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Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya - Hope For Harmony




Deepa Gahlot



At a time when communal tensions flare up at the slightest provocation, a look at the humanism of Asghar Wajahat's Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya. Several versions are available online, and this one's a must watch for those who have not seen a live performance.

Asghar Wajahat's Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya is one of the finest works of literature about the aftermath of the Partition- one that makes a strong plea for peace and communal harmony. (The title comes from the poplar saying which loosely translates as: whoever has not seen Lahore, has not lived.)

Several groups, including Naya Theatre, Ank, Asmita, Yatrik have done productions of plays based on the novel; it has been translated into several languages and performed all over the country and abroad. The story is set during the Partition, when an old Hindu woman is abandoned by her family in a Lahore mansion, when they leave for India.

Sikandar Mirza and his family migrate from India to Pakistan, and are allotted this haveli by the custodian in Lahore and are shocked to find a doddering old woman, who goes simply by the label of 'Ratan ki Maa,' still in the house. Even though she has been betrayed her own family, she has not lost her capacity to offer affection to the 'intruders' in her home.


The old woman refuses to leave and, after their initial discomfiture and attempts to get her out, the Mirzas come to love her. She is eventually accepted as a mother figure by the whole mohalla. But trouble is fomented by the hooligans in the area, who stir up communal tensions. There is the fanatic Pehalwan, who takes on the job of safeguarding Islam, and the presence of a Hindu woman in the vicinity offends him. The man countering Pehelwan's ideology of hate is the poet Nasir Kazmi, who is symbol of the artiste as a secular force. The common citizens of both countries want to live in peace, but the politics of power and religion are too powerful to fight; like the Maulvi, who rebuffs Pehelwan provocative rants. A small tea shop is where discussions are held and news exchanged-a microcosm of the community that wants no part of the violence unleashed around them.

The message conveyed by the play can never be emphasized enough, and vigilance against communalism can never be lowered as long as there are Pehelwans on the loose.

(Deepa Gahlot is a journalist, columnist, author and curator. Some of her writings are on deepagahlot.com)

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