Anne Murphy presents a working paper on ‚The Possibility of a Punjabi Urban Imaginary‘

There is a saying one hears, upon arrival in Lahore, Pakistan: “Lahore na vekhia, jammia nahi”: “One hasn’t been born, until one has seen Lahore.” The sentiment this statement carries undergirds this paper, to consider the urban literary imaginaries that are both present, and missing, in our understanding of Punjabi language cultural production in the decades following the traumatic division of the Punjab region between the nation-states of India and Pakistan at decolonization in 1947, which was accompanied by catastrophic violence. A lesser discussed impact of Partition’s violence was the division it entailed linguistically and creatively. Although there is ample literature addressing how Partition has been addressed, described, and expressed in creative terms, consideration of Partition’s impact on writing and language themselves, in the act of expression, has received little sustained attention. This essay enters this area of exploration, to consider a possible urban imaginary that persists, and is simultaneously thwarted, by this international border, and how a kind of cosmopolitan and shared religiosity remains central to the formation of an urban imaginary on both sides of the border: in Lahore, the urban heart of Punjab that was ceded to Pakistan, and in Delhi, which became home to so many refugees at Partition that “Delhi was transformed,” as William Dalrymple put it in his travelogue of Delhi, City of Djinns, “from a small administrative capital of 900,000 people to a Punjabi-speaking metropolis half the size of London” (1992, 44). A close reading of select works reveals surprising parallels in work on both sides of the border, even as the border continues to divide, and allows for consideration of a kind of aspirational urbanity as an analytical tool for understanding cultural production along such lines, drawing on Rau’s (2020) discussion of this idea.