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An account of Lahore's history.

Byline: Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

Dr Fatima Hussain is a noted historian of Delhi University. She is a prolific writer who specializes in Sufism and has written extensively on its multifarious dimensions. She is also a concerned intellectual who has shed much needed light on the Palestine Question, which I had the privilege to review. She is married to the pioneer of the Punjabi-language movement, poet and writer Fakhar Zaman.

Not surprisingly someone born, bred and educated in the oldest seat of government in the subcontinent, Delhi, turns her attention to the story of Lahore. Lahore has lived in the shadow of Delhi as the major transit point on way to northern India and its capital Delhi since times immemorial. However, there have been periods in history when not only Delhi but also Agra and Lahore have been the fabled cities of the subcontinent. In Paradise Lost, John Milton mentions Agra and Lahore and not Delhi as fabled world cities, because Akbar had shifted his capital to Agra at the time when Milton wrote his great poetic epic.

Dr Fatima's book tells the story of Lahore with easy, brief commentary. She uses strikingly beautiful pictures of Lahore's architectural monuments and sites to illustrate her commentary with vivid photographs, mostly coloured and a few black-and-white from the past and some paintings.

Understandably the focus is on Sufi shrines. One could have chosen just Sufi shrines and a book seeking to include all would have run into hundreds of pages. So, a choice had to be made and she presents her choice selection: the shrines of Data Ganj Bakhsh, Mauj Darya Bokhari, Abdur Razzaq Makki, Mian Meer and several others represent the senior most mainstream of Sufis. Among rebel Sufis only the shrine of Madho Lal Hussain is included. I was surprised that the man who inspired Bulleh Shah the most, Shah lnayat Qadri, is neither mentioned nor his tomb is included in this collection. Bulleh Shah was initiated in the Shattari Qadri order of Sufis who believed in syncretism in a bold, composite and inclusive sense, combining the Krishna cult with Islamic Unitarianism. Dara Shikoh belonged to that dissenting group of Sufism which sought synthesis. He is however praised on glowing words. For the first time in one pictorial account of Lahore all its historic gates have been included with short comments and stunning pictures. I would rate this aspect of the book the most interesting and impressive in telling the tale of the people of Lahore down the ages, from where they entered and where exited and the directions in which those gates are set.

In Lahore is buried Qutbuddin Aikbak who during the early sultanate period ruled northern India and just across the Ravi Mughal Emperor Jahangir and Empress Nur Jahan. Their mausoleums are included as of several other Afghan, Persian and Turkish nobility. The Lahore Fort and famous mosques such as the Badshahi Mosque and the Wazir Khan mosque are of course included.

Like Delhi Lahore too has been ruled and dominated by people from outside this region: Turks, Pcrsians and Afghans primarily. It was not until the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh took over Lahore in 1799 and then Sikh rule was displaced by the British in 1849 the process was set in motion of native Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs gaining social mobility and higher status. I wonder whether such an idea has ever crossed the author but her book on Lahore and her experience of Delhi would corroborate my hypothesis.

The Sikh period and the British period are also given representation through beautiful pictures. In fact, Lahore was the darling city of the British and they patronized it very liberally and generously, making it the cultural capital of northwestern India with its schools, colleges and universities. But the Muslim period draws most attention of Dr Fatima Hussain. This is understandable because Lahore bore the stamp of Central Asian Islam from the 10th century onwards and until Ranjit Singh disrupted that order. There are some famous mansions or havelis in Lahore, they too are included.

Among the individuals from the Sikh and British periods who figure in her book are Princess Bamba, daughter of Dalip Singh, the only surviving son of Ranjit Singh; Amrita Shergill, the very talented painter who died young suddenly and left many of her admirers in lasting grief; the great revolutionary Bhagat Singh and film personalities such as brothers BR Chopra and Yash Chopra who have famous producers and directors; Dcv Anand, Pran and Kamini Kaushal. Names which can be included in a new edition could include music director OP Nayyar, who truly established the Punjabi beat and tempo in Bollywood even though the Punjabi influence in Bollywood goes back to others as well especially Master Ghulam Haider.

Special tribute is paid to Sir Ganga Ram and we get a list of all the fantastic contribution that philanthropist made to the development of Lahore. I was very happy that the author included Bradlaugh Hall from where the freedom movement led by the Indian National Congress gave the call for an independent India in December 1929.

Lahore uniquely also has the Minar-e Pakistan where in March 1940 the demand for partition and creation of Pakistan was made. In that sense, Lahore is the real link between the story of a freedom struggle for the whole of India as well as that of Muslim India's quest for a separate state.

I would like to congratulate the author for composing this pictorial account of Lahore which captures most of the central points in the identity of that city. It amply demonstrates that the shared history between Lahore and Delhi goes deep into at least a thousand years of history.
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Publication:The Nation (Karachi, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jul 28, 2018
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