Author Archives: usmaniqasim

The Princess and The Doc: Ode To an Exiled Princess

Usama Irshad

The ancient skyline of Lahore has many stories to tell. The majestic marble domes of the Royal Mosque speak of the Moguls,the great connoisseurs of art;the imposing structure of Haveli Nau Nihal Singh, where young girls chant times tables these days, speaks of the the ruthless Sikh rulers,their colourful ways and extravagant festivities;the Towering S.Nabi Bux and Sons at the Mall tells the tales of the English that once ruled over this wonderful city,altering it as they willed and pitching crosses where and when they willed. The Lahore skies  recall ,wistfully,the colours of  the kites that used to  bedeck its entire expanse and the thrill and excitement that accompanied every “Boooo-Kataaaa!” cry!

painting from bamba coll darbar of lahore

painting from bamba coll darbar of lahore

Came 1947 and Lahore sat by the River Ravi and cried over the poor souls it lost. The City burnt and with the Great Migration, lost all of its former diversity. Gone were the Sikhs with their radiant turbans and billowy beards.Lahore grieved over the way its beloved son Sir Ganga Ram was desecrated by the ‘freedom-fighters’.Overnight the contributions of the once invincible Sikhs were forgotten as the ‘pious’ Muslims set forth to purge the ‘vermin’ out of this City of Sin and Splendour!
Today only a handful of young Lahorites are acquainted with such names as Ganga Ram,Ranjit Singh or Amrita Sher-Gill when in fact it was the Sikhs who

Ranjit Singh's birth place

Ranjit Singh’s birth place

really  glorified Lahore and gave it all of its religious reverence and sanctity. Ranjit Singh,the iron-willed and brave Sikh ruler brought Lahore such splendour that soon Lahore was the greatest metropolis and the cultural hub of India.Latest fashion trends would spring in Lahore and  would be followed in Delhi and Lucknow.

Soon,however,the iron shackles closed in on the whole of the Indian Subcontinent as the East India Company strengthened and eventually Punjab was captured by the British in 1849,Duleep Singh( Ranjit’s son) exiled to England and the fabled “Koh-i-Noor” diamond pilfered to grace Queen Victoria’s crown.
Ranjit Singh’s successors have largely been ignored by historians and dubbed as ‘puppets’ or ‘weaklings’. While none can question the accuracy of these comments,those last few Sikh rulers were,nonetheless aristocracy and in fact King Edward Medical College(my alma mater)seems to have deep ties with one particular member of these last ‘Singhs’ of Punjab.

Ranjit Singh's elephant

Ranjit Singh’s elephant

It all started with a picture of Princess Bamba Sutherland that I saw on facebook. The name Sutherland rang a bell in my head and a trip to KEMC’s historical Library Hall (and some google surfing) confirmed my suspicions—Princess Bamba Jindan Sutherland Duleep,the granddaughter of Ranjit Singh and the last princess of Punjab  was married to Dr David Waters Sutherland,Professor and Principal King Edward Medical College (1909-1921)! And thus began my passionate quest to find out every thing about this ethereal princess!

Born on  March 29,1869 in London, Bamba was the daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh,the son of Ranjit Singh, and Rani Bamba Mullër. Now the British had invaded Punjab way back in 1849 and dethroned Duleep Singh who was sent to the UK and his mother,the dowager,exiled to different Indian cities. Duleep

Maharaja Duleep Singh

Maharaja Duleep Singh

Singh was brought up in England under the care of a certain Mr Logins and much to the consternation of his mother,he was baptized as a Christian. It is said that he would wake up reciting,”O father who art in heavens!” which would box his mother’s heart.

When after 13 years the Prince was  reunited with his mother Rani Jind Kaur on one of his trips to India,the

maharaja could not even recognize her. It was then that he insisted upon taking his mother to England with him and his wishes was granted. Subsequently the dowager died in Kensington and was cremated and buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in England. Duleep Singh was allowed to bring her ashes to India but he could not gain entrance into the Punjab. It was on his way back from India that while passing through Cairo,the maharaja met his future wife, Bamba Mullër the illegitimate child of a German merchant ,and working in a Cairo Missionary School  and,following a brief period of courtship,married her.The couple later  moved to England and had six children,Princess Bamba being one of them.

Jind Mahrani Bamba Coll

Jind Mahrani Bamba Coll

Bamba means ‘pink’ in Arabic and this particular daughter of Duleep had inherited from him the one feature that Queen Victoria had herself admired in him….his dazzling eyes. Queen Victoria was Princess  Bamba’s godmother and the Queen gifted her the grand three-storey Faraday House in London.

Bamba lived at Elveden Hall with her parents and siblings and finished her schooling at home. Later shewould join the Somerville College in Oxford and finish her studies. It was somewhere in 1887 that Princess Bamba’s sister Princess Sophia caught typhoid and and became seriously ill. The Maharani Bamba(Princess Bamba’s mother) sat by her bedside all night with the corollary that she herself fell ill and went into coma before eventually dying on September 18 1887,leaving her family bereaved.

On May 21, 1889, Maharaja Duleep Singh married Ada Wetherill whom he had met a few years back.They were wedded in Paris. Some years later,in 1883 Duleep, too died. He was 55 at the time of his death.

Bamba now lived in Old Manor House in Buckinham,Old Suffolk,to be near her brother Fredrick who was a fellow of Antiquaries of London and owned a huge collection of rare paintings.It is said that the Prince rented the famous Blo Norton Hall in South Suffolk for his sisters and later bought the famous
‘thatched cottage’ ,too. It was around this time that Bamba became increasingly involved in politics and became a member of Women’s Social and Political Union. She also attended the farewell dinner hosted in the honor of  Mahatma Gandhi at the Westminster Palace Hall.She was also among the group of activists
who went to the House of Commons on November 18,1910 and demanded to see the PM. The delegations was treated very roughly and their demand turned down ignobly.

Bamba was a strong supporter of the Suffragettes,fighting for women’s right to vote.It is said that once she with her sister Sophia Daleep Singh was summoned to the Spelthorne Petty Session for keeping a man- servant,a carriage and five dogs without license and for keeping ‘armorial bearings’.Sophia was livid and protested that she should not have to pay for these things when she didn’t have right to vote.

From Top Left: Princesses Catherine,Bamba,Prince Edward and Princess Sophia

From Top Left: Princesses Catherine,Bamba,Prince Edward and Princess Sophia

Later, the Court of Middlesex sent bailiffs to the Faraday House to collect rents from them which they refused outrightly. The bailiffs forcibly took away Sophia diamond ring in payment which was bought by Mrs Jopling Rowe in an auction and immediately returned to the Princess.

In 1910,Bamba visited India with her sister Sophia and went to see old relatives in Lahore and Amritsar. She was accompanied by Marie Antoinette,a Hungarian lady’s companion who met the renowned Indian painter,Umrao Sher-Gil in India and married him. Their daughter Amrita Sher-Gil was also a notable painter. Eventually Bamba decided to settle in Lahore and is said to have “lived like an alien in her father’s kingdom”.

Lt.Col.D.W.Sutherland

Lt.Col.D.W.Sutherland

It was during her time in India that Bamba first met Lt. Col Daid Waters Sutherland. Sutherland,who was a British Indian Army officer serving as the Principal of King Edward Medical College(presently a university),married the princess after a brief period of courtship. She was 46 at that time.They lived many years at No.16 Jail Road,Lahore. Princess Bamba christened the house “Gulzar”.The couple had no children.

Sutherland,MD,FRCP,MCP, born in Victoria,England was the son of John Sutherland,a miner at Allendale and his wife Wilhelmina. Being a doctor was strictly “middle-class” in Victorian England (as Maggie Smith would say in Downton Abbey) and this only reflects the social status of the Sikh aristocracy under the British Raj.
In 1924 Bamba finally got permission to bury her grandmother’s ashes in Lahore and she oversaw the whole affair herself.The ashes were deposited in the memorial to Raja Ranjit Singh near the Royal Mosque of Lahore. In 1930 Bamba was bereaved once again by the tragic death  ofDr Sutherland.

Now widowed and lonely,Bamba would divide her time between Blo Norton England and Gulzar in Lahore. In 1948 her rapidly failing health was struck a deathblow by the sudden death of her darling sister,Catherine,in England. Unfortunately,Bamba was in India at the time and could not get permission to travel to England and so missed the funeral. When she did go to England,she brought back
Catherine’s ashes to bury them in India,as Catherine had desired. She is reported to have travelled by land on that trip saying,”A flight is easy to obtain,but I came by land this time around as I brought  my darling sister’s ashes with me. She did not like flights.”

Princess Catherine

Princess Catherine

It was in this phase of life that Princess Bamba grew increasingly regal and imperial in her manners. She gave up Faraday House and made Blo Norton her permanent residence in England. She would now style herself as the  “Queen Of Punjab”. She seemed to have inherited her father’s rebellious nature but was far more aggrieved than he ever was. This only added to her hauteur.

On visiting a high street bookstore in Norwich,she ordered her driver to park right outside the bookstore,which unsurprisingly caused traffic havoc. A policeman asked her to remove her car at which she shot back at him,displaying all the aristocratic hubris in her saying in the most Ranjit-ish way,”Do you have any idea who you are talking to? I am the Queen of the Punjab!”

The grumpy Princess would dress in all of her finery and silk and host Sikh migrants in Blo Norton.  Karl Wilhelm,her cousin visited her then and he described her in his memoirs as the “true heiress of Ranjit Singh” in that she was sorely conscious of her lost power and glory.She considered Punjab and Kashmir,the lost possessions of her family and was livid when the border of Pakistan was drawn right through Punjab.

After partition she spent most of her time in England as the Lady of Blo Norton . She would also visit municipal offices in Guildhall Thetford to see her brother Fredrick’s painting collections. She would throw a fit every time she saw a painting damaged and was known to give a piece of her mind to the caretakers of Guildhall.

On 10th March 1957,Princess Bamba Sutherland Duleep Singh passed away quietly in London. The doctors stated heart failure as the cause of death. A Christian funeral ceremony was arranged by the British Deputy High Commission in Lahore. There were a few Pakistani dignitaries at the funeral, but unfortunately no Sikh was present. She was buried in Gora Kabristan (White Graveyard) near Taxali Gate of Lahore,alongside such figures as A R Cornelius and A C Woolner.

Bamba and Catherine Couch

Bamba and Catherine Couch

Bamba was the last living member of the once mighty Sikh dynasty of Punjab. As the last of Singhs,she was in possession of many valuable historical items.She left them with her loyal secretary Pir Karim Baksh Supra. Bamba’s  legacy included priceless masterpieces of art and were later acquired by the Pakistani Government and are now displayed for the general public in the Royal Fort of Lahore as “Princess Bamba Collection”.

The Supras still live in Lahore and in Delhi and just a few years back were hounded by the notorious paparazzi  when a ‘mysterious’ Swiss bank locker was found linked to Bamba. In the absence of any legal heirs many thought that the contents of locker would go to the Supras . Eventually the contents were divided between a number of rightful claimants

Bamba’s death marked the end of a glorious era in Punjab’s history. The fact that she died childless and lonely only lends more credence to the fact that she was sad and evocative of the days gone by.  To many she was prissy and a ‘self-styled’ princess but for many others she was the one true heir to the throne that had once belonged to Ranjit Singh.

Gora Qabristan, Lahore: Headstone Sutherland Bamba 1957

Gora Qabristan, Lahore: Headstone Sutherland Bamba 1957

The epitaph on her grave reads (English translation of Persian distich):

The Difference Between Royalty and Servility Vanishes
                      The Moment the Writing of Destiny is Encountered
                       If One Opens the Grave of a Dead
                       None Would be Able to Discern Rich from Poor!

The author holds a degree in psychology from the University of Cambridge,UK,and is presently a sophomore at King Edward Medical University,Lahore,Pakistan. He tweets @Usama_Irshad

Click here to see detailed collection:

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Lahore Canal

Lahore Canal

Beautiful View of Lahore Canal

Photo by Saad Ahmad Qasmi

The long road to ecological justice

We are posting this article by Ahmad Rafay Alam originally published in daily Dawn. In this article, Alam critically evaluates judicial proceedings with respect to the Lahore Canal Road project. The writer urges the government not to squander the heritage of the city for the “.. Canal Heritage Park is part of the Lahori psyche, as much as the Walled City, the Shalimar Gardens or halva puri. Civil Society must understand that as long as the city grows, pressures to sacrifice our heritage must be forever guarded against. The battle is and will remain ongoing…”  

LahoreCANALBefore parting with this judgment, we would like to acknowledge the admirable spirit demonstrated by petitioners’ organization, by those individuals, architects, urban planners, academics and students for protection of city’s ecological and environmental horizons. During hearing of this case, the Court was touched by the rainbow of idealism, of intellect, of architectural ability, of urban development and mental health expertise of graces and youthful exuberance… As long as this spirit is alive, we are sanguine, the authorities and the leadership would continue to be guided by the values of sustainable human and urban development.

— Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, in SMC No. 25 of 2009

Following the September 2011 decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Lahore Canal Road widening case (SMC No. 25 of 2009), the Government of Punjab wasted no time in cutting down trees to widen the road along the green belt for a stretch of the Lahore Canal. Many could be forgiven in thinking there was little other in the judgment of the Court, but they would be wrong. The widening of a limited stretch of road along the Lahore Canal was only one of 10 directions the Court had given. The first was that the entire length of the Lahore Canal and its green belt “shall be treated as a Heritage Urban Park forthwith and declared so by an Act to be passed by the Assembly…”The Punjab Assembly’s Standing Committee on Housing, Urban Development and Public Health Engineering held hearings in December 2012 where representatives of the Lahore Conservation Society, Lahore Bachao Tehreek and WWF-Pakistan provided input to the draft legislation prepared by the Government of Punjab. Although the law was being prepared in pursuance of the Court’s judgment, there were reservations against the draft, which allowed the Government of Punjab carte blanche, especially on the controversial issue of more infrastructure development along the Canal. Despite these reservations, the Lahore Canal Heritage Park Act, 2013 was passed on 14 January 2013, making it the first urban and heritage park legislation in Pakistan (other parks are protected by notification). It is also a major success for civil society in Lahore and Pakistan. How often can a civil society movement anywhere lay claim to have traversed the full spectrum of activism: from protest and advocacy to legislation and policy?

635175-canalroad-1385065076-324-640x480

The preamble to the Act provides “Whereas the Lahore canal and the green belts on both sides of the canal is a public trust and is part of the heritage of the city of Lahore; therefore, it is expedient to make provisions for the maintenance of a salubrious environment and conservation of the Lahore Canal as a heritage park; to preserve the flora and fauna of this heritage park; and to provide for ancillary matters.” The maintenance of the Heritage Park has been made the responsibility of the Parks and Horticulture Authority and an Advisory Committee established to advise the PHA on upkeep and maintenance.

The Act prohibits the construction on infrastructure, felling or damage of or to trees, pollution of water, hunting and use of firearms in the Heritage Park, but allows the PHA to give permission to any of these prohibited acts provided a list of criterion are met.

The Advisory Committee comprises nominees of government departments and civil society. The membership of the Advisory Committee was designed to ensure continuing civil society participation in decisions that would affect the Lahore Canal. However, by allowing the PHA the power to override the decisions of the Advisory Committee, the Act fails to properly value this participation.

The Advisory Committee has so far met thrice and has proposed rules of procedure for itself, has directed the delineation of the boundaries of the Heritage Park and is planning a tree master plan for the park. Once its rules of procedure are set, the Advisory Committee will be in a position to undertake initiatives in the Heritage Park.

canal-road

What has been surprising was the request, recently made at the 3rd meeting of the Advisory Committee, to consider a proposal for additional road-widening and three U-turns along the Canal. The Committee was told such an initiative would improve traffic congestion. However, I have my doubts. If the road widening of last year now requires another Rs. 400 million of infrastructure to “reduce traffic congestion” and Lahore still does not have a traffic or urban Master Plan, then there is grave risk that an ad-hoc initiative will be at the cost of legally protected heritage.

Civil Society must understand that the growth and development of Lahore will forever remain ongoing. What is important is that we give back to the city something that our children and their children can hold as heritage. The Canal Heritage Park is part of the Lahori psyche, as much as the Walled City, the Shalimar Gardens or halva puri. Civil Society must understand that as long as the city grows, pressures to sacrifice our heritage must be forever guarded against. The battle is and will remain ongoing.

The writer is a partner at Saleem, Alam & Company, and member of the Lahore Canal Heritage Park Committee

Bureaucratic Ineptitude Turning Lahore Into a Green Desert

We are cross posting this excellent piece by Salman Rashid:

I was telling a relative of mine about the one dozen different species of birds that nest in my garden (and it’s a one-kanal house) and at any given time the song of twice as many species. He, a retired judge of the superior court, living in Judicial Colony near Thokar Niaz Beg was surprised that there was a total absence of birdsong in their area.

I told him that the birds were missing entirely because of the absence of indigenous species of trees in the locality. The entire colony is choc-a-bloc with all sorts of exotic trees. There is not a single peepul, neem, amaltas, to name only a few.

Ornithologists tell us that Lahore was home to no fewer than a hundred and seventy different species of birds until the mid-seventies. In the latter part of that decade, flight and cabin crews of the national carrier began to flood this unfortunate land with all sorts of ornamental shrubs and trees from the Far East. Ignorant and foolish, these people only had their eye on the huge profits to be gleaned from the sale of this contraband.

That was also the time of the establishment of such residential areas as Iqbal Town and sundry other ‘societies’ in south Lahore as well as of Defense Housing Authority. Vast tracts of real and ancient forest were cleared; roads and housing came up and with them a new forest of shrubs and araucaria – this import being the most popular in those days.

Not that this was the first alien invasion. We had earlier seen the clearing of indigenous trees to plant the Australian water-guzzling eucalyptus and the pretty alstonia. Mark: birds were singularly repelled by both species. However, over the decades, crows and pied mynas (the latter very rarely) have taken to nesting in eucalyptus mainly for want of any other species. But very strangely, I have never ever seen any specie of bird nesting or even roosting in alstonia. The result was that our birds began to leave Lahore for forest and scrub outside the city.

The disease of preferring exotic tree species over our own was matched by yet another sickness: the preference for ornamental shrubbery in place of real trees. One example that I know of is the Anjuman e Himayat e Islam premises in Lahore that was home to many magnificent hundred year-old trees. In the 1980s or shortly after, they were all chopped down by one very, very foolish man and replaced by shrubbery. Thousands of birds that thrived on those trees in the heart of smoggy Lahore were banished and part of the lungs of the city destroyed.

Roads in all the new residential societies were planted with either eucalyptus or alstonia; houses only with some little shrubbery. The 21st century rolled around and we discovered some more useless species to replace our own. This was the age of ficus and ashoka. Today, every new road is adorned with these absolutely worthless trees.

To anyone who understood ecology, this was the making of a disaster. But importers of these exotic species were only concerned with the profits to be had. Having spoken to at least three importers, I have learned that they have not even the faintest clue of ecology. The Forest Department nursery on Ravi Road stocks indigenous plants and sells saplings for one rupee a piece. Twice, the officer in charge, seeing my concern for the loss of our trees, even refused to take any money for the few dozen trees I obtained. Yet the average person will not go there. Instead he will blight his home with ficus.

One importer of exotic species with connections to the ruling party in Punjab has meanwhile become a billionaire selling exotic species. His links permitting him free run with the Parks and Horticulture Authority gives him room to sell exotic shrubbery and miniature palm trees for a preposterous six-figure price. Damn the ecology of Lahore. Lucre is the God and birdsong can go to hell.

We have seen example of these pricey plants in the green spaces leading up to the Saggian Bridge from the Ring Road in north Lahore. The Ring Road in the south and near the airport is similarly blighted. Indeed that vast over a hundred acres of open space in front of the airport is a sad, arid and shadeless desert contaminated with the rubbish of imported shrubbery.

And now recently we were told that the government had uprooted five hundred and some trees to widen the canal road. In the stead of these lost trees, we are being promised ten times more. I assure you that as surely as night follows day and as surely as we have been blighted by a lack of foresight and understanding over the past six decades, we are going to have five thousand imported trees along the canal.

This will nicely put the politically-connected importer of exotic rubbish up by Rs 500 million and Lahore the poorer for birdsong.

The sad thing is that PHA is run by general duty bureaucrats who have no clue of ecology. In any case, a bureaucrat is hand maiden to the political master and what the master says goes. Consequently, bureaucratic ineptitude and sycophantic compliance are killing the birds and turning Lahore into a green desert.