By Balwant Sanghera – TWENTYFOURTH IN A SERIES ON MY LIFE
When I left India for Canada in early 1966, Punjab was still in one piece. Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were parts of Punjab. Also, the green revolution was still years away. From Kashmir to Delhi, it was all Punjab territory. Most of the farming was done by old means-ploughs and oxen, Persian wheels, canals and rather primitive means. The tractors, tube wells, submersiblemotors and other means of modern farming were few and far between. The life of the villagers in Punjab was simple. The concept of good neighbourhood, helping each other, holistic lifestyle was prevalent. Sleeping on the rooftops and loud conversations between neighbours at night were the norm. Most of the households left their doors unlocked. Your neighbours, friends and guests could simply drop by without any prior notice. Cars were a rare commodity. Most of the travelling was done with bikes, onfoot oron busesand trains. Similarly, life in the cities was also fairly simple. I vividly remember frequently visiting two of the closest cities from my ancestral village.
My hometown Pharwala (near Bilga/Nurmahal) is almost equidistant from two main cities –Jalandhar and Ludhiana. My friends and I would visit both of these cities on a fairly regular basis. I still remember very clearly a lot about both of these cities as they were more than fifty years ago. For example, Jalandhar’s Nehru Garden aka the Company Bagh was a very popular spot forpeople. The bypass to Amritsar was still non-existent. The GT Road was cutting through the centre of the city. Movie theatres like Joti, Sant, Laxmi, Minerva were thriving. I remember watching Mughal-e-Azam at the Joti theatre on Nakodar Road during the first week of its release.
Jalandhar’s Model Town with elegant kothis was sparsely populated. There were a lot of empty spaces between the city’s Model Town Chowk and Model Town. Similarly, the area between Model Town and nearby Mithapur was still farmland with farm produce storage sheds .Incidentally, Mithapur and neighbouring Sansarpur, are famous as the nursery of grass hockey players of international calibre. The district courts and offices of the top city officials were tucked along the GT Road between Model Town Chowk and Nehru Gardens. Near the Company Bagh, right on GT Road, alongside a number of stores and Jalandhar Central Cooperative Bank, was a shoe business owned by a Chinese businessman. Incidentally, for a long time, this city has been and continues to be the centre of the newspaper publications in many languages.Also, Jalandhar continues to be the headquarters for sports equipment manufacturingindustry. Less than fifty kilometer to the south stands Jalandhar’s twin city Ludhiana.
Ludhiana’s ChauraBazar (Wide Market) beginning from the Ghanta Ghar (Clock Tower) Chowk was full of stores, restaurants, bookshops and variety of other goods. I still remember a bookshop-Lyall Book Depot –where my friends and I would go at the beginning of a new school year every year to buy books and school supplies etc. It was like a yearly pilgrimage. Closeby was a prominent restaurant. I think it was called Kailash where after our book purchases we would have soft drinks and snacks. With the bypass, things have changed a lot in this vicinity. The movie theatres like Rikhi, Naulakha, Kailashand Society were thriving. Not far away was the industrial hub of Miller Ganj. The railway station and nearby Civil Lines were always a hub of activity. The college row-Arya College, Government College, Khalsa College etc. were bubbling with enthusiastic students.Ludhiana was and continues to be the centre for hosiery and is appropriately called the Manchester of Punjab. It is also home of the famous Punjab Agricultural University.
Since my arrival in Canada, my family and I have been back to visit India in general and Punjab in particular on a fairly regular basis .I am amazed at the tremendous change that has taken place both at the village and the city level. Most of the change has been for the better. However, there also have been some disappointing developments in this regard. Regardless, India in general and Punjab in particular are still fascinating places to visit.
Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist.