A last minute gift, Katasraj and Khewra
A retired banker in Haryana reminisces about a 2006 visit to his birthplace across the border
By Yash Pal Sethi
On our last evening in Rawalpindi, strolling in the local market, I asked our host Ahmed about the availability of ready-made shalwar kamiz. He said that the tailor normally takes a week to stitch the outfit, and I dropped the idea of getting the outfit I had regularly worn until Partition.
Back at the house later, despite my resistance he took me to a tailor who measured me. Mrs Ahmed had already given the cloth for stitching me a suit. Very late that night a shalwar kamiz was gifted to me.
I was surprised when Ahmed told me that he follows Swami Ramdev’s yoga on on Astha Channel and practices it. He told me that a senior retired official in his locality also taught yoga, charging Rs. 5000 per student.
Early the next morning, after a hearty breakfast and an emotional send-off — after all we had been living with them like family members — we set out for Katasraj/Chhoha-Sedan Sharh via Chakwal. Our host, concerned about our safe passage to Wagah, had arranged a taxi with his regular driver. He planned to monitor our movement at regular intervals via the driver’s mobile phone.
We wanted to reach Lahore before evening as my son Rakesh was anxious to see Lahore. He knew our saying ‘Jine Lahore nhi dekia uss ne kuchh nhi dekia’ (he who hasn’t seen Lahore has seen nothing).
Long ago, I had visited Katasraj twice at Basakhi (spring festival) with my parents as a primary student at Malakwal. The roses (desi-gulab) and trees of locat on either side of the road that used to emit a soothing fragrance were now missing. We reached Katasraj around 11 am. It looked deserted. We washed our face and hands in the holy pond and drank the water. Around us was loose barbed wire and ruins of the ancient buildings.
We walked about and took some photos. As we were left, three men arrived to whitewash the temple in preparation for a Jatha from India due to arrive soon. At Khewra, we stopped at a lonely shop where the owner was chiselling rock-salt into figures.
Someone greeted me with a ‘Salam Janab’. I replied automatically, ‘Walekum Salam’.
It was late evening by the time we reached Lahore, where Akram Khan, a friend of Ahmed, would look after us. He received me in the Indian way by touching my feet. He had booked a hotel room for us in his own name.
The next morning he was with us before dawn and took us for breakfast. Due to disturbances, the city wore a deserted look. We went around some places including Anarkali but didn’t feel like we really saw Lahore. In the afternoon Khan took us to Wagah border where we said goodbye to Pakistan and its hospitable people.
The writer is a retired banker born in Rawalpindi in 1931. He studied in Murree, Malakwal and at DAV High School, Rawalpindi. He lives in Yamuna Nagar (Haryana), India.
This series was adapted from his posts to the Aman ki Asha Facebook group.