It is impossible to deny the many contributions of Sir Ganga Ram, the man who rebuilt Lahore
July 10 marked the 94th death anniversary of Sir Ganga Ram (1851–1927), popularly known as the father of modern Lahore. It passed without any commemoration by Lahoris in particular and the Punjabis in general, to whom he had been kind and generous. This could be attributed to the partition of the subcontinent in August 1947 that has yielded space to faith in India and Pakistan and caused disowning of the heroes, philanthropists and benign and humane souls from other faiths.
Referring to the dominance and manipulation of faith, I argued in my previous article, A Hard Call for The News on Sunday published on July 4, that the “contesting ideological orientations have caused the exclusion of many talented, competent, and capable people from playing their part in state-building and nation-building.” For example, the services of Jogendra Nath Mandal, a Hindu by faith and Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi, later declared non-Muslim, were rejected. I hold that the dominance of faith and contesting ideologies have driven us not only to forget but also to disown the invaluable services and long-lasting contributions of people based on their faith.
For example, Sir Ganga Ram - a Hindu civil engineer and architect, has fallen prey to this painful and unkind legacy. Ganga Ram earned the title of the father of modern Lahore for having designed and built the General Post Office, Aitchison College, Mayo School of Arts (now the National College of Arts) and the Lahore Museum. Moreover, he planned and constructed the city’s first sanitation system, waterworks, Gulberg and Model Town — suburbs that have recently developed into cultural centres for Lahore’s growing socioeconomic elite.
He gave the people of Lahore Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Lady Mclagan Girls High School, Government College, Lahore’s (now Government College University, Lahore) Chemistry Block, Mayo Hospital’s Albert Victor Wing, Sir Ganga Ram High School (now Lahore College for Women University) the Hailey College of Commerce, Ravi Road House for the Disabled, the Ganga Ram Trust Building on The Mall, and the Lady Maynard Industrial School.
Most notably, Ganga Ram took on one of the most challenging and important projects of his life – rebuilding Lahore. The city that was once the provincial capital of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire had been the capital of the Sikh kingdom had become an orphan after the fall of the Sikh empire to the British in 1849. Buildings, monuments, and gardens were left to decay. Lahore lagged far behind cities like Delhi and Amritsar in economic activity and prosperity. However, in the mid-1880s, the British tasked Ganga Ram, by appointing him as the executive engineer of Lahore, with rebuilding the city. During his twelve years of service (1891–1903), he left an indelible mark on Lahore’s architecture. The city attracted migrants in large numbers, mainly in search of employment opportunities, and subsequently became one of the largest and most modern cities of British India.
Besides rebuilding and modernising Lahore, Sir Ganga Ram built a unique travelling facility, Ghora Train - a horse-pulled train, in Jaranwala tehsil of Lyallpur district (now Faisalabad). It was a unique travelling facility — two trollies were pulled on a narrow rail track by a horse instead of a railway engine. The track connected Gangapur village to Lahore through Buchina railway station (on Lahore-Jaranwala railway line), bringing fortune and economic prosperity to the village. It became useless in the 1980s due to negligence by the authorities. However, it was resumed in 2010 by the Faisalabad district government, that awarded it the status of cultural heritage.
The village of Gangapur was established by Ganga Ram when he was allotted 500 acres of land in Chenab Canal Colony (now Faisalabad district) on his retirement in 1903. There, he established a farmhouse with a mechanical reaper and ridge, harrows, scythes, and other modern agricultural implements. This farmhouse was the first of its kind in British India.
He also introduced modern agricultural implements in 30,000 acres of land that he took on lease from the British government in Montgomery (now Sahiwal district) and Renala Khurd. He started irrigating the barren land using electric pumps. Subsequently, the arid land was transformed into cultivable land. He established the Maynard-Ganga Ram award of Rs 3,000 with a Rs 25,000 endowment. The award was to be given every three years to someone whose innovation would increase agricultural production.
Apart from modernising agriculture in the Punjab and making contributions to Lahore, Montgomery, and Lyallpur, he is credited with redesigning and modernising the princely state of Patiala, part of Indian Punjab post-partition. His most valuable imprints are Moti Bagh Palace, the Secretariat, Victoria Girls High School, City High School, Law Courts, and the Ijlas-i-Khas.
Though Sir Ganga Ram mainly contributed to the development of west Punjab, the Indian government has recognised and honoured him for his contributions. Across the border, they have established Ganga Bhawan student hostel at the University of Roorkee and Thomason College of Civil Engineering (now IIT Roorkee) —from where he earned the degree of Civil Engineering—and Sir Gangaram Hospital in New Delhi in his honour.
Contrarily, Sir Ganga Ram has met with a different treatment from authorities in Pakistan, who renamed Sir Ganga Ram High School as Lahore College for Women (now University). His samadhi is in dire need of repair and renovation. His statue on The Mall was attacked by an inflamed mob during the 1947 riots.
It is impossible to deny the many contributions of Sir Ganga Ram, the man who rebuilt Lahore. Instead of being grateful, we have disowned him on account of his faith.
The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University and is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad. He can be contacted at [email protected] He tweets at @MazharGondal87