Lahore on My Mind: A City of Splendid Memories
By Nasim Hassan, Delaware, USA
The city of Lahore in my memory goes back to the time when river Ravi still flowed at its leisurely place. This is a period starting from 1950 to the end of 1960’s. After partition of India in 1947, my family started at ground zero as refugees from Shimla in India. My parents and grandparents settled in Lahore and stayed. We began this journey on the court street off Lower Mall road a few hundred yards away from Gol Bagh. This gave me an easy access to the walled city as well as the charms of the Mall Road.
My relationship with Lahore is associated with people and places. When I remember Lahore, Hazrat Ali Hijweri (Data Ganj Baksh), Mian Mir Lahori, emperor Jehangir and Queen Noor Jehan flash across my mind. Then this extends to Ashfaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and Sagar Siddiqui who roamed around Lahore for years. There are a large number of friends, family members and classmates who still live all over Lahore.
Then I remember Dr, Nazir Ahmed (Government College) on his bike, Dr. Ghulam Bheek and Dr. Niaz Ahmed of Punjab University who lectured us:
“When I met Einstein in Germany, I asked him have you ever visited India. Einstein said yes I have seen India. Then I asked him have you visited Data Darbar? Einstein said no. I told him Einstein, Sir you have not seen India because India is Data Darbar and Data Darbar is India.”
Dr. Bheek could have settled anywhere in the world but preferred to stay in Lahore. He was at ease in the company of prime minister Bhutto, army generals as well as common people who received free medical care
Lahore has been a city of various neighborhoods. Walled city, Gowalmandi, Nisbet Road, Mozang, Model Town, Gulberg, Saman Abad, Krishan Nagar and Sant Nagar all had their own special flavor. A lot can be written about walled city itself.
The current generation may not believe that Lahore during those days was a clean city where garbage was picked up on daily basis and the corporation sprayed water on the sides of the roads to cool and settle down the dust during sizzling summer afternoons. Clean drinking water was available free all over the city. Gol Bagh was fenced and there were no roads cutting across separating it from the municipal corporation building. It stretched from the Government College all the way to the corporation building. There were all kinds of trees including mango, jamun, peepal and banyan in this garden. The young people today may not believe that Gol bagh had many exotic fruit trees including star fruit, lychee, molsari, gunda and mulberry. This garden of variety revealed to the people who roamed around all corners of Gol Bagh.
Growing up in the decade of Sixties in the city of Lahore was exciting time. There were a number of festivals like Urs Ganj Bakhsh, Mela Chiragan and cattle shows. Student demonstrations were common in support of Jamal Abdul Nasser, Patrice Lumumba or against Nawab of Kala Bagh. Public gatherings were held where politicians addressed public in various parts of the city. Film Industry was booming and there were long lines for tickets at the cinema houses. The kites of various colors, shapes and sizes floating in the sky during Basant time uplifted the spirits.
Starting from lower mall there was a land mark gun called Zamzama also known as Kim’s Gun according to the writing of Rudyard Kipling. This Gun was located at the first intersection of the Mall road with a road going to Lahore Corporation. Close to the entrance there was a street sign pointing west showing the mileage from Lahore to London. Perhaps this reminded the British people living in Lahore that London is not too far.
During my teenage years it was a ritual to ride on Zamzama after sunset and make tinkling noise using the heavy brass hauling rings. The mall road had very little traffic after the sunset with few cars passing by. The mall at that time had a number of statues of various famous personalities like Sir Ganga Ram and Alfred Woolner. On the mall road, public calling booths were installed at various places like London. The biggest statue was of queen Victoria located at the Charing Cross. In front of Assembly chambers there was a circular park lined with big trees. Queen Victoria statue was located on the side of Alfalah building.
Every evening starting from lower mall it was a routine for us to walk on the mall turning left towards cinema houses on the Macleod road and then get back to the mall through Beadon road. There was a small café called Café Nazara on Beadon road where one could listen to the songs of his choice while enjoying a cup of tea. On the side of regal cinema there was a small restaurant famous for its Samosa and tea. One could see many famous people walking on the mall during evening time.
There are a large number of enchanting sounds, sights and spots in Lahore. Every person selected his own favorite area. First one that comes to my mind was located in Government College. If you entered college from the main gate from lower mall side and passed the front of the college building you would see the play ground in front of the building. There were white painted wooden benches for people to relax. A little distance on the right there was a bunch of Amaltas trees. These trees in season had golden flowers and maroon Amaltas bean pods. This was my favorite spot to study and prepare for intermediate exam. Invariably the rustling of tree leaves and crackling sounds of Amaltas pods put me to sleep. I alternated between study and nap. I can still close my eyes and feel the sight and sound of Amaltas trees.
The walk on the mall in any season was a charming experience. I walked passing the Tolinton market on towards the Lahore Zoo. The entrance to the Zoo had an area on the left hand side with deer roaming around to attract visitors. Passing the Zoo on the right a small road continued to the Lawrence Garden. I still remember dense canopy of various trees providing a cool shade during summer months. You could see a tall tree with black bats hanging. This road led to the center of Garden in front of Montgomery hall. There were flower beds of many kinds particularly in spring season. This area had film shootings where you could film stars of that era. British build three hills with steps and trees in Lawrence garden. I wondered about the amount effort the British had put in building these hills that reminded them of back home.
During the scorching summer heat there were air conditioned libraries of British council and American center located close to the mall. Lahore had so much to offer to common people at that time. Punjab public library had all Pakistani newspapers and books in Urdu. Continuing on there were reading rooms of BNR center (bureau of national reconstruction), Dayal Singh College library in addition to British and USIS center in Bank Square. USIS was great place to relax and sleep during noon time in summer.
Another enchanting spot is the area of Badshahi Mosque. This area has Lahore Fort facing the masjid with a Baradari park located in the middle. The Allama Iqbal rests in peace on the left hand while Ranjit Singh monument on the right side of the entrance. Occasionally I went to the Badshahi masjid for Friday prayer. After prayer I lingered on in the covered corridor facing the Manto Park. The cool breeze coming from Ravi was very soothing. It seemed like making a stop in living history.
Not far from the Badshahi Masjid, there was a charming place called Hira Mandi. After sun set this place came to life. As evening turned into night there was about half an hour of free entertainment. At that time the dancing girls would come in the cars with their elderly lady escort and start rehearsing. The musicians started tuning their harmonium and adjust table strings. Free loaders like me could see the glimpse of beautiful dancing girls and listen to music. As soon as a customer showed up the doors would close. So the people would get free entertainment and then move on to other music quarters.
There cannot be any narrative about Lahore that does not include Anarkali Bazaar. One could spend hours in roaming around the main bazaar and side streets. At that time people of all social strata and ages would come to Anarkali. Although it was best for walking still you could see cars pulling in and dropping big begums at the stores of their choice. The King Qutubud Din Aibek also rests in peace on one Side Street. Variety House, Jallandhar Moti Chur, Karnal Shoe Store, Bombay Cloth House were established stores at that time.
Another scene that has stayed with me is of boating in Ravi. At that time I had university rowing club card and went for boating with friends. On the way there was always a place where we could buy fresh pop corn. The Mallah took care of boats owned by various colleges and Punjab University. During the afternoon we would row upstream and pass the Ravi Bridge towards a wooded area called Zakhira. We would drag the boat on the other side and look at the fields planted by local farmers. Many times we tried to pay the farmer but we were always obliged to get free tomatoes and cucumbers or sugar canes. Perhaps the farmer instinctively knew that students had little money to spare.
As the sun went down we rowed downstream back to the other side. The sunset transformed the slowly moving ripples into a river of flowing gold. We would watch the sunset for about ten minutes and then start back home. All of this entertainment did not cost us more than a few rupees. Although I have seen many places in Europe and America I have never come across such a serene scene.
Lahore Museum remains one place etched in my memory. This museum at that time was comparable to any other in the world. It had a great collection of artifacts from all areas of Pakistan. The most impressive collection was of Gandhara art showing Buddha in various modes of contemplation.
Living in Lahore gives an attitude to people. This attitude is difficult to explain in words. Lahori people cannot stay depressed for long. This is difficult to explain in words. In Punjabi this attitude is partially explained by phrases, “Pappo Yar Tang Na Kar” or “Chhad Key Waikh”. The person is stamped for life. I can talk to a Pakistani anywhere in the World and recognize a Lahori in few minutes.
After graduation from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Punjab University, I accepted a job in National Refinery in Karachi and then moved on to America. It took me a few years to get settled and then I came back to Lahore many times. Each time I observed more pollution and population.
The statue of Queen Victoria and the surrounding garden had gone and replaced with summit monument. This statue gathered dust in the Mayo school of arts for some time. This garden provided much needed shade for common people during the season of scorching summer. I looked at the trees on the mall blackened by the smoke from automobiles. I tried to walk from Anarkali to Gol Bagh. It was difficult to face the bright sun even at early time of 10 AM. The clean Lahore that I left behind had become dirty and expanded beyond limits.
There was a time when crossing the Ravi seemed like moving away from civilization and landing in small villages that had no electricity. Now you can go for miles and the city never ends.
This is a major difference between Europe and South Asia. In Europe you can find small towns and villages preserved the way they were a few centuries ago. Any person coming back after centuries would feel right at home. In South Asia the burgeoning population, endless construction has completely transformed the landscape. Many trees have been cut down and concrete buildings stand without any local ambiance.
Perhaps this is an area that needs the most attention. The people living in Lahore must stand up for clean environments. The future of their next generation depends on it. The fun loving people of Lahore must fight to preserve the ambiance, keep historical building in good shape and build keeping the local weather conditions in mind. I wish Lahore and its people the best in life because they deserve it.
For comments please contact the writer at [email protected]