Lahore, the moveable feast
he other day, I asked someone who had phoned from Lahore how the city was. He replied, “You can see for yourself.”Cities change of course but while in Europe, they change for the better, in our part of the world, they go to seed. The old is not preserved and the new sticks out like a sore thumb because of its ugliness and disharmony with its surroundings. The old city of Lahore is an overpopulated slum. The various official beautifiers of Lahore have confined their efforts to The Mall, though only from Charing Cross to the Sherpao Bridge, whose design was altered from straight to forked in deference to the residential sensitivities of the inhabitants of Jarnailpura.
Lahore has always been a living city and few cities have known more devastation and glory than Lahore. I have been leafing through Old Lahore , a book published in 1924, made up of “the reminiscences of a resident” by the name of Colonel H.R. Goulding ISO, VD, late ADC to the King Emperor. It also includes a historical and descriptive account of the city by T.H. Thornton, BCS, “for many years Secretary to the Punjab government.” Colonel Goulding – in whose memory one of Lahore’s roads is named, unless it is now called Shahrah Subedar Sumandar Khan – recorded his memories of the city by way of articles published in the Civil and Military Gazette from 1922 to 1924. They were later put together in a booklet by E.D, Maclagan, whose family links with Lahore went back to 1846. His father, an engineer, used to occupy quarters over the Hazuri Bagh gate of the Lahore Fort. Thornton and J. Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling, produced summaries of the history of Lahore, which were printed in 1860 in a guidebook. Kipling was principal of the Lahore School of Art, which then became the Mayo School of Art and today we have it as the National College of Arts. We have of course failed to produce a Goulding or a Kipling or a Thornton. A. Hamid though has recorded his reminiscences of the old city of Lahore as it was in the early post-independence years. His pieces that appeared in my English translation in Daily Times have since been published as a book by Vanguard, called Lahore Lahore Aye .
It is hard to believe that the Ravi once flowed miles from where it lingers now, more like a drain than a river. Writes Colonel Goulding, “It was possible in those days, when the river was in flood, to launch a canoe in the neighbourhood of the present Veterinary College (old Bank of Bengal) and to paddle down past Anarkali’s tomb as far or father than the Chauburji on Multan Road.” During Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s reign, the Badshahi Mosque was used as a magazine for military stores. Not until 1856 was it fully restored at the orders of Sir John Lawrence, chief commissioner of the Punjab, who was formally thanked by eminent members of the Muslims of Lahore, led by Kazee Hufeezood-Deen, Nowab Abdool Rahman and Nowab Ahmud Ulla Khan, plus 67 others. They also recalled that “in consequence of the religious prejudice of the Sikh nation which is opposed to the tolerant wisdom of sovereigns and the laudable practice of kings, the offering of worship and prayer had become suspended, yea altogether ceased for some time.”
The crest of the ground on which Government College was built in 1877 was occupied in the former days by an old Sikh barrack which was later utilised as the government dispensary and quarters of the apothecary in charge. The residence of the principal was the government dak bungalow for the use of travellers. Around the same spot, stood a Presbyterian church in which the city’s early missionaries conducted services. The college was opened on January 1, 1864 in Dhian Singh’s haveli inside Taxali Gate, its first principal being Dr G.W. Leitner. The Lawrence Gardens once housed a rifle range before it was moved to Multan Road. Lahore’s first English language newspaper founded in the 1840s was called Lahore Chronicle , edited by Henry Cope. Both he and his paper, as well as the press, were located in Dai Anga’s mosque near the Lahore railway station. Rudyard Kipling was found a job at the Civil and Military Gazette by his father because he was unfit for civil service given his “defective eyesight”. The young Kipling was told by the editor to begin by “filling in telegrams and cutting things out o’ papers with scissors”. The model for Kim was not an Indian but a European boy, who “hatless and barefooted, with all the cunning of a typical street Arab, roamed about at will” around Anarkali and the Zamzamah. He lived in the bazar near Kapurthala House.
Governor Salman Taseer may not know that the house where he now lives is built around the tomb of Muhammad Kasim Khan, a cousin of Akbar the Great, who was a great patron of wrestlers and is tomb was known as Gumbaz Kushtiwala. During Sikh rule, it became the residence of Jamadar Khushal Singh. The Mall was first aligned in 1851 by Lt. Col. Charles Napier, chief engineer of Punjab, to run from Anarkali to Mian Mir (the cantonment). The high court is the site of the shrine of Shah Chiragh, in front of which stood the only chemist shop in Lahore, Richardson & Co, the predecessors of E. Plomer & Co, which still bears the same name.
Lahore finds mention in Ptolemy in A.D. 150, who calls it Labokla. The Chinese traveller Hwan Thsand who passed through Lahore in 630, speaks of a large city populated by Brahmins. There is something to Lahore that has made it different from other cities of the subcontinent. It was Akbar’s capital for 14 years and he had gardeners brought over from Iran and Turan to cultivate vines and various kinds of melons, records Abul Fazal. Also introduced by Akbar was the manufacture of silk and woolen carpets. One of the two Englishmen who passed through Lahore in 1626 called it “one of the best cities of India, plentiful of all things, such a delicate and even tract of ground as I never saw before.” In closing, I would say that were Sebastian Manrique, a Spanish monk who passed through Lahore in 164, to come to life and return, he would have to rewrite his description of the city as he found it 367 years ago. Consider: “What I most admired was the moderate price at which things might be had. A man might eat abundantly and royally for two silver Rials per day. The abundance of the provisions and cleanliness of the streets surprised me much; also the peace and quietness with which everything was conducted, as well as justness and rectitude of people towards each other, so that merchant and merchandise remain perfectly secure from thieves.”