Dr Ajaz Anwar reminisces about a tour of the Lahore city, on the Independence Day
I was sleeping on the rooftop of my house in Qilla Gujjar Singh. Suddenly, I was awakened by the roar of a lion from the Lahore Zoo. Just then, a volley of cannons from the Cantonment started firing the Independence Day salute.
I got up for my morning walk. The tables at the restaurant in Lahore Hotel, in front of Baghichi Nihal Chand, were all empty. I saw reflections of the yellow building in its glass panes that had a white dome with large oval holes in which huge watch clocks were still to be fitted, when the partition mayhem happened. Further on, I saw many incomplete buildings on Montgomery Road and in the Royal Park with 1946 and ‘47 inscribed on façades which indicated that the moneyed owners had never believed Pakistan would be founded and had since left.
Time seemed to have stopped. I kept walking. Along the wall of the Mominpura graveyard, where some date palms were still surviving, a platoon of Khaksars carrying their spades were paying their tribute to the new dawn. I saw an old, typical British chateau which was originally owned by an English civil engineer who had built the Lahore Chief Court, as it was then called.
I kept marvelling at its sloping roofs on which early morning sunrays were converging. Built in stone and timbre, covered with slate stone sheets, materials that were probably left over from the LCC construction. There was a water fountain in its garden that had changed hands and come to be owned by a Malwadia family member who had left British India during the Khilafat Movement. After partition, architect Murat Han, who was from Dagestan, having been invited to Pakistan by Ayub Khan and asked to design the Minar-e-Pakistan, came to live in this unique house along with his Hungarian mother-in-law, wife and their five daughters. He built many mega buildings in Lahore including the Gaddafi Stadium. His original design for Minar-e-Pakistan was not to be topped by a dome but left open, symbolising constant growth, said Meral, his daughter.
Further on, I saw the roarra grounds, a depression filled with millions of Mughal and Nanak Shahi bricks brought from Shah Alami which had been gutted during the unfortunate riots. It was surrounded by natural stormwater drains lined with numerous acacia trees.
The Ghulam Rasool building, a family trust and protected property, where Pakistan’s largest bookshop — Ferozsons — was located, stood in its full glory. The Assembly Hall, built in 1938, was surrounded by decorative cast-iron lamp posts linked by thick chains, its globes — i.e. bulbs — had been switched off and underneath these countless beetles were lying dead like freedom fighters. It was on the stairs of this (Assembly) building that a leader unsheathing his sword had proclaimed his resolve to oppose Pakistan. Soon after, Pakistan came into being and the Quaid-i-Azam said, “Pakistan shall live on!”
In 1974, the heads of all Muslim states of the world gathered at the Assembly Hall to repose confidence in the OIC chairperson, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The portraits of the attending sovereigns, made by the leading painters of the country, which adorned the walls of the hall, were later removed to rot in the basements of the Lahore Museum on the orders of a vindictive General Zia. Down history lane almost all these leaders of the Ummah met their expected end, which makes it even more imperative to display these once again in the Assembly Hall.
In the adjacent green park, under a domical canopy in marble, and approached by steps from all its four sides, was placed the seated statue of Queen Victoria, cast in bronze, facing the Queen’s Road. Unfortunately, this statue too was removed to the Central Museum, as it was called in those days. (Symbols of our colonial past, good or bad, must be preserved for posterity.)
Bypassing the Metropole and Neado’s hotels, I crossed the Mall, ignoring the Freemasons Hall, or Jadu Ghar, as it was called, and headed towards the Chirya Ghar (Zoological gardens) through the Victoria Gate. The lion had by then gone to sleep after awakening the Lahoris. All kinds of ducks, swans, flamingoes and cranes were enjoying swimming and performing acrobatic feats in their cages as if they were roaming free. I recalled, “Goshay mein qafas kay mujhay araam bohat hai.” Only someone who has lost all urge for freedom can say that.
I entered the adjoining Lawrence Gardens, the most beautiful and informative Botanical Garden in the region that has every kind of flora, both local and imported. I stood under the city’s oldest and largest banyan tree in which thousands of bats were hanging upside down.
I concentrated my attention towards the strange date palms each with four branches at Turt Murad’s shrine, the roof of which was highlighted by the early morning sun. This garden has several hills which were originally brick kilns in which billions upon billions of small terracotta bricks must have been baked at 1,300 centigrade to build the many historical and common buildings of the city. Some old folks still call it Company Bagh, which in fact was in Badami Bagh, next to the Lahore Fort, where initially the East India Company troops were stationed. The land for the garden was procured from Mauza Ichhra was procured and it was named after Lawrence. The old, decommissioned brick kilns were landscaped into hill gardens approached by wooden stairs formed with planks. On the wooden benches with cast-iron armrests, at the hilltop, students holding books would rather ogle at the butterflies.
They say that almonds are good for memory. May our nation remember the sacrifices offered for the creation of this homeland, I said to myself. An old gardener decorated with many medals looked at me with surprise. I quickly came down the hillock, cast a look at the Beco residence on Kashmir Road and stopped under the Simla Pahari which too was an old brick kiln site.
Through the distance I could see the residence of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, on Empress Road. At that time, Faiz was serving time in Montgomery jail and writing poetry. In an old bungalow, in front of Faiz’s house, was the Lahore Radio Station where Mohini Hameed, in her enchanting voice, must have been broadcasting childrens’ programmes live.
Passing through the Empress Road, outside the largest police lines of the city, I noticed over a pedestal displaying several decommissioned cannons. It said: “Unity, Faith and Discipline.” Upon reading this, I became nervous and quickly headed home where, noting my saddened face, my dog barked at me for the first time. My mother too inquired as to who was in the stairs. When she spotted me, she asked why I was late. I felt as if I was being asked why it took us so long to gain independence? But this land of rivers has always been free with its culture and traditions, opening its arms to all those coming in for its green pastures.
(This dispatch is dedicated to Master Tara Singh)
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]