Laila’s Camel in Lyallpur

When he does write a letter, Abu tells us about his decision to live on the farm in Lyallpur.  It is an hour’s drive from the city.  The summers here  can be intense, but the weather doesn’t bother him. He is surrounded by family.

On the farm in Lyallpur, he will live with his mother, his brothers and their families. For Eid, his sisters will visit with their families. Abu will be in his element surrounded by people who listen to his stories. They depend on him to fill in the gaps of history that are not taught in school.

Sir James Broadwood Lyall

He will tell them, as he told us, how Lyallpur got its name: from Sir James Broadwood Lyall who, in the 1880s supported the creation of a model city in the heart of the Punjab.

He will continue this discussion after a siesta. When it gets cooler, in the evening, he will sit under the mulberry trees.  Around him, his mother, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews will make themselves comfortable.

The Union Jack Stamped on Lyallpur

He will sip tea as he relates the story of Lyallpur. He will remind his audience how the plan of the city is representative of the overlapping crosses of three Saints: Andrew of Scotland, Patrick of Ireland, and George of England.

Trust the British to brand a whole city. He will say and chuckle with amusement on how they had to leave despite this branding.

Canals and Camel

First, they build the largest canal system in the world, he will add somewhere between awe and criticism. Then they sell the land to local landowners. They need allies to rule.

He’ll glance around toward the house and the surrounding fields for effect.  Then, to explain their existence, he will say:

My great grandfather did a lot for this region.

Confident that he has captured everyone’s attention, Abu will continue with his grandfather’s accomplishments: As Assistant Colonization Officer to the British, he helped implement the grand irrigation plan. Then they asked him to plot the land.

As he pauses for a sip of tea, someone will join in the praise.

 He received the title of Khan Bahadur for his service to them.

Abu will return his tea cup to the saucer and take back the reins of the conversation:

The agreement with local camel owners.  He did that too.  The British recruited them for military duty.

The camel owners?  Someone will ask.

Abu will raise both eyebrows. His laugh will begin at his eyes and glide down to his lips. Slapping his hand on his knee, he’ll respond, No, the camels! 

After a round of laughter, he’ll finish the conversation with an Urdu verse.

شوخیِ اظہار غیر از وحشتِ مجنوں نہیں/لیلیِٰ معنی اسد محمل نشینِ راز ہے

Oh Asad, the mischievousness of expression is the madness of Majnun/My poetry is like Laila hidden in a camel-howdah.


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