Harking Back
Majid Sheikh

When city and river were prised apart

As Sheesh Mahal slowly collapses, no call for help exists

Bosom friends’ of the British Raj in Punjab

Fun of getting to know our own backyard well

A proud Rajput princess and her exquisite mosque

Gharis’ in the life of Akbar the Great in Lahore  

‘Horse stable archives’ and the latest promise to a gullible Lahore

Huge wall mural and mystery of the missing monuments

Karbala and how Lahore was involved

Man who introduced electricity to Lahore

Oldest' hujra of Lahore and the mysterious Mahdi

She is the only man left in Punjab

Shifting sands of our seats of justice, legislation

The ‘magical baolis’ of Arjan and Dina Nath

The mysterious tombs of ‘lion’ and ‘drinker’

The tomb of the Mughal prince who is not there

Threatened garden largely without grass and trees

Victoria School and a walk through four eras

Why ‘scourge of god’ ransacked Lahore every six years

Will we lose world’s rarest archaeological record?

Tracing Out heritage tot he Lahore that was

When city and river were prised apart

When the old bridge built by the British over ‘Budha Ravi’ was knocked down last year to make way for the concrete ‘spaghetti junction’ opposite the Lahore Fort, in a way it forever prised apart the old city of Lahore and the river.

Over the ages rivers and cities have had an almost umbilical relationship, the latter located because of the former. So it was with Lahore. The bloody Partition of 1947 led to water politics which killed off the river. Lahore was effectively orphaned. But then the death of a river not yet fully dry is not possible. The history and the myths that go with what is left of the Ravi live on. The seasons bring it back to life. The changing world climate also makes sure that the annual ‘relative flood’ returns, which the people of Lahore in almost a reflex action rush to see the mellowed rage of the river.

As a schoolboy I remember the river coming up to the GPO as the western portion of the city emptied eastward. It was, in all probability, a farewell visit. Local pundits still say that the river came to steps of Data Darbar to bid him farewell. The saint of the city is known as a ‘jalalli’, and even he must have been unhappy. For over half a century now the river has spared the city of its rage.

But then before the world became motorised, the river provided most of the ‘trade highway’, with the river full of trading boats, with an occasional small flat-bottomed ship making it to Khizri Gate, now known as Sheranwala Gate, where docking facilities existed. If you visit the place even now and stand aside to observe the lay of the land, you will notice a small jetty-like topography. It was from here that the famous Zamzama Gun was loaded on a boat by Maharajah Ranjit Singh to participate in the battle for Multan. It was from a nearby market that indigo was shipped to the west, who developed denim for jeans in France.
To understand the river we have to go back at least 700 years to see how the river flowed, so that we can understand just how it moved westwards, ultimately leaving the city, only to be dealt a fatal human blow. One description of Khizri Gate has been given by the Italian traveller Nicola Mannuchi in 1667 who said that this is where the ferry stopped and off-loaded cargo. He, however, called it Qadri Gate. Just how and when did Hazrat Khawaja Khizr become a Qadri is beyond me. My best guess is that a seer by this name lies buried about a hundred yards inside the city.

At the ferry station the major crops and other essential commodities from the surrounding areas were received and stored in the huge ‘mandis’ that still abound inside the walled city. Every week a larger ferry from Multan and beyond would dock here. One account taken from East India Company documents tell of European goods from ships being off-loaded at Sukkur onto ferries bound for Lahore. In return goods from Lahore were loaded onto European ships. Initially cotton and indigo were the two prized products, as was sugar and smaller quantities of spices and rice.

Let us take a brief look at how the river has moved over the ages. Initially the river, if we are to believe the account in the ‘Mahabharata’, flowed slightly to the east of the city, and it was somewhere north of the city, probably at Mahmood Boti, that the famous ‘Battle of Ten Kings’ was fought, that being the central theme of this epic. At this point it curled to touch the fort and then it its eastward thrust curled around the mound that was to become the walled city of Lahore.

On this alignment it flowed in the pre-Islamic days. It moved just north of the present-day Shalimar Gardens, moved inward (southwards) towards where today is the University of Engineering. It then, because of the mounds there, moved slightly to the north and headed towards where today is Badami Bagh and touched the north-eastern tip of the fort, jutting out near where today is the Lahore District Courts, then moved out and back towards Old Anarkali, and turning and returning near where today stands the Chauburji Gateway. It then took a third loop returning to the west of Nawankot and then proceeding southwards.
Rivers have a natural ability to move according to riverbank erosion, the earth’s circulation and natural phenomena like an earthquake changing the surrounding topography, just like in the case of Sukkur in the 11th century the mighty Indus suddenly changing course because of an earthquake and overnight started flowing between Rohri and Sukkur. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that when the ‘baradari’ of Kamran was built it was in a huge garden, not in the middle of the river as it is today.
Here we see the Ravi turn westwards of all the reasons given, and started flowing by Shahdara next to the tombs of Jahangir, Nur Jehan and Asaf Khan, which when built where far away from the river. In those days the river curled around the walled city, providing it with a natural defence protection. When Akbar expanded the walled city from 1575 onwards, the river did flow around the fort and city, with a few drawbridges in place. The last drawbridge seen in British days was at Mochi Gate.
But then the river had moved westwards again leaving a few traces of its glory days. For example just to the west of the fort and the Pakistan Monument used to be a lake called ‘Budha Darya’. That has now disappeared, but I do remember in our youth when we played cricket in Minto Park, the ‘budha darya’ was very much there. It flowed into the Ravi and was considered part of the river. Such samples, dried that they are, can still be found at three other places to the south and west of Lahore as we know it today.

Once the river had effectively moved away from the walled city, the ferry port moved to the eastern bank of the river just to the west of what is today known as Karim Park. To understand this we have the last river bank brick structures at the point where the road from Sheikhupura via Begum Kot touches the river edge. At this point a boat bridge existed, the few remains of the brickwork at the opposite end can still be seen. It was along this road that goods began to increasingly flow to the walled city ‘mandis’.

With the British came the railways and the new bridge opened up the road to realign with the Sher Shah Suri’s Grand Trunk Road. Of recent with the building of the new road opposite the Lahore Fort, the last remaining bridge over the ‘Budha Ravi’ was knocked down. In Sikh days once the river had moved on, the ferry station went silent and the gateway once known as Khizri Gate came to be known as Sheranwala Gate, after two lions that Maharajah Ranjit had tied there.
Sadly, young children would pelt stones at the lions, who died of their wounds. They were replaced by stone lions, which disappeared because of trader pressure after 1947. The river and the ferry thus left the city. The city changed forever.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2015



As Sheesh Mahal slowly collapses, no call for help exists
Majid Sheikh

Sheesh Mahal:Photo Curtsy:Creative Commons
As we walk through Jahangir’s dilapidated quadrangle in the Lahore Fort after witnessing
the wreck that Kharak Singh’s ‘haveli’ has become, observing the terrible condition of the archives of the excavations of our great Ghandhara Civilisation, and the falling roof of the emperor’s pavilion at the northern end, one begins to be aware of a terrible tragedy slowly unfolding. But the worst was yet to come.
After spending a considerable time talking to Punjab Archaeological Department officials, one begins to realise that they are really not bothered. I pick my way through the confusion to enter the quadrangle garden of Shah Jehan’s Diwan-e-Khas, whose exquisite pavilion is a world stunner. The floor, renowned for its marble work, is beginning to give way, and the beautiful roof has a small hole that seems to be, because of neglect, opening up. To the left corner is the Lal Burj, now in an advance state of decay.
I move on towards the Khilwat Khana. In front are the passages that lead to the mysterious dungeons of the Lahore Fort. I have never been able to understand just why they have not been set up to show the people what went on there. In these dark alleys emperors, princes, saints and gurus were locked up, victims of rulers over the ages. There are stories few places on earth possess. The problem is that no plan has ever been drawn up to repair and conserve this critical portion of the fort. No historian has devoted time to research the history of the dungeon. In another piece I will narrate the story of the mysterious skeleton in chains, the miracles of Guru Arjan Dev when made to lie on live coal, and the terrible condition in which Aurangzeb kept his sister.
But as we walk along we see that the pavilion has a gaping hole in the roof, the walls have Christian chapel paintings, the work of East India Company officials, and the missing bricks of apartments built during Sikh rule. The British were no saints when it came to destroying historical monuments. I walk through the side and enter the outer courtyard of the Sheesh Mahal complex, correctly called the ‘Shah Burj’. The entrance gates still have the gaudy enamel paint brickwork put up to impress Islamic Summit guests. The centre court has an open well that led to the massive dungeon network that runs below this part of the fort. Then we enter the Sheesh Mahal complex itself.
The first pavilion is the world’s finest, the Naulakha, originally built without a hinge or trace of lime plaster. It is without doubt a stunner and a World Heritage Site for good reason. The marble used is exquisite and the ‘jalli’ work amazing. The precious stones used in the floral designs can be seen in small traces, with the remaining stolen over the ages. Every era has its scoundrels. Of all the buildings in the Lahore Fort, this one remains relatively safe from the neglect that this historic place faces.
I turn to the masterpiece, the Sheesh Mahal – the palace of mirrors -, a glorious sight it is, for this is the fort’s centre piece. This was the royal area where the emperor, or ruler, stayed and held court. This area was built in the middle of the Akbar era and given its final shape in 1632 by Emperor Shah Jehan. This semi-octagonal structure has a façade with five cusped arches exquisitely decorated with pietra dura, convex glass and mirror mosaic. This is probably unrivaled in the entire subcontinent, though later on attempts were made to copy it at Agra Fort.
The roof of the central hall originally had two storeys, with the central hall roof having floral paintings in gold and silver leaf finishes. The Sikh period saw major changes with Maharajah Ranjit Singh using the roof as a ‘harem’ where he would sit in style and display the ‘Koh-e-Noor’ jewel. The additional building added in Sikh and British days added considerably to the dead weight of the structure. This led to the plaster of the roof falling down in 1905, exposing the decaying wooden beams that held it together.
In 1925 the first conservation work was carried out to save this historic structure. With time even this collapsed. In 2006 with foreign assistance this structure and its roof were again restored. But then again in 2013 the roof began to wear away at one point. When I visited it last week a major portion of the roof was giving way. Though the roof top has reasonable waterproofing, yet moisture seems to be seeping through. It is a dead weight issue. To keep visitors from entering the building, a railing has been set up. Why let visitors in if they cannot see the beauty of the Sheesh Mahal?
The one place I had never been was the ‘burj’ where Maharajah Ranjit Singh used to sit every morning allegedly listening to all the various scriptures. It is a steep climb and not for the faint-hearted, for a ladder is need for the final ascend. From atop he must have had a complete look at the city with his ‘single eye’.
As a young reporter I had the rare privilege of seeing the setting for the Islamic Summit Banquet in the Sheesh Mahal. The floor was redone, and let me say done very well in marble with the original floral design. As I stood looking in horror at the collapsing roof, I wondered at just what was wrong with the ‘protectors’ of the fort. It seems that this UNESCO World Heritage Site has no meaning for our archaeology department. If anything this is one place that needs immediate attention.
The question after my three-part series on the Lahore Fort brings forth the proposition: “Do we want to save the Lahore Fort from total decay and collapse?” I am sure all our readers will say a big loud ‘Yes’, but end up doing nothing. The extremist sub-culture of hate that pervades our country has relegated historic monuments to an ‘unwanted’ status. If our home-grown extremists had their way they would probably bomb the place down. Fear, and collective illiteracy, makes us take a step back. Then there is a deadly silence.
What do the people of Lahore want to do with their historic fort? If the answer is nothing, then just wait and let it erode, decay and die away. That process is very much on. But if the answer is a ‘Yes’, then some call to action is needed. Let the world’s finest Islamic conservation experts handle the project. Let the LWCA set up a special project for this historic monument. The more the delay the worse will things get. One only hopes this is not a call in the callous emptiness that has become our cultural landscape.
Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2014



Bosom friends’ of the British Raj in Punjab

While studying the role of the East India Company in Punjab, it seems that even though men like Lawrence and Montgomery stand out, the man who really laid the foundations of British rule, Charles Theophilus Metcalfe, is seldom mentioned.
My interest in the man who Maharajah Ranjit Singh opined was “the brains of the English” was triggered while reading through the Amritsar Treaty that the Company signed with the Lahore Darbar on the 25th of April, 1809. This treaty in reality consolidated Ranjit Singh, for he was now able, within the confines of the area not covered by the treaty, to expand his empire. By the same stroke he learnt to respect the skills of the Company soldiers. The British signed this out of an unfounded fear of the French and the Russian Treaty of Tilsit and was, in essence, a defensive mode of consolidation. But that is another story. My interest lay in a document that Metcalfe had commented upon, titled ‘British Guidebook for India’, or ‘a complete guide to gentlemen of the Honourable East India Company’.
The origin of this document is said to be a ‘gent’ by the name of Henry Roberdeau of the Bengal Presidency, who in 1801 was alarmed over the ‘private lives’ of British officials, civil and military, in Mymen Singh who were found to have made “bosom friends” with ‘native’ women, mostly those working in their houses and barracks. The resultant children born of such alliances needed special attention. One comment on this situation was that “the men, far away from home, found it much more economical to have concubines than to afford to have a European bride”.
Such a situation naturally whetted my interest and I went on to research how they ended up while at Lahore, and Punjab. But though Metcalfe himself ended up with three sons from a ‘native’ lady, he disapproved of the manner in which General William Palmer (1740-1816) had married a princess of the Mughal court, Princess Faize Bakhsh. Metcalfe had written to the Company that Palmer was conducting himself in ‘a manner that runs against Company interests’.
During the Governorship of Lord Wellesley a ‘crackdown’ on inter-racial relationships was undertaken. An ‘intelligence note’ (OIOC, Mss Eur F228/18) issued by the Company termed such relationships ‘criminal, highly improper and demeaning’ affecting the morale of Company officers and soldiers’. But such a stipulation did not prevent the career of a man like Metcalfe from advancing rapidly.
He rose to become one of the Directors of the East India Company. The irony was that as Lord Wellesley’s ‘protégé, Metcalfe sent his own three sons born to a ‘native’ women to England under the care of Wellesley to be ‘educated and cared for by an aunt’. Charles Metcalfe was to rise to become Governor of Jamaica (1839-42) and Governor-General of Canada (1843-45) and made a peer. As none of his sons were ‘legitimate’, the peerage lapsed on his death in 1846. The interesting thing was that when he was Resident of Delhi, the three senior-most officials under him all had children from “native bosom friends”.
As my research progressed it made sense to see just how had such a lifestyle unfolded by the time the East India Company faced the events of 1857 in Lahore and Punjab. On the 13th of May, 1857, Her Majesty’s 81st Foot had managed to disarm three native infantry regiments (the 16th, 26th and 49th) and 8th Cavalry. A detailed investigation of the events of Lahore (Military Report, OIOC, pun/1848, p43) suggests that the reasons for the mutiny were the “greased cartridges, bad pay, delayed pay and rations, and British soldiers’ relationship with native women”. This assertion was ‘looked into’(NAI, Mlty Dept proceedings, nos 23-25/09/P/1858) and it was found that a fifth of the soldiers of HM 81st Foot had ‘relationships with native servants’ and that seven of them had British-Indian children.
Let me make clear, lest your imagination flies off at a tangent, that having ‘native bosom friends’ did not in any way influence the events of 1857. It was an acceptable way of life, and if we look into the life of the clerks of the Company who worked in Anarkali Cantonment before 1851, having a ‘native companion’ was an acceptable way of life. The Kipling character Kim could be construed as being a British-Indian. One of the reasons a new cantonment was built at Mian Mir was “to ensure that the British military is guarded against native influence”. After 1857 the Wellesley Policy was aggressively pursued.
If we look at foreign military soldiers of fortune who worked for the Lahore Darbar of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, we see that invariably all of them had Indian wives and concubines, not to speak of the Italian general Paolo Avitable’s huge harem, from which he had seven children. If anything the maharajah encouraged such alliances, for it made sure they had Punjab’s interest at heart. Avitable left Lahore (abandoning his Indian wives and children) when the maharajah died and once in Italy married his young niece, who poisoned him and inherited his massive wealth.
But then the role of ‘native bosom friends’ and the racial discrimination they faced is a subject that has been rarely studied. A few books on the subject suggest that in the early colonial period native women served as slaves, concubines, companions and wives to a very large number of officials, soldiers and traders. It is also true that they greatly assisted the colonial power to understand society and its norms, which assisted them in consolidating their power.
How did the Indian sons of Metcalfe fare? The three sons grew up in England, all going to Eton. All of them married English women and lived on an estate in Yorkshire which Charles had purchased for them, for the Metcalfe’s originally belonged to North Yorkshire. One branch of the seventh generation of the Indian side of Charles Metcalfe’s family runs a huge British food company. One great-grandson set up a fashionable eatery on London’s Regent Street, which he sold at a huge profit. One of them was, in 2014, awarded the OBE. That would surely reassure Charles Metcalfe that all is in order.
Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2015



Fun of getting to know our own backyard well

In my college days we lived on Rattigan Road. Our huge house was second home to my father’s countless friends – musicians, poets, writers, journalists and professors, not to mention the numerous friends of his eight children. A hot meal and delightful conversation, even at odd times, stood guaranteed. On the rare occasion when no guest turned up, the old man would grumble: “This meal is tasteless”.
As one ages the things learnt from my father at the dining table come to mind. This column is about one advice he gave us time and again: “Learn in great detail about the history of the places near your home first, then your city, then your country, and then you will understand the world”. We all did become very street wise, of this there is no doubt.
Yet every day we got new books to read, not to speak of the five newspapers that came every day. At breakfast he asked us about the latest news, while at dinner he expected a speech from one of the brats about how the day was spent. Along the way our diction was strictly checked.
Once I had a ‘very heated’ discussion over the Vietnam War with my elder brother, in the process smashing all the furniture of the sitting room. When my father came home, there was silence. He surveyed the damage, asked the reason, and remarked: “So who won America or Vietnam?” End of matter and a hug to both. Next day both got a book each on the subject.
Then one day he asked me to research into who Charles Bradlaugh was. The back side of our house touched the back of Bradlaugh Hall, and during a raid to catch kites my brothers Karim and Rauf would often run at great speed on the ledge of the hall. It was frightening to just see them do it. This is the hall where The Indian National Congress was set up, and it was in this hall that the Declaration for the Freedom of India was adopted, which is today India’s National Day. India got its freedom, but lost Lahore and their Bradlaugh Hall. We, naturally, ignored both.
Charles Bradlaugh was a British MP who advocated, to the utter horror of other British members of parliament, freedom for a united India. He was a secular politician, an atheist, a Free-thinker, who stood for Irish Self Rule, Women’s Rights, Abortion, and the freedom of India. In a way he was a hundred years before his time. In 1880 he was elected as MP for Northampton and immediately hit the headlines when he refused to take the ‘Oath of Affirmation’ to the Crown and to God. “I will affirm my loyalty to Parliament, not to meaningless devoid symbols”. You can imagine the uproar.
He was re-elected to his seat four times after he kept resigning over this matter, ultimately the powers that be made sure that he was the last man, symbolically, to be imprisoned in the tower under the Big Ben. The story of this colourful British politician is too long to narrate in this brief column, but it was in respect to him that when he died the 21-year old Mohandas Gandhi attended his funeral, which was attended by well over 3,000 people.
Bradlaugh Hall was built in his honour by the precursor of the Indian National Congress. At this place Jinnah, Nehru and all the great political leaders of the subcontinent spoke. Freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh lived and were educated here at the National College. It is, by all accounts, a national heritage building.
Then one day my father asked me to research the ‘tibba’ of Baba Fareed which lies at the edge of Rattigan Road just behind the District Court. I went there a number of times, and in the process decided to experience a ‘chilla’. I sought my father’s permission, but he cut me to size with the remark: “I asked you to research in a scientific manner, not go daft”. So at the dining table one day he asked me to narrate everything I had learnt. That lesson I still recollect.
Baba Fareed was born in 1179 at Kothewal village near Multan. His family belonged to Khojend in Tajikistan. While studying at Multan he came across Qutabuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki who had stopped at his ‘madrassah’ while travelling from Baghdad to Delhi. He was to become his disciple, travelling with him wherever he went. A renowned Sufi saint, Kaki advised Fareed to first perform Haj and then proceed to Lahore and perform a ‘chilla’ of 40 days at the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh. “You will find light there and will know what to do next”. This he did after Kaki died in 1235 and from the mound at Rattigan Road he proceeded and finally settled at the present day Pakpattan, then known as Ajodhan.
Over the years the ‘tibba’ of Baba Farid has been visited by great Sufi saints like Nizamuddin Aulia, Saleem Chisthi, Baba Guru Nanak, and a long list of Sufi saints over the last 800 years. Today it is the haunt of drug addicts and persons of the legal profession who cut deals of various sorts.
It is amazing just how much history exists around us. But then my father had a scheme of things for his children. He wanted us to learn of all the great Sufi poets of our land, and one by one we got assignments about all the great saints and musicians and writers of our land. He would walk with us through the lanes and ‘mohallahs’ of the old walled city and every house had a story. At Mochi Gate he told me that in his youth a wooden drawbridge stood outside the gate. I often wonder just what happened to that drawbridge.
But just in the middle of Rattigan Road, where today is the house of the principal of the training college, once stood a Sussex cottage with its exquisite straw roof, where Mr Justice Rattigan lived. Opposite his house in the open ‘maidan’, where today is the Central Model School, from Moghal days were the underground tunnels where ice, frozen in large trays in winter, was stored for use in Lahore all the year round.
This just goes to show that he was correct in his assessment that we must first know our own backyard if we are to understand the world. There are scores, if not over a hundred, stories about where we once lived. Imagine just how much history Lahore contains, let alone the Punjab, or more importantly, the ancient land of what is today Pakistan. Just imagine how much research the new generation has before it. On this I am very optimistic.
Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2015




A proud Rajput princess and her exquisite mosque

Few mosques in old Lahore can match the history, romance and beauty than that built inside Masti Gate by Mughal emperor Jahangir in honour of his mother Mariumuz Zamani, often wrongfully referred to as Jodha Bai.
After going through the terrible condition of the Lahore Fort, a trip to the nearby mosque was in order. Her special house inside the fort has been knocked down (in China they hang officials for such crimes) and staff quarters built in that place. The experience was a sad one. Here was the memory of a proud Rajput princess, the third wife of Emperor Akbar, and the woman who bore and raised her sons, one of whom was to be the future emperor of India. She was a unique woman, a trader whose own wealth, earned solely from her own business activities, was second only to that of the emperor. A woman of beauty and taste, and kind to a fault. Who, after all was this unique, and surely underrated, empress? How come this mosque was built in her name and what is its current condition?
Mariumuz Zamani was a Rajput princess, a ‘Rajkumari’, the eldest daughter of the Raja Bharmal of Jaipur (then known as Amer). Her name was Heer Kunwari, and she was the aunt of Raja Maan Singh, one of the ‘Nauratans’ (Nine Jewels) in the court of Akbar. The Rajputs never did consider themselves as equals of the Mughals, so this marriage was opposed. But given the overwhelming power of the Mughals, her father forced her into this marriage, which was to have far-reaching results. Akbar started to take a positive view of Hinduism, which in turn led to bitter rivalry between Mariumuz Zamani and the first two wives of Akbar, namely Ruqaiya and Salima, the widow of his trusted general Bairam Khan. After Akbar heard the news that she was expecting his first son, his respect and honour for this ‘reluctant princess’ grew. She was to bear him three sons, as predicted to Akbar by great Sufi saint Hazrat Salim Chishti of Ajmer. There is some ambiguity as to whether Mariumuz Zamani did convert to Islam or not. The Akbarnama states that the emperor first converted her to Islam and then married her, but other accounts (e.g. Agarwal, as also Tusak-e-Jahangiri, Vol 2) clearly state that she refused to convert and held her own. There are accounts of Akbar respecting her views and allowing her to worship Lord Krishna. It might come as a surprise to many in Lahore that the eastern-most portion of the Lahore Fort was once referred to as ‘Krishna Konna’ – the corner of Krishna. Here an exquisite pavilion was built for her, where today 40 odd staff quarters have been erected.
But Mariumuz Zamani managed to carve her own place in the Mughal court as a woman of immense wealth. She started a massive trade business in spices with the West by building her own fleet. One account (V.A. Smith: ‘Akbar the Great’) states that the empress started to get her own fleet made in Lahore. I have no ways of verifying this amazing claim, but we do know that at Khizri Gate a major shipping port existed, and that even today the ‘mohallahs’ have names like ‘mohallah kishtiban’. We also know that for the battle of Multan, Maharajah Ranjit Singh sent off the Zamzama gun on a boat from Khizri Gate, for the River Ravi then curled around the Walled City and the Lahore Fort.
But now back to the mosque. After her death in May 1623, her son the Mughal emperor Jahangir built this mosque just opposite the eastern gate of the Lahore Fort, and the gate was to get its name Masjidi Darwaza from this very mosque. Today the encroachments of the Rim Market hide this exquisite mosque. This happens to be the oldest Mughal mosque of Lahore.
The unique feature of this mosque is its double dome structure under which is the prayer chamber. On the surface are beautiful fresco paintings and the walls are of a unique small brick. This is unique for it represents a time period when architectural practices were converting from the Lodhi to the Mughal periods. There was a time when the mosque had three entrances, which can be seen today, but only they are hemmed in by illegal constructions. On the eastern side along the gateway are some grave of recent origin.
In the middle of the courtyard a tank stands, though now it has a crude cement finish, quite against the very grain of this beautiful mosque. New modern brickwork can be seen all over the mosque. There are also traces of small-brick staircases that once led to the roof.
The fresco designs are in beautiful combinations of green, ochre, red, blue, yellow and black. The Quranic inscriptions are in exquisite Nastaliq on the entrance door, and inside on the façade in Naskh-Suls. It is a unique combination.
There was a time when this mosque was known in Lahore as Barudkhanay Wali Masjid. Incidentally a nearby ‘haveli’, now owned by Mian Yusuf Salahuddin, also acquired this name after his great grandfather came from Amritsar in 1850 and took over this huge Sikh ‘haveli’. The name came about because in the rule of Maharajah Ranjit Singh this was used as a gunpowder store. In 1850 the British restored this mosque, as also the Badshahi Mosque, to the Muslims of Lahore.
As I walked through this beautiful mosque named after a most unique Rajput woman, it dawned on me just how we have reduced this amazing structure to an odd experiment of new bricks and concrete plaster, using enamel paint to cover over some of the oldest fresco designs in the sub-continent. Around the mosque illegal structures hide the mosque, where very few tourists manage to reach, let alone even fewer of the faithful reach.
From the eastern ramparts of the Lahore Fort this amazing mosque with much more than a story to its name, stands out. This oldest mosque of the Mughal era needs immediate assistance. Surely there may still be a few proud Rajputs left in this city to lend a hand to the noble task of saving this mosque. Surely their pride is legendary, and their unique princess worth honouring.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2015



‘Gharis’ in the life of Akbar the Great in Lahore

Imagine Lahore. The year is 1590. Mughal emperor Akbar lives in the fort. Exactly at sunrise a loud gong rings out. This is immediately followed by gongs ringing from atop all the then seven gates of the city. Life starts for the emperor and his subjects.
Every 24 minutes the gongs ring and a new ‘ghari’ announced. The day has 60 ‘gharis’. No gongs are rung between sunset and sunrise. Life is measured in ‘gharis’. The very word ‘ghari’, meaning watch or clock, is derived from that source.
All Mughal bureaucrats are given a strict schedule to follow, with work being measured in different ‘gharis’. The rule is that every Mughal bureaucrat must spend 30 ‘gharis’ working and the remaining 30 ‘gharis’ is his own business.
So the working day, except Fridays, is a 12-hour day for six days a week. No wonder the Mughal Empire functioned so efficiently. The emperor himself strictly followed a pre-determined schedule, and even longer when special guests or military commanders met him in his ‘ghuzal khana’ (private chamber) as the term was then used. Much later they preferred the word ‘mehmaan khana’.
It has always been a source of fascination to find out just how did the emperors of the Mughal era spend their time, as against recent, or the present, rulers do.
It was an immensely enjoyable exercise, and full of surprises. To find out about Akbar the Great use was made of three important books, they being Abul Fazl’s ‘Akbar Nama’, Mohammad Salih Kamboh’s ‘Amal-i-Salih’ and Abdul Hameed Lahori’s ‘Badshah Nama’. These three great chroniclers met opposition from powerful princes and bureaucrats in their days just as journalists face official, sometimes fatal, opposition from time to time.
The great Abul Fazl was murdered on the instructions of Prince Saleem (later emperor Jahangir) on the 12th of August 1602 by Vir Singh Bundela, who Jahangir made ruler of Orccha.
Abul Fazl’s head was sent in a bag to Allahabad to reassure Prince Saleem that the task had been accomplished, while the remaining body was buried in Antri near Narwar.
Salih Kamboh has a mosque named after him in Mochi Gate, and there is a claim that he is buried near the mosque. One version disputes this and says he was murdered and his head went missing.
The death of Abdul Hameed Lahori is not known, though one version says he died suddenly. Over the ages, more often than not, the ‘messenger gets killed’. But back to a day in the life of Akbar in Lahore.
The emperor woke early in the morning when the first gong rang. He spent two ‘gharis’ listening to as many of the holy books that time allowed. He listened because he was illiterate. The next three ‘gharis’ he spent listening to the Empire’s financial condition, about taxes collected, about defaulters, as well as the condition of the treasury.
By modern standards the first two hours were spent in spiritual and financial matters. The sixth ‘ghari’ was strictly to dictate new ‘firmans’ concerning financial matters. This was strictly the rule.
The seventh ‘ghari’ was used to go over the schedule of the remaining day as he went through a light breakfast. Abul Fazl says: ‘The emperor gets very annoyed if this schedule is disturbed’. This means that Akbar was well aware of the utility of every minute of his life.
Then came four ‘gharis’ when he went over the food and military stores with his officials. Complete reports of the food condition throughout the kingdom were read out to him and if any part of the empire faced a potential food shortage, he ordered new purchased at the central stores in Lahore, Agra and the other major cities, and immediately transferred to depleted stores from the nearest central store.
It is amazing that this fact has been repeated by all the three great chroniclers. The next two ‘gharis’ were spent dictating ‘farmans’ on food and military store matters.
The next three ‘gharis’ were spent inspecting horses and military hardware, and he made sure everything was in order himself. In this respect any laxity was taken very seriously.
Sometimes he would ride out to personally see that regiments were training as per a given schedule. This was followed by a light working lunch in which he was informed of the guests he had to meet in the evening.
After lunch and a light nap for just one ‘ghari’, he was off to work again. He met his advisers who discussed the latest political affairs. This could go on for three, sometimes four ‘gharis’ depending on the situation. This session was invariably followed by a third ‘farman’ session.
What is amazing is that late at night he set aside one session for some bureaucrats who he chose at random to read to him the ‘farmans’ he had dictated that day. This was a double-check system.
Only when he was sure would he seal the ‘farman’ and also number it and a complete record kept. If anyone claimed to have a ‘shahi farman’, he had to quote an index number which the ‘diwan’ of the court rechecked.
Late into the night the emperor met his military commanders, or foreign envoys, or any special guest of the emperor. Before sleeping the emperor would listen to music, have a light drink and food and then he was off to the ‘zinana’ and to sleep.
All this goes to show that the Mughal emperors worked at least a minimum of 16 hours a day. This is very much at odds against the common perception that the rulers of old had a whale of a time.
This set me trying to find out just how did the late ZA Bhutto function. I talked to one of his now-retired private secretaries on the phone and he told me that (let me quote) “Bhutto worked from five in the morning to two at night, marked every file, dictated long orders, took very light meals, and always took a 30-minute nap in the afternoon. He was a workaholic and drove us crazy”.
This set me trying to find out just how hard did the current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, function. To be honest I was expecting a funny narration, but what came through was a shock to me.
Let me quote a very reliable source: “He rises at five, prays, reads the Quran, then has a very light breakfast and not the famous ‘nihari’ rounds he is famous for. He then goes over pending files and then gets working on a pre-arranged schedule. In the afternoon ‘sahib’ likes a short nap of 20 minutes and then he works his way through the rest of the day.
He is very quick to understand matters, but remains deceptively poker-faced about everything. He normally sleeps after midnight”.
This was quite contrary to what I had been hearing, so I double-checked. I asked about his famous fondness for rich foods. Pat came the reply: “If he did what people claim, he would not be able to function. This talk about rich food is just nostalgia of days gone by”.
As children we heard amazing stories about life in Mughal courts and the rich foods and drinks served. The fact is that even Maharajah Ranjit Singh worked almost 18 hours a day, and ‘Yes’ he loved his drink, which was moderate by Sikh standards. When Akbar was asked why he works so hard, his answer was: “When the ‘ghari’ to go comes, it comes, and no person ever died of hard work”.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2015



‘Horse stable archives’ and the latest promise to a gullible Lahore

The historic Punjab Archives, the second largest collection in the world on the province after the British Museum Library, continues to exist in the former horse stable at the back of the Civil Secretariat. If anything has shamed our rulers, it is this act that has gone unpunished, let alone unnoticed.
It’s been a while since this scandal was exposed. The secretary of archives himself had shown the archives to the writer. On his table lay a letter from Mirza Ghalib to the East India Company seeking restoration of his pension after the events of 1857 had virtually destroyed the Delhi of old and its traditions. This letter was found on the floor of the stable. Then there were rare agreements, books, documents, not to speak of rare records that lay in stacks on the wet floor.
A portion of the archives had been carted to this place after a former chief secretary wanted to expand his office and add a restroom, a dining hall and a meeting hall. Others were collected from other buildings and carted to the old leaking horse stable where a new bathroom for staff had been added and from where water leaked into the stable. My sources tell me that after the recent spate of rains, a ‘caring’ bureaucrat went to see the archives and was shocked at the condition. Things had gone from bad to worse. He informed the chief secretary, who informed the chief minister, who perhaps fearing a bigger scandal announced a new ‘state-of-the-art’ archives building.
Amazingly, when the archives scandal broke, the top archives official in a press conference announced that the government had its eyes on an eight-kanal plot opposite the Lahore Gymkhana, and that sanction for it was pending. That managed to keep the editors quiet. I am a fan of the TV serial ‘Yes Minister’, but this was a step ahead of those wily British bureaucrats.
Not to be fooled, this correspondent quietly went to meet the ‘patwari’ of the promised land on The Mall. He sits in the corridors of the courts in the cantonment’s Saddar Bazaar. It turned out that the professed land, on the northern side of the Zafar Ali Road canal and opposite the residence of the Rangers director general, was once part of the house in which once lived the military secretary to the governor and that the house was under litigation in high courts, and that a former judge had allotted the land to another ‘patwari’. The government had opposed the claim but had lost. They have appealed and the matter is still in court, with the ‘patwari’ still in possession.
Now that the rains have had a dramatic damaging effect on the archives, the government has promised to build an archives building where today exists the car park of the Tollinton Market at the other end of The Mall. This is a move that promises to meet the opposition of the lobby who managed to save this old market in the first place.
But then it might even turn out to be a very good idea – that is if it was a real one, of which most observers surely have serious doubts. It goes without saying that this ‘cover-up’ announcement will be denied. But then there is also this ‘cloud cuckoo land’ plan of converting the entire Old Anarkali area, the Civil Secretariat included, into a massive educational city. Amazing, and where will the money for this dream come from? Goebbels must be eating a humble pie.
But if this archives building announcement is honest, have they planned where the car park will be located, for it will then serve the Lahore Museum, the Tollinton Market and also the new archives building? It would not be a bad idea to include the old market into the building plan, for this could serve as reading rooms of the archives collection. But then a massive parking complex must be part of it. What is needed is ‘total planning’.
It would be even better if the Lahore Museum was expanded, after closing the road in between, and the planners went for one grand museum-archives complex. Sounds great and Lahore will be richer if this happens. The point is: will this ever happen? My view remains that this is an amazing cover-up story to prevent the fallout of a national disaster that has already happened. If I am wrong, I will be the happiest man in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2015




HARKING BACK: Huge wall mural and mystery of the missing monuments
One of the world’s largest, and surely most exquisite and beautiful, wall mural is on the massive northern face of the Lahore Fort. It is humongous in size, a massive 450 metres in length and 70 metres in height. Yet it is falling apart, decaying because of neglect, officially perpetuated criminal neglect.
It is sad that our rulers are not punished for the criminal destruction of our national heritage. To blame ignorance is to suggest innocence. Bureaucrats can explain anything, in the end bringing matters to a ‘lack of funds’. Last week I went to the Lahore Fort and was appalled at the state of this finest of burned-brick forts in the world. It is virtually crumbling, and over the years the Department of Archaeology has made sure its destruction was hastened. The record of the entire happenings of the discovery of the Indus valley civilisation, the bedrock of Pakistan’s ancient civilisation, lies rotting in locked stores laid waste by rains over the ages, not to speak of termites and, worse still, human neglect. If this is not a national shame what else is?
The very first monument all Pakistanis, and those living in Lahore in particular, like to show their visitors is the Lahore Fort. This represents thousands of years of Lahore’s culture and heritage. It is the post from where the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation saw humans pass eastwards to, much later, form the Gangetic Civilisation, just as Sialkot did to the north and other smaller cities to the south.
I write this because we must be aware that from the old mud-brick fort, built first well over 3,000 years ago, was destroyed and rebuilt time and again, ravaged by the Afghans, the Mongols, Taimur and Shaikha Khokhar and others, and rebuilt by Balban, Shah Mubarak and then finally in 1566 in burned brick by Akbar the Great. After the fall of the Mughals it was again damaged which Maharajah Ranjit repaired. The British also damaged the fort’s southern ramparts after 1857 in the name of security against a possible siege.
But after 1947 the decay has been slow, and the poison of neglect has taken its toll. As I walked through the ‘Hatti Darwaza’ I noticed that walls of the entrance were oozing salts, and that the rot had set in on the ‘black wooden bridge’ which led to the decaying Royal Kitchens. Both are in a terrible state, more so the kitchens. Just opposite them is the newly-constructed hostel of the Archaeology Department, which within six years developed cracks and has now been abandoned. It was poetic justice in a way. Which rule or law of heritage protection allowed them to build such a huge building within the Lahore Fort? I am pretty sure they will never be asked to explain, or shot dead as they are in China for damaging ‘national heritage’. Different societies have different traditions.
As I moved through the fort lawns of the Devan-i-Aam, or should I say walked through the ruins of the fort, to the south is the Old Walled City whose walls have all been knocked down. No surprises there. The air is rife with the smell of industrial glue which the slow wind from the city blowing northwards brings. Leather and plastic products are made on an industrial scale in the ‘protected’ one-walled city, which in turn leads to historic buildings being knocked down to be replaced by concrete buildings with three-storey deep basements. The invariable finding of pottery and other utensils hundreds of years old are thrown away in the rubbish bins, or better pieces of brass sold in nearby Kinari Bazaar for a few rupees.
The walls to the south were destroyed by the British, who sloped the edges in such a way that intruders could be shot dead if they attacked, and if there was a rebellion within the fort, they could easily escape. Clever chaps and history be damned. After 1947, the fort was used to host wedding parties and State Guest parties. This was the new Pakistan. When the world woke up to the damage, they banned such activities and let it literally rot. That smell of decay can be felt at every turn.
Once the Department of Archaeology had had enough, the fort was just ten days ago, handed over to the Walled City of Lahore Authority. With the advance team sent to take over I sat and watched in a virtual stupor the destruction before our eyes. We then walked through the Lahore Fort buildings to the east. As we made our way through a small gate before us lay an entire colony of houses for the employees of the fort, a massive housing colony. Who allowed them to build these houses, and who paid for it?
Beyond the huge empty dusty grounds and next to a huge ancient ‘pipal’ tree (in this lies another story) a new mosque has been built and loudspeakers adorn the minaret. Who allowed them to build the mosque and who paid for it? Which sect does the mullah belong to? Why is this entire area of a few acres cut off from the public? What happened to the beautiful Mughal-era pavilion that existed where now stands the mosque? What happened to the exquisite quarter of Akbar’s wife where now exists the over 40-odd houses? I had so many questions to ask that those accompanying me must have been worried that they in some way to blame. No way, I reassured them, one department is leaving and the next is coming in to take over. Since 1947 seven changes have taken place in the fort alone. In Pakistan nobody is to blame for anything.
As we walked back through the small gate before me lay the entire dusty fort and its exquisite monuments. I asked the slick tourist officer how was the Sheesh Mahal doing? “It’s OK and fenced off, because portions of the roof are caving in”.
Gosh, I could have swallowed my tongue. I told them that the last time I wrote about the Sheesh Mahal was when the Islamic Summit banquet was hosted there by the late ZA Bhutto, and an eager young governor called Mustafa Khar painted the exterior with enamel paint floral designs. Khar was furious. I met ZA Bhutto and he took me to one side and said: “Excellent story Majid, bad timing”. I could see he was surrounded by small people destroying a massive legacy. I moved on through the carnage towards the impressive mural and Sheesh Mahal and much much more. Watch this space next week.
Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2014




Karbala and how Lahore was involved

A Muharram procession in Lahore, Pakistan.—File Photo
IN our school and college days we all loved to assist friends set up ‘sabeels’ alongside Lahore`s traditional ‘Ashura’ procession, providing cold drinks to the thousands who mourned. Sects and beliefs never mattered then. But then neither did one`s religion.
For well over 1,332 years, the tragedy of Karbala moves everyone who hears about it, be they Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh or any other religion. This is one incident that brings out the need to support those with a moral position.
As children we attended the ‘sham-i-ghareeban’ with our Shia friends, and learnt the lesson of supporting those in the right. Everyone respected the beliefs of others. Yes, there were always a few silly chaps who wanted attention, but they were at best ignored.
The ancient city of Lahore is connected to the tragedy in no uncertain terms.
Historical accounts say seven brave warriors from Lahore died while fighting in the Battle of Karbala. It is said their father Rahab Dutt, an old man who traded with Arabia in those days, had promised the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) to stand by his grandson in his fight to uphold the truth.
That pledge the brave Rajput Mohiyals of the Dutt clan from Lahore upheld.
Today they are known as Hussaini Brahmins, who lived in Lahore till 1947.
Then there is the fact that besides the Hindu Rajputs of Lahore, in the battle also fought John bin Huwai, a freed Christian slave of Abu Dharr al-Ghafari, whose `alleged` descendents, one researcher claims, still live inside the Walled City of Lahore.
I have been on the track of these ancestors for quite some time and have been able to trace one Christian family living inside Mori Gate. They claim to have a connection with a `Sahabi` whose name they cannot recollect. M. A. Karanpikar`s `Islam in Transition`, written over 250 years ago, made this claim, but I do not think it is a claim worth pursuing.
But the most powerful claim of Lahore as the place where the descendents of Hussain ibn All came lies in the Bibi Pak Daman graveyard, where the grave of Ruquiya, sister of Hussain ibn Ali and wife of Muslim ibn Ageel, is said to exist.
Also graves here attributed to the sisters of Muslim ibn Ageel and other family members. Many dispute this claim.
But then no less a person than Ali Hasan of Hajweri, known popularly as Data Sahib, came here every Thursday to offer ‘fateha’ at the grave, informing his followers that this was the grave of Ruquiya. The place where he always stood to offer `fateha` has been marked out, and his book also verifies this claim. Mind you detractors exist, of this have no doubt, but the supporting evidence is quite strong.
Let me begin the story of the Dutts by going through the record of the Shaukat Khanum Hospital and the recorded fact that Indian film star Sunil Dutt, who belonged to Lahore, made a donation to the hospital and recorded the following words: ‘For Lahore, like my elders, I will shed every drop of blood and give any donation asked for, just as my ancestors did when they laid down their lives at Karbala for Hazrat Imam Husain.
Makes you think -but then there is this account which says that the seven sons of Rahab Dutt lost their lives defending the Imam at Karbala. The Martyr’s List at Qum verifies this. History records when the third thrust by Yazid’s forces came, the Dutt brothers refused to let them pass. The seven Punjabi swordsmen stood their ground till they were felled by hundreds of horsemen. In lieu of the loyalty of the Dutt family to that of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) was coined the famous saying: ‘Wah Dutt Sultan, Hindu ka dharm, Musalman ka iman, Adha Hindu adha Musalman.’ Since then, so the belief goes, Muslims were instructed never to try to convert the Dutts to Islam.
A grieving Rahab returned to the land of his ancestors, and after staying in Afghanistan, returned to Lahore. I have tried my very best to locate their ‘mohallah’ inside the Walled City, and my educated guess is that it is Mohallah Maulian inside Lohari Gate. Later they moved to Mochi Gate, and it was there that the famous Dutts lived before 1947 saw them flee from the hate of the people they gave everything for.
The most interesting thing about the Hussaini Brahmins is that they are highly respected among Hindus, and even more amazingly it is said that all direct ancestors of Rahab Dutt are born with a light slash mark on their throat, a sort of symbol of their sacrifice. I was reading a piece by Prof Doonica Dutt of Delhi University who verified this claim and said that all true Dutts belong to Lahore.
I must point out to an amazing version of these events that an Indian historian, Chawala, has come up with. It says that one of the wives of Hazrat Imam Husain, the Persian princess Shahr Banu, was the sister of Chandra Lekha or Mehr Banu, the wife of an Indian king Chandragupta. We know that he ruled over Lahore. When it became clear that Yazid ibn Muawiya was determined to eliminate Hussain ibn Ali, the son of Hussain (named Ali) rushed off a letter to Chandragupta asking for assistance. The Mauriyan king, allegedly, dispatched a large army to Iraq to assist. By the time they arrived, the Tragedy of Karbala had taken place.
In Kufa in Iraq a disciple of Hazrat Imam Husain is said to have arranged for them to stay in a special part of the town, which even today is known by the name of Dair-i-Hindiya or ‘the Indian quarter’ The Hussaini Brahmins believe that in the Kalanki Purana, the last of 18 Puranas, as well as the Atharva Veda, the 4th Veda, refers to Hazrat Imam Husain as the avatar of the Kali Yug, the present age. They believe that the family of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him)is Om Murti, the most respected family before the Almighty.
All these facts bring me back to our days as school children working hard to provide relief to the mourners on Ashura. Reminds me of our neighbour Nawab Raza Ali Qizilbash, who invited us to his ‘haveli’ every year to see the preparations before the event. Raza Bhai is no more, and neither is the tolerance that we all enjoyed so much.







Man who introduced electricity to Lahore

We live in an age of shortages, be it electricity, gas and water, all three that sustain modern life. Before these three utilities were supplied to our houses on a predictable basis, life was considered simple …or was it. Last week following a tip from my dear friend Khalid Mahmood, a former Wapda audit officer, I went to see the very first power plant that was set up in Lahore. Located inside the government offices on the McLeod-Cooper Road crossing, where today stands a grid station, I managed to find the place. It was locked up at the end of a complex of buildings. I was informed that the machinery had been sold as junk, and this was, allegedly, a very recent happening. I have my doubts. You do not sell the very first power plant of Lahore, like the very first water pump, steam-powered at that, which supplied water to the ‘Paniwalla Talab’, from 1881 onwards, is very much there. But that is a subject I will dwell on later. My search was to find the man who brought electricity to Lahore.
Few men have contributed more, even by modern standards, to the industrial development of Lahore, and the Punjab, than Lala Harkishen Lal (1864-1937), whose grandson today lives in Gulberg in Lahore, for his father K.L. Gauba, converted to Islam in his father’s lifetime, much to his alarm. For me he is Lahore’s Mr. Electricity, the man who truly propelled Lahore into the industrial age. We have deliberately forgotten him, and let me be honest, because he was not a Muslim. He launched Lahore into modern banking, into power generation, into insurance, into modern newspaper production, into modern flour milling, and of all things, into organising political parties on sound modern lines. In every respect he was a genius, a man much before his time and the man who for the first time clashed with the authorities over the introduction of pro-feudal legislation, a clash that cost him immensely.
This piece is to introduce you to Lala Harkishen Lal, who was born to a Khatri family in Layyah, now in Sargodha district, in 1864. After doing well in his Matriculation examination, he set forth for Lahore, and because he was not well-off, he walked all the way to Lahore, a 200-mile trek that he remembered for the rest of his life. He joined Government College, Lahore, where he excelled, and on a scholarship set off to study in Cambridge University in England, where he managed a Tripos in Mathematics with distinction. On his return he joined Government College, Lahore, as a mathematics lecturer. In his room at GC, as in any room where he lived for the rest of his life, he hung pictures of beggars to remind him of his humble beginnings.
In those days Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia was doing well in his business enterprises, and Harkishen was on good terms with him. Dyal Singh advised him that a man can only do what he likes if he has the money, and for that getting involved in business is critical. Harkishen took this advice seriously and launched a career in business in 1895 by becoming the Honorary Secretary of the Punjab National Bank. A year later he launched the Bharat Insurance Company in Lahore. Given the success of his own company, Majathia made him one of three trustees while launching ‘The Tribune’ newspaper, as also a trustee when his college and library was launched on Nisbet Road. In 1910 he was instrumental in launching the Dyal Singh College, located just near his library.
By 1901 he was in a hurry to industrialise Lahore, and in the next five years set up Punjab Cotton Press Company, the People’s Bank of India, the Amritsar Bank, the Kanpur Flour Mills, as well as six other factories. By now he was known as the richest man in Lahore, and this led to him making enemies among the feudal who disliked him immensely. The reason being that as a banker he was beginning to buy up their lands after most of them defaulted on loans from his numerous banks. Sadly, this moving into the domain of landowners, thanks to land acquisition triggered by bank defaults, was beginning to hurt the British, who depended on the feudal to supply men for their wars all over the world.
The British faced a dilemma. On the one hand the landowners of Punjab were loyal to them, but on the other hand they needed industrialisation to better exploit the assets of Punjab. It was in this context that the Punjab governor approached Lala Harkishen Lal to set up the Lahore Electricity Supply Company, and in 1912 the very first electric supply plant was launched on McLeod Road. It must come as a surprise to many that the Mela Ram Textile Mills, then located just next to Data Darbar, started off after Harkishen was able to supply him with electricity, which was given on the understanding that the shrine would be provided with free supply. Both Mela Ram and Harkishen shared the cost.
His growing financial success saw him being opposed by not only feudal landlords - who owed him a lot of money - but by the lackeys of these feudals, namely religious forces like the Arya Samaj and the Muslim clergy, who all blamed their poverty on moneylenders. A run on his bank took place and a bankrupt Harkishen left for Dera Ghazi Khan to practice law.
His greatest ‘enemy’ was Michael O’Dwer, Punjab’s Lt. Governor, who accused him of fanning the anti-Rowlett Bill. Lala Harkishen Lal was sent to prison for life. He was released once the British made peace with Congress. In this period the British had introduced the Land Alienation Act of 1900, which made sure moneylenders were not able to acquire the land of the feudals in Punjab, even if they defaulted.
This was legislation that changed the very politics and economics of Punjab. Lala Harkishen responded by organising the Congress Party in Punjab. His much later opposition to the Non-Cooperation Movement led to the Congress being given a few ministries. From Punjab Harkishen and Mian Fazl-e-Hussain were made ministers. He was on the rise again.
In this time he was able to return all his debts and was in business again. He moved with speed and set up the New People’s Bank of North India, and soon he was establishing new factories. A time soon came when he was chairman of more companies than anyone else in the entire subcontinent.
As the clouds of a recession covered Europe, his industrial and financial empire began to slow down, and in a time of growing crisis he passed away on Feb 13, 1937. Ten years later his palatial house on Lahore’s Queen’s Road was converted into the Fatima Jinnah Medical College. Little that we may realise today, but his legacy lives on in different forms. Lahore owes him much for trying to propel it into the modern industrial and financial age. But then he paid a heavy price. Feudalism still reigns supreme.
Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2015



Oldest’ hujra of Lahore and the mysterious Mahdi

As we continue our trek through the northern portions of the city, in Kot Khawaja Saeed to the east of the tomb of Prince Perwez, there is a ‘janazgah’ and an ‘Eidgah’, and next to it is the ‘hujra’ of Mir Mahdi. Experts claim this is the oldest monument of Lahore.
Who was Mir Mahdi and who built this oldest known monument of Lahore? Research into the origin of this monument has proven to be a hard nut to crack. Much more work remains. But before we set off on a trail to find details about this ‘hujra’, let us date this and put forth the person and times in which it was built.
We know that this was built by Syed Mubarak Shah II in 1422. Mubarak Shah was the ruler of Delhi and he moved his forces to take Lahore after it lay devastated and absolutely empty following the ferocious raids and pillage of the Mongols under Taimur Lung in 1398.
For seven long years the entire city, then a mud-walled one, lay empty. This was known as “the city where only owls live”.
After Mubarak Shah retook the city, he set about rebuilding the city, and invited businessmen from all over the sub-continent to come to Lahore and resettle it.
He sent his officials to all the villages around the city as far as “a day’s horse ride away” to find out who had left Lahore, and urged them to return.
Initially a lot did come back, but all of them without their female family members. From being a city ‘where only owls live’, it became a city where ‘no woman lives’. But then slowly they did return and Lahore came back to life.
In this time period 1422-1441 Mubarak Shah undertook to build ‘kos minars’ like Sher Shah had before him. Experts believe that this was undertaken on popular demand to warn the population against yet another brutal Mongol attack. The Lahore Fort in his period had the first brick construction inside the mud-walled fort – a small house for the ruler.
In later periods this was abandoned and it would not be a bad idea if after a proper radar scan some archaeological digging was undertaken to reach these lost houses inside the fort.
In 1952 one such effort was made and dwellings were found to six levels, which just showed how ancient the city really is.
But then Mubarak Shah took a special interest in building a ‘hujra’ to the north of the city in a ‘high mound’ on the other side of the River Ravi.
You might feel that this is a misnomer, but reassured that in those days the river curled between today’s Kot Khawaja Saeed and the Lahore Fort and then curled around the walled city, which was in those days an oblong city west of today’s Shahalami Bazaar and east of today’s Bhati Gate Bazaar.
It then curled between the mound on which today exists Government College and then flows westwards past the mound on which was built the District Courts. To a large extent the shape of modern Lahore has been dictated by how the river moved then as in slowly shifted westward.
That is why much later the ‘buddha darya’ arc was left behind when it moved further westward in the 1800s.
The construction of the ‘hujra’ of Mir Mahdi is clearly Lodhi period construction. This is the place where much later Hazrat Mian Mir used to stay before the mysterious graves of Prince Perwez and the children of Dara Shikoh came about.
In 1441, Muhammad Shah, the ‘wazir’ of Mubarak Shah, killed him in Delhi and took over power. He appointed his trusted army general Bahlol Khan Lodhi as the Governor of Lahore, only to see him revolt against him.
Now back to the central proposition: ‘Who was Mir Mahdi?’ In the period just before Mubarak Shah took over Lahore, the ruler of Kashmir was Raja Zain-ul-Abedin, who introduced Iranian ‘paper mache’ crafts to Kashmir, and spread education throughout his kingdom.
His liberal ways saw him translate the great books like ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ from Sanskrit to Persian, as well as the Quran and the major Hadith books from Arabic into Persian and further into Kashmiri.
Like Mubarak Shah, the Kashmiri ruler was a Syed and on very friendly terms with each other. The foundations of liberal traditions of Lahore were well and truly laid in that period of enlightenment, which ended with the coming of Bahlol Khan, who was much later to attack Delhi to set up the Lodhi Empire.
Mubarak Shah himself was of Iranian stock, and was related through an uncle to Zain-ul-Abedin of Kashmir.
In his youth he was a disciple of Mir Majzub Mahdi Shirazi ibn Mas’um Ali Shah Shirazi, a renowned religious scholar of his days.
He was known as ‘Mulla Sad’ra Shirazi’. The ‘hujra’ of Mir Mahdi could have been named after this great religious scholar by Mubarak Shah. He was after-all his ‘ustad’ and a much honoured man.
This has also been mentioned by Dara Shikoh in his masterpiece ‘Safinah-al-Awalia’. In another book ‘Hasanat-ul-Arefin’ he specifically mentions Mulla Sad’ra Shirazi as a great Sufi and says he heard of him from Hazrat Mian Mir. This makes sense for the great Lahore sage also liked to stay in this ‘hujra’.
Let me make it clear that as no local record, or even court records, of the period exist, it is not possible to research further into Mir Mahdi. The only hope is for some researcher, well versed in Persian, to go through the library of the Department of Oriental Studies of the British Museum Library, to find more about this scholar.
The British removed nearly the entire record of educational institutions in Iran during their stay there as colonialists and parked them in various libraries. Ironically most Muslim invaders of Iran, Afghanistan and India tended to burn books instead of conserving them. This trend still exists.
So, it seems, we have with ‘relative accuracy’ pointed to the possible origin of the name Mir Mahdi. His ‘hujra’ stands today in a terrible state. As we explore the northern portions of Lahore, it is clear that the earlier periods of our history are strongly enshrined in that part of the city.
Just one thing needs to be said. The graves of Ali Hasan of Hajvery, of Aibak the first Slave King, of the two Zanjanis, of Shah Ismail and a few others are surely older. But they had simple graves in small rooms.
Any monument or tomb came much later. The ‘hujra’ is surely the oldest monument of Lahore that exists, and in this fact lies its value as a treasure worth saving.
Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2015



‘She is the only man left in Punjab’

Over the last one week I have visited the Shalamar Gardens twice, more so to mourn the slow and steady destruction of this World Heritage Site. A friend informs me that it is now, like the Lahore Fort, on the ‘world heritage watch list’ that precedes it being declared a ‘threatened site’.
Over the last few years, it seems that Pakistanis are less concerned about their heritage and history. That is why saving the Shalamar Gardens and the Lahore Fort are so critical. Civil society seems least concerned because there is no profit to be made by worrying about our heritage. A better co-operative effort is needed because government organisations on their own are today incapable of providing the sensitive urgent indulgence needed to raise the funds, and a lot is needed, and the technical expertise to complete the work. With such thoughts I walked through the brown dry lawns by the fountains that refuse to function.
As I passed by the eastern structure that housed royalty and their families, a thought passed my mind and I pictured the last Sikh ‘ruler’ before the British took over. That young boy was Maharajah Duleep Singh who was imprisoned in the Shalamar Gardens. On the other side of Lahore in the Sheikhupura Fort was imprisoned his mother, Maharani Jindan, a proud Punjabi if ever there was one. It was not without reason Lord Dalhousie is quoted as having said when trying to explain why the woman needed to be imprisoned: “She is the only man left in the Punjab.”
The story of the young maharajah is a sad one, but much more inspiring is the story of Rani Jindan. I decided to drive to Sheikhupura to see the fort. It is completely a shambles. If in the next few months the existing structure is not stabilised, let alone conserved, this historic fort will be a heap of old bricks, some of which already are being used by locals to build their houses.
A bit about the Sheikhupura Fort. This is an ancient structure which Akbar rebuilt to house his army. The surrounding settlements are known to archaeologists as ancient sites, important enough for a mint to have existed here. The present brick structure is ascribed as having been built by Akbar. Another account dates it much earlier. But for sure the fort, even if it was a mud one, is well over 2,000 years old.
This was a favourite hunting lodge of Mughal emperor Jahangir, who nearby built a tower in memory of his favourite antelope. A grave also allegedly exists nearby. It was used by all the Mughal emperors and their families, and as such was an important place in the scheme of royalty and well-looked after. When the Sikhs came to power it was snatched by Lehna Singh, who was displaced by Afghan ruler Shah Zaman, who was replaced by a local Sikh ruler until Maharjah Ranjit Singh took over and handed it over to Kharak Singh and his mother Rani Nakain. When the East India Company took over in 1849, they imprisoned the Maharani of Lahore at this place.
But then British intelligence started to provide proof that she was in contact with the militant portion of the old Sikh Army. They reduced her allowances and removed her outside the Punjab to Benaras. Even there she was busy in organising anti-British forces. They moved her further away to the fort at Chunar, from where she escaped and went to Nepal. After running into trouble with the Nepalese ruler she agreed to go with her son to England, where she died in 1863.
So to the west of Lahore the Sheikhupura Fort decays and to the east Shalamar Gardens decays and in the middle the Lahore Fort is decaying the fastest. The Lahore Fort is now the business of the Lahore Walled City Authority, while the Shalamar Gardens and the Sheikhupura Fort remain with the Punjab Archaeology Department.
The condition of Sheikhupura Fort got the US ambassador to Pakistan to promise a grant of $1.0 million (so we learn from reliable sources), but he insisted that he be satisfied that it will be used correctly.
The federal minister for ‘culture’ wanted the money to be sent to his department. The envoy was wiser to this request. Then the Punjab Archaeology Department also cast their eyes on this money. Still the American envoy is uncomfortable. Now it seems a number of concerned citizens want to join with the Punjab department to halt the decay as a first step. But then will the people of Sheikhupura and the Punjab also donate to conserve this excellent piece of our heritage.
The truth is simple. Unless we ourselves donate towards this cause, nothing will ever happen. We see three major heritage sites decaying. Now is the time to encourage technical competence, honest governance and participation of the people in their history. We must take care of ourselves in the spirit of Rani Jindan, for she was then the only man left in the Punjab.
Published in Dawn February 8th , 2015



 Shifting sands of our seats of justice, legislation

As long as that great sage of Lahore, Sheikh Mubarak Ali, was alive, a visit to his small shop on the corner of Hakeeman-Tehsil bazaars below the mosque he built was a ‘must stop’ as part of my fact-collecting rounds. The loss of this ‘elder’ is still felt by all who knew him.
Now his son Shahid sits there, and my ‘mandatory’ cup of tea, ordered by him to all his children before he died, is always lovingly available. Old ‘walled city’ folk possess a hospitality that is endearing. But my story today is more than what Sheikh Sahib used to tell me. My story began one day while standing at the Lower Mall Road edge. I looked towards Nasser Bagh, named so by ZA Bhutto, whose original name was Gol Bagh, and beyond to my old college - the Government College – and I imagined the early days of British rule. Where today stands the college gymnasium was once a chapel, and before that in Sikh days the Lahore horse-driven stagecoach station standing on the hilltop. On the other side, now inside the French-built Punjab Secretariat, are two buildings that need to be also remembered. So let my story wander a wee bit. Now back to Sheikh Mubarak Ali.
One day he got up from his ‘takht’ and took me around the corner just off Tehsil Bazaar and up an alley. In an opening stood a huge house. He proudly told me: “This is the building where Maharajah Ranjit Singh set up his ‘Sadr Adalat’ (Chief Court), and this bazaar was named Tehsil because this is where the ‘tehsil’ (courts) was”. Ironically, this was the very house where the maharajah’s Hungarian homeopathic doctor Martin Honigberger also stayed. With French advice this first Chief Court was set up in 1830, much before the British took Lahore in 1849. I have been in search of legal documents which the French are known to have drafted, which set up a formal legal system in Punjab. They were, as one source puts them, an amended and modernised version of the old Moghal-era rules of procedure. The French word ‘pleader’ emerged for a lawyer, even though it does sound English, but initially this was what lawyers were addressed as, even in early British days.
When the British came, the Board of Administration of the East India Company, comprising Henry Lawrence, his brother John and Charles Mansel, the man charged with looking after ‘justice’, set up their Chief Court at this very place. Later on they shifted it to just off Court Street to a building which today is part of the Punjab Civil Secretariat. The British put in place a seven-tier court system, with the Chief’s Court at the top and the court of the Tehsildar at the beginning of the legal process. In 1866 the present front building of the Lahore High Court was built and the Chief Court once again shifted to its present location. Its current name is the Lahore High Court. Five years later, as work expanded fast and Punjabis took to litigation in a big way, an addition building came up. In 1924 two further wings were built as the workload increased. It goes to the credit of Mr Justice Azmat Saeed, who then as chief justice refused to knock down the damaged eastern building after a nearby bomb blast. His conservation work was, and is, much appreciated.
If you visit the Old Chief Court building inside the Punjab Civil Secretariat, to its western side is a huge building that now houses the main meeting halls. This is where the first Governor’s Council met. This was to serve as the first building where the Punjab Assembly met. In the initial days of the East India Company rule this is where the Board of Administration met. This building housed the ‘Fauj-i-Khas’ in the Sikh days and was built by the French, not the British. After the First World War, the British, weaken by the experience, moved to consolidate their rule by introducing a modicum of representative government. A Punjab Chief’s Council used to meet here. But as the parliamentary system was brought in, a formal structure was needed. This need saw the emergence of the present structure of the Punjab Assembly at Charing Cross.
Once the new Punjab Assembly building was completed in 1935, this ‘Old Assembly Building’ as old maps tell us, was handed over to the bureaucracy to hold important meetings, a function that it still carries out. With time as the number of elected members rose, next to the new Punjab Assembly a new structure has come up. To one side an MPAs hostel structure has also been built, creating immense traffic problems on both sides of the area.
The ‘Gol Bagh’ was initially called ‘Company Bagh’, a name that was also used for the Lawrence Gardens, now further renamed Jinnah Gardens. For some time this garden was also, officially, called ‘Band Garden’, because the first British rulers held Sunday picnics here with their military bands playing soft lilting music and the wives of British officers, dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ would mingle and chat and dance the evenings away. Locals were not allowed near this place. Once buildings on the Lower Mall came up, a road was constructed around the garden, and hence the name ‘Gol Bagh’.
It is interesting to find out how our essential structures of governance emerged from inside the Walled City to expand in size and distance from its origins. Research work on this is needed. It goes without saying that there is a need to take a fresh look at these structures from a utilitarian point of view, let alone given the bludgeoning logistic problems it poses.
The history of Lahore, no matter where you stand, is there for the new generation to discover and research. Our educational institutions do not teach local perspectives, let alone the history of Lahore, or Punjab. If our archives lie in disarray, with bureaucrats and lazy clerks making scholars and researchers feel like criminals if they seek an old document, or book, or manuscript, surely in the days to come there will be more honesty and openness, let alone respect for our history. To imagine that the younger generation does not care is an assumption which needs to be put to the test.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2015




 The ‘magical baolis’ of Arjan and Dina Nath

In this representative photo, an Indian youth jumps into the water at the Gandak ki Baoli, 'a well with steps' which was constructed during the rule of Emperor Iltutmish, in New Delhi. — AFP/File
In this representative photo, an Indian youth jumps into the water at the Gandak ki Baoli, 'a well with steps' which was constructed during the rule of Emperor Iltutmish, in New Delhi. — AFP/File

Within the last 75 years the one feature of old Lahore that has completely disappeared has been its ‘baoli’ culture. This life-sustaining feature gave rise to a lot of myths, the most enduring being that ‘baolis’ on the northern side parallel to the Ravi were magical. Imagine.
Most Lahoris today would not even know what a ‘baoli’ is. But that is understandable given that they are no longer used. A ‘baoli’ is a well that produces clean drinking water. Last Sunday during a visit to the ‘haveli’ of Mubarak Begum it was a delight to see one within the house, which is what a lot of houses had in days of old.
My late father often mentioned their ‘baoli’ in Kucha Chabakswaran. So this triggered off an effort to research the myth of Lahore’s ‘magical baolis’.
The use of the ‘baoli’ took its first hit when the British built the first water reservoir (Paniwala Talab) at Choona Mandi on Lungi Mandi Bazaar, leading to the portion in front of the reservoir being renamed Paniwala Talab Bazaar. The water for the reservoir was pumped from a huge water pumping station where today is the Wasa office on the north-eastern front of the Lahore Fort.
Even today the remains of the original 1880 steam-powered water pumps, massive that they are, lie decaying. They are rare pumps which only two museums in England have, for they were made in Yorkshire.
We had pleaded that the University of Engineering should restore them and convert the place into a small museum. Nothing moved and we are not surprised.
If you enter the once walled city of Lahore from Delhi Gate, you go along the main bazaar till you reach the exquisite mosque of Wazir Khan. On the northern side of the courtyard outside the mosque is the dilapidated ‘baoli’ of Dina Nath. Diwan Dina nath was a Kashmiri pandit who rose to become the finance minister of the Lahore Darbar. He died in 1857 and was cremated in a garden he built at Kot Khawaja Saeed which is even today called Rajahwalla Bagh just to the west of the Samadhi of Maharajah Sher Singh.
This ‘baoli’ built near his ‘haveli’ on the eastern side of the Wazir Khan Mosque was known for its sweet water, and the hakeems of Lahore used this water to mix in their medicines. Which is why many thought it had some magical quality. But the most famous of the ‘magical’ baolis of Lahore was the Baoli of Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth of the 11 Sikh gurus and the first Sikh martyr. This ‘baoli’ was dug in 1599 by the guru himself. The story about this ‘baoli’ is interesting.
Guru Arjan whenever in Lahore liked to stay at a ‘haveli’ located just south of Dabbi Bazaar and north of Kasaira Bazaar where the tip of Kashmiri Bazaar splits into two at the western edge.
It is best approached from the western side opposite Suha Bazaar. The story was that a friend of the guru, Bhai Chujju Bhagat, a money lender, came to the guru and told him that a Pathan had deposited a large sum of money and he had not written it in his ledger. When the Pathan asked for his money he refused to pay as he did not remember and it was not written in his books. They went to court and the court ruled against the Pathan, who left in anger saying “I leave it to the court of the Almighty”.
After some time when he was cleaning his office he found the bag of money and suddenly remembered his folly. He went to the Pathan to return the money with appropriate interest. The Pathan refused to take the money as the court had ruled against him. So they both came to the guru to reach an appropriate solution.
The Pathan told the guru that it was up to him to use it in the name of the Almighty. So that money was used by Guru Arjan Dev, who dug the ‘baoli’ himself and blessed it with alleged magical powers to heal the poor.
Many years later when Maharajah Ranjit Singh was very ill, a ‘hakeem’ got water from this ‘baoli’ and asked him to drink it and bathe in it. As if by magic, so a lot of accounts tell us, the next day the maharajah was cured and felt strong. He ordered that the ‘baoli’ be restored and made appropriate arrangements for its upkeep.
In the disturbances of 1947 it was damaged and the ‘baoli’ is now a mere small opening in an open space. A few ‘hakeems’ still manage to draw water from a small hole to one side, even though the water level now, thanks to years of underground water pumping and the river shifting westwards, had dropped a few hundred feet.
Why we do not respect this gift in the name of the Almighty made by a Muslim to a Sikh guru is beyond me. But then nothing surprises these days.
But this is not the end of story. Guru Arjan Dev was an immensely respected religious figure and people from all religions flocked to him. The Moghal emperor Jahangir kept a strict eye on the growing gathering of people wherever the guru went.
On the instigation of a Hindu courtier Chandu Lal, or Chandu Shah, whose offer of marriage of his daughter to the guru’s son was turned down, did this entire episode happen. Before refusal Arjan consulted his friend Hazrat Mian Mir, who after an ‘istakhara’ agreed with the guru. But no matter what the real reason, the emperor ordered that Guru Arjan be tortured every day till he dies.
The legend is that one day after his daily torture the prisoners were taken to bathe on the river side which flowed outside the fort gate. Guru Arjan dived in the river never to emerge. Many Sikhs believe he will rise on the Day of Judgment.
At that very place today exists the ‘baoli’ of Guru Arjan, whom the Sikh call ‘Panjveen Sarkar de Baoli’, the ‘well of the fifth guru’. Some even claim that the water level at this place never recedes.
So just to check last Sunday I went to this ‘baoli’ too and was surprised to see that the water level in the well and truly at the same level I had seen many years ago. I checked with a retired Wapda water expert who after a lengthy technical lecture concluded that the level nearby is over 200-plus feet lower and the river does not feed underground aquifers, so this was not possible.
We must not get involved in non-scientific fact creation, but the ‘magical baolis’ of Guru Arjan Dev certainly does exist. Will we ever restore the ‘baolis’ of Dina Nath and Guru Arjan? My guess is that one day when the new generation is in power and sees the folly of our rulers, they will give our past the respect it deserves.
Maybe even the LWCA might take these simple projects at hand. Just pray I get rich and you might well get to drink the magical water from the ‘baoli’ of the guru.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2015



The mysterious tombs of ‘lion’ and ‘drinker’

If you move along Bhogiwal Road and turn on Ghoray Shah Road, to the right is a dilapidated tomb, which is known as that of Rasul Shahyum. Who was Rasul Shahyum? Nearby within eyesight is the tomb of Shah Shahabuddin Nehra, the man who, allegedly, morphed into a lion and threatened Emperor Akbar. Imagine!
Both these characters seem poles apart. Shahyum was allegedly a ‘moderate drinker’ and a holy man who performed miracles. On the other hand Nehra, son of Hazrat Mauj Darya Bukhari, was a pious man with views orthodox as orthodox can be. The word Nehra, in Hindi, means a lion, and it was one of the miracles of Shahabuddin performed in the Lahore Fort before Emperor Akbar that earned him this name. Two holy men, so very different from one another, yet in death near one another, not that it was their choice. Shahyum was buried far away from the city so that his followers did not influence the simple folk of Lahore.
First let us dwell on Shahabuddin Nehra. His father Hazrat Mauj Darya Bukhari was a leading seer of his times, and it was to him that Emperor Akbar turned when he repeatedly failed to conquer the huge fort of Chattisgarh from the fierce Rajputs. In those days it was normal for rulers to seek the assistance of ‘holy men’ when they faced problems. One assumes it was a last resort measure, and it was to Hazrat Mauj Darya Bukhari that Akbar turned. He was summoned and the holy man refused royal horses and said he would be there before the horses, which is what exactly happened. How is not for me to dwell on.
The holy man told the emperor to forget past failures and attack the fort before the sun rises the next day, and to keep attacking no matter what the cost. Exactly at noon he would win. Exactly as predicted, down to the last detail, Akbar was able to conquer the fort, and it was this event that helped him to consolidate his empire. Back in Lahore Fort the emperor summoned the holy man, and a few courtiers, jealous of the new standing of Mauj Darya, shut the gates to his son Shahabuddin. In a rage Shahabuddin roared and as several accounts tell us, he morphed into an angry lion. One push at the gates and it yielded with the guards fleeing.
The lion ran to where the emperor was, and as legend has it, he held forth his huge paw. The emperor hid behind Mauj Darya Bukhari and the lion withdrew and lay down. Mauj Darya scolded him for losing his temper and said that ‘court intrigues are part of life’. The emperor understood what Mauj Darya meant and soon, so legend tell us, the lion returned to human form. The emperor named him ‘Nehra’, a name that remains with him till today.
Out of reverence for Mauj Darya Bukhari, the emperor built the tomb of his ‘peer’ even before he died. It is located at the western corner of Turner Road and east of Old Anarkali. The tomb of Syed Shahabuddin Nehra was built in the Mughal gardens just near Mughalpura. After the death of his father, Shahabuddin Nehra excelled in his understanding of the Quran and the Hadith. His ‘miracles’ were well-known and he avoided the Mughal court and its intrigues, but his advice was sought in moments of crisis. One account tells of him walking in a Lahore bazaar and people, out of fear, running away.
Now let us move to an even more interesting character who lies buried just 200 yards from Shahabuddin Nehra, and he is Syed Rasul Shahyum. The building belongs to the same era as Shah Jehan, and the architecture is the same, as are the materials. This naturally means that it is approximately 350 to 400 years old. The last known interest that was taken in this mysterious tomb was during the Sikh period, as a lot of followers gathered here for an Urs on the occasion of Basant. This Shahyum sect of Islam believed that only those things ‘clearly forbidden’ in the Quran are forbidden, the other things that people think are ‘banned’ are all circumstantial, and should be treated as such. Drinking alcohol was one such issue. Even today Al-Azhar scholars agree with the Rasul Shahyum interpretation.
Though this sounds a very logical way of understanding Islam, the orthodox have always opposed such a way of interpreting the Quran. They strictly followed all the Five Tenets of Islam, but when it came to ‘not strictly banned’ issues touched by the Quran, they preached moderation, not a ban. A few followers during the Sikh era, especially in the period before Maharajah Ranjit Singh reigned (1799-1839), went over the top, which brought this sect a bad name.
But who exactly is buried in this tomb? This is the mystery that remains unsolved. I visited the place and met an old man who walked over after seeing me. He claimed to be a Shahyum follower. I asked if there were others besides him, he smiled and said: “The majority of Muslims in the world are Shahyum followers, because ultimately we all become moderate”. I thought it better to end the conversation.
But who lies buried here? I asked. It is a ‘buzurg’ who came from Bokhara and had great powers. He was known only as Shah Sahib and he lived to be 150 years of age. Now this sounded like a tall order, and it was clear that he had merely heard this legend.
To write a sensible piece about the tomb of Rasul Shahyum, I have researched as well as I could. Most scholars contacted did not have a clue. Nothing about him is known by a leading Indian scholar who was in Lahore for the Lahore Literary Festival. However, a mention is made of Rasul Shahyum in ‘Tehkikat-e-Chisthi’ who claims he was an Uzbek saint with great occult powers who came to Lahore in the reign of Babar. From this lead I moved forward.
The Uzbek connection could be correct. There is definite mention of a Rasul Shahyum, a Turkic Yasavi scholar who was a Syed and a Sufi and follower of Ibn Abdul Hamid. The Turk scholar Touraj Atabaki mentions him “as leaving to preach in India, living in Lahor”. Could he be the Shahyum we are seeking? But mind you this is an unscientific shot in the dark. The mystery of Rasul Shahyum remains, as does the mysterious powers of Shahabuddin Nehra. That they rest in peace near one another, that is for sure and a good thing.
Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2015





The tomb of the Mughal prince who is not there

We concentrate a lot on the walled city of Lahore, and all for good reason, as well as the major monuments to the east and the west. But scant attention is paid to the hundreds (Yes Hundreds!) that exist to the north of the railway line.
When the railway line was laid in Lahore in 1859-60, it effectively cut through a lot of major monuments, including the tomb of Nur Jehan and Asaf Khan, as well as the gardens that went with Kamran’s ‘baradari’. But then it also, in a way, cut off the northern monuments of Lahore, which have ever since been ignored. My effort of recent has been to visit these areas so that we get a complete picture of the state of our past.
The first victim of the railways was the exquisite garden of Naulakha, for the entire railways station complex is housed in it. To the south a few areas were left, which were soon consumed by urbanisation. When the British arrived in 1849, the entire areas to the east of the walled city were a series of gardens. After the decline of the Moghals and the arrival of the British, almost a hundred years of turbulence and virtually non-governance followed.
In this period the damage was immense. When the Austrian Baron Charles von Hugel visited Lahore in 1836, he was to write: “we passed ‘serais’ and palaces and unkempt gardens and ruins so numerous and extensive that they have to be seen to be believed”.
Of the seven major gardens that lie to the north, today let us concentrate on Kot Khawaja Saeed and Chah Miran, the locality to the northern-most part and near the river. Who was Khawaja Saeed? This question comes to mind immediately. Well, Khawaja Saeed was the ‘mahavat’ (elephant driver) of Prince Perwez, the son of Moghal emperor Jahangir and brother of Shah Jehan.
The garden was originally owned by Prince Perwez, and the area was first known as Perwezabad. In the middle of the huge garden is the solitary tomb of Prince Perwez. But then the question arises that is Prince Perwez really buried here? Probably not, or should we say ‘definitely not’.
In the struggle for power after the death of Jahangir, Prince Perwez was killed (Dr Abdullah Chughtai claims) by Asaf Khan on the orders of Shah Jehan at Burhanpur at the age of 37 on Oct 26, 1625.
His body was brought to Agra where it lies buried. Shah Jehan came to power in 1628 and it seems that he started clearing his way to power anticipating his father Jahangir’s death.
Once in power he married his son Dara Shikoh to Nadira Begum, the daughter of Prince Pervez. Much later when Emperor Aurangzeb was engaged in his struggle for power he got murdered the two sons of Prince Dara Shikoh so that the line of succession was cleared for his children and not his elder brother’s sons.
Legend has it that the grave here is that of Mehr Shikoh. The mystery of the grave does not end here.
Historian Syed Muhammad Latif claims that the two sons of Prince Perwez were murdered on the orders of their uncle Shah Jehan in Lahore, and that they were buried here.
There is no other reference to the source of this claim, except that the tomb itself was built by Shah Jehan in anticipation of the two planned killings.
But this is not the end of this mysterious story of the tomb of Prince Perwez. Two major twists still remain.
A well-known Indian historian claims that the body of Dara Shikoh, which was buried near Humayun’s tomb in Delhi, was never seen to be buried in Delhi. He claims it was taken to Lahore and buried in the garden of Prince Perwez.
The second twist is that the body of Dara Shikoh was buried in Delhi, but his head was taken to Lahore and buried in the garden of Perwez, where other Royal princes murdered in struggles for power lie buried.
This is a bizarre claim, except that it has one mysterious twist. Prince Dara Shikoh allegedly claimed during his life that Hazrat Mian Mir used to sit in the tomb and prayer and meditate. When asked he used to say that this is the place where my dear follower will be buried, so I pray for his life.
A rather strange assertion from a seer who the people of Lahore respect a lot. The mystery of the tomb of Perwez at Kot Khawaja Saeed will remain an enduring one.
Now about the structure of the tomb itself. We know from ‘Tehkiqat-e-Chisti’, written in 1864, that it was made of the finest white marble, including the floor, with eight marble door frames.
The outer gates, four of them of the garden, were also of white marble. “No other place in Lahore has so much high quality marble used”, Kanhiya Lal was to write, adding: “Ranjit Singh was to remove all the marble for use in Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, and to finish the tomb in brick”.
Experts put the date of construction as being between 1630 and 1640, and documents tell us that Shah Jehan took a special interest in its construction.
But what about Khawaja Saeed after whom the area today is named. If you stand at the tomb and look eastwards, you will see another Moghal era tomb. This was probably, when it was built, located at one edge of the garden.
This is known as the tomb of Mai Dai, the daughter of Khawaja Saeed, and a lady who looked after the sons of Prince Perwez. One legend, rather unbelievable that it is, has it that she was also murdered along with the sons of Prince Perwez.
An amazing array of murdered royalty surely does not exist anywhere in the world. Murder and mystery goes hand in glove, mostly it has to do with power. So who really lied buried in this beautiful, yet dilapidating, structure, just to the north of Lahore? Were the heads of Perwez and Dara both buried here?
Were the sons of Perwez buried here? Does Mehr Shikoh lie buried here? Logic tells us that we accept that royalty was buried here, all of whom were connected with the struggle for power of Shah Jehan and his son Aurangzeb. Who is the victim and who the perpetuator, this one must leave to the reader.
Published in Dawn March 15th , 2015




Threatened garden largely without grass and trees

It was a disturbing thought that two of Lahore’s outstanding historical monuments, the only two on Unesco’s ‘World Heritage Sites’ list, are being actively considered to be transferred to the list of ‘seriously endangered heritage sites’. What greater insult to Lahore is possible?
In the midst of the madness and bloodshed created by allowing Pakistan’s ‘Stateless’ powers to overreach their brief, it is no surprise that culture and historical monuments have a very low priority. Last month I spent a considerable time going again and again to the Lahore Fort, which is slowly crumbling. Last week I spent some time visiting the area to the north of Lahore, by which I mean the north of G.T. Road. It struck me that over half of Lahore’s tombs and gardens were built in this area, yet this is the area we normally ignore as being part of Lahore. This needs active correction.
I started by visiting Tazab Ahata in Misri Shah, where my grandmother’s brothers had a house and where she spent a considerable time following the death of her husband, and then later her parents, who lived in Kocha Chabaksawaran, in the Mochi Gate precinct. The house in Misri Shah is no more, now a concrete plaza, except for fading memories in my mind of when we visited her on weekends. Ultimately she shifted to live with us, spending her happiest days.
But north of the GT Road are historic areas like Kot Khwaja Saeed, the mazar of Hazrat Musa Zanjani in Sultanpura, then there is the mazar of ‘Ghorray Shah’ in what was once called Swami Nagar behind the Engineering University, then there is Begumpura, Bhogiwal and then Baghbanpura, the area where gardens and gardeners existed. Naturally enough this is where the second ‘World Heritage Site’, the Shalimar Gardens, exists. So I took time out to spend some time in the historical garden.
Before going there I went to see the shrine of Lahore’s favourite poet-saint, known popularly as Madho-Lal Hussain. This is where the ‘Basant’ festival was celebrated over the centuries. But then Lahore has slowly descended into a gloom where the colours and happiness of Spring seem so foreign. Just up the lane is the new mazar of ‘Goora Pir’, whose exquisite tomb is under construction thanks to the skill of architect Kamil Khan Mumtaz. As we head back we reach the western gate of the Shalimar Gardens. This was the original entrance of this beautiful garden. In Mughal days the entire area was full of gardens, and it was only in the Sikh period that the entire area was in ruins, best described by Fanny Eden in 1838 as “going through a wilderness of ruined tombs, very picturesque”.
The main entrance today is on the GT Road, which was, sadly, ruined by the present set of rulers, who keen to make a beautiful motorway to Wagah knocked down and erased the amazing water filtration plant opposite the garden on the southern side. This was a unique masterpiece, for the canal dug by the Mughals passed through this plant and fed the garden fountains with crystal clear water. To the eastern side a massive ‘katchi abadi’ eats into the outer walls and ‘Shahi Hammam’ outer walls have been damaged.
The land where the garden exists originally belonged to the ‘zaildar’ of the area, who was an Arain. He gifted it to Mughal emperor Shah Jehan, who bestowed on the family till ‘time eternal’ the title of Mian, a title they still use. He also placed the garden under the supervision of the head of the Mian Arain family, which task they carried out for over 350 years till 1962 when then president Ayub Khan nationalised it more so because Mian Iftikharuddin opposed his martial law, and was owner of ‘The Pakistan Times’, seen by many a Left-leaning publication.
If we take a look at the garden itself, we have three layers of gardens and fountains, they being Farah Bakhsh with 105 fountains, which is the highest level garden, and the Faiz Bakhsh, which is the middle level garden with 152 fountains, and the lowest level garden is called Hayat Bakhsh with 153 fountains. The water can flow through a canal that started off from Hayatabad at the foothills of the Himalayas and end in the water filtration plant in Lahore, a wonder of engineering in itself. To the east of Farah Bakhsh garden is the Naqar Khana, a special enclosure for ladies of the harem.
As one walks through the gardens, it is sad that the fountains work only when VIPs are visiting, or on special occasions. These are powered by water pumps from tubewells dug outside the western wall. The structures are crumbling at places, and what was shocking was that the front entrance floral designs are now done in enamel paint. Surely a world heritage site does not warrant such treatment.
But the worst part of this historical garden is the condition of the trees. We learn from documents that these gardens once had 11 types of fruit trees. Today only three types exist, they being the mango, the mulberry and the peach. All the remaining has been, as one old gardener told me in confidence, that they have been removed to the homes of VIPs. I noticed that in the lowest garden large patches of ‘grassless’ portions exist. To my mind this is no longer a garden in the true sense, but patches of greenery with weeds overwhelming what was once one of the world’s most beautiful garden.
Will the great Shalimar Gardens be reduced to an ‘endangered’ monument? My mind, and visits, tells me that it already has reached the endangered level, and that if the world is worried, of surely we are not, then it is for good reason. Just like the Lahore Fort, the second World Heritage Site is also decaying through neglect and a complete lack of sensitivity for our history. Maybe it is time the government asked the Mian Arain family of Baghbanpura just how they managed to maintain this beautiful garden for 350 years, or am I clinging to straws in the wind?
Published in Dawn January 11th , 2014




Victoria School and a walk through four eras

If you enter Mori Gate and walk about a hundred yards, you pass on the left the now dilapidated Moti Haveli, an exquisite Sikh era building. Take the first ‘gali’ to the left and you are in Kucha Darzian. A right turn and you are in the courtyard of Haveli Nau Nihal Singh.
This beautiful ‘haveli’ once housed, for a very brief period, the young ‘hotspur’ grandson of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, who was maharajah of the Punjab for a few hours. He died in a mysterious accident, some say killed, within a few minutes of ascending the throne.
The British converted it into a school for girls, and appropriate to that age named it Victoria School. Last Sunday I went to see this old school where my grandmother Syeda Begum taught starting 1921. So it was a sentimental trip of sorts.
I asked around and discovered from a ‘chowkidar’ that the oldest living school teacher, now a retired lady in her nineties, a Razia Begum, lived in nearby Bhati Gate in her old house in ‘Khajoor Gali’.
I had a fair idea where it was and went in search of the old lady to see if she knew my grandmother. A shopkeeper in the ‘gali’ when asked about an old schoolteacher of Victoria School lit up: “You mean Apa Jee”. Well, I suppose so, I blurted. “She is an angel in human form. Let me take you there myself”, he said with delight.
So we walked into a side lane and a small house with a blue door was her house. He knocked and stood there. A young boy opened the door and the helpful shopkeeper gleefully said: “Apa Jee has a special guest, go tell her”. The boy ran inside and soon an elderly lady came and asked me, with a broad smile, just how I knew her mother.
My response was that I was searching for some colleague of my grandmother who taught at Victoria School. From then on it was easy sailing.
I sat down on a ‘takht’ with a thick mattress and in came a bent old lady and quietly sat down opposite me. She adjusted her round spectacles and gave me a good look, and then firmly said; “Toun Hamid Jan da putttar hain?” I happily shook my head, for I knew I had found a rare species, a schoolteacher of Victoria School who had taught with my grandmother and knew exactly who I was.
She got up and took my head in her knotty old hands and kissed my forehead. She then sat down and said: “Syeda Bibi daddee see, dukh barray waykay, ustani sub toon changi, naik aurat tay bari aimandar” (Syeda Bibi was very strict, saw a lot of tragedy in her life, was the best teacher and was exceptionally honest). It was clear she knew the old woman very well.
She described the old school in detail and how she went to school from this very house in a ‘doli’ every day. She laughed and said that like the schools of today where cars line up, at our school hundreds of ‘doliwallay’ stood outside when school closed and teachers and students went home in their own ‘dolis’. I imagined the sight this must have been. Probably the students of today would never understand that age almost 100 years ago and the quantum change that has taken place.
We talked over tea about the school, her family, what Syeda Begum used to do and then I asked her what was wrong with education today. She was forthright: “First is the curse of tuitions, and this is because parents are not putting in enough effort, and if parents are illiterate the school teachers are not doing justice to their students”.
She was clear-headed about what was wrong. Then with a pause she went on: “Partition destroyed the very soul of Lahore. Now we have Afghan invaders again like they came before the Sikhs, and they will spread illiteracy and lust for money”.
Her daughter interrupted, looking embarrassed, and said: “Amma Jee often does not know what to say. I apologise for she is too old”. I immediately put her at ease by saying that what she is saying absolutely correct for she has an amazing grasp of the real situation. Everyone looked surprised.
The old lady was delighted and said: “He is the ‘asli’ grandson of Syeda Bibi, now I am sure”. I smiled at the compliment while everyone else probably thought both me and Amma Jee were crazy.
It was a very interesting session, for here were four generations who had grown up in four different eras. Each had a very different perspective of what was wrong with education and Lahore.
The good thing is that because Amma Jee was educated, her entire family was educated, with one great grandson of a Victoria School teacher is now studying on a scholarship at MIT in the USA.
If anything, for me, this family represented the power of education among females. For that matter even the great granddaughters of Syeda Begum of Victoria School had made it to Oxford and Cambridge.
In this lies the positive lesson for those who bomb girl’s schools in our dear country, more so there are a lot of lessons to be drawn by our rulers, for on a per capita basis Pakistan invests the least among the 219 countries of the world on female education. What ails our country is because of this disinterest in education. Even Mr Jinnah wanted a fifth of our national wealth spent on educating the poor.
After this amazing meeting I walked back to Victoria School and stood outside looking at this magnificent ‘haveli’ and the amazing history that it holds. It would make great sense for our younger generation to visit this school, learn about the ‘haveli’ and its history and try to meet its teachers and students. It will be, for a lot of students, a return to their roots.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2015





Why ‘scourge of god’ ransacked Lahore every six years

We keep hearing about Lahore being ransacked time and again over the ages. There was a 200-year period in which Lahore was ransacked, on the average, every six years. People hid their women in secret underground houses outside the city.
But then why did this start in the first place? There is one ruler of Lahore about which we know very little, yet in a way he was responsible for the city being attacked time and again by the forces of Genghis Khan, or known better by the colourful description of ‘The Scourge of God’. This ruler of Lahore was Jalal ud-duniya wa ud-din Abul Muzaffar Manguberdi ibn Muhammad, better known in history as Jalaluddin Khwarazmshah, the last of the great rulers of the Khwarazmian Empire.
You might be justified in thinking that just how did this ruler of a faraway land, based in Samarkand and ruling over a massive empire stretching from Makran and Baluchistan to Samarkand including Afghanistan and Iran, come to Lahore.
Our story starts from the time Genghis Khan while chasing the forces of Jalaluddin Khwarazshah stood on one side of the Indus, and saw the fleeing forces of Jalal cross over. And just as he thought he had got his bitter foe, he saw the handsome and well-built Jalal stand on that famous rock at Attock that juts over the river, standing hands stretched and dive into the river in majestic style. There Genghis Khan delivered his famous sentence: “If a man ever had a son, he should be like Jalaluddin”.
At this point Genghis Khan selected his two most fierce commanders, ‘Dorbei the Fierce’ and ‘Bala the Mad’, each with one ‘tumen’ of 20,000 soldiers (armies ever since have selected this number as being equal to one division) to find and destroy his most hated enemy. Jalaluddin moved with speed and defeated almost every local Punjabi ruler. But once he crossed the River Jhelum and experienced the Salt Range, he realised that the Khokhars were skilled guerrilla fighters in their terrain and that they would sap all his forces in a fight he could never win. So he made peace with the Khokhar Rai and married his daughter.
With the Khokhars he attacked and took Lahore in 1221. Peace was never to return for another 200 years. Jalaluddin quickly rebuilt the walls of the fort and in the process replenished his army. He called in Uzbek commanders, most notable among them being Uzbek Pai and Hassan Qarlugh. But then as the forces of Bala the Mad approached Lahore, Jalaluddin in an amazing move vacated the city before the enemy attack formations could be in place and in a ‘pinzer’ move decimated half the force. One source says that the very word ‘pinzer’ is taken from the name of Uzbek Pai. This is possible given that modern armies still study the tactics of Genghis Khan. But here we also learn of the utility of a timely and orderly withdrawal.
Amazingly after damaging the forces of Bala the Mad in a ‘blitzkirk’, we see Jalaluddin swiftly withdrawing and heading towards Sialkot. Five miles to the north he quickly switched direction and raced for the Salt Range in a curving manoeuvre. In frustration the forces of Genghis Khan first ravaged the city of Lahore, and after seven days of pillage they left to attack Sialkot. Jalaluddin’s agents had fed the enemy faulty intelligence which showed the ‘enemy’ heading towards Sialkot. It was brilliant military strategy.
Once they left Lahore the forces of Jalaluddin and the Khokhars returned to occupy Lahore. Every time they returned the forces of ‘Bala the Mad’ returned, every time for Jalaluddin and the Khokhars to vacate and give their crazy enemies the slip. This happened three times and by the end of 1224 he learnt that Genghis Khan was attacking the subcontinent in a massive way. He tried to suggest to the ruler of Delhi, Sultan Iltumesh, that they join hands to oppose Genghis Khan. The sultan did quite the opposite and marched on Lahore to try to defeat Jalaluddin Khwarazmshah and the Khokhars. But before his forces arrived, he had left Lahore and headed towards Sindh, where he defeated the forces of Naseeruddin Qabacha at Uch in 1224. He replenished his forces and moved through Baluchistan towards Iran, which he took with ease and set up a new kingdom.
But Genghis Khan was not one to forgive and sent Torbei the Fierce after him. Jalaluddin again fled, battling the Mongols in the Al-Burz Mountains and heading towards the Caucasus going on to capture Azerbaijan in 1225. He made Tabriz his capital and immediately increased his army with swift-moving cavalry. Among his main weapon was the Lahori Bow, which helped him attack while riding at great speed. Genghis Khan was also to adopt the Lahori Bow, a sample of which can be seen in the Lahore Museum, as also most military museums of the world.
A year later in 1226 he attacked Georgia and ransacked Tbilisi, in the process burning all churches and killing all Christians. This led the Turkish sultan to send a force after him, and after being defeated at Erzincan at Yassicemen in 1230, he escaped to Diyarbakir. Genghis Khan was still on his heels and captured Azerbaijan. But Genghis Khan wanted his head, and it was in 1231 that he was murdered by a Kurdish assassin hired by Genghis Khan.
The former ruler of Lahore was finally tracked down by one of the world’s greatest conquerors. His Khokhar allies simply retreated to the Salt Range, and a year later joined hands with the Mongols in their conquest of India. During his withdrawal from Lahore the Khokhar chief advised Jalaluddin to avoid the Afghans. It is alleged that he told him: “Trust Allah, but never an Afghan”.
The Mongols kept returning to loot the wealth of Lahore for the next 200 years. They burned it down in 1241, returning in 1246 to rape and pillage. When they did not return in 20 years Balban rebuilt the city walls in a major effort. Once it was thriving again the Mongols returned in 1285, and in a battle on the banks of the River Ravi at Lahore, the son of Balban, Muhammad, was killed. Once the Mongols left his son Kai Khusrau was made the ruler of Lahore. In another assassination planned by the Mongols, Balban’s grandson Kai Khusrau was murdered in 1287.
During this time the Mongols settled in an area near Lahore and it was Dua the Chaghatai (now spelt ‘Chughtai), of the Mughal sub-clan of the Mongols, who named this settlement as Mughalpura. So in a way the Mongol Chaghatai Turkic-speaking Mughals were in Lahore even before Babar arrived in 1524 to ransack and pillage the city. In 1341 the Khokhars returned in force and took Lahore, only to be thrown out by the Mongols. They returned five times in 150 years since they first came with Jalaluddin, each time to be thrown out by the Mongols.
In the 200 years till 1524 when Babar invaded the subcontinent, Lahore was ransacked a total of 34 times. This means that on the average it was ransacked and destroyed every six years. In this period the population was reduced to a mere 15,000 only. When invasion was feared Lahore became a ‘men-only’ city. After 200 years of terror, Lahore regained relative peace under the Mughals.
Published in Dawn March 8th , 2015




Will we lose world’s rarest archaeological record?

The neglect that the Lahore Fort has faced at the hands of the Archaeology Department of the federal government, and then of late the Punjab government, is there for all to see. The decay and collapse of probably Pakistan’s finest historical monument is nothing short of a national disgrace.
Last week I visited the fort and described the ‘criminal destruction’ of the exquisite wall mural on the northern face of the fort wall. It was disturbing to see precious monuments knocked down to build 40 odd living quarters for employees and yet another pulled down to make way for a mosque. The nearby historic Soneri Mosque never occurred to the authorities, for the pressure from an ‘extremist’ mullah to overwhelm our heritage could not be resisted.
There I stood at the small entrance gate, locked to visitors, and watched the fort monuments. Behind me was the exquisite ‘haveli’ of Kharak Singh. This is where the first office of the Archaeological Survey of India, founded in 1861 under Sir Alexander Cunningham, was set up. From 1902 to 1928 under Sir John Marshal the Ghandhara Civilisation discoveries took place and the record kept here. From 1944 to 1948, Sir Mortimer Wheeler sat in the Haveli of Kharak Singh. This is an exquisite piece of Sikh era architecture and was one of the most well maintained of the historic monuments in the fort. Today its condition is beyond description.
I entered the main hall and it is clear that this portion is from the Mughal era. I checked old maps and found this area marked. In the Sikh era this was built upon, and they did a splendid job of mixing Mughal and Sikh architecture.
Sir John Marshal writes: “It is an honour to even work here, with great care taken not to disturb the original scheme of things.” But no such honour was bestowed by our present-day bureaucrats.
As one enters the main room to one side in a small room they have plastered white tiles on the old Mughal walls that were once decorated with floral designs. This they have converted into a bathroom. The ancient walls and floors have been dug to fit in sanitary arrangements and as one walks beyond the badly maintained room, one can see a small electric motor fitted to the floor to draw in water. By any standard this is a crude arrangement. One really wonders what sort of the Department of Archaeology Punjab has, one that has not done any work of significance.
I moved through to a side room where the rare record of one of mankind’s greatest civilisation’s discovery lies. In heaps of dirty files and tied up with plastic cords. Most of the record of this era has been heaped in huge dumps in side rooms. The cupboards, all British era by the looks of them, have broken glass and some even with broken doors. Neglect and a complete lack of respect for what they contain is evident. As I walk through in almost every room an employee or two of the Archaeology Department lounge around with no work to do. The handing over of the fort to the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) has brought about a silent tussle, with the former refusing to give up major portions of the fort to them to conserve and manage.
I will dwell on the fort and not the tussle, save quote just one example to give the reader an idea of what the takeover is bringing forth. The WCLA is discovering that many employees drawing salary do not exist. A few died years ago. But like the old fort they also do not die, for “some invisible phantom” draws their salary. Mind you this is a minor problem from the ones created by the outgoing department.
To check out the significance of this record left to decay just like the ones of the Punjab Archives in the Secretariat which still lie decaying in an old horse stable, I sent off an email to a friend who heads the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, and I would like to reproduce here a portion of his short reply: “It seems that one of the greatest records of how the Indus Valley Civilisation was discovered is surely going to decay and be lost. This will be an irreparable loss to all of us who study your ancient civilisation”.
As I walked through the virtual ruins of this building, it seemed that little bothered anyone. The four odd new employees of the WCLA sent to take over sit shell-shocked at what surrounds them. They spend their time recording conditions as they existed when they took over. As they move about guards of the old department follow them to report their movement. It is an amazing disgrace, this rivalry and an example of how government should never work.
I moved away from this madness and walked towards the eastern rooms of Jahangir’s quadrangle. They had a fencing stopping visitors from seeing them. Why this was so I have absolutely no idea. These room have more rooms in their basement, and these are all locked. As I walk past them one can see a huge hole through the wall. Gosh, who did this? Maybe some employee wanted fresh air, or a water connection. Things are bizarre at this place. In one room an office has been set up where two men sit sipping tea in the cold winter afternoon. I suppose they are working hard before they leave for their living quarters built behind these rooms.
I move towards the Emperor Jahangir’s ‘khawbgah’ and before me is yet another world. It is clear from the changes that Sikh and British era changes exist, with one room having been used as a Roman Catholic prayer room in the early period of colonialism. The roof of one of the three outer rooms has a gaping hole.
But I move on towards the western rooms of this quadrangle. The less said about them the better. Through a narrow passage we are in the Diwan-i-Khas and area known as Shah Jehan’s ‘khawbgah’ and beyond to the Khilwat Khana, for below are the secret dungeons that remain closed. Within lie many a mystery, ones that we will explore next week.
Published in Dawn December 21th , 2014




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