THE AUTHOR HAS SPENT SOMETIME IN LAHORE RECENTLY. HE RECOUNTS HIS EXPERIENCES IN THE CAPITAL OF PAKISTAN’S PUNJAB PROVINCE
“Lahore has the best cuisine of this region, I still remember the lassi at Anarkali Bazar where I had spent four years at Forman Christian College,” thus intoned Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal at Amritsar addressing the scribes on the sidelines of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) conference. So Lahore it was for a couple of days braving the January cold. “Jinene Lahore nahi dekhya au janamiya nai” (he who has not seen Lahore might well have not been born) goes the old Punjabi proverb. I hoped Lahore would live upto its reputation of being a exquisite city in more ways than one. As it turned out, I was not disappointed.
Undoubtedly history has thrust upon the lovers of Lahore more broken hearts than they warrant. Its origin dates back from the time of the Ramayana and owes its name to Luv, son of Rama. It has passed through the hands of many a vanquisher- Hindu, Mughal, Persian, Afghan, Sikh and British. Since 1947, it has been the capital of the Pakistani Punjab province. Facts speak for themselves. As per the 1941 census, 64.5 per cent of its population were Muslims and 39.38 per cent Hindus and Sikhs. However, 90 per cent of the property was in the hands of Hindus and Sikhs. The 30 lakh population of Hindus and Sikhs of the city was reduced to 10,000 within a week of Independence of the two nations being declared on 14/15 August 1947.
I was able to saunter around the famous Anarkali Bazar now divided in two sections of New and Old. Named after the stunningly beautiful courtesan who was the beloved of Prince Salim who later became Emperor Jhangir, she is believed to have been buried alive by order of Mughal emperor Akbar in a mausoleum nearby. As it was winter season for Mr Badal’s information, lassi vends were closed down and thus I found myself indulging with rabadi milk. Anarkali is like any north Indian Bazar and has been bustling with crowd always. My auto-rickshaw driver, a Christian called Illyas, points out to the Bible Society office now closed down. On being asked why, he shrugs his shoulders, giving me ample food for thought regarding intolerance to religious minorities in Pakistan. We also see the mausoleum of Qutb-ud-din Aybak of the Mamluk Sultanate, which is part of Old Anarkali. The Old Anarkali area is well known for traditional food items and New Anarkali is noted for a conventional type of handicrafts and embroidered clothes. Food Street is a part of Anarkali Bazaar. Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had once said, “You cannot leave Lahore without visiting Anarkali.”
A “must see” while in Lahore is the “Minar-e-Pakistan” (tower of Pakistan) which was built to commemorate the spot where the resolution was passed by the Muslim League for a separate homeland for Muslims called Pakistan was passed on 23 March 1940, which is also known as “Qarardad-e-Pakistan”. Earlier, the Park on which it was located was known as Manto Park and is now known as Iqbal Park. It was here at the Muslim League Session according to his biographer, Stanley Wolpert that Jinnah, the former ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity, transformed himself into the father of Pakistan. Sir Sikander Hyat Khan the then Chief Minister of Punjab had drafted the resolution. Inter alia, the motion said, “That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North Western and Eastern Zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.” The tower which is 62 metres high took eight years to complete and was inaugurated in 1968. The base is made of unfolding petals and is 9 metres high. The base comprises of four platforms, the first one to symbolise the humble beginning of the freedom struggle is built with uncut Taxilla Stones, the second platform is made of hammer dressed stones, the third platform is of chiseled stones. Polished white marble at the fourth and final platform depicts the success of the Pakistan Movement. At the base of the monument is floral inscriptions which include the text of the Lahore Resolution in Urdu, Bengali and English. On various plaques Quranic verses and 99 attributes to God are inscribed in Arabic calligraphy. The National Anthem of Pakistan and quotations from Muhhmmad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal are inscribed on it. My guide and rickshaw driver Illyas then explained to me that the staircase and elevator going to the top of the Minar-e-Pakistan have been closed due to large number of suicides from top of the tower. According to reliable source, 26 people committed suicide in 2005 alone by jumping off the Minar-e-Pakistan.
I visited Forman Christian College and was impressed by the standard of the institution. It was for sentimental reasons that I set foot on this well known educational establishment. My father had spent some years here in the mid nineteen forties doing his postgraduation in English. He later joined the Indian Army and rose to the rank of Lieutenant General. “We have many Indian alumni visiting us,” Col Rana Khaqan Mahmood, the security incharge of the College informed. “One Indian Brigadier went to his old room and was overcome by emotion hugging the walls and weeping like a child,” added Mahmood. Among its alumni are former Prime Minister Inder Gujral and former Pakistan President Parvez Musharaf. Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and former Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar are also on the role of honour. I have a quick round of the campus guided by a smart student named Osama. I must record that the glamour quotient in the College is quiet high. I have to agree with the prominent writer Khushwant Singh who once wrote, “The difference between Indian and Pakistani girls is that in India you look at their assemblage to see if there are any pretty faces among them; in Pakistan it is the other way round- you look to see if there is any who is not pretty.” The College was started in 1864 and is now a deemed university. It’s motto is “By Love Serve One Another”. One also chanced upon the “Zamzama Gun” on the Mall near the Old University campus. This finds mention in Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”. The Mall (now known as Shahrah-e-Qaid-e-Azam) is well maintained and the canal is still flowing clean and picturesque. On a hot summer’s day, many Lahorians cool on the banks of the canal, thus giving The Mall, the name “Thandi Sadak”(Cool Road). I could not however, visit the famed Museum or Lawrence Gardens now known as Bagh-e-Jinnah due to paucity of time. In Lahore, I found the disparity fairly large (not to say that India is much better). The elite seemed in a different world, whereas the condition of the economically deprived in colonies such as Nishter Town, Aziz Bhatti Town, Shalimar Town and Ravi Town is fairly dismal. We were entertained to dinner by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and on another night by the Punjab Governor Makhdoom Syed Ahmed Mahmud. At the latter function, we were addressed by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, soon to be at the receiving end of the Pakistani Supreme Court. At the Governor’s party, however. dinner was in short supply, and one had to be satisfied with what one got!
It has been said as an oft repeated phrase, “What is a city, but the people?” In this context, Lahore was quite fulfilling.
By Arvindar Singh