RAWALPINDI, Oct 18: The Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) added another jewel of a building to its present historic Sri Nivaas location on Wednesday when the city’s star politician Sheikh Rashid Ahmed secured it propriety rights over the Soojan Singh Haveli situated in Bhabra Bazaar.
“I am ready to will my portion of Lal Haveli, to which I am greatly attached, to the university also,” declared the self- proclaimed “Son of Rawalpindi” at the documents handing over ceremony. The Haveli was symbolically handed over to the university by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in April.
FJWU Vice Chancellor Dr Najma Najam received the documents.
Sheikh Rashid owns 19 portions of Lal Haveli which served as the centre of gravity of his political power. He hoped to persuade other occupants of the Haveli to part with their possessions like him, and promised them compensation.
Apparently the city’s prodigal son was in a giving mood as he also announced a grant of Rs50 million for the rehabilitation of the old Soojan Singh Haveli and asked Dr Najam to start repair work on its decaying parts.
“It would be a landmark educational institution”, he remarked.
Located in thickly populated Bhabra Bazaar, the Haveli would be named as ‘City Campus’ of the university that would house schools of Islamic teaching, culture, heritage, arts, architecture and jewellry design in addition to fine arts.
A number of students, however, feared that congestion surrounding the Haveli would be a major problem for their smooth passage to the City Campus.
The railways minister, a close aide of Pervez Musharraf, said that another building of historical significance located in Bagh Sardaran would also be given to the university, and pledged to use his influence in the federal and provincial governments. If he succeeds, the three historical buildings of Rawalpindi would come under the custodianship of Fatima Jinnah Women University.
The minister said he wanted the city to be known as a centre of learning and vowed to open colleges for girls in all ‘Dhokes’ (old villages).
In this connection, he said Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Illahi would inaugurate a postgraduate college for girls at Dhoke Matkal after Eidul Fitr.
About Lal Haveli, Shaikh Rashid disclosed that he had declined an offer by famous Indian film producer Mahesh Bhutt to use it for one of his films.
Shehla Shams, a student of the university who has written a thesis on the Haveli, said all the three buildings are significant for the city. These buildings not only reflect traditional architecture of this region but also reveal the colourful history of the city.
Ms Shams further writes that the Soojjan Singh Haveli was initially built as a residence for the Rai Bahadur’s family but then it was given to the Sikh generals to be used as a residential headquarters. It is a two-storied building with two viewing decks on the third and fourth floors that were probably built as lookout posts by Sikh soldiers in the 19th century.
Made from brick and timber, the Haveli reflects traditional building styles of the Sikhs of that era.
The timber used was local and must have been easily procured since the Singh family had a flourishing timber business. The iron used in the pillars and embellishments of the doorways was imported from UK.
One thing that stands out about this building is that the staircase remains the same from the ground floor up to the fourth floor. The embellishments of the Haveli borrow a lot from Central Asian and European architectures. One finds intricately carved wooden false ceilings on the first floor. The pattern on the panels is clearly Central Asian and follows the same patterns as the Sethi Mohallas in Peshawar.
There are two parts of the Haveli, one being completely damaged. The roofs have caved in at some places. The haveli requires extensive restoration and renovation and to restore it to its original glory.