Plaques of honour

November 8, 2020

As Lahore Sangat resumes work on installing honorary plaques at places in the city that were once home to legendary personalities of the country, plans are afoot to attract tourism and utilise the digital space

Bhai Ram Singh’s plaque is installed outside Lahore Museum. — Photos by Rahat Dar

The city of Lahore has been around for almost 19 centuries. While it is not possible to count the exact number of people that have called this city home, some leave a mark that lives on forever. Lala Lajpat Rai, Bhai Ram Singh, Anna Molka Ahmad, Amrita Pritam, Maharaj Kathak, Sa’adat Hassan Manto, Hafeez Jalandhari, Muhammad Rafi, Sir Ganga Ram and Faiz Ahmed Faiz are just a few of the illustrious names that come to mind. As the city grows to make space for new lives, it is crucial to pay tribute to the extraordinary women and men who have left behind phenomenal legacies. Lahore Sangat is one such endeavour that seeks to honour the great Lahoris.

A private initiative, Lahore Sangat was formed in 1998. Presently, it is composed of 20 individuals — chiefly architects, conservationists and artists — who identify areas in the city that were once occupied by its legendary citizens. Its founding member, Fauzia Husnain Qureshi tells TNS that the idea was born in “an informal meeting, back in the late ’90s. There were eight to 10 of us including Ghazala Eman, Nighat Saeed, Shahid Jalal, Sonu Rehman and Masud Hassan. We wanted to do something to pay homage to the legends of this city and a simple blue plaque is just the universal way of doing so.”

The project was soon discontinued due to a lack of cooperation from the city government and some logistical setbacks.

Qureshi says permission to place plaques in residential and/or commercial areas was extremely difficult to obtain. “The owners of the property would refuse to cooperate and the provincial government did not extend any form of support. We were only able to place plaques at institutions like the Government College University (GCU), as obtaining permission from the campus administration was relatively easy.”

Eventually, at GCU, plaques were placed outside the hostels and offices of Dr Nazir, Patras Bokhari and Abdus Salam. Lahore Sangat was also able to pay tribute to some of the past members of the National College of Arts (NCA).

Previously also, plaques in the names of Shakir Ali, Sa’adat Hassan Manto and Ganga Ram had been placed in different educational institutions of the city.

In July 2019, the project was restarted. This time around, the government was paying special attention to the restoration and preservation of the cultural capital of the country. Various Walled City programmes were started as part of tourism initiatives and the government seemed more open to the idea of extending support to informal groups that had a similar goal to preserve the city’s past.

To quote Qureshi, “The commissioner and local bodies have been extremely helpful and supportive. When we were putting up a plaque for Amrita Pritam, the city government helped us obtain permissions.

“Though the current owner of Delhi Muslim Hotel [where a plaque in the memory of Kathak exponent Maharaj Kathak was to be put up] did not let us do the honours inside the hotel, the government came forward and helped us get a spot in the street outside. Some business owners have also been supportive since this adds significance to their place of work.”

Artist and Lahore Conservation Society (LCS) member Dr Ajaz Anwar believes that the aims and objectives of Lahore Sangat align with those of the LCS. “As soon as we heard about it, we were there to provide any support needed,” he says.

“The organisation remained dormant for long. Many plaques were put up but there is no system of checking up on them. I also feel that there should be more public engagement in this project.”

Lala Lajpat Rai’s plaque is installed at Gol Bagh gate. 

“The organisation remained dormant for long. Many plaques were put up but there is no system of checking up on them. I also feel that there should be more public engagement in this project.” — Dr Ajaz Anwar

The Lahore Sangat recently managed to put up 25 blue plaques across the city. The system of deciding which plaque to put up is informal and largely based on suggestions from the group members who consider factors such as the field of work an individual belongs to. They then try to involve a variety of people such as singers, artists, musicians and philanthropists.

The group also ensures that gender parity is a major component of their shortlisting process. “As of now, we have almost 140 names in the list but I’m sure there are thousands more that should be added,” says Qureshi.

The group recently set up their social media pages and is using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to spread information about the project. Besides, through social media, the public is invited to nominate individuals who they think are deserving of a plaque of recognition.

This year, Lahore Sangat had to hold back on its projects due to Covid-19, but the group has recently resumed work. Their current operations are completely self-financed. Qureshi says, “Initially, each member was supposed to contribute two or three thousand rupees. However, the costs have gone up since the project was initiated. The plaque itself costs somewhere between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000. On top of this there are translation costs, graphic designing costs and other logistical costs.”

Lahore Sangat is also looking for corporate investors who can help pay vendors directly. The group plans to expand operations both in terms of the number of plaques being put up and the amount of projects they take on. “We are planning to expand our project in accordance with the demands of the digital age. With our recently formed social media pages we shall have a larger reach within the public. This will hopefully mean that more people will join in and that there will be more nominations for individuals who deserve such plaques.”

The group’s other plans include developing city walks in collaboration with the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA). These walks would be part of various tourism projects currently underway and would include a sightseeing tour of all locations with plaques.

Digitalising the simple blue plaques with a barcode system which when scanned through a smartphone could provide detailed information about the individuals, is also on the cards.

Lastly, the group is looking to create a publication in honour of the legendary personalities of Lahore.

The writer is a student of political science at LUMS and a freelance journalist

Plaques of honour