DAWN - Features; September 21, 2003

Published Sep 21, 2003 12:00am

Walking to Charing Cross

DURING our school and college days in the late 1960s-early 1970s, it was considered fashionable to go for a walk on The Mall in the evening. We would invariably end up at Charing Cross for an ice cream at The Chalet, after which we would walk back home briskly before ‘light time’ to listen to the radio, or watch the one-hour television transmission in black and white.

The New Lahore, which was “new” at the turn of the 19th century and just before the Fist World War, had a “new” focal point —- the new centre of modern Lahore. To the west lay the walled city and the nearby old Anarkali cantonment, to the east lay the new cantonment at Mian Mir, to the north the Railway Station and its huge colonies, and to the east was the last “chungi” —- toll station —- outside the city at Mozang. In the middle was Charing Cross, the place where everyone wanted to be seen. It had restaurants, hotels, tailoring shops, cigarette ‘manufacturers’, piano saloons, and all the other ingredients of a modern city.

The term Charing Cross was first used, in the context of Lahore, in 1908 in a publication by G.R.Elmslie titled “Thirty Five Years in the Punjab” (1908, Edinburgh). A 1918-19 ‘B&R Report’ refers to it as the ‘Charing Cross Scheme’. However, this area was earlier known as Donaldtown, after Mr. Donald McLeod, who was later to become the lieutenant governor of the Punjab (1865-70), and after whom we, even today, thankfully, called McLeod Road. He was earlier the president of the Lahore Improvement Committee, which then became the Lahore Improvement Trust, later to be renamed the Lahore Development Authority. What’s in a name.

The crossing became a point of importance with the building of the new Masonic Hall, which replaced the old one on Lodge Road, where today stands the Lady Maclagan Government High School. Opposite this was built the Shah Din Building, which now is, thankfully, a protected one.

The Punjab Assembly building was started in 1935 and completed in 1938.

Thanks to the new book by Fakir Syed Aijazuddin on Lahore, a map of the Charing Cross area, drawn by the British in 1867, makes interesting reading. The area from the crossing, going eastwards, has nothing but gardens on the right. Where today stands the Masonic Hall has a beautiful ‘circular garden’. The area where the Lahore Zoo came up is also a garden, named “New Garden”, which has a huge water tank in the middle. Then starts the “Agricultural and Horticultural Society Garden”, in the middle of which were placed the Lawrence Hall and the Montgomery Hall.

From the crossing of what was to be later named Racecourse Road, start more gardens and then comes the house of “Major Hutchinson”, a huge mansion. On Racecourse Road is the lone house of Mrs. Purdon. Probably she was the wife of Mr Purdon, the architect, the person who designed the King Edward Medical College along with Kannihya Lal. All around her house were green fields, for today’s GOR estate were agricultural fields.

But on the left side from Charing Cross onwards, going eastwards, first came the Punjab Club building. Today at this spot stands WAPDA House. Then came agricultural fields and more gardens, with “Jwalla Sahib’s Garden”, which was renamed Royal Park, where today no signs of any park, let alone a single tree, remains. Probably the excellent “halwa puri” shop there is its hallmark —- a sign of our times. Beyond is the “Tomb of Syud Nourdeen Bookharee” and the “Kothi of Jemandar Khooshal Singh”, which was then being used as the “Government House”. That was Lahore in 1867, nothing but gardens and greenery.

By the time the First World War started, ‘Great Britain’ felt the time had come for the Empire to stamp its authority on India, and in Lahore, this came in the shape of a grand statue of Queen Victoria at Charing Cross. This was be “the most prominent monument of the British presence for many years”. A marble pavilion was designed by Bhai Ram Singh Mistri, then deputy principal of the Mayo School of Arts. The bronze statue of Queen Victoria, wearing her Imperial crown on “a veil of her favourite Honiton lacc, cradling the scepter and holding the orb” was cast in London by B. Mackennal in 1900, a year before her death. The statue remained there for over 50 years, when in 1951 it was removed and taken to the Lahore Museum. In its place now stands a model of the Holy Quran.

But by 1914, the time when the First World War started, the shops from the Regal Crossing to Charing Cross make interesting reading. To the left at Regal was Ranken & Co., civil and military tailors and outfitters. This tailoring concern had branches at Calcutta, Simla, Delhi, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Murree. Established in 1770 in Calcutta, it was among the first tailoring concerning “on Special Appointment” to the Company, and later on the governor-general. Then came the Civil & Military Gazette Press, followed by Cutler Palmer & Co., wine merchants. A few shops later came Smith and Campbell the Chemists and then was Richards & Co., drapers and tailors. Next door was Walter Locke and Co., gunsmiths and then was the shop of Mr. J.D. Bevan, the piano dealer.

On the right side going eastwards was Varcados & Co., cigarette manufacturers, Hakman & Co., hairdressers by appointment, then came Prince Edwards & Co., the opticians and then was Fred Bremner the photographer. Then came the Savoy Hotel and way up was E.L. Stiffles the confectioners, next to whom was C. Steirt & Co., music saloon. Finally was Max Minck & Co., jewellers and watchmakers, now known as Goldsmiths & Co. Today all sings of British Lahore up to Chairing Cross have disappeared.

The days when Charing Cross was the place to be at have long since gone. It must be said that the basic of rebuilding the glory of days gone by definitely exist. New high rise commercial buildings of character and style are certainly much needed, as much as there is a need to preserve the past. A beautiful future awaits Chairing Cross, provided the will not to forget the past exists. There is no need to name this crossing by any other name but by its original name.—Majid Sheikh

Trapped ambulances reflect apathy

WITH the chaotic manner in which the city’s frighteningly dense vehicular traffic moves, at a suffocating pace at most of the times, and increasingly so, how truly disturbing is the sight of an ambulance trapped — as if frozen in time. What are those desperate men and women inside that ambulance undergoing? What is happening to the patient? Is he, in a life and death battle for medical reasons, and will his emergency be fully met? Or will this ambulance ride be the last one for the poor patient?

There are a couple of news reports from Friday’s dailies, which highlight a shocking, saddening brief account of how a man died outside the National Institute of Cardio-vascular Diseases (NICVD) on the repeatedly ruthlessly dug up Rafiqui Shaheed Road, when the ambulance carrying him got trapped in a kind of a ditch there. That road is in a state of disarray (almost disaster) and there are four major hospitals on it. The Jinnah Hospital, the Children’s Hospital, the Kidney Centre and the NICVD. Think of the narrowness of that dual road, and its broken sunken nature.

I am not talking here of our roads, the focus now is on ambulances getting trapped in traffic jams, created by the sorry state of roads — post rains. This above mentioned patient, suffering a heart attack was being hurriedly brought in an ambulance from Malir, and the vehicle got stuck for reportedly 30 minutes. By the time, the vehicle was pulled out the man had lost his life. The pain, he must have suffered, may also be taken into account, dear indifferent citizens!

On September 14th, there was published in this daily, a photograph of an Edhi Suzuki ambulance stuck up in a traffic jam in Lyari. One would like to contend that an Edhi or any other ambulance could be stuck up anywhere in the large restless city of Karachi. Not just because of the horrifying context that traffic jams are a city-wide phenomenon, but also because the lack of human consideration, concern and even elementary awareness are prevalent aplenty also in the affluent, educated and developed parts of the city. A Pajero or a VIP vehicle will not give way to an ambulance at the cost of its own space, lane, movement. Disgusting — but absolutely real.

We talked over lunch the other day, cynical colleagues perhaps, bit realistic. Unanimous was the view that more and more ambulances were going to get stranded in traffic, as a consequence of an overall deterioration in public attitudes.

The general perception was that with the way in which vehicles were increasing on our roads that had generally lost the capacity to take on the load, there is little hope. And not one of us had any clue to what is happening in South Asian cities on this score.

It is indeed vital to bear in mind that there is an unavoidable, inevitable kind of an agonising standstill of all traffic frequently on our roads, despite traffic police, and at times the best of intentions. Major roads, side roads, by-lanes and main thoroughfares, even like Sharea Faisal, Clifton road, University road, or the main roads in Nazimabad and North Nazimabad, traffic and mismanaged traffic is one cause, but the VIP movement is another. And here too, there are no exceptions to enable ambulances to pass through easily.

The lament of VIP presence, becoming an obstacle to normal traffic flow, is something that is luckily getting mention in the media, and one hopes that one day the realization will

dawn that sometimes our security measures are being over done.

One would like to take notice of a public service message that has often been released to the print media by a car assembling company — which is appealing to the public (insensitive?) to give the right of way to the ambulance on the road. Have you seen how these ambulances wail, and blow their sirens in vain and how stone-hearted drivers and inmates do not give room to the emergency vehicle to get on with its job: save life or try to. That point is somehow being lost on the people, a public hapless. Or hopelessly commercialized.

Right of way. This is a concept that is often not appreciated, and more so when it comes to an ambulance. So how do the VIPs move, have you noticed? They have escorting pilots and armed security, in proportion to their official status, and this enables them to have smooth gliding access to routes, and through routes that are otherwise full of frustrations and challenges. The poor public waits in stifling situations, and so do desperate ambulances, or even those who have other emergencies to attend to, or catch flights from the Karachi airport.

As far as the subject of right of way goes the general trend, to the utter failure of the traffic police, is that the heavier, stronger vehicle elbows out dangerously the smaller, weaker vehicle. Not only is there a psychological tussle, but there are verbal encounters of the foulest kind at times. And no courtesy for either the ambulances, or women drivers.

In all, this we could mention with a bit of hope that this week “an effective close circuit traffic monitoring system has been enforced in Karachi to control the flow of traffic and keep an eye on criminal activities”. So to begin with seven cameras have been installed at the PIDC House Chowk, Rex Foundation Chowk, Sindh Club (Metropole Chowk), Hoshang Chowk near Clifton Bridge, Mehran Hotel Chowk, Taj Mahal Chowk, and the Avari Tower Chowk. Seven more cameras are to be installed in the next few days: one at Shah Faisal Colony, two at Star Gate, three at the Jinnah Avenue, and one at the Jinnah Terminal. Eventually, 100 cameras are to be installed in Karachi, and initially there will be a 40 days recording time, extendible to 100 days recording time. Things are changing.

Citizens hope that one of the priorities in the new traffic monitoring system will be

giving attention to the ambulances that ply in the city, and ensure that the ground reality for these emergency vehicles is free of hurdles and obstructions.

On this subject, there are two other thoughts that come to mind. One relates to the fact that not just ambulances, but even the private vehicles in residential areas, are so carelessly parked that residents are often trapped and cannot leave in an emergency. This is particularly so in apartments, where parking space is inadequate. And no amount of persuasion and motivation works in most of the cases, as those who park their vehicles, make it a point of prestige not to move their wrongly parked cars once they have done so.

The other point relates to the condition of local ambulances that one sees on the city roads. Most of the ambulances are in the poor shape and symbolise the fact of the inadequacy of medical facilities, generally speaking.

There is also a shortage of hospitals and private ambulances in the city, a fact that is never underlined as pointedly as it should. It contrasts so poorly with the point that everybody is lamenting that the

premium on new cars is rising and that their black marketing goes on without any embarrassment.

Therefore, in a city where ambulances are not being given right of way, does not raise the eyebrows and concerns that it should, which only mirrors the extent of indifference to individuals fighting for their lives — and seeking an access to hospital.

A Ghalib memorial trust

IT was in 2001 that the poet, writer, publisher and senior journalist, Taslim Ahmed Tasawwar, decided upon a Ghalib memorial trust with a view to projecting the greatness of the poet. In this connection, priority was given to the translation of Ghalib’s Persian poetry into different languages of the country together with proper annotations. In addition, it was decided to sponsor programmes about the poet on TV as also on Internet.

I really do not know what has been achieved so far in this connection, but the trust did arrange a session last week in the Hamdard Centre auditorium to review the efforts being made for the proper understanding of Ghalib’s poetry. The function was presided over by the chairman, National Language Authority (Muqtadara), Prof Fateh Muhammad Malik. Those who participated in the proceedings and presented papers were Dr Tahir Taunsvi, chairman, Secondary Education Board, Faisalabad, Dr Tehsin Firaqi, head of the Urdu Department, University Oriental College, Dr Siddiq Javed, Dr Tabassum Kashmiri of Osaka University and Dr Anis Nagi.

During the course of the speeches, it was pointed out that pioneering work on Ghalib had been done by Prof Hamid Ahmed Khan, Khalifa Abdul Hakim, Sheikh Muhammad Ikram and Maulana Ghulam Rasul Mehr. In addition, great service had been rendered to Ghalbiat by the Russian orientalist, Natalia Prigarina, who has translated his Persian poetry. I, therefore, could not appreciate the suggestion made by Dr Anis Nagi that we should only concentrate on Ghalib’s Urdu Poetry and disregard his contribution in Persian. In this regard, I would like to ask him would he suggest the same about Iqbal’s poetry? All that I can say is that Anis Nagi’s remarks are inappropriate.

Prof Fateh Muhammad Malik made another strange observation. He said that Lahore was Ghalib’s city as his forefathers lived here for some time. I really do not know why such far fetched statements are made and what purpose do they serve. Ghalib is a great poet of Urdu and he belongs to all those who read and speak Urdu. That is all. His Persian poetry comes as a bonus to them. One should only be talking about Ghalib’s poetry and not about such shallow things. I would like to hear about the metaphysical development of his thoughts, his subtle and shrewd introspection and the trace in him of pantheistic views.

It was also pointed out during the proceedings that Allama Iqbal could be regarded as the first to recognise Ghalib’s merit for he equated him with one of the top most poets of the world. Paying a posthumous tribute to him, Iqbal says:

Ah tu ujri hui Dilli mein arameeda heh

Gulshan-i-Weimar mein tera hamnava khabeeda hey

Ghalib can truly be regarded as a percursor of the modern ghazal. Every poet coming after him drew inspiration from him. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was so enamoured of Ghalib that he took the titles of his two collections, Naqsh-i-Faryadi and Dasht Tahey Sang, from his poetry.

The well attended function of the Ghalib Memorial Trust was arranged with the cooperation of the Iconoclast School System.

*******

POET, critic, researcher and translator, Dr Tabassum Kashmiri served the Punjab University Literary History Department from 1968 to 1981 and has been teaching Urdu at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies for the last twenty years. Besides his critical work, he has five collections of poetry and a novel. His recent book, Urdu Adab ki Tareekh, has been widely acclaimed. It goes upto 1857 but, I understand, its next two volumes will cover the period up to 1980. It is probably because of him that more Urdu books have been translated into Japanese than in any other language of the world. According to Dr Tabassum, about 250 ghazals of Mir are available in Japanese besides the entire poetry of Faiz. In addition, three collections of Manto’s short stories, a large number of Iqbal’s poems and the works of other Pakistani writers are available in Japanese. Even the classic, Bagh-o-Bahar has been translated. Three universities in Japan have Urdu departments.

Dr Tabassum Kashmiri was here in Lahore on one of his regular visits. So were about a dozen students of Urdu from Japan, more girls than boys, led by So Yamane, associate professor of Urdu at Osaka University. They were invited to dinner at the Defence Club by Dr Kashmiri. Quite some years ago, Munir Niazi had told me about Yamane and asked me to meet him when I went to Islamabad. Somehow, I could not do so at the time so it was a pleasure meeting him that evening. He is as fluent in Urdu as any of us and happens to be great fan of Munir, some of whose poems he has translated.

*****

I HAVE before me a recently published collection of poetry, Abb Bhi Phool Khiltey Hein. The poet is a young man, Abrar Nadeem, whose first collection of poetry was in Punjabi, Kaun Dilan Dian Janey. It was published in 1998. I do not know much about the background of this young poet except that he is editing the monthly Aryung, devoted to literary news and arranges book launching functions.

Going through his maiden collection of Urdu poetry, I notice that he has dabbled in several genres. He has produced quatrains, fardiyat, blank verse, ghazals and some tantalising three-verse compositions. But it is his ghazal which appeals to me the most. The best about him is that he is honest and frank:

Tumharey baad ab apna yehi ik shagul thera heh Kabhi cigarette jalatey hein kabhi dil ko jalatey hein But he expresses longing:

Terey milney key liye jab bhi uthaey mein nein hath

Meri iss masoom khahish par dua roti rahi

But he is happy all the same:

Ham azziyat ko bhi auron sey juda letey hein

Chot lagti hey to uska bhi maza letey hein

I have noticed the word As-har in some of the last verses of his ghazals. Does it happen to be his takhallus?

PS: I have just been told that Abrar Nadeem has joined Radio Pakistan as a programmes producer.— ASHFAQUE NAQVI

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