When Rosemary Tylka visited Lahore

February 19, 2023

Dr Ajaz Anwar recalls showing the Italian lady around town, which brought back memories of his own visit to Roma

— Image: Supplied
— Image: Supplied

You don’t know me but I think I know you.” This was the opening line of the letter that I received from a lady from Roma, dated October 27, 1989.

On her visit to Pakistan and my city, Lahore, on some grant, she had got my address from the International Centre for Conservation of Rome (ICCROM), set up by the UNESCO at 13 Via San Michele, where she used to work.

As we waited for her at the Lahore airport, holding a placard that had her name — Rosemary Tylka — inscribed in bold letters, a blonde signalled to us.

Her accommodation had been booked at a not-so-great hotel on McLeod Road. So we decided to let her stay with us.

Earlier, I had secured a scholarship to study in Italy, in spite of the grossly discouraging attitude of the Ministry of Economic Affairs of our own government. We were 25 course mates from 19 countries, circa 1977. In a way, it was a melting pot of diverse cultures. Most of my time in Rome was spent roaming about and scrutinising the monuments. I also painted the streets standing in the midst of pedestrian islands. Study tours across Italy through Milano, Venezia, Napoli and Pompeii, blanketed by volcanic ash from Vesuvius, gave me ample opportunity to learn Italiano and a few things about local culture. Besides, I was able to build a sizeable watercolours portfolio.

Andy, my friend from the US, proposed and, later, helped me put together a show at the centre. I gifted some paintings to my teachers. I gave one I had painted earlier in Lahore — of the Lahore Fort —to Sir Bernard Feilden, who was the course’s director general. He, at the end of his tenure, thought it fit to let the ICCROM keep it. It was from there that this lady got my old address and hence claimed that she knew me. They say that a postman is never transferred; hence, the letter reached me.

Once settled in our humble dwelling, which by Italian standards was quite spacious, the lady inquired about one Akhtar Mamunka. I knew him from my Arts Council days, where he had held a solo show of paintings. But he could not be contacted because those were pre-cell phone times.

We thought it more convenient to dine in at a Chinese restaurant. To her surprise, the menu was quite affordable. The next morning, after exchanging our “Buongiorno,” we set out to visit the fabled Lahore, as mentioned by Milton, whose many monuments are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Tylka had done her preliminary study of the city. She wanted to start the tour with Jehangir’s Tomb which was the first mega project of the Mughals in this metropolis. Sadly, the Shahdara (or the King’s way) was no more tidy and unobstructed. The Ravi had also been reduced to the state of a stagnant drain. In comparison, Roma’s Lungotevere has pristine clean water.

It was comparatively peaceful inside the royal necropolis, though many a date palm had been felled. The four-sided multiples of the green areas looked very impressive. I told Tylka that it consisted of 64 parts with complementary symmetry, and how a tower filled with water from a Persian wheel irrigated the channels over the higher walls from where the liquid state physics had been applied to fill the four water tanks around the main structure from where the dancing fountains fed the lowest portions of the green belts.

Jehangir’s Tomb has a beautiful gate. Visualised as a tent, it has some of the most spectacular still-lifes as symmetrical motifs. The entrance is inviting and promises a spectacular view. The main structure, standing in the centre, consists of a series of arches on all its sides with the central arch projecting out. The corners end in the form of a buttress whose upper storey forms a three-storied minaret. The placing of these minarets must have been a source of inspiration for the designers of the Taj in Agra. We deliberately avoided visiting the back of this monument where countless houses had mushroomed displaying dirty linen in public.

Asif Khan’s bulbous or amroodi double dome, shorn of its expensive inlaid marble, is unique too. History tells us that it was used as a residence by some British railway officer. Nurjehan’s Tomb was mercifully spared when they were laying the railway tracks. Much smaller, yet it follows the same design as that of the only Mughal emperor buried in Pakistan. It was in Lahore that Prince Khurram was born, and it was here that he was crowned as Shahjehan after the war for coronation. Once the all-powerful queen, having built for herself a rather humble tomb, was interned in its basement along with her daughter Ladli Begum from her previous husband, Sher Afgan. Bar mezaar-i-maa ghareebaan/ nae chiraghi nae guli/ nae par-i-parwaneh soozad/ nae sadaa-i-bulbuli. Of course, these hummings would have been unintelligible to the visitor.

Our next visit was to the Shalamar Gardens, a prototype of the baroque garden extravaganzas. Tylka had done some cursory study of this monumental landscape; yet, she admitted that no amount of visuals from epidiascope or transparencies could compare with the firsthand experience. As we descended the three stages and marvelled at the Sawan Bhadon, she must have realised that Italy had no garden like this. (This was years before they demolished the water tower in the process of the road widening, and the UNESCO had to send Taniguchi to investigate the wrongdoing on my appeal. Nothing came off it, though.)

On our way back, we had to wade through some unruly traffic. The National College of Arts and the adjoining Lahore Museum were on our must-visit list. Reading a notice at the Museum entrance, the lady told the staff that she was entitled to free entry. The staff was going to charge the foreigner a higher fee otherwise.

As we paid our respects to the Fasting Buddha, Tylka was spellbound by the serenity of the posture. The other articles from Gandhara created a link with the Greek influence.

The alto reliefs illustrating the various phases of Sidhartha’s life are very educative even for casual visitors. She marvelled at the diverse periods represented under one roof. Actually, Lahore Museum was originally called the Central Museum. It is the oldest one. During the British days, any excavated artifacts were placed in the nearest museum, this being the Jubilee Building was the only one with the display facility; hence, we find Gandhara and Indus Valley in the same hall.

Tylka had read about the Indus Valley under the Harrappan culture, and the terracotta objects and the bricks used there. The rich gallery of miniature paintings, especially from the Pahari phase, was no less interesting, but it wasn’t her field of study.

It was now time for her to embark on the next part of her journey. I asked why she was named Rosemary. She replied that her friends called her “Nosemary” because she had got a nose job done, much to the dismay of her mother.

I requested her to convey my respects to the Finnish director Signor Jukka, and bade her “arrivederci” till we meet again. “Vederla,” she responded, before entering the restricted area at the Lahore airport.

(This dispatch is dedicated to Nobuo Kamei)

The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association and a former director of the NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at ajazart@brain.net.pk

When Rosemary Tylka visited Lahore