Whenever I visit Lahore, I visit Temple Road where I was born, look up my class fellows from school, college and university and try to meet them. I have the freedom to do so.
Pran Nevile could not assume such freedom, but I must say that Pakistani governments have always granted him a visa, in fact multiple visas.
Pran-ji always supported ideas and projects which sought to promote India-Pakistan peace and friendship between their people. Many Pakistani singers and musicians were hosted by him. He scrupulously kept away from politics, thinking of the partition of 1947 with a philosophical detachment, accepting it as something which happened once upon a time and the best thing to do was to move on.
I met him first in 1999. The former Indian prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral, whom I had met in 1990 in Delhi and again later in Mumbai, put me in touch with him. I initiated a project on the exit of Hindus and Sikhs from Lahore and wanted to interview them. Gujral Sahib told me that Pran Nevile was the man who could help me with this. I wrote to him and Pran-ji very kindly arranged for me to stay at the India International Centre in New Delhi. I was amazed that he spoke in an unmistakable, inimitable desi and theth (native and authentic) Lahori dialect and distinct accent.
It was with his very generous help that I met many old Lahoris in Delhi. My book, The Punjab: Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, would perhaps not have been possible otherwise. Like a true scholar, he never tried to influence my research. Moreover, in 2011, I had the privilege to stay with Pran-ji in his Gurgaon house.
On the campus of the India International Centre is a restaurant and a coffee lounge. One corner is known as the Lahore Corner. In 1999 it was thick with former residents of Lahore. I was welcomed by them with open arms. Pran-ji and several others shared their memories of Lahore and the partition with me, which are also published in my book.
Pran Nevile was himself a writer and a music and dance connoisseur, he published books on K. L. Saigal, the dancing girls of India, the British Raj and other such themes. Two of his books are Lahore-specific.
Lahore: A Sentimental Journey (1992) is a classic. It is a must read for anyone curious to learn about the Lahore of the 1920s-1940s. He shed light on multiple aspects of a robust and pulsating city which evolved and developed under the benevolence of the British Raj. Its schools, colleges, universities, cinemas, film studies and dance clubs and multi-religious demography rendered it a paragon of robust pluralism. Pran-ji depicted Lahore without making it an exercise in depressing nostalgia. Rather, he describes the people and the scenes of Lahore with wit and humour, which proves to be vastly entertaining for the reader.
His recent work, Carefree Days: Many Roles, Many Lives (2016) tells his personal story. His alma mater, Lahore’s Government College, receives generous praise as well. He spent six years (1937-43) at Government College. Old teachers and class fellows are named, and tributes paid to them.
He underlines that whereas Gandhi’s Quit India Movement had galvanized the masses for protests and agitations, the youth of Punjab, on the other hand, were seeking employment with the Raj. One can add that the Punjab was drawn into mass action only when it became clear that the British were leaving, and the Muslim League had launched a campaign for Pakistan.
He also discussed his eventful career in the Indian foreign service. He was posted in several capitals, serving in the information wing of Indian embassies. As always, the skills of a storyteller are abundant, and he embellished the narratives with humour and a bit of scandal; very similar to the way Lahoris tell their stories.
Even though Pran Nevile is gone now, I will always remember him as a very true friend and a genuine citizen of a Lahore which is no more. Lahore was as much his as it is mine. A salute to him from one in Stockholm who shared with him a love for Lahore.
The writer, the Pakistan-born author of the award-winning books, The Punjab: Bloodied, Partitioned & Cleansedand Pakistan: The Garrison State, lives in Stockholm.