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The Good Samaritans of 4, Fane Road

When the Kapur family was forced to leave Lahore overnight in the wake of Partition, the neighbouring Kasuri family helped them set up their lives in Delhi

The Kapur family, pre-Partition. Raj Suneja is seated in the middle in the front row
The Kapur family, pre-Partition. Raj Suneja is seated in the middle in the front row (Photo courtesy: The Kapur family)

The trial for the Lahore Conspiracy Case began on 10 July 1929 in Borstal Jail, Lahore, where Bhagat Singh and 27 others were charged with murder and waging war against King George V. The average age of the revolutionaries was 22. Their case was presided over by judge Rai Sahib Pandit Sri Kishen, and the accused were defended by a body of seven prominent Indian lawyers, one of whom, Amolak Ram Kapur, would outlive the 1947 Partition to tell a story of cross-border friendship and humanity.

Raj Suneja holding a photograph of her father, Amolak Ram Kapur
Raj Suneja holding a photograph of her father, Amolak Ram Kapur (Photo courtesy: Aanchal Malhotra)

When I meet Kapur’s daughter, Raj Suneja, in Delhi, she recalls the Lahore of undivided India. “4, Fane Road was our address, close to the Punjab high court where my father practised." Fane Road, prominent due to the many lawyers who inhabited it, was named after General Sir Henry Fane, once commander-in-chief of the Indian Army. She says the kothis on the street were few but large, and tries to recall the owners from memory, “Bakshi Tek Chand, Bishan Narayan, Grover sahib, the Suris, the Sonis…." Unable to remember any more names, she says, “It was quite a close-knit community, where families respected one another, regardless of religion." Fane Road was also home to the small legal chamber of none other than the late author Khushwant Singh.

When I ask her whether she still thinks about Fane Road,Suneja smiles and says in Punjabi, “Iss umar pe toh kayi cheezein bhool jaati hai, lekin bachpan da Lahore kadi nahi bhoolta, o’ shehr di baat hi kuch aur si (Age makes the past hazy, but memories of the Lahore of my childhood never leave me. There was something truly special about the city)." Fondly, she continues to speak about the public park on Fane Road, the akhara (wrestling area), their beautifully manicured garden, the two cars, cows and tanga (a horse-drawn carriage). She notes with pride that theirs was the first home on the street to get a Godrej refrigerator.

But the highlight of No.4, Fane Road was undoubtedly Amolak Ram Kapur’s grand library, with hundreds of books collected over the years. Suneja opens her arms as wide as they go, to show me the vastness of the book collection. And then she reveals that the family had to leave it all behind when they migrated to Delhi during the summer of 1947, hoping the move would be merely temporary—for a week or two, at the most. They had fled in haste, acting in response to rumours of ghastly violence against women in Lahore, carrying minimum belongings and clothing.

During the early days in Delhi, they relied on the goodness of friends and other refugees. Partition had not yet happened, but Kapur’s eldest son, K.K. Kapur, a well-known film distributor, had an office space in Lahore and proposed to exchange it for a Muslim friend’s property in Delhi. And so it came to be that the family occupied 9, Rajpur Road, Civil Lines, in Delhi. Suneja remembers walking along Connaught Place, seeing many of her father’s old friends and acquaintances selling their wares on the roadside. At home, food was sparse and relatives from across the border flocked into the small property, making it feel no less than a refugee camp. But whatever the circumstances, their door would always remain open to all. With the sudden influx of family, friends and other refugees, Kapur, once a member of the Lahore bar and owner of a thriving, prosperous pratice, was now grateful for the additional financial support from his eldest son.

As the date for Partition approached, the family would listen to bulletins on the radio and read the newspaper, fearing with every passing day that their home and life in Lahore would soon become a thing of the past. As the summer of 1947 came to a close, Kapur reached out to an old friend with a sincere request. It is the mention of this very communication that first caught my interest.

In his memoir, Neither A Hawk Nor A Dove, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, a Pakistani politician, also alludes to 4, Fane Road, Lahore, writing from the perspective of his family. In the summer of 1947, the Kasuris were vacationing in Murree, an idyllic hill station. Young Khurshid recalls eagerly waiting for the pastrywala when his father told the family they had to pack up and return to Lahore immediately. Khurshid, having just turned 6, writes about being very angry at one “Amolak Ram Kapur, whoever he may be" for having cut short his summer vacation. Later, he found out that Kapur was not only a noted Hindu criminal lawyer and his father’s close friend, but had also rung up to ask whether the Kasuris could occupy his now abandoned house on Fane Road, as he feared looters and thieves might enter the grand premises.

When Partition was declared, Kapur realized that his temporary absence would certainly be permanent, and the Kasuris began to pack the Kapur family’s belongings. Boxes upon boxes were fitted in a truck and sent across the new border to an old friend. With tears in her eyes, Suneja recalls the contents of the boxes, “Not only had they sent across my father’s vast legal library and his complete and enviable collection of the works of Shakespeare, but the boxes even included all of our warm clothes." Winter was arriving, and because they had left in haste and had no means to buy new winter clothes, the Kasuris made sure they would not freeze. It was a gesture of absolute kindness and consideration.

“From the boxes, yet another treasure emerged,"Suneja opens an old dusty file and offers it to me. A photocopy of old pages written in longhand, beginning from Sunday, 13 September 1914. This was Amolak Ram Kapur’s personal journal that he had begun as a 14-year-old boy in 1914. Carefully, it too had been packed and sent across to its rightful owner. As I perused the pages of history, Suneja smiled as the inheritor of her father’s legacy.

“I think the Partition broke him—physically, emotionally, even professionally. It took a few months before the East Punjab high court was established in Shimla, and we could return to a life of normalcy. Eventually, my father was appointed president of the Bar Association of the Punjab and Haryana high court. But even in those first few years of beginning again, we tried to hold no malice for all that happened. Lahore had now long been left behind. But if we lost our homes, then so did people on the other side; and if we were witness to communal violence, then so were they. The pain of Partition is shared amongst the people of India and Pakistan, and though we constantly remember the madness and bloodshed, we often forget or ignore the courageous acts of kindness and friendship that also occurred.

“My father was so touched upon receiving the boxes of our belongings that he wrote a letter of gratitude to his friend, Mian Mahmud Ali Kasuri," she says. In his memoir, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri recalls his father reading the letter out loud to the family. “Aap kay liyee dil se dua nikaltee hai, I pray for you from the bottom of my heart," read the contents of the note. It was truly a friendship that survived the divide and has sustained for generations.

Aanchal Malhotra is an oral historian and author of Remnants Of A Separation: A History Of The Partition Through Material Memory.

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