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  • The Owner of Rubble
  • Mohan Rakesh (bio)
    Translated by Alok Bhalla (bio)

They had returned to Amritsar from Lahore after seven and a half years. The hockey match was only an excuse; they were more keen to see the bazaars and houses that now belonged to strangers. Groups of Muslims could be seen strolling down every street of the city. Everything in it caught their attention. For them Amritsar was not just an ordinary city, but a place of wonder and surprise.

As they walked through its narrow bazaars, they reminded each other of the past. "Look Fatehdina, how very few misri shops are left in Misri Bazaar!…A panwallah now sits at the corner where Sukhi used to light her bhati…Ah, Khan Sahib, this is Namak Mandi! The girls of this lane were really so namkin that…"

It had been a long time since these bazaars had seen red Turkish caps and turbans with well-starched tassels. In the group that had come from Lahore, there were quite a few Muslims who had been forced to leave Amritsar during the Partition. Some of them were surprised at the changes that had taken place during their absence, while others were saddened. "Allah! How did Jayamal Singh acquire so much land? Were the houses on this side burnt down?…Wasn't this Hakim Asim Ali's shop? Has it now been taken over by a cobbler?"

Some of them could be heard exclaiming, "Wali, that masjid is still standing! These people didn't convert it into a gurudwara!"

The people of the city watched these groups of Pakistanis with eagerness and curiosity. There were, of course, some who were still so suspicious of the Muslims that they turned away when they saw them on the road. But there were many others who walked up to them and embraced them. Most people who met the visitors assailed them with a variety of questions. "What is Lahore like these days? Is Anarkali still as bright and gay as it used to be? We hear that the bazaar of Shah Alami Cate has been completely rebuilt. Krishna Nagar couldn't have changed much, could it? Was Rishwatpura really built from money taken in bribes?…They say that the burqa has disappeared from Pakistan—is that really true?" These questions were asked with such sincerity and concern that it seemed as if Lahore wasn't merely a city, but a person who was related to thousands of others who [End Page 91] [Begin Page 93] were anxious about its well-being. The visitors from Lahore were treated as the guests of the whole city, and most people were delighted to talk to them.

Bansan Bazaar is a poor, run-down locality of Amritsar where lower-class Muslims lived before the Partition. Most of the shops there had sold bamboo and wood. They had all been burnt down. The fire in Bansan Bazaar had been the worst of the fires in Amritsar, and for some time it had threatened to send the entire city up in flames. Indeed, the fire had burnt down many of the areas in the neighbourhood. Somehow the fire had been brought under control, but for every Muslim house burned down, four or five Hindu homes had also been reduced to ash. Now, seven and a half years later, a few structures had been rebuilt, but there were still piles of rubble everywhere. Standing in the midst of ruins, the new buildings presented a strange sight.

As usual, there wasn't much activity in Bansan Bazaar that day, because most of the people who had once lived there had perished along with their homes, and those who had fled didn't have the courage to return. That day, however, one old and frail Muslim did venture into the deserted bazaar, but when he saw the new buildings standing next to ruins, he felt as if he was lost in a labyrinth. He reached the lane that turned to the left, but instead of entering it, he stood outside, perplexed. He couldn't believe that it was the lane he wanted to take. On one side of the lane a few children...


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pp. 91-99
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