By Sher Ali Khan
During the time of the British rule in India, Lahore was known as the “Paris of India”. The reasons are quite clear. To begin with, romance in the east can be defined as the individualistic struggle of the heart. Romantics provide inspiration to a society in their daily lives. The romance of ones city is judged by the general ambience created within the realm of that society. A romantic culture is sustained through literature and arts. Writers, poets, and artists would frequent teahouses where they would orate and document the experiences of the city.
To start out, the Mughals instilled a romantic quality into Lahore by developing monuments such as the elegant Badshahi Masjid and the Lahore Fort and then the British gave to the city one of the most beautiful green spaces known as Lawrence Gardens. Furthermore, the Mughals created a proud and close people culture that would inspire literature and art for many years.
One of the stories from the Mughal era is regarding the wealthy emperor Shah Jahan who constructed a palace in the imposing confines of the Lahore Fort to honour his wife Mumtaz Mahal. As the mother of his sixteen children, Mumtaz Mahal was the love of his life. The general assumption is that she passed without ever seeing the Shish Mahal.
Before this there is the tale of Anarkali the slave girl who stole the heart of the then Prince Salim with her flirtatious smile and met an unfortunate end when emperor Akbar caught a glimpse of this smile. She was then sentenced to death by erecting walls around her, this way she was buried alive. Years later when Salim became emperor, he erected a monument which read, ‘”Ah, if I could behold the face of my beloved again…I would give thanks unto my God till the day of Resurrection…’ The bereaved Salim, son of Akbar.”
The old city also inspired Rudyard Kipling to write the book ‘Kim’. As an insomniac, much of his tales related to the sights of Lahore in the night. In ‘Kim’, Kipling wrote about a little boy who travels to the Lahore museum. Kim’s gun was popularised through this story.
Lahore is one of the few places in which poetry comes up in every day conversation. Mushairas or evenings when people gather, are occasions where poets are able to tell tales to the gathering who keenly listen to them.
In Lahore, Iqbal’s legendary public recitations would see scores of people gather around and listen to him in a state of trance. Like Wordsworth, Iqbal sought the truth about society. In a world which has always tried to make people someone they are not, Iqbal proved to be an original. This is the genius of Iqbal. His spiritual poem Shikwa took inspiration from the Lahorite city culture.
Following the passing of Iqbal, a new movement and resurgence of Urdu literature came with leftist literary movement. Faiz Ahmed Faiz would be one of its most key figures. Though he is known for his social conscience and poetry against oppression, he also evoked romantic and mystical themes in his poetry. With the passing of his 99th birthday, Faiz to this day comes across as a revolutionary.
For years Lahore has been the motif of art and culture. In Lahore, the artistic culture is the reason for the romance within the city. The creative energy of the people is the spirit of Lahore. That’s what makes Lahore special; just to exist in Lahore is inspiration on its own.