Tag Archives: Raj

Pakistan’s Identity Battle Plays Out in Lahore

Bhagat_jpg_1225585g

The battle for Pakistan’s identity is playing out in Lahore’s streets and – oddly, on its thoroughfares and intersections. On 23rd March, this year, a group of civil society representatives gathered at Lahore’s Shadman Chowk to commemorate the 82nd death anniversary of Bhagat Singh, a Sikh freedom fighter renowned for his revolutionary struggle as part of the independence movement, and who became stuff of legend when he was hanged by the British in 1931 after a brief but eventful insurrection against colonial rule. The gathering, however, was disrupted by members of a religious group which was holding a protest aimed at denouncing the idea of renaming the chowk after Bhagat Singh, simultaneously.

The chowk and the adjacent area used to be Lahore’s central jail during the British Raj, and Bhagat Singh is believed to have been hanged at the site of what is now Shadman Chowk.

Late last year, a group of Lahoris made progress in getting local officials to rename a busy traffic circle for Bhagat Singh, a Sikh revolutionary who. They see it as a chance to honor a local hero who they feel transcends the ethnic and sectarian tensions gripping the country today — and also as an important test of the boundaries of inclusiveness here.

But in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, questions of religious identity also become issues of patriotism, and the effort has raised alarm bells among conservatives and Islamists. The circle was named in 2010 for Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, a Muslim student who coined the name Pakistan in the 1930s, and there was an outcry at the news that it might be renamed for a non-Muslim.

“If a few people decide one day that the name has to be changed, why should the voice of the majority be ignored?” asked Zahid Butt, the head of a neighborhood business association here and a leader of the effort to block the renaming.

The fight over the traffic circle — which, when they are pressed, locals usually just call Shadman Circle, after the surrounding neighborhood — has become a showcase battle in a wider ideological war over nomenclature and identity here and in other Pakistani cities.

Although many of Lahore’s prominent buildings are named for non-Muslims, there has been a growing effort to “Islamize” the city’s architecture and landmarks, critics of the trend say. In that light, the effort to rename the circle for Mr. Singh becomes a cultural counteroffensive.

“Since the ’80s, the days of the dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq, there has been an effort that everything should be Islamized — like the Mall should be called M. A. Jinnah Road,” said Taimur Rahman, a musician and academic from Lahore, referring to one of the city’s central roads and to the country’s founder. “They do not want to acknowledge that other people, from different religions, also lived here in the past.”

A recent nationwide surge in deadly attacks against religious minorities, particularly against Ahmadi and Hazara Shiites, has again put a debate over tolerance on the national agenda. Though most Sikhs fled Pakistan soon after the partition from India in 1947, the fight over whether to honor a member of that minority publicly bears closely on the headlines for many.

A push to honor Mr. Singh has been going on here for years. But it was not until the annual remembrance of his birth in September that things came to a head. A candlelight demonstration to support renaming the traffic circle had an effect, and a senior district official agreed to start the process. As part of it, he asked the public to come forward with any objections. The complaints started pouring in.

Traders of Shadman Market, the local trade group led by Mr. Butt, threatened a strike. Chillingly, warnings against the move were issued by leaders of the Islamic aid group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, largely believed to be a front for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Clerics voiced their opposition during Friday Prayer.

The issue quickly became a case for the city’s High Court, which said it would deliberate on a petition, initiated by Mr. Butt and a coalition of religious conservatives, to block the name change. That was in November, and the case still awaits a hearing date. The provincial government has remained in tiptoe mode ever since. “It is a very delicate matter,” said Ajaz Anwar, an art historian and painter who is the vice chairman of a civic committee that is managing the renaming process.

Mr. Anwar said some committee members had proposed a compromise: renaming the circle after Habib Jalib, a widely popular postindependence poet. That move has been rejected out of hand by pro-Singh campaigners.

Mr. Rahman and other advocates for renaming the circle paint it as a test of resistance to intolerance and extremism, and they consider the government and much of Lahore society to have failed it.

“The government’s defense in the court has been very halfhearted,” said Yasser Latif Hamdani, a lawyer representing the activists. “The government lawyer did not even present his case during earlier court proceedings.”

The controversy threatens to become violent. On March 23, the anniversary of Mr. Singh’s death, police officers had to break up a heated exchange between opposing groups at the circle.

Mr. Rahman and the other supporters have vowed to continue fighting, saying it has become a war over who gets to own Pakistan’s history.

“There is a complete historical amnesia and black hole regarding the independence struggle from the British,” Mr. Rahman said, adding of the Islamists, “They want all memories to evaporate.”

 {Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/world/asia/plan-to-rename-traffic-circle-provokes-outcry-in-lahore-pakistan.html?ref=global-home&_r=1&}

Lawrence and Montgomery Halls in Lahore

he Lawrence and Montgomery Halls in Lahore as photographed by James Craddock in the 1860s. The caption states “Two large Halls for public meetings built by subscription in honour of Sir John (now Lord) Lawrence and Sir Robert Montgomery. The latter is almost the finest room in India & is used for all the state durbars and Senate meetings, etc. The great ball to the Duke of Edinburgh was in this Hall.” Sir John Lawrence was first Chief Commissioner and Lt. Governor of the Punjab (1853-59) and went on to become Viceroy of India. Robert Montgomery was second Lt. Governor of the Punjab (1859-65). Sir Lawrence played a crucial role during the First War of Independence in 1857 by assuring the supply of troops from Punjab to Delhi. The neoclassical look of the halls was meant to inspire awe in the locals and reaffirm colonial authority after the war. The halls are now being used as the Quaid e Azam Library.
Photo Credit:  http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta2/tft/article.php?issue=20111104&page=30

Personal histories: attention Lahore buffs

I have received this letter from Suniti Mohindra based in the US, who is searching for many answers. This email was so interesting that I am publishing it with Suniti’s permission. I am going to look for materials but I would request the readers to help our friend in undertaking this amazing project. History is not the domain of the rulers only. Personal histories are even more important for they give us a humanistic vision of our past and the present. Please leave any information here in the comments section RR

Dear Raza Rumi,

I was researching for the history of Lahore the great City of Punjab where my grandfather Ralla Ram Mohindra came to for his college education in 1892/3 and while finishing his college he came across an advertisement in the local paper where the East India Company was advertising for educated persons for the development of the Railway in East Africa called the Uganda Railway. My Grandfather hailed from Malsian district Jullandhar from the Soodhan Mohalla his father being in the business of leasing land to the farmers and hence from a rich family that believed in Education and the values to be gotten wherefrom. My Grandfather without telling his father Lala Moti Ram (he was the only son) applied for this post was immediately called to Calcutta where he was given a crash course in Administration and telegraphy and with a handsome advance given a ticket to sail for Mombasa, Kenya to report to the General Manager George Whitehouse[who was later knighted]as the Railhead Station Master and took the Railway from Mazeras to Kisumu on Lake Victoria the period was 1896 to 1901.

I am putting together history of my family and was wondering if you may be able to help me in constructing the aura of the Great City of Lahore the then Capital of Punjab. I have pieced together some aspects but these only relate to the fact that there were four sections of the city etc. Is there any material that would help me grasp what the Metropolis of that time was and what great thing it was for some one from a village to come to this Great City, get Educated there and them get the dare devil outlook for adventure and exploration in a spirit of fearlessness to a distant part of Africa then known as KALA PANI.. my love for Punjab aside, the great adventure of my Grandfather and what motivated a young man in his late teens to embark on such a journey is what I want to get a handle on.

Any help from you would be most helpful and please accept my gratitude which I shall duly acknowledge for the courtesy extended.

With respect and regards,

Suniti Mohindra

Living Lohawarana

by Raza Rumi

Also published in Himal Magazine’s October issue

There was a Lahore that I grew up in, and then there is the Lahore that I live in now. Recovering from an exile status for two decades, I find myself today turning into something of a clichéd grump, hanging desperately on to the past. Yet I resist that. Writing about Lahore is a sensation that lies beyond the folklore – Jine Lahore nai wakhaya o janmia nai (The one who has not seen Lahore has never lived). It has to do with an inexplicable bonding and oneness with the past, and yet a contradictory and not-so-glorious interface with the present.

Lahore is now the second largest city in Pakistan, with a population that has crossed the 10 million mark. It is turning into a monstropolis. Had it not been for Lahore’s intimacy with Pakistan’s power base – the Punjab-dominated national establishment – this would be just another massive, unmanageable city, regurgitating all the urban clichés of the Global South. But Lahore retains a definite soul; it is comfortable with modernity and globalisation, and continues to provide inspiration for visitors and residents alike.

Over the last millennium, Lahore has been the traditional capital of Punjab in its various permutations. A cultural centre of North India extending from Peshawar to New Delhi, it has historically been open to visitors, invaders and Sufi saints alike. Several accounts tell how Lahore emerged as a town between the 6th and 16th centuries BC. According to commonly accepted myth, Lahore’s ancient provenance, Lohawarana, was founded by the two sons of Lord Ram some 4000 years ago. One of these sons, Loh (or Luv), gave his name to this timeless city. A deserted temple in Lahore Fort is ostensibly a tribute to Loh, located near the Alamgiri gate, next to the fort’s old jails. Under the regime of Zia ul-Haq, Loh’s divine space was closed and used as a dungeon in which to punish political activists. Continue reading

More on the history of Model Town Lahore

On the history of Model Town in Lahore:

In 1927 Col Jamaluddin had been posted as Civil Surgeon in Lahore. Mr Kirpalani was the Deputy Commissioner and Sardar Teja Singh was the Sessions Judge. All three Indians were posted together for the first time. With the help of a French architect who was their mutual friend, they planned the community of Model Town, as a retirement abode. Innitially, ModelTown was divided into three parts with a Mosque, a Temple and a Gurduwara as a center point to worship, surrounded by three blocks of housing each. Land at the center of the development was left vacant for recreation and community service centers.

Moorcroft, Shalimar Gardens and the Great Game

A forgotten page from history —Salman Rashid

The thought that Moorcroft was to die broken and bitterly disappointed brings a pang of grief. The mitigating factor however is that it did not take his country long to realise the worth of the man. Today he is acknowledged, and rightly so, as the forebear of Himalayan exploration and discovery, and one of the earliest heroes of the Great Game

In the northeast corner of the first quadrangle of the Shalimar Garden in Lahore, right next to the fountains, there is an unpretentious yellow-washed rectangular room on a high plinth. Entrance to the ground floor is through a door in the east wall, while in the west is a door and staircase leading down to the basement. The remaining arched alcoves all around are closed by masonry filigree.

The west wall bears a plaque commemorating the sojourn in this room of the ‘famous traveller William Moorcroft’ in May 1820. Despite the hundreds of visitors daily, few would have noticed this plaque; even fewer would have known who this person was. But for those who have any interest in the history of the Great Game, that epic struggle between Russia and England for the possession of Central Asia, Moorcroft’s name shines bright. Continue reading

Requiem for Birdwood – (destroying Lahore’s heritage)

By Masood Hasan (NEWS)
6/1/2008

Here’s to another lost cause in the land of great lost causes – Birdwood Barracks, 22 acres of prime land right in the middle of the city of Lahore and till recently home to the armed forces. The Ministry of Defence, acting more like the Ministry of Offence, has had the ancient barracks pulled down, the rubble carted away leaving ugly mounds where once the barracks stood, the bugles sounded and young muscular “jawans” came out in neat file formation, running in rhythmic tempo as if with one step. Tenders have been duly floated, land values dutifully worked out and auction dates determined. The Ministry of Defence is pressing ahead to make another sale to the highest bidders.

Waris Road, on which Birdwood Barracks stood for so many years from the time of the British, this was quite a road at one time – not as much for the clear pond at the head of the road where well-fed fish swam contentedly but for the folk of genteel disposition who lived here. It was on this road, where Sandy Rollo the great portrait master photographer was seen rowing a boat during one of the great floods that sent the waters of the Ravi rushing headlong over the “Bunds,” across the great length of Ravi Road, past the Badshahi Mosque and down across Bhatti into the lower and then the upper reaches of The Mall and well into localities such as Waris Road, the road that linked Lahore’s Queens Road with Jail Road, past the famous girls’ hostel of Fatima Jinnah Medical College. Sandy Rollo was to Lahore what Karsh was to Ottawa. As he rowed past, hailing all his many friends who lived here, the gasping residents wondered. A boat on Waris Road? What next and what madness had descended on Sandy? More importantly where did he get that boat?

But Sandy Rollo was not a Waris Road resident, as were the Bhandaras, whose stately home, surrounded by huge shady trees and green gardens, was a cultural melting pot and where Bapsi Sidhwa first began to learn about the curious relationships that alter lives and change courses. Mrs Najmuddin, “Mrs Najj” to all who loved this wonderful and warm lady, the woman in whose memory the Najmuddin Drama Society still lives on in Kinnaird though it is a mere shadow of what it used to be, like the college that’s fallen into wrong hands, lived on Waris Road all her life. There was Theo Phailbus, a gentleman and collector of all things to do with movies, movie stars and the occult, and a little further up, the Zaidi clan, the family of portrait photographers who live on through the artistic creations of Shahid Zaidi, still capturing young brides and their husbands in his inimitable way. Continue reading

Lahore: the City of Sin and Splendour

Courtesty Pakistan Paindabad blog

Food Street, LahoreBapsi Sidhwa’s Lahore is a lovingly embroidered family heirloom.

[By Gaurav Sood; the author is a US based political and media analyst. He occasionally writes at Spincycle; picture by Asif Jafri]

A city hasn’t been showered with such love since Dalrymple wrote about Delhi. Bapsi Sidhwa’s edited volume on Lahore in fact far exceeds it. After all, Dalrymple was nothing but a foreigner who had only spent a few years in Delhi when he wrote the book, while Sidhwa in her endeavor is accompanied by a range of distinguished authors and intellects, only tied together in their love for Lahore.

The love for the city, its landmarks, its famed cuisine, its gourmets, its brutalizing summers, its people, its stories, and its relationships shines through on every page.

Every great city deserves an admirer and chronicler of the calibre of Bapsi Sidhwa – someone who will perspicaciously and assiduously collect stories that celebrate her beauty and look unflinchingly, yet lovingly, at her bruised soul and her warts.

The Book

The book strikes an immediate rapport that is akin to being invited to an intimate familial Punjabi gathering. I felt alternately like a kid sitting on the lap of my maternal uncle being told stories about the city, a young adult guiltily listening to the adult conversation about the brutal tales about city’s history, and an objective adult reflecting on history, and politics.

There is a warm intimacy that suffuses each of the stories in City of Sin and Splendor: Writings on Lahore. The additional element of emotional immediacy comes from stories that talk about things we South Asians have grown up with. All of it is made available ‘naturalistically’ by the craft of authors who rarely go beyond what is known. It is an important talent. For authors are always tempted by superfluous cleverness. It is the Jane Austen method of writing in some ways – writing honestly, perspicaciously, and often with great wit about what is known without flirting with the unnecessary or the arcane. It is grounded writing. The authors use words that are well worn and apt and not ones with peripatetic grandiloquent pretensions. The resulting atmosphere in the book is not stifling because of the self restraint, but educated and homely. Continue reading

Lahore: The axe falls on secretariat trees

Intikhab Hanif’s report for the Daily DAWN is worrisome:

LAHORE, April 19: A number of Punjab Civil Secretariat’s old trees have been felled as part of Chief Secretary Javed Mehmood’s ‘demolition plan’ and the premises has been denuded of its natural beauty, green shadows and most importantly the historical links.

Among the felled ones is a red berry tree, which was standing near the back gate of the secretariat and was famous for its sweet fruit. It was perhaps one of the very few red berry trees in Lahore and was a link between the Lahore of today and the past.

“I really regret the felling of this tree. It should have been preserved,” said a senior secretariat employee, recalling how he used to pluck berries from the tree in spring after offering prayers in the nearby mosque without caring for his age and rank. Continue reading

The rise and fall of courtesans

By Majid Sheikh

THE 50 years of Sikh rule in Punjab (1799-1849), with Lahore as its capital was basically confined to the areas, minus Amritsar, that came to be known as Pakistani Punjab.The seat of power was called the ‘Lahore Darbar’.

During this time, like never before in the history of this land, the role of courtesans rivalled those of Florence and Venice in the Renaissance period. Men in power loved beautiful women. It is a universal, natural and timeless happening just as beautiful women know how to exploit men in power. In Elizabeth the First’s England, handsome men weaved their charm around the queen, giving rise to the best of Shakespeare’s works. It has always worked both ways, for “mutual benefit” as a bankerfriend of mine so aptly puts it.

The all-powerful Maharaja Ranjit Singh loved beautiful women, and soon after he came to power in 1799, he loved to spend his time among such beauties. But he was a man with a sensible head on his shoulders, for he was to describe to a British visitor. Continue reading

Lahore’s Lawrence Gardens

I am homesick so I am posting an old piece on the majestic Lawrence Gardens of Lahore.

Lahore ‘s Lawrence Gardens, baptised the Bagh-i-Jinnah in the post-independence era, represent the quintessential Raj ethos.Lawrence Gardens

Built primarily for the sahibs and memsahibs, the park has managed to maintain its dream-like beauty for a century and a half. The colonial maps drawn up in the mid-nineteenth century show that eastward of Charing Cross, Gardens existed on the right. In the place of the Freemasons’ Hall, there was once a ‘circular garden'; and what is now the Lahore Zoo was another park called the New Garden.

This was followed by the Agricultural and Horticultural Society Garden, which was the original name of the city’s beloved Lawrence Gardens. The Agriculture Horticulture Society of India established it in 1860 and years later, in 1904, the department of agriculture assumed maintenance responsibilities.

Since 1912, approximately seven acres of the park have been managed by the Government College, Lahore. To this day, it maintains a delightful botanical garden replete with a greenhouse and experimental fields.

The annexation of the Punjab in 1849 and the successful control of the 1857 uprising in many regions of northern India resulted in the consolidation of the British Empire. Due to its strategic location, the Punjab was central to the architecture of the colonial power. Lahore was to become a major outpost of the empire. Therefore, the sahibs had to create social and cultural spaces for themselves in otherwise unfriendly and unfamiliar surroundings. A garden in the heart of British Lahore was essential.

True to the colonial policy, the new garden would be a continuation of the Mughal tradition of creating baaghs as the aesthetic expression of self-indulgence. This project, however, was to reflect the expanse of the Empire. Thousands of saplings of different exotic species were imported from many colonies around the world. By 1860, all the necessary preconditions – such as identifying and acquiring hundreds of acres of land – had been met. Continue reading

Alfred Woolner


Alfred Woolner

Originally uploaded by yasir nisar

“Alfred Woolner was the vice chancellor of the Punjab University from 1928 to 1936. His is the only statue left of many that were positioned in front of prominent buildings during the British Raj in a wave of imperialistic civic zeal. Now, with the title of ‘colony’ no longer hanging over our heads, we are in a better position to appreciate the aesthetic value and historical importance of these effigies. That is if it’s not too late.

The statues were a significant part of my youth,” said Sajjid Abbas, a septuagenarian Lahori who knows the city like the back of his hand. “I would often walk down The Mall and take photographs of these beautiful sculptures because I knew that they would disappear one day.” There were a total of ten such statues, each narrating the grandeur and the might of British rule, said Mr Abbas, taking a walk down memory lane and relating the history of each of the sculptures. The first on Mr Abbas’s list of these “emblems of British authority” is the bronze statue of Queen Victoria that was placed in the pavilion of the assembly chambers.

Read more here: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_6-8-2004_pg7_27