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A Lahore winter in 1945

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It was strange for a South Indian to see a shopkeeper cutting blocks of frozen coconut oil into manageable pieces

In December 1945, my parents were in Lahore. I was a student in Calcutta, and as soon as Christmas holidays started, I travelled to Lahore duly escorted by Indu Babu, almost a family friend. I was 12 and so an escort was deemed necessary to guide me through two-plus days of travel with a break and change of train in Delhi.

I spent the daytime gazing out of the coach window and once dusk set in, we played chess, which Indu Babu loved.

He wrapped me up in his shawl during the second day of travel when he saw me shivering in the cold. We spent the daytime in Delhi playing chess at the residence of a student-friend of Indu Babu. At night, we left for the overnight journey to Lahore. At Lahore station, all I had on to guard against the cold was a thin sleeveless sweater that acted more as a dust catcher. Frankly, I was not prepared to face the 3-4 degrees Celsius temperature. But then I was going home to my parents and my 15-day-old sister.

Later at home, all my woes were forgotten in a jiffy. I became a Lahore resident soon. So I can relate some unforgettable incidents in the city. Late in December 1945, when it was very cold, my mother asked me to buy some coconut oil from the shop across the road. When I asked for a container for the oil, she assured me that the shopkeeper would give it to me. When I asked for coconut oil, he started to break an ice block. I wondered what he was doing. Then soon enough he gave me a packet. I told him that I wanted oil and he said the packet had oil. After reaching home, I checked again with my mother and she, after sniffing the packet, confirmed that indeed it was coconut oil.

It was very strange for persons from South India to see blocks of rock-solid coconut oil being cut into manageable pieces with a sharp screw-driver and sold wrapped in newspaper. To call it weird is very mild. My mother had to confirm that what I took home then was indeed coconut oil.

I used to walk towards Anarkali bazaar often enjoying the sights. The road was narrow and crowded. You had to dodge tongas, and the sight of those horses used to surprise me. The horses I had seen in the south used to be only a little larger than goats or sheep. In Lahore, the horses used to be huge and tall and I used to think that in the narrow, crowded streets, smaller tongas with smaller horses would have been ideal.

I used to walk to India Coffee House on the Mall, about half a mile from our house, to buy coffee powder. The Malayali gentleman seated at the cash counter wanted someone to talk to and whenever I went, he used to persuade me to keep him company. Poor man, I think he was really lonely and he used to keep on talking of anything under the sun. Roasted salted cashew nuts were offered to keep me glued to the seat opposite to him. I wondered how he could guess what I liked best in those days.

In 2001, when I met a woman hailing from Lahore in the U.S., she was thrilled to meet and talk to me about Lahore and its people of the mid-1950s. Yes, I was equally thrilled to hear about Lahore of 2001.

hemram1229@gmail.com

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 12:56:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-lahore-winter-in-1945/article30124276.ece

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