Endangered and eclipsed

December 29, 2019

The built heritage of Lahore, many monuments of which are on the World Heritage List, is in grave danger

Every year they print images of the year’s “last sunset,” but 2019 was a year of rather record-breaking eclipses over Lahore’s built heritage. During the proceedings, three years’ hell was let loose on the widows of the 1947 refugees and their children and grandchildren, uprooted once again in the blitz in the form of Metros — both of bus and train.

This year, with the change of government, a change of heart was expected, but, it seems some opportunistic elements in the public had plans to contribute their share of nastiness. Both public and private heritage properties were targeted. Ghulam Rasool Building, built in 1916 and protected under the Punjab Special Premises Act, 1986 had to suffer. With normal monsoons, there were no reported demolitions due to rains in the city. Why just this building had to suffer, remains an open secret. The da-Vinci code lies in its being a family trust, whereby the owners and their descendants could only use it, or rent it out, but could not sell or transfer it under any circumstances. On that fateful night of July 19th, labourers were seen over its famous, beautiful dome with crow-bars and spades and hammers dismantling it. Some public members passing by filmed it on their cell-phones and it went viral in this age of technology. With the dome gone, the images of it appeared in all the leading newspapers. The Lahore Conservation Society (LCS) office-bearers, many of them wearing many hats, chose to stay mum. The protesting members were asked not to Panic. With the cat out of the bag, it was realised that there were Trojan horses within the civil society, willing to abet and compromise. A strong protest demonstration was held next to the scene of crime on July 20th. Assurances were issued that the missing portion would be reconstructed, that remains to be seen, to date. The only development on the site is the display of a banner announcing “Space Available”, which obviously means an opportunity to build and occupy. It soon dawned that many more heritage sites were on the executioners’ block. The LCS’s over 25-year-old tradition of holding a lecture or a visit to a site every last Wednesday of a month came in handy and it was decided to revisit the trouble spots. This started on a last-Wednesday of the month i.e. May 29, with a function organised at the House of NANNAs to honour Kamil Khan Mumtaz upon being bestowed the Sitara-e-Imtiaz. Dr Arshad Watoo’s house as designed by KKM nearby, in traditional vaults and domes and arches and in lime mortar was inspected; problems related to Lahore were also discussed. Those attending agreed to visit Bagh Mian Ahmad Din in my neighbourhood in Jahanzeb Block, Iqbal Town, on the next last Wednesday, falling on June 26th. All the birds in the 83 local trees burst into a welcoming song. Notable members of Jahanzeb Welfare Society also joined in, (more about the Mian and his garden, later).

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In the meantime, the Ghulam Rasool Building case had added to the agenda. A visit to the Doongi Ground, salvaged through efforts of civil society, was proposed and hosted by cartoonist Javed Iqbal, who resides nearby, on July 31. It was attended among others by Sulman Pirzada, and Naeem Bajwa. But preference should be given to less privileged areas. Photo-sessions with ‘dignitaries’ can wait. Cheema’s sapling plantation in Sabzazar was more appropriate, it was remarked.

Come another “last Wednesday,” i.e. August 28, on the invitation of Faizan Naqvi the members gathered to pay respects to Hazrat Mian Mir and inspected Nadira Begum’s Tomb. The tomb structure needed attention. The saplings however, were doing well. This project was initiated by Arch Fauzia Qureshi and inaugurated by governor of the Punjab (a separate dispatch about the tomb and the usurped water-tank shall follow soon).

The historic water-tank on Waris Road has already been discussed in a previous dispatch. A recent visit to the place revealed that the tank had already been filled up. Plans are underway to build a high-rise on this non-Muslim evacuee property, of which we are supposed to be trustees (this issue has been discussed in an earlier dispatch). A snake-charmer played sorrowful tunes on this occasion. He was only addressing the powers that be.

Though disappointed, the members decided to meet next time at the tomb of Zeb-un-Nisa over another last Wednesday of the month, falling on October 30. This time the experience turned out to be quite encouraging, and we readily accepted Architect Maqsud Malik’s hospitality and his invitation to pay a visit to Nur Jahan’s Tomb.

Since the next last Wednesday of the month was November 27, which incidentally is the occasion for annual week-long celebrations at the House of NANNAs, it was decided that we would meet at the tomb of Nur Jahan on December 25. A record number of friends braved the record-breaking chill that afternoon. The visit added to our knowledge about the salvaged structure and stature of the lady. But the good work being carried out there and the boundary wall newly constructed to secure the premises, are in danger of being usurped by the Wall City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) along with the tomb of Jahangir, although no royalty has been interned inside the Walled City. The infuriated members decided to meet up at the tomb of the only Moghul emperor buried in Pakistan on January 30. To sum up, the built heritage of Lahore, many monuments of which are on the World Heritage List, is in grave danger.

Heritage of Lahore: Endangered and eclipsed