Dr Ajaz Anwar on the LCS’s last-Wednesday-of-the-month meet-up at Bagh Mian Ahmad Din, and the memories of the founder of the garden it evoked
he members of Lahore Conservation Society (LCS), together with the Rotary International, had vowed not to let any tree fall. But fate had other plans. A whirlwind felled an old Lasurra and two Gondani trees in Bagh Mian Ahmad Din, known for all organic or local trees.
The Bagh is located at the junction of Jehanzeb and Sutlej blocks in Allama Iqbal Town. The said trees, though local, are fast becoming extinct and not many young people remember having seen them.
The Bagh is also one of its kind in Lahore. It boasts a rich collection of mango, jaman, beri, and shahtoot trees; while a big peepal, some neem trees and a couple of tahlis also form part of the collection bequeathed to us by the late Mian Ahmad Din, a philanthropist.
Din founded this garden long before the alien trees were introduced by the overzealous lot.
All the native trees in the Bagh have been marked and numbered. Originally, several times its present size, the Bagh was included in a 1,600-acre housing scheme that was later reduced to 1,400 acres and named Allama Iqbal Town. The garden, in its reduced size, along with its tubewell, was retained initially as a nursery to supply plants to the new houses. While Gen Ansari, the then head of the LDA, was keen to develop Gulshan-i-Iqbal, for which he required funds, he decided to parcel the Bagh into three-marla plots. Being a sworn enemy of local flora, he allowed only alien species in to be planted at the Gulshan-i-Iqbal park.
It was feared that he’d cut all the local trees depriving the fauna of their habitats, and turn this garden into a labyrinth of narrow lanes. But the people took a brave stand — one journalist even wrote an article, titled Children’s Park For Sale. As a result, this much-needed source of oxygen for the children was spared and the inhabitants of all age groups could visit it for daily walk and exercise et al.
Over time, the park has braved many challenges. Children are often spotted stoning the trees in the hope of bagging a few (unripe) mangoes. Many even risk life and limb and climb the trees, only to break the branches and destroy the fruit harvest. Come Eid ul-Azha, the park is invaded by goats and cows. People can purchase expensive animals but they don’t want to spend a penny on their fodder. Instead, they destroy the branches of trees to feed their darlings. Some quack of a vet seems to have prescribed jaman leaves for good indigestion. The animals are led up the garden, in droves, with their owners acting as if it’s their private property.
The damage caused is never undone during the hot months of summer. Cricket matches are another menace. The Bagh turns into a ‘training ground’ for all future national teams. The boys in hot chase of the ball cross all limits, physical and ethical. They aren’t hesitant to ask the beleaguered neighbours whose windowpanes are broken, to return the ball.
Burning the garbage is considered a social service. There is an excellent garbage collection service provided by the Jehanzeb Welfare Society by its elected office bearers for a nominal fee. They go from door to door at fixed hours, to collect the garbage.
The collectors sell all the recyclable materials. Yet, many outsiders stealthily throw bags of garbage, especially under the cover of darkness.
The air becomes unbreathable because of smothering plastic particulates and the poisonous smoke.
It was in this context that the LCS recently decided to hold its traditional last-Wednesday-of-the-month meet-up at the Bagh. The meeting was attended by locals as well as some LCS members, though some die-hard activists were missing, maybe because many of its members have died and the elections have not been held since 2006.
The presence of a granddaughter of late Haji Fazle Karim, the senior most founding member of the LCS, was quite encouraging. The gathering resolved to keep up the momentum for the election of office bearers. Col Ejaz Nazim, a founding member of the LCS and a convener of Shajar Dost Tehreek had left for his heavenly abode, and therefore the session began with fateha for him. His accomplishments in Pakistan Army and his brief liaison with MM Alam, too, were mentioned.
Many other long lost friends joined the congregation. Nasira Habib of Organica was requested to plant three saplings donated by journalist Tanvir.
The PHA officials had been requested to join the meet-up, but they only deputed two head gardeners, namely Usman and Iftikhar, who proved very efficient and cooperative. As instructed, they swept the whole garden clean, and picked up the dry leaves thrown in the pit to be turned into organic fertiliser.
Originally, the fallen lasurra was to be planted in its original site, but the gardeners suggested that it should be planted near the two gondanis, keeping a safe distance for expansion of the foliage and the roots whose biomass generally is the same. Thus, three pot holes were dug by the hardy and efficient gardeners. My assistant Arif Khan, a Kashmiri, too, displayed his skill with the spade. Under the supervision and watchful eyes of Nasira Habib, the holes with sloping sides were given a layer of organic fertiliser over which the plants extracted from the terra cotta pots were placed and the sides were supported with more earth and fertilizer before water was generously poured in.
It was the end of March. The time chosen was about five in the evening, as suggested by the experts. The three plants donated by Tanvir had been lying with me for the past one year. Mercifully, they were still healthy and, once transferred to the ground, seemed to be happily swaying in their newfound freedom. A fourth one, a bougainvillea, provided by a gardener, was planted to creep over a dried stub of a tree.
All attending the meet-up were once again invited to the stage, built through the donation of late Jan Muhammad. Suggestions and complaints were also welcome. The PHA staff said that the garden had not been adequately lit at night which was why drug addicts and anti-social elements were able to easily operate at the place. Someone else pointed to the alien plants introduced by the PHA.
Just outside the main gate, a deep gutter was found to be missing its cover. Someone had tried to cover it with the bushes. But “a bush for every hole” cannot be a strategy. The WASA had to be approached and requested to provide the missing cover. It is their duty to be on the lookout for such issues.
The meeting ended with members enjoying cookies and drinks. One Naeem Bajwa was sorely missed.
The local boys took upon themselves to look after the saplings which would require watering in the evening. It was decided that everybody would act as a fire brigade on the lookout for anyone lighting the garbage. It was also decided that the next last-Wednesday-of-the-month meeting would be held after Ramazan.
As the evening approached, thousands of birds that had been watching us from a distance began their descent to roost. It was a delight to witness such a big variety of birds, and such huge numbers, all singing songs in their own rhymes, yet they were on the same wavelength in praise of Allah.
(This dispatch is dedicated to late Col Ejaz Nazim, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society)
Next: A review of Nasira Habib’s beautifully illustrated book, Bachon ki Baghbani
Note: Free Art classes, all ages and genders, are held every Sunday at the House of NANNAs.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org