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Beyond shiny houses — Lahore’s story

Updated November 10, 2015

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A security guard sits reluctantly on a chair at the entrance to this village. He is wearing a light blue shirt with navy blue pants. There is a cap on his head and a barrier next to him. The barrier, the chair, the cap and the guard, are all out of place here.

The residents of the village walking in and out of this narrow alley ignore him and he ignores them. No one fully understands what his ‘duty’ entails, not even the guard himself.

Next to him is a wall that runs all around the small village, encaging it. A couple of entrances have been left open to allow residents to move about. There are bored security guards at each one of these entrances.

This is the entrance of a village called Charrar within the heart of Lahore’s prime real estate community, Defense Housing Authority (DHA) — a literal translation of the word oxymoron.

Outside is the shiny suburban locality of the second largest metropolis of the country and inside is a village.

Charrar Pind, as it is called, was the one of the first villages that was incorporated into this housing scheme. It was the agricultural land of this village that was purchased by DHA and then developed. Eventually, as the community prospered, the original inhabitants of this area were imprisoned within their own village to keep a separation of classes.

Also read: Rezoning Lahore

Before its land was sold, the village was an agricultural community; surviving on its own yield. That self-sufficiency vanished after the emergence of DHA. New relationships emerged as new classes started living side by side. A labour force was required for the new shiny houses.

Every evening there is an array of cars at the various entrances of Charrar, young boys waiting for their drug and alcohol dealers. Charrar emerged as a den of poverty only a generation after the development of DHA.

Perhaps in the modern parlance, Charrar would be viewed as a katchi abadi in the ever-growing Lahore. This, of course is not true literally, as Charrar is not an informal settlement, yet the relationships that exist between the city and this village are not different from the relationship that develops between a katchi abadi and its city.

Ironically though, whereas informal communities develop after the ‘success’ of a metropolis, Charrar came into existence centuries before DHA. According to the Land Settlement Record collected by the British in the middle of the 19th century, the village of Charrar was first established by a man called Basi in the 14th century.

Just to give you a perspective of how old that is, it is about two centuries before Babur, the first Mughal Emperor, came to India, and about 300 years before Lahore, developed as a significant city, when the Mughal capital was shifted here during the tenure of Akbar.

It was named Charrar because Basi originally belonged to a village called Charrar in the district of Ferozepur. There were archaeological mounds of the village, which were flattened to make way for the Community Club.

Charrar Pind is not the only historical village in DHA, which has been incorporated into this growing community, and has been reduced to the status of a kachi abadi. Another prominent village is Amar Sidhu. Here too, there is a wall, a few entrances and bored security guards.

According to the Land Settlement Records, this village was established in the second half of the 16th century by a man called Amar Singh, who originally belonged to the region of Malwa.

Sidhu was his sub-caste, hence Amar Sidhu. Old as it may be, Charrar does not have any significant historical monument to vouch for its historical significance. However, there are two such structures at Amar Sidhu. One is the Gurdwara of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru of Sikhism.

The gurdwara of Hargobind at Amar Sidhu village.
The gurdwara of Hargobind at Amar Sidhu village.

He stopped here on the way from Mozang, as he headed to Amritsar. There is a temple road in Mozang, named to celebrate the ‘temple’ of Guru Hargobind which was constructed there to commemorate the spot he stayed at. The Gurdwara of Amar Sidhu is connected with the story of the ‘temple’ on Temple road.

The other prominent historical structure in Amar Sidhu is the mosque of Bulleh Shah, the 18th century mystic poet of Kasur. He regularly travelled between Kasur and Lahore, to visit his spiritual master, Shah Inayat, who too stayed at Mozang.

Entrance to the Baba Bulleh Shah mosque at Amar Sidhu village.
Entrance to the Baba Bulleh Shah mosque at Amar Sidhu village.

There is a mosque at Mozang which is constructed over the madrassah of Shah Inayat, where Bulleh Shah studied. On his visits, he usually stopped at Amar Sidhu where he would rest under a Pipal tree. Later, a mosque was constructed next to the Pipal tree to mark the spot visited by Baba Bulleh Shah regularly.

This phenomenon of villages being incorporated into the metropolis of Lahore is not something that is unique to the DHA. Lahore has been doing that for all its existence. In fact, the locality of Mozang, which has now firmly established itself as a part of the city, was originally an independent town, outside of the city of Lahore.

This was first established by an Afghan man called Abdul Aziz Mozang, who came here during Mughal Emperor Akbar’s tenure.

The grave of Abdul Aziz Mozang.
The grave of Abdul Aziz Mozang.

Not far from Mozang is the locality of Ichra. Many historians believe that Ichra might be the first city of Lahore, with the walled city establishing much later. For a major part of its existence though, Ichra was a separate town from Lahore. Its origin is lost in antiquity.

One such community that fascinates me personally is Niaz Baig, which till a few years ago marked the unofficial southern boundary of Lahore. Niaz Baig has personal significance for me because my home is not far from this locality and I used to pass through its rush every day.

However, never was I able to see its historical significance beyond its poverty and disrepair. Only recently did I discover that this small town also might be as old as the city of Lahore. Its records are found in the Akbar-Nama of Abu-Fazl, written during the tenure of Emperor Akbar.

Remnants of an ancient temple at Niaz Baig.
Remnants of an ancient temple at Niaz Baig.

It was a walled community, which served as the regional capital of its surrounding area. In the 18th century when the Afghan marauder Ahmad Shah Abdali descended upon Punjab to cause havoc, residents of the neighbouring community converged at Niaz Baig, as its walls provided protections. Remnants of those walls and those gateways are still present in the village. There also is, soon to be was, an ancient temple in the heart of the community, now taken over by migrants from India after Partition, whose origin too, is lost in antiquity.

A historical gateway leading into the walled village of Niaz Baig.
A historical gateway leading into the walled village of Niaz Baig.

Not far from Niaz Baig is the village of Hinjarwal, another distinct community that has slowly lost its unique identity as it gradually drowned in the sea of Lahore.

Across the village, in an open ground is the shrine of Baba Hinjarwal, believed to be the founder of this community, and the father of the Khokhar community that now dominates the Multan Road. The plaque on its grave states that he died in the 16th century but its architecture tells a different story.

The shrine of Baba Hinjarwal.
The shrine of Baba Hinjarwal.
Remains of a caravansary or inn at Hinjarwal.
Remains of a caravansary or inn at Hinjarwal.

Its slanting walls, an architectural feature which predates the Mughal arrival, raise doubts about the dates stated.

Scattered all over the city of Lahore are such towns and hamlets, whose histories predate Lahore. Before they became katchi abadis they too, had an identity, all traces of which have slowly eroded.

Whenever there is a discussion about the history of Lahore, inevitably the discussion steers towards the walled city, the colonial city.

However, existing in the midst of these worlds, is the world of these villages and towns, who too, have a story to tell, but in this fast paced world of metropolitan, no one has the time for stories.


—Photos by author.