Perhaps the most charming quality of Lahoris of the olden times was their habit of creating ‘baani’ or verses in response to any emerging social custom or event.
Right next to the iconic Anarkali Bazar is the Dhani Ram road. It reminds of an interesting Lahori who was no less than a revolutionary, Lala Dhani Ram Bhalla. In pre partition Lahore iconic boot houses like Chief boot house and Karnal shoe shop were all the rage. An english boot would cost around to 10 to 12 Rupees in those days while Indian made shoes sold for 3 to 4 Rupees. But perhaps the most famous one was the Bhalla shoe store inside Anarkali. And it was famous for more than just its shoes.
Shoe stores were a Muslim monopoly. It was unheard of for a Hindu to be in the leather shoes business owing to their religious beliefs. But Dhani Ram Bhalla put aside such concerns and got into ‘chamdey ka kaam’ opening up a shop in the upscale Anarkali bazar. And just like any new idea that takes the society by storm, the move created an uproar and Dhani Ram’s family were blacklisted by the Hindus of the city. Not just the family but anyone who dared to be seen with them was also shunned. So upset were the Hindu community of the city that they started openly cursing him and started a movement against him. They came up with a ‘baani’ to target Dhani Ram:
شہر لاہور، انار کلی، تے پیلی ہٹی بھلے دی
Shehr Lahore, Anarkali, tay peeli hatti Bhalley di
ہندو ہو کے جتیاں بیچے، مت ماری گئ دلے دی
Hindu ho kay jootiyan bechay, mat maari gayi dalley di
(Anarkali bazar in Lahore city and the yellow painted shop of Bhalla;
Being a Hindu he sells leather shoes, the bastard has gone crazy)
So popular did this baani become that people started putting up posters of this baani all over the bazar and beyond.
But Dhani Ram was no ordinary character. He understood that society is so used to doing things a certain way that any new idea would take time to take roots and thus persisted. An ordinary person would have been incensed and full of rage at such abusive rant against his person. An ordinary person would have given up. But Dhani Ram mantained his calm. Instead he twisted the baani to his benefit and came up with a reply that became so popular that it became the slogan for his store:
شہر لاہور، انار کلی، تے ویکھ بھلے دے تل
Shehr Lahore, Anarkali, tay wekh Bhalley de tul
کنی سوھنی شہ دا منگدا کنا تھوڑا مل
Kinni sohni shay da mangda, kinna thora mul
(Anarkali bazar in Lahore city and look at the style of Bhalla; He asks such a small price for such a beautiful thing)
Dhani Ram Bhalla became a very successful and an influential man in the city. He became so influential that the same people who shunned him and cursed him now wanted to be seen with him and seek his blessings. His influence was such that political leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Tagore stayed with him when they visited Lahore. His shoes became so popular that there were other sayings regarding his store that cropped up like:
Boot Bhalley de le deo sanoo
Roz dihari kavaan tuanoo
(Buy me Bhalla shoes, i request you everyday)
Like so many Hindu citizens, his family left Lahore during partition. Not much is known about their whereabouts. Until recently, the shop where once iconic Bhalla shoe store was, stood Milli shoes.
Like the departure of so many colorful Lahoris has also departed the culture and traditions like baanis that made life in Lahore so enchanting. Now one would do well to only preserve the memories of such Lahoris and traditions like baanis.