Jahan-i-Jahanara hosts an open day, ahead of their summer camp, filled with creative activities that are rooted in our land
In the sweltering heat of a July afternoon in Lahore, a group of people encircle Zakariya Iqbal and Jessica, the father-daughter duo, as they sway to the rhythm of music. On the floor laid with red bricks, the two glide in unison, performing kathak. Their movements are butter-smooth.
On their faces, not a sign of the heat makes itself visible, not a bead of sweat. They seem to transcend their surroundings through their movements, taking the audience along. Soon, the sound of their bare feet against the bricks brings us back. Music drowns in the background. Smiles are stretched on their faces. I am at 90 Upper Mall, the residence of Sheherezade Alam aka Apa, where ancient trees run parallel to the road.
In 2010, vowing to channel her grief — after she had lost her husband and daughter, Jahanara — into something transformative, Apa set up Jahan-i-Jahanara (Jahanara’s World), a cultural centre for children and the elderly that incorporates creative arts with cultural heritage through activities like pottery, dance and painting. This year, the centre is offering a summer school specifically designed for children. With the pandemic’s halt on life and the added monotony of summer vacations, the camp is expected to provide the children with a chance to step out of their homes and indulge themselves in creative activities that are rooted in their native land.
A step into Jahan-i-Jahanara takes us closer to nature and, our roots, if you will. From keekar, elm, jamun, banyan and mango trees that have stood resiliently through centuries, to the birds and animals that guard its premises, the place is a reminder of the times gone by, when the pace of life was much slower. The nature preserve makes you take a deep breath and soak in the surroundings.
Ahead of the summer camp, Jahan-i-Jahanara is hosting an open day on their premises. It’s a little affair in the front lawn. Chairs are lined for the guests. In a corner, under the shade of a tree, a little table is meant for activities to keep the children busy. Toys in shapes of different animals, made of wood, are ready to be painted.
Later, Apa comes forward to say a few words. “The aim of these traditional and cultural classes is to get people out of their closed walls. It’s to push people closer to poetry, nature and earth, and develop a relationship with these elements,” she says, as eloquently as ever.
A centre that stands in the midst of dense trees and plants, Jahan-i-Jahanara inspires the elderly to step away from the hustle and bustle of city life, even if for a short while. For the children, it’s a chance to engage themselves in creative activities.
Rabia Khalid, who is a part of the administration, introduces us to the faculty. She herself teaches pottery and painting.
Khalid briefs us about the courses being offered in the summer camp this year. These include Kitchen Gardening, Dastaan Goi, Philosophy for Children, Kathak, Naqqashi and Khattati, and instruction in Punjabi. The classes are short and designed keeping the students’ stamina in mind.
Khalid says that the administration is working to expand Jahan-i-Jahanara into a fully functioning school, and to add more disciplines to their curriculum. While they plan on including subjects like math and science, they will “not be relying on conventional modes of teaching.”
A centre that stands in the midst of densely grown trees and plants, Jahan-i-Jahanara inspires the elderly to step away from the hustle and bustle of city life, even if for a short while. For the children, it’s a chance to engage themselves in creative activities.
Khalid’s introductory session is followed by a kathak performance by the instructor, Zakariya Iqbal, and his daughter, Jessica. Later, a poem is recited by Abuzar Madho. It is titled Mein school nain jaana. Madho teaches Punjabi at the centre.
Once the performances are over, the crowd cheers and applauds. Children resume painting; the elders mingle with the teachers. Some children run towards the fruits and snacks that are laid on a table. My attention is caught by a stall that displays earrings made of paper and wood. The creators of the jewellery, two sisters, Afshan Ejaz and Noshi Ejaz, inform me that they have modelled the earrings out of clay and inlaid designs using stamps from Harappa. They call themselves “daughters of the Walled City,” and show me their research on Naqqashi and Khattati, the Mughal artwork often seen on buildings in the form of motifs and calligraphy.
Afshan Ejaz also talks about the process of making the earrings, and how she teaches the art form (of Naqqashi and Khattati) to children at Jahan-i-Jahanara.
Upon learning that they have their own kiln on the premises where they bake their terracotta products, I want to see it. Ejaz guides me through a mass of trees on a cobblestone pathway, and I think this place is a true nature preserve. I’d like to come here for a retreat, to unplug from the life on the other side of the canal for a few days.
As we walk, Ejaz points to the workshop where they conduct pottery classes. There is a small sitting area amidst another bunch of trees and, finally, behind a metal cage door is the kiln where the magic happens.
We walk back to the main area and I buy a pair of earrings for myself.
The writer is a liberal arts student at BNU