As Lahore, especially its Walled City and its magnificent monuments, decay thanks to 'blind official' patronage, the people just refuse to give up hope. This is the spirit that makes sure that this city stays alive, rejuvenates and creates new monuments that make us proud.
To discuss this spirit of hope, last week I dropped in unannounced at the office of Kamil Khan Mumtaz, probably Pakistan's finest architect and a man who has dabbled, with distinction, in the culture and monuments of Lahore for almost half a century. He pointed me in two directions, and in the company of my friend Ghazanfar Iqbal we set off to see these two monuments being built with methods and materials that have been used for centuries, and were believed to have been lost. Kamil has worked hard to revive these 'lost' methods and materials over the years, and is internationally recognised for his endeavours.
Our first stop was the tomb of Hafiz Saeed and his patron 'father' Hasan Din. Located near the mausoleum of Madho Lal Hussain, it is in a by-lane on the road just opposite the western gate of the Shalimar Gardens, a gate that has decayed and no longer used. If you proceed towards the police station and take the lane to the north, you will be standing before the tomb, which has been under construction for almost 11 years now. I first visited this place almost five years ago and wrote about it, but let me add some flavour to this latest visit.
First let me recap the story, very briefly, for the unaware. A Scottish railway engineer in the late 18th century was walking home across the park after work when a bearded man approached him and asked him to come to the same place the next day as he was to die. The next day he saw a crowd around the same bearded man, who was actually dead. As he sat in amazement on a park bench after the dead man was taken away, the same bearded man tapped his shoulder and asked him to come to the bench next week for a long journey. That he did, and as the man shook his hand he fell unconscious, only to awake in the middle of Africa.
There he spent the next 20 years, and the bearded man kept appearing, and once when he shook his hand; he fell unconscious and awoke in Data Darbar in Lahore. The bearded man was Ali Hasan Hajweri, or Data Sahib. A friend set him up just opposite the Shalimar Garden, and here he came to be known as Goora Pir. His adopted son Hafiz Saeed, a professor at the Government College, Lahore, took care of him, and they both adopted the Sufi way of life, and are known to have amazing occult powers. People of the area tell amazing stories, which are too bizarre to describe in this short piece. So it was that both were buried at the site.
Then one day a group of followers of Hafiz Saeed and Hassan Din approached Kamil Khan Mumtaz, and asked him to design a monument based on the construction principles used in the mausoleum of Hazrat Ali in Najaf. Kamil had been chosen because Hasan Din had appeared in a dream of the followers. So to Najaf went Kamil, and soon he was part of the almost mystical experience that led to the exquisite design and building methods of the ancients. The materials developed reflected the knowledge of the past masters, and soon a monument of amazing beauty emerged. Slowly and steadily the monument has taken shape, and money just seems to come forth from mysterious donors. It is almost as if a mysterious force provides the resources. Work never stops and we have before us an amazingly beautiful structure, which will take, probably, another three years to complete.
How can I describe its beauty? Let me try. If you have seen the engraved tablets on the walls of the Sheesh Mahal, or the Taj Mahal, or Jahangir's Tomb, the ones created for the tomb of Hassan Din are equal, if not better, in beauty and content. The brickwork is amazing, for entire roofs have been built without supports or cement or iron bars. The technology is amazing and the brickwork exquisite. It makes the on-looker realise that the amount of know-how in building craftsmanship lost over time is immense, and that its revival is a treasure that must now never be lost. The hope in the future is immense.
Let us move on, in this brief piece, to an extension of this craft to another amazing mosque being constructed by Iqbal Salahuddin in memory of his father Mian Salahuddin. The mosque is called Jamia Masjid Mian Salahuddin and it is located in Sallo Town just off the Burki Road near the Rangers headquarters at Hajipura. If you enter the new housing colony, right to the end you will come across a magnificent mosque with dark blue tiles on the three domes with a brass top. The entire mosque is built with lime plaster and bricks and tiles, with the roofs being constructed with small bricks in a circular fashion so that no support, iron rods or cement, nor any of the modern devices used for construction. It is as if one was going back in time to an exquisite grand mosque.
Inside the domes an array of fresco and floral designs are being painted with original dyes, most of which are imported from Iran. The workers have been working day and night for over five years now, and it seems another two years are needed to complete this amazing structure. It matches any old mosque of the Mughal era in beauty, and is a befitting tribute to the famous father of the builder.
The architect of this exquisite mosque, naturally, is Kamil, and the workers are all trained artisans with a life time of conservation experience. Engineers supervise the construction, and the materials are all made on the spot using ancient methods and materials. The end result is a mosque of immense beauty.
On a personal level I have just one objection, as did have my friend Ghazanfar. The courtyard is too small to justify the immense structure, for in the end only 500-700 persons will manage to get into the mosque. There was enough space in front of the mosque in the colony that could have been stretched. It would not be a bad idea to still try to undertake an exercise to increase the courtyard space.
Now that Mian Iqbal Salahuddin has undertaken this 'labour of love', and I am sure at immense cost, it makes sense that he makes an extra effort to increase the courtyard space. In the end it will add to the grandeur of the undertaking, which I am sure will stand for centuries as a testimony to his vision.
So here we have two exceptionally beautify undertakings in Lahore. A similar mosque has just been completed in the factory of Azhar Iqbal of Leisure Textiles on Multan Road. It is, surely, a masterpiece and probably the finest structure right up to Multan.
As all round us we see the old Walled City victim to trader greed, supported by the political forces of the days that refuse to legislate to set up of a Lahore Walled City Act 2011, and a bureaucracy that lacks fangs, let alone vision, the people of Lahore, in various guises continue to make sure that their city survives as a great place to live in. In this lies the hope that one day we will see our city revived. It would not be a bad idea for our readers to visit these two sites on a holiday. Maybe the up and coming generation might discover the urge to make their future worth fighting for.