Rewriting Lahore

November 05, 2018


Lahore is one of those cities in Pakistan which has perhaps got more books written on it than any other city. Kanhaiyya Lal, Syed Muhammad Latif, H.R. Goulding, T.H. Thornton, Pran Nevile, Bhola Nath Waris, Intizar Husain and many others have written on the city, its history and their own impressions of it.

Another book on Lahore, the beloved city of many, has been published recently by Dr Fatima Hussain. It’s titled Lahore, the City of Love, An Account of its History, Morphology and Culture.

Dr Fatima is a PhD and a university professor in India with special interest in history and Sufism. Her book on Lahore has been divided into 13 chapters, starting with her first visit to Lahore and Pakistan in 2005 to participate in a conference being organised by World Punjabi Congress. The first chapter contains her first impression of the city which gives a shock to the reader as the writer was surprised to see “women staff with uncovered faces” at the Lahore airport. The second paragraph is also not less than a surprise when the author sees the audience dancing to the beat of music in Alhamra hall and terms it “contrary to the image of Lahore projected outside.” A writer coming from neighbouring India at least should have been above such stereotypes.

This starts the author’s journey to explore the city, giving information about its historical background. The start with the personal account goes to general information on history, heritage and culture of Lahore. The book is divided into 13 chapters. The most important of them is the second chapter which has engaging history of the city as it went through the rampage by the invaders from the north and its importance for the invaders and attackers. It looks like the centre of intrigues as the Mughals fought against one another in their pursuit of power. It’s also the most descriptive part of the book which otherwise contains Wikipaedic information. This chapter traces Lahore back to 2000BC and first historical record of the city by Chinese pilgrim Hieun-tsang in 7th century. Lahore was of course not known as Lahore then but has been mentioned as a large Brahmanical city. Next comes the first authentic document about Lahore written anonymously in 982AD. This was the time when the attacks on Lahore, then ruled by Raja Jaypal, and its capture started by Sabuktigin and then his son Mahmud. This was the time when Lahore was annexed to the Empire of Ghazni and then later on remained in control of the Muslims one way or the other until Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule.

Besides this second chapter, almost all the pages of the book have pictures on them along with description of the people, including historical figures, and places. The gates of the old Lahore, now called Walled City, historical monuments, mosques and modern architecture have been dedicated separate chapters along with general details. These are mostly historical details which appear more of information than the personal intimate impressions of the places. There is no personal touch in these descriptions as the writer does not even mention that she visited these places which appear rather disengaging for the reader.

One of the best parts of the book comes at its end. It’s English translation of the Punjabi poem, Lahore Shehr Nu Kis Di Nazar Lag Gae Hai (Whose evil eye has jinxed Lahore City), by Fakhar Zaman, which is a dirge on the city, written during Gen Zia’s martial law.

It’s a coffee-table book, best for those who want to have basic information about Lahore and its historically important places. Except the first chapter, the book does not have any references while one does not expect from a professor with expertise in history. Being a coffee-table book, its best for casual reading while those interested in detailed history of the city might have different ideas. The book, which has excellent material and cover, would have looked better without frequent punctuation and spelling mistakes. The book has 128 pages and it has been published by Sang-i-Meel.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2018