, tilting their caps in the Lukhnavi style, several streets converge upon the square all at once, as if the whole world were flocking here. When not an inch of space remained in Ameenabad, the mohajirs spread themselves around it. And, in this way, all of Lucknow in Karachi was peopled. Not just the old city, but also the new one born from the womb of the old, was soon spreading its spirit of playfulness over the suburbs. They say people come and go, places stay where they are. But, in this case, the mohajirs had transported an entire city within the folds of their hearts. With some came the bricks of their houses; some carried entire homes intact. Some brought a whole gali, and others transported the bustling main road beyond the gali—whatever they could contain in their hearts! As soon as the mohajirs recovered their breath after reaching Karachi, the entire city emerged from their hearts, brick by brick. Who knows what remains at the spot where this city had earlier stood! Here it has acquired such splendour that any visitor to Karachi is repeatedly asked, "Have you seen Lucknow in Karachi?"
In the dying hours of the night, when the silent lanes of Ameenabad are lit with the eerie glow of colourful lamps, people lying deep in sleep in the pitch dark of their homes roam about the bustling Chowk as if it were day. In the beginning, Manwa Chowkidar would constantly bang his lathi on the road, wide-eyed with fear and astonishment as he stared at the dazzle around him…The entire Chowk is deserted; who on Allah's earth do I keep bumping into in this dead silence?…What was even stranger was that, within a few days, he actually began to see apparitions. In fact it so happened that it was only rogues and crooks that the Chowkidar could not spot. He could clearly see all the people who had walked to the Chowk in their sleep.
"Arre bhaiya, why are you coming at me like that?" Manwa Chowkidar had leapt back the other night as he bumped into someone. But then, to his [End Page 136] amazement, he realized that it was his very own Deewane Maulvi Sahab. He greeted him courteously, "Assalam-alaikum, Maulvi Saab!"
"Walaikum-assalam, Manwa." Deewane Maulvi Sahab paused for a moment, pulled out a two-rupee note from his pocket, and thrust it into Manwa's hand.
"Much obliged, Maulvi Saab! May Allah always grant us your benign shadow!" Even as Manwa was kissing his fingers after saying "Aameen," Deewane Maulvi Sahab vanished into thin air.
"How can that happen, Manwa Chacha?" asked Azizo, the chaiwala, holding out a glass of tea to Manwa Chowkidar.
"Arre bhaiya, if it can't happen, where did this two-rupee note come from?" Manwa took out the new note and showed it to him.
"Who knows? That could have been some ghost or spirit!"
"So what if he was a ghost! He was, after all, our very own Deewane Maulvi Sahab." Manwa Chowkidar paused to sip his tea. "Forget the others, Ajijo, I even saw you going towards the bazaar."
"But I was enjoying khwaabe khargosh then, you know!"
"That's exactly what happens! People are out in the streets while they're sleeping in their homes."
"Your mumbo-jumbo is beyond my understanding, Chacha! If people are really walking in the streets while asleep, I'll keep my tea business open even at night."
"I see Deewane Maulvi Saab so clearly in the crowd every night, Ajijo."
"What strange stories you tell, Chacha!"
* * *
Deewane Maulvi Sahab's name is actually Nawab Mirza Kamaluddin, but he is known as Deewane Maulvi Sahab both at home and outside. He is so used to it that if anyone were to call him Nawab Kamaluddin, he would think that the poor fellow had mistaken him for someone else.
While the other mohajirs have created another Lucknow in Karachi, Deewane Maulvi Sahab believes that he continues to live in the old Lucknow, just as before. At first, many of his friends tried to convince him that he had gone away. But even in the old Lucknow, whenever Deewane Maulvi Sahab left the city, he would be restless till the time he came back to it. No matter where he went, his journey was always from Lucknow to Lucknow.
His wife, Achhi Begum, often says, "We had hardly regained our breath after reaching Karachi, when Deewane Maulvi Sahab started pestering us to go back to Lucknow. And, if some good soul asked him what, after all, was left in Lucknow, pat came his reply: Lucknow!"
"Now, what do you do with this?" asks Achhi Begum, continuing her commentary. "Our children are here, our relations are here, and all our friends as well. So what's left in Lucknow? Nothing but Lucknow! What in [End Page 137] Allah's name would we do there? But who could make Deewane Maulvi Sahab understand this? He wanted to go there precisely because his Lucknow exists only in Lucknow. And where Lucknow is, there must he be."
"Then how did you manage to hold him here?"
"Would he be called deewana if your Deewane Maulvi Sahab were to heed my words?!" Achhi Begum herself had given this name to him. No wonder then that when strangers call him by this name, Deewane Maulvi Sahab feels they are his own people. "But all that is over now, bhai. We never returned to Lucknow. Lucknow came to us here."
"Lucknow came here?"
"Of course! What else? It was burnt to ashes, but whatever was left of it followed us here. Such a shrunken little face it had. It was tinier than the smallest section of Ameenabad. Deewane Maulvi Sahab rushed to embrace it, sobbing as he did."
"And then, Begum Sahiba?"
"All of our Lucknow here knows the rest of the story. The ruined Ameen-abad began to blossom again. A branch here, then a branch there, and one by one all its branches sprouted. Our Lucknow came alive, exactly as it had been. In fact, prettier than its earlier self."
"Our Deewane Maulvi Sahab never insisted on going back after that?"
"Only the mad know the ways of the mad! Such was his condition that whenever we would ask him to arrange for our visas, so that we could go back and offer prayers at the graves of our ancestors, he would immediately say, 'Have you left your brains in the grazing fields? Do you believe the graves of our ancestors are located in some foreign land? Arre bhai, we only have to go and offer prayers. Come, let's do it right away.' But, seeing me flustered, he would soften and say, 'My dear Begum, how far do you think our ancestral cemetery is? It is just a couple of streets away. Right behind Nazeerabad is Chhote Mamun ka Maqbara, and to its right, a stone's throw away, is the cemetery.' By then I would be imploring him, 'I don't feel well, Deewane Maulvi Sahab! I don't want to go today.' But he would be adamant. 'Come on. Let our enemies be indisposed. So what if you are feeling slightly unwell? Remember, postponing a pious duty is as bad as committing a sin.'"
Achhi Begum also talks of how Deewane Maulvi Sahab believes the whole of Lucknow to be out of its mind. He says, "These are strange times. Even in one's own city, one feels stifled, as if one were in an alien land." And he goes from house to house, counselling everyone, "Arre Mian! Turn to Allah and offer namaaz five times a day with your heart and soul. Can there be a greater misfortune than not feeling at home in your own house?"
"But Maulvi Sahab—"
"Oh no, Mian. Ifs and buts won't do! When the whole city is confronted with the same fate, the situation becomes very grave. Who knows—the entire city may have incurred the wrath of Allah for a collective sin!" [End Page 138]
"But listen to me, Maulvi Sahab…"
"What should I listen to, Mian? You should listen to me and turn to Allah at once."
* * *
The old settlers of Lucknow in Karachi even find some truth in the utterances of the eccentric Deewane Maulvi Sahab. They wonder, "If this is not the wrath of Allah, then why are things as strange as they are? Even after recreating a whole Lucknow, exactly as it was, over this long period of time, why do we still have this gnawing sense of being strangers in our own homes?"
It is not as if the mohajirs have not made any economic progress. In fact, they have outsmarted not only the Sindhis but the other local Pakistanis as well. Through sheer hard work and ingenuity, they have grown to dominate business, industry, and even the bureaucracy, at both the provincial and national levels. The roads of Karachi have opened up in all directions. Meerut, Malihabad, Azamgarh, and Allahabad can be reached in no time at all.
Four or five years ago, when a cousin of Deewane Maulvi Sahab's came to visit him from the Lucknow in India, his mind split open in wonder. "Quibla Maulvi Sahab, what can I say? I am beginning to feel that the real Lucknow is, in fact, here. And it is not you who have migrated from our place to this, but it's we who have moved from here to there." Expecting to be lauded for his observation, Deewane Maulvi Sahab's cousin looked at him.
"We haven't moved anywhere, Bhai!" Deewane Maulvi Sahab said, suspecting that he was stuck with another one of those lunatics. "Coming and going is the business of tourists like you. Anyway, the same place cannot be situated in two locations. Our Lucknow is the only Lucknow. We don't recognize any other Lucknow. Do you understand?" he said, proffering his silver case to the guest, along with a paan with special zafrani tobacco in it. "And, listen. You may find it hard to believe me, Bhai, but you cannot refute the truth. Natives do not just represent their land, but also become the native land. If you have any doubts, shall I open my mouth and show you something? Come, come closer, sir: one of Nawab Asifuddaula's thumri mehfil is in progress in my throat! Hee, hee, hee!"
Joginder Paul was born in 1925 in Sialkot and migrated to India during Partition. His mother tongue is Punjabi, but his primary and middle-school education was in Urdu. He received his master’s degree in English literature and eventually became head of a post-graduate college in Maharashtra. His nineteen fictional works are widely read in both India and Pakistan, and he has won every important award that an Urdu writer can receive.
Sunil Trivedi is a translator and senior business executive who was educated in Calcutta and Allahabad. He is a scholar of Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, and English. His works include the translation, with Sukrita Paul Kumar, of Joginder Paul’s novel Sleepwalkers.
Sukrita Paul Kumar is a former fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, and has published four collections of poems in English: Without Margins, Oscillations, Apurna and Folds of Silence. Her critical books include Conversations on Modernism, The New Story, Breakthrough (a collection she edited), Man, Woman and Androgyny and Narrating Partition. In 1991, she became a recipient of the Bharat Nirman Award for Talented Women for her contributions to literature and art, and she received a 1993–1994 Shastri Indo-Canadian Faculty Research Fellowship. Her U.S. residencies include the Iowa International Writing Program. She teaches literature at a Delhi University college.