Holi in Lahore — Was I dreaming?
In 2003, I was in Pakistan for six months at a stretch to finish my M.Phil on Raghupati Sahay Firaq Gorakhpuri's poetry from the famed University of Punjab, Lahore. Holi was round the corner and I was missing its infectious bonhomie which's so integral to this colourful festival. On the eve of Holi, I got a call from the University's Department of Humanities. The professor of Philosophy, Dr Rahil Abbas phoned me and asked me to come to the department to celebrate Holi. It was a surprise of surprises to me. Holi in Pakistan! Was I dreaming? I pinched myself. No, I wasn't dreaming. Nonetheless, I went to the department on the day of Holi. It was a colourful spectacle to behold. There were colours everywhere. Students and professors were playing Holi. The moment I entered the department, all greeted me with Holi mubarak ho in chorus. It was really unexpected. Dr Abbas told me that Punjab University had been celebrating Holi right from its inception in 1882 and the tradition was never broken even during and after partition. Three full-fledged wars with India also did not affect this festival. He then quoted Urdu poet and critic Kalidas Gupta 'Raza', 'Rang nahin dekhte Hindu ya Musalmaan / Baras jaate hain sab pe ek samaan' (Colours don't differentiate between Hindus and Muslims/ They fall upon all equally). Dr Abbas further added that Holi had the shared history and heritage of India and Pakistan. It's not a mere festival. It belongs to all. His words still echo in my mind, 'Holi is like a rainbow that gladdens every heart and drives away the blues.'
This unforgettable experience enthralled me. I left Pakistan after the completion of my M.Phil degree but I still get the invite from the Department of Humanities, Lahore, on the occasion of Holi. They haven't forgotten to invite me since 2003. I've their invitation this year as well. Alack, times have changed so much. Yet, the feelings and bonhomie are still intact in the hearts of the common people of both the countries. May that remain intact and unbroken forever. This cordiality can be further consolidated only through the universality of festivals because they all do not actually belong to a specific community or faith. Diwali or Holi is as much a festival of Muslims as it's of Hindus just like Eid is celebrated by all and not just by Muslims. I remember, I had sheer-khurma on the occasion of Eid at the place of a Christian friend of mine from Rampur in UP. His parents were Roman Catholics but they were brought up in Lucknow, and had the inter-cultural ethos in their blood, nay in their consciousness. My friend's parents spoke impeccable Urdu and his mother did her Master's in Urdu literature from Lucknow University!
This is what we all urgently need at this hour of increasing rancour and refusal. We all need to imbibe the universal spirit of festivity to live happily with each other like a very big family. To quote Pakistani Urdu poet Aurangzeb Khan Qateel Shifai, 'Holi na teri hai, na meri/ Eid jaise hai sabki, humari-tumhari/Rasmon aur teyoharon ko na baant, mere yaar/Sirf ada-e-teyohar ko dekh, jo hai sabse pyari' (Holi doesn't belong to you or me/Just like Eid belongs to all/My friend, don't discriminate among the festivals/Just look at the beauty of it (festival) which's of paramount importance).'
Wish, we all knew and understood this! Happy Holi to all the readers, regardless of their creeds and communities. That indeed never matters....