Tag Archives: delhi

The Pakistan Diaries by Sudheendra Kulkarni

This Article was originally published on NDTV


(Sudheendra Kulkarni is a socio-political activist and columnist.)

Bagh-e-Jinnah is to Lahore what Lodi Garden is to Delhi. Both are iconic parks, laden with history. But the former is bigger and, going by the number of aam aadmi who come there for recreation, less elitist. It was formerly known as Lawrence Gardens, honouring John Lawrence, India’s viceroy from 1864 to1869. Along with his older brother, Henry Lawrence, he played a major role in the affairs of the united Punjab during the British Raj, a saga well chronicled by Rajmohan Gandhi in his new book Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten.

An early morning walk from my hotel, Pearl Continental, has brought me to Bagh-e-Jinnah. It being the middle of June, the sun is already up and bright. As in Delhi, a city with which Lahore has so many similarities (both have majestic forts, built by Moghul rulers at a time when Partition was inconceivable), it’s hot, which explained to me why there were so few people in the garden. I am a little disappointed, because I have come here as much to meet common Pakistanis as to savour the joy of a morning walk in a garden. My purpose is to have as much of Track III dialogue – conversations leading to contacts between ordinary Indians and Pakistanis – as possible during my brief five-day visit to Pakistan, to complement the Track II dialogue for which I had gone to Islamabad a couple of days back.

For the uninitiated, Track II is that conflict-resolution activity in which some of those who once took part in Track I – official government-to-government talks – but are now retired continue to meet, along with journalists, professionals and peace activists, to seek solutions to the vexed issues between our two countries. Cynics see Track II as a post-retirement opportunity for former diplomats, soldiers, and senior government officials to travel and talk. In his new book Shooting for a Century: The India-Pakistan Conundrum, American scholar Stephen P. Cohen writes about a journalist who sarcastically quipped at an Indo-Pak Track II meeting in Salzburg ‘where the formers were suddenly and most insistently advocating peace’: “We ought to extend the age of retirement, because it seems as if once an official retires he becomes committed to peace with the other side.”

But Track II can also disprove cynics by promoting a constructive and hope-giving exchange of views. This was evident at the Pakistan-India Bilateral Dialogue in Islamabad on June 14, organised by the Regional Peace Institute, a non-governmental body founded by Pakistan’s former foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, and supported by Hans Seidel Foundation, a German NGO. I was one of the 14 Indian members of a delegation that was led by Mani Shankar Aiyar. Mani, an irrepressible votary of India-Pakistan détente, argues, notwithstanding all the flak he receives from the critics of this argument, that the official Track I dialogue between our two governments must go on in an “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” manner, irrespective any provocation or unpleasant development. The delegation also included our former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid. The Pakistani contingent comprised former minsters and retired diplomats and officials of the army and ISI, besides a few prominent journalists.

I have some experience of being associated with the Track I dialogue between India and Pakistan, having travelled with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his historic Bus Yatra to Lahore in 1999 at the invitation of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s then and present prime minister. I had also accompanied Vajpayee on his visit to Islamabad for the 2004 SAARC summit, on the sidelines of which he had an important meeting with Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s then president. That meeting yielded the path-breaking joint statement in which Pakistan gave a commitment not to “permit any territory under its control to be used to support terrorism in any manner”. Continue reading

The folklores of Chunian

By Haroon Khalid

This city, of immense historical importance, is towards the south of Lahore. Till 1972 it was part of the Lahore District, when after the separation of Lahore and Kasur, it was made part of the Kasur District. It still is a vital city, in economic and political terms; however, the influence that it enjoyed once is no longer exists. During most of the Mughal era it served as a Chaoni, or cantonment area. Arms and ammunition for the royal army were made here on a massive scale. Towards the Western side of the city remains of large pieces of iron are found; relics of the arms factory.

As one explores historical records and books, one would find numerous references to this city. The list is so long that it would not be possible to narrate all of them here. A few of them eliciting the significance of this city are mentioned below.

According to the Archaeology Department report, there are 7 major mounds here, categorized into two. Category A; belonging to the era after the 16th century CE, and B falling in between the 11th and the 16th century CE. Some of the latter mounds, not of archaeological importance, were formed during the massive flooding of the 18th century in Beas River. These mounds encompass the city, serving as picnic spots for the residents.

According to the Encyclopedia of Sikh Literature, Chunian is the plural for Chuni which means pearl. It is believed that this city was originally inhabited by Chodas, or the untouchables. During the Mughal era, there was a Muslim Saint known as Peer Jahania. When he came here he converted all of these people to Islam. Chunian, meaning pearls is a symbolism for the untouchables. According to this narrative the tomb of the Peer Jahania becomes the most important location of the city. This is where the Saint is said to have established himself. The tomb is accompanied by a modern mosque, in the courtyard of which is a small building, depicting pre-British era architectural techniques. This marks as the spot where the Sufi used to sit. It is empty from the inside.

In Tehrikh-e-Cambhon written by the police inspector Abdul Wahab Amritsari, he narrates a story that takes back the history of Chunian, all the way to the arrival of the Arabs in Sindh. He describes that when Muhammad Bin Qasim attacked Sindh, Chunian was being ruled by a man belonging to the Cambho clan. He had a daughter and a son. This city was under the sway of Multan, so when the Muslims got hold of Multan, Chunian automatically fell in their lap. They demanded a large amount of compensation from the ruler. He retorted that since it was a huge amount he should be allowed to make the payments in installments. He was permitted to do that, but Muhammad Bin Qasim asked for a guarantee in return. The King gave him his boy, Maha Chawar, who was taken by Qasim to Arabia.

Living under Muslim influence, the boy embraced Islam. Five years later when the King of Chunian was able to pay the entire amount, the Prince was allowed to return. However, instead of being welcomed back, Maha Chawar was castigated for having abandoned his religion, and being polluted by the ‘barbarian’, by the Hindu priests. It was decided that he should be returned back or be killed. Since the boy had just come back, there was no option of him returning, so plan B was to be executed. His sister Kangna heard of the plan, and along with her brother fled the city. The army of his father kept on following the siblings, until they were intercepted at Mandi Borewala, where they were murdered. Later Muslim rulers built a tomb there to commemorate their memory. Today the mausoleum stands, known by the name of Diwan Chawali Mushahiq Haji Muhammad Sheikh. Kanganpur, a village in the tehsil is named after Kangna, according to this story. However, besides the mounds there is no building or any other such remains from that tenure in Chunian.  Most of the old buildings have been replaced by new constructions. A few of the balconies, doors, and havelis that are left, are in dilapidated state and not any further back then the Sikh era.

The present city of Chunian came into being in the Mughal era, when the royal arms and ammunition were being manufactured from here. It is standing on a mound, originally protected by a wall with various doorways. Not many are present today, and the traces of the wall are also missing. At its zenith the mound has to be about 40 feet above the ground. Tajamol Kaleem, local Punjabi poet was kind enough to entertain and show us around the city.

Towards the eastern side of the city, near the old route of river Beas there is a non-functional Jain temple. At the start of 2010, a controversy arose regarding the building. Accompanying the edifice is a Wahabi mosque, members of which wanted to take over the building and use it for its own purpose, according to Kaleem. However, Kaleem, along with other friends reached the spot, before the action could be taken, and presented the case in such a manner that the local elders refused the mosque to take over the temple. It was argued that the sanctuary was an Imanat and a Muslim doesn’t renege from his promise. At least temporarily the tension has been defused. There was still apprehension in the atmosphere when we reached the spot to take a few photographs. Hostile looks followed by a few tirades greeted us.

Nearby was the Harchoki gate. As most of the historical doors, this one is named after the historical village of Harchoki, towards which it faces. In the 18th century CE, an epic war was fought in the fields of the village, also wrapping within it the city of Chunian. This entire episode can be found in the famous book Punjab Chiefs, by Sir Lepel H Griffin.

In the early 16th century CE, when Babar was on his way to capture the throne of Delhi, there was an internecine war in Afghanistan, which led to an exodus of many Pathan tribes. They met Babar on the way, and helped him in winning the decisive battle of Panipat in 1525. As a result of their loyalty to the Mughal they were given impressive titles, and control of Bengal. In 1569, when Jahangir was borne to Emperor Akbar, after the lapse of a lot time all of the notables came to pay homage to him, expect these Pathans. Akbar angry at their insolence demanded that all of their titles and property be taken away. When they started returning to Kabul, the King realized that they were a huge asset to the Mughal Kingdom, therefore he send Abu Fazl, the composer of Akbar-Nama to console them. They were given the permission to settle anywhere, which is not near Delhi. They settled for Kasur.

At that time the ruler of Chunian was a man called Raja Rai. Pera Baloch a ‘dacoit’ from here was a source of irritation to the ruler. When the Pathans commenced making their forts here this ‘dacoit’ also started attacking them, taking away his loot in the darkness of the night. Finally, in a fight he was killed, by the Pathans, which went on to establish their authority in the region of Kasur and Chunian.

In 1720, the Pathans descended on the fields of Harchoki, along with Nawab Hussain Khan, ruler of Kasur, the mayor of Chunian, Sardar Fazl Khan, against the might of the Mughal Governor of Lahore, Abdul Smadh Khan. From the very beginning the former group was destined to lose fighting with only a force of 10,000 against an army of 70,000. The death of Nawab Hussain Khan in this battle translated into a defeat for his army in the battlefield. This historic battle however found a way into the cultural psyche of the people of Punjab. It became a symbol of rebellion against an oppressive tyrant. It is also evoked in the famous Heer by Waris Shah.

Symbolism of this battle in Heer is a useful yardstick to gauge the importance of this town in the cultural history of Punjab. Despite language and cultural barriers, Heer goes on to unite the people of Punjab under the banner of Punjabi nationalism. There is however, another folk tale originating from the city of Chunian, much larger in its scale of influence than Heer. This is the story of Sassi Punnon connecting Punjab with Sindh and Baluchistan. It is generally believed that Sassi, the protagonist in our story was the daughter of King of Bhambour. However according to an article published in Imroz in 1970, written by Advocate Syed, Sassi was born in the city of Chunian, from where she reached Bhambour in a basket as an infant, when her life was threatened by the prophecy of a female bringing shame to the city. If credibility is to be allotted to this version then this folk tale originated from this city.

Chunian today, even though donning a modern garb, represents a traditional city that has continued to hold significance over the years. Despite the fact that most of the older buildings, e.g. the Shah Jahani mosque near the tomb of Peer Jahania, and other forts and gates of the city have been lost, the ambience of the city takes one back in time, connecting its past with its present. A journey to Chunian therefore is more like a journey through time, which becomes much more meaningful if its importance has been established as a crucial city in the folk lore of Punjab.

Kos Minar by Haroon Khalid

In the outer-skirts of the historical city of Lahore there is an obscure kos minar, still standing proudly, with half the base missing, reminding one of the grandeur, power, wealth, and culture that once was bestowed to the Mughal city of South Asia. Another such structure is also present near the canal, in Lahore.

Kos Minars were initiated by the third Mughal Emperor, Akbar, a note of which is also present in Abu Fazl’s Akbar-Nama. These were solid structures constructed on the ancient Grand Trunk road around 30 feet long. The purpose of these minars was to demarcate the road from the environs. These are called kos minars because they were constructed at a distance of every one kos¸ which is roughly around 3 kilometers. These were initially constructed from Agra to Ajmer via Jaipur in the west, then from Agra to Lahore via Delhi in the north and finally from Agra to Mandu via Shivpuri in the south. After Akbar, his descendants continued the policy of ornamenting the Grand Trunk road with such constructions, which were raised all the way from Peshawar to Bengal. These must have been around 3000 such structures, but in the context of Lahore we can talk about just two.

The first one is standing in the middle of a rice field in a village in the outer skirts of Lahore called Wara Gujrana. Despite its partial ruin state, the minar still manages to capture the imagination of the viewer taking one back to the dynastic days, when such constructions would have been a sight of delight for the wanderers traveling through the treacherous forests of Punjab. Besides the minars, caravanserai, and wells were also constructed with the royal edict. It is reported that before these kos minars were constructed, Banyan trees used to play the role of measuring distance and demarcating the road. Exactly opposite this minar towards Lahore, one would spot an ancient Banyan tree, which could have been the original marker. Further west around kos from this tree is another Banyan tree, and if the kos minar, and the other two Banyan trees are seen from above, they would appear to be in a straight line.

If the straight line is continued towards the eastern side there is, yet, another kos minar, roughly around one kos from here. For the course of this research it was not possible to visit that minar as it lay on the other side of the border. The minar is clearly visible from the high point at the Killa Jevan Singh, at the village with the namesake. This is the last Pakistani village, before the Indian Territory begins.

Despite the conspicuous presence of the kos minars the Banyan trees and the caravanserai, there were absolutely no signs of the original Grand Trunk road. The road which is now known as the GT road is at a considerable distance from the location. The thoroughfare, which was used throughout the ancient times, up to the days of Mughals is no longer functional. The GT road today is not the original GT road constructed during the tenure of the Mauryun Empire.

The third minar is located next to the railway track, close to the point where the tracks that go to Amritsar and Multan part ways. Unlike the earlier two minars, this one is not prominent and is, in fact, difficult to track in the hubbub of the city. There is considerable distance from the minar at the Wara Gujrana and this one, or so it seems because the extant road between these structures is not straight but makes a triangle. If, indeed, the perpendicular distance between these minars equal to one kos then we have in the environs of Lahore three consecutive minars. More work at a structured level needs to be done to see if these three minars are 3 consecutive kos minars, right now, it is a matter of conjecture.

The Grand Trunk road has played a crucial role in the history of South-Asia. It could be called the ‘Great Wall’ of South-Asia. In fact we can proudly say that it was more effective than the Great Wall ever was. It played a crucial role in facilitating trade in India, first build during the Mauryun Empire. At that time the Indians were trading with the Greeks and this road was a huge leap forward in terms of progress. However, the real master mind behind this ingenious civic creation was the Afghan Sher Shah Suri. He not only made a proper road out of the mud track that existed at that time but also straightened it, where the bends were much cursive.

Akbar the successor of Sher Shah Suri understood the vital role that this road played in the economics of India strived to make it safer for the travelers by erecting kos manars, caravanserai, etc. His successors, primarily Jehangir and Shah Jahan, played a vital role in further establishing the GT road.

Besides the economic factor, another very important aspect of the Grand Trunk road was administration. The government needed an effective transport system to govern better. Official message carriers were sent from one end of the country to another with urgent messages. For the purpose of achieving more speed, new horses and messengers were available at these caravanserais and manars, where, either, the messenger had some water, rested for a while, before resuming his/her journey, or relayed the message to the next messenger. In this way, the kos minars also acted as check points, where usually the horse or the rider or both would get changed. Such a method guaranteed a faster postal service.

We know from the remains of a caravanserai at the nearby village of Wara Gujrana that there was a caravanserai here; therefore this particular kos manar must have been during its time an important check point.

Lahore’s loss, Delhi’s gain

A line-up of the top customers reveal the high pedigree: from the late Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ali Akbar Khan to Pandit Ravi Shankar and Amjad Ali Khan and even George Harrison of The Beatles. But ask any auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi’s Connaught Place for the shop of Rikhi Ram; he will betray ignorance. You somehow reach there – a shop bang in a locality that is the centre of the national capital – and you might first take it for a museum. So much for the old-world charm of the shop that has seen the brightest and dimmest of times.

The store’s third-generation owner Ajay Ram himself serves at the counter and attends calls from musicians big and small. The first thing that catches your attention are the walls embossed with pictures of the biggest names of Indian classical music. Continue reading

From Delhi to Lahore: the other side of the border

Here’s a post that readers might enjoy…

I landed in Lahore and my friends were waiting outside the airport for me. I was scared for sure because I was alone in Pakistan. I could not believe I was in Pakistan. The country I heard so much of. I could not say that it was like Delhi because it was too small as compared to Delhi but at the same time, it made me feel I was in India. Whenever I saw billboards I used to feel no I am in Pakistan. I thought every girl would be in burqa or cover their head but to my shock nothing was like that. At 1 am, I started my journey for Islamabad but I felt Lahore never sleeps. I never saw Delhi ISBT to have so many people there at 1 am. Biggest shock came when I saw a bus hostess in luxury bus at 1:30 am. I never imagined that an Islamic country would allow that.


Vipul Thakore has contributed this post:

All large and expanding cities in our sub-continent have huge transport problems and there is not one standard solution. Without good and economic transport, our economies can not progress

In Indian capital  Delhi, Metro trains have been successfully introduced and the system is now slowly expanding. Similar Metros will be introduced in Bangalore, Chenai  and other cities in due course.

I think Pakistan authorities had some discussions with Delhi Metro Management for introducing Metro System in Lahore. I do not know the result.

I am detailing introduction of a different system, High-tec rapid bus services, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat State. It may be suitable for introduction in some Pakistani cities, with necessary ‘local’ adjustments. Continue reading

Remembering Zahoor ul Akhlaq (1941-1999) in Lahore

Raza Rumi

It is not easy to write about Zahoor ul Akhlaq (1941-1999), an artist whose life and work in so many ways encapsulates the troubled soul of Pakistan. Ten years ago, on a grey, brutal January day, the great artist Akhlaq and his gifted daughter, Jahanara, were shot dead. This was not a run-of-the-mill incident. The innate humanism of Akhlaq and his family was shattered to bits, much like the splintered state of Pakistan, where art and life are either marginalised, silenced or blown to pieces.On this January afternoon, Shahbaz Butt, an acquaintance of Pappu Sain, shot Jahanara and her fiancé, Al-Noor. Jahanara, 24 years old at the time, fell on the ground, to die. The noise, alarming Akhlaq and his fellow artist Anwar Saeed, sent them rushing in to see what had happened. Anwar Saeed was injured by Shahbaz, who shot Akhlaq. He died on the spot..Shahbaz now languishes in jail, while Pakistan is deprived of two inimitable souls. It is unclear what prompted Shahbaz to wreak this senseless violence: drugs, inability to cope with life or an extreme sense of inadequacy that could only be corrected through violence.

read more here


– The middle class of Lahore feels encircled and beleaguered


In the summer of 2008, I accepted an invitation to participate in a meeting of historians to be held in Lahore. On November 24, after months of trying, I finally got a visa from the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi. Two days later, terrorists based in or coming from Pakistan struck in Mumbai. Inevitably, tensions escalated between the two countries.

My meeting was scheduled for the first week of January. Should I go? Must I go? With these questions on my mind, I went off to the Niligiris on a family holiday. A few days before the new year dawned, the ministry of external affairs issued a travel advisory, asking Indian citizens not to travel to Pakistan. My mother, for whom this 50-year-old is, well, still a boy, urged me to heed the advisory. An aunt added that I had no business to visit an “enemy country”, one which, as she put it, “was full of Muslims”. But their sentiments and reservations were vetoed by my teenage daughter, who insisted that I must go to Pakistan, if only to show that “not all of us hate all of them”.

If I chose finally to go ahead with my visit, it was partly out of a sense of professional obligation — some colleagues had been kind enough to invite me, and I could not let them down — and partly out of curiosity — what would Pakistan be like at a time like this? Continue reading

From conflict to reconciliation

By Kuldip Nayar (Nation,Lahore)

A seminar took me to Lahore. The topic was: Rapprochement between India and Pakistan. Among the participants were scholars and retired diplomats from Germany and France. Their experience of striking friendship after hundreds of years of war was their input. They argued that certain members of the government elite had to undergo a personal “conversion.” Public opinion followed later.

With India and Pakistan, it is different. Bureaucrats who formulate and execute policy for a détente between the two countries are “mindset” and they are far from converted. The initiative has been by the people. Whatever progress has been made to lessen tension, it is because of them. They, too, have their eyes fixed on how France and Germany reached the equation. Continue reading

Delhi and Lahore – globalised fads and trends

This piece of mine appeared in the Hindustan Times yesterday. An accidental piece it was, written on the request of a friend during my recent stopover in Delhi. 

Delhi-Lahore hip factor

Be it Khan Market or MM Alam Road,  life for young guns in both Delhi and Lahore is a blend of cafe culture, cool music and retail nirvana

A Pakistani like me who is visiting Delhi cannot help but identify the commonalities between the Indian capital and Lahore. The climate, the predominant Punjabi influence, the urban chaos and indeed the quest for a good life are as shared as the centuries of mixed history.

In Delhi, these ingredients are packaged into a single space, loved and mourned in equal measure, the Khan Market. Its swanky cafes, retail outlets spell out a comfortable sense of the plentiful. A trip to Bahri Booksellers is essential to check on the new, profound and banal book titles. Step out of the book-zone, walk around and you see young men and women holding hands and out to buy a little dose of happiness from the upmarket retail stores. New frames for glasses, an array of prêt-a-porter garments and of course cafes where one can lounge while sipping an exotic coffee brew with a fancy cake. Barista is a favourite of mine with its neo-modernity ambiance and an ample variety to select from. If Barista is crowded, one turns to Café Turtle. Wi-fi access is available in these places along with soft music and trendy customers, whose snazzy mobile telephones rest silently on clean little tables. Connectivity is another facet of the global search for fulfillment.

In Khan Market cafes, one reminisces about similar haunts in Lahore. The MM Alam Road there is now a bustling venue for stylish cafes and restaurants that are popular hangouts for the youth defying the silly stereotypes of Pakistan. Men and women converse in their designer jeans about the world, quite unaware of the residual violence of the war on terror on the Pak-Afghan border. The Coffee & Tea Company is hugely popular. Another joint, Massom, a pancake lounge, sells mouth-watering desserts with coffee brews and plays cool music as one plunges into leather sofas to chill. Places such as Café Zouk, Hobb-Nobb’s, Jamin Java continue to lure the hip Lahorites.
  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