Looking up old maps can throw up a lot of forgotten stories. It just needs a little research. Over time as our tortured history unfolds, humans rushed in and out. This changes cities much more than we realise. More so Lahore, now the world’s 11th largest city.

In this piece let us explore two major pieces of Lahore in pre-Partition Lahore and see how they ended up. In my quest to determine the origins of Lahore’s Zaman Park, old maps did not produce much information. So my dear friend Rafay Alam, that gentleman par excellence, environmentalist and an avid cyclist, sent over a 1924 map, and later a 1954 map with some details. Also Dr Kevin Greenback, the accomplished archivist of Cambridge University provided a detailed 1935 map of Lahore. In both these maps the area behind Aitchison College and to the south of Mayo Gardens is shown as PLH Parade Ground. The first map of Lahore after the events of 1857 shows no construction of any sort shown on the land that is today Zaman Park.

What does PLH mean? For this I returned to Dr Kevin who immediately informed me that this ground was the famous Punjab Light Horse parade ground. “It is immensely important in British history and in the events following 1857,” he informed me.

The Punjab Light Horse was set up in Lahore in 1867 and the land which also includes Aitchison College was allotted to them. After the Punjab Irregulars performed amazing feats in 1857 in the capture of Delhi, there was a need for a similar rapid deployment of cavalry regiment in Lahore.

The defeat of the ‘sepoys’, experts say, was imminent given that (a) they fought without a single officer to lead them, (b) had no plan of action, (c) the peasantry happy with lower taxes and ownership rights opposed them, and (d) their ‘objective’ was to reach a figurehead ruler in the shape of an old powerless emperor living off a British pension. This Punjab Light Horse took care of crisis situations in Lahore, Amritsar and other cities of Punjab throughout British rule. The regiment was disbanded in 1947 when Pakistan came about. Mind you in the 1954 map we still have shown a ‘firing range’ for revolver use, which surely means it was the PLH practice range for civil disobedience dispersal.

So the land that is today’s Zaman Park was originally the PLH parade ground. But then we have Sunder Das Road to the south of Mayo Gardens. Where did this name come from? As we delved into more archives we learnt that in 1936 the original name of this colony was changed to Sunder Das Park. The circular cricket ground in the centre of this colony was there in 1934 plans. Mind you much later greats like Majid Khan, Javed Burki and Imran Khan honed their cricketing skills here. The way forward to this puzzle was to consult one of the oldest residents. So it was to one of the residents of 2 Manor House. They have an original house map dated 1934 and it shows the address as “off Sunder Das Road.” So the puzzle was coming together.

Further it seems that before 1947 this colony was completely planned and approved and the roads as they exist today were also shown in the colony plans, which was named as ‘Sunder Das Park.’ By 1942 the houses that had come up were six in total, all belonging to the same Hindu family, all related to one another. This was the famous ‘Suri’ family and the head of the family was Rai Bahadar Sunder Das Suri, MA. This distinguished gent was the Chief Inspector of Schools of Punjab and had a major role in identifying the educational needs of Punjabi students. He was to go on to work with Lala Lajpat Rai and with Ruchi Ram Sahni, that great professor of Government College, Lahore.

Rai Bahadar Sunder Das Suri had a big role to play in the expansion of Aitchison College, which had taken up the space that was the original and first PLH Parade Ground. Little is known about this great man, though he presented a number of scholarly papers at educational conferences. His major contribution was in the setting up of Central Model School of Lahore and the Lyallpur school and college, which eventually became an agricultural university. He led the effort to secure grants for these educational institutions.

By the time Partition came about the whole of Zaman Park had 15 huge palatial houses built by the elite Hindu families of Lahore. When the 1947 holocaust unfolded, the famous Gen. Burki managed to shift the elite of the Jalandhar Pathans to this exclusive park. Even today these families, who originally belonged to Waziristan and who migrated to Jalandhar in the later Mughal period, once again migrated to Lahore and its renamed Zaman Park. The name Zaman was that of a senior member of this Jalandhar Pathan family.

Now to our second portion of land as the 1935 map tells us. The entire land area between Jail Road-Lahore Canal-Ferozepur Road and its conjunction at Mozang Chungi was one massive set of hospitals, prisons and offices belonging to the government. In this massive land portion existed the Lahore Mental Hospital, the Lahore Central Jail, the Women’s Hospital, the Women’s Jail, the Borstal Institution, and the Meteorological Observatory. Within the compound was also the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal.

This space has an amazing history. In Sikh days this was a major cantonment for the forces of Soba Singh, one of the three Sikh sardars who ruled Lahore before Maharajah Ranjit Singh came to power in 1799. Within this space there were a number of brick kilns, which were set up to produce bricks for this massive complex.

Today this space houses Shadman Colony, Shah Jamal Colony, Services Hospital, Punjab Institute of Cardiology, a GOR Colony, the new Tollinton Market and also a large number of other housing colonies, not to speak of hundreds of shopping plazas along the northern portion of Ferozepur Road and all along Jail Road. The original jails have been in large part demolished. Call it defacing Lahore if you like, but it strikes you when you look at old maps.

What lessons can we learn from these maps and the spaces that have changed so much? Unlike the over-zealous who immediately rename old roads and parks and space with new patriotic labels, it is best to leave old names alone. This is like tinkering with history. Take the example of Davies Road. It now has a very long and difficult name which people find impossible to remember. The old name persists. In the same tenor roads like McLeod, Montgomery, The Mall, Brandreth, Egerton, etc. are names steeped in our colonial history. The new ‘official’ names very few know about. It is like drawing a line in sand.

The point is it is about time we stopped being ashamed of our land and our Sikh and colonial period heritage. It is almost like time never existed before the Afghan invader Mahmud destroyed Lahore. All the names starting from 1707 when the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb died, to when the Sikhs were defeated in 1849, to when the British left in 1947 are under threat. This is a very important 240 years of our history which, it seems, we are out to erase.

Another stark difference on the comparative maps are the missing trees. Lahore is no longer the city of gardens. Let us not fool ourselves. Can this change? Yes, why not. For starters let’s plant more trees inside Lahore. Even one tree per inhabitant would do the trick. So dear reader, start with yourself.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2018


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