View Full Version : Lahore’s heritage and the Orange Line - Sameer Ahmad - 23rd March 2016

23rd March 2016, 01:55 PM
So what if the Orange Line train passes dangerously close to Lahore’s historical monuments? And what if an elevated track mars the scenic beauty of the Chauburgi monument? Let’s indulge the pro-Orange camp for a minute. Say, someone conducted a survey involving young and old people from different walks of life. How many students from the FC College, LUMS and Kinnaird College would know when and why Chauburgi was constructed? Forget the youth, how many people who live in the area adjacent to Chauburgi — a residential area called Shamnagar, neighboured by Chauburgi Park and Raj Garh — know that they occupy with grotesque concrete structures what once used to be a beautiful garden bordered by the Ravi to the south, the entrance to which was a majestic gateway constructed (according to one source) on the orders of Princess Zaib-un-Nisa? This was the same Zaib-un-Nisa who was the celebrated and erudite daughter of Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir, whose tomb is a couple of hundred yards from Chauburgi in Samanabad (some sources claim the tomb belongs to Fakharunisa, one of the princess’ ladies-in-waiting). Only a dilapidated brick structure remains to mark the tomb. Like the Chauburgi monument, it is the usual haunt of drug addicts and houses filth and human refuse. It has been this way for as long as the neighbourhood’s oldest resident can remember, and that’s going back some eight decades at least. Why the fuss over the structural degradation of Mughal-era buildings then when nobody seems to care for them with or without the Orange Line?

It is rare that a public facility becomes a cause for so much controversy, but the Orange Line has made opposing sides draw the proverbial line. Civil society activists have converged to save Lahore from the invasion of concrete and cement. The Punjab Government’s camp presents the case for urban development. They claim that building elevated tracks near important heritage sites will not accelerate the deterioration process of historical buildings. Some residential buildings dating back to the early 20th century have already been demolished in the Old Anarkali-Jain Mandir area. This camp argues that for new structures to stand, the old and dilapidated ones need to be demolished. The city is expanding, its population increasing. You need to accommodate as many people as you can. To create you have to destroy.

Pulling down old buildings seems to bring forth our sympathy for their historical worth. They remain off the radar screen most of the time. This is probably due to the more pressing concerns we face on a daily basis: terrorism, ethnic and sectarian violence, inflation, utility bills, energy shortage, and so on. Who cares for old buildings when people die on a daily basis, right? But then have Pakistanis ever really cared for history or historical sites?

Even in the (relatively) better days of the 1950s running through the 1970s, when inflation levels had not rocketed, when we were more tolerant and life seemed more amenable, historical buildings still served as open lavatories for most people. Nearly 12 years ago, a painting depicting a Mughal princess in leisure at the Lahore Fort was vandalised by a visitor. The lady’s visage was completely effaced. The authorities placed a glass covering over the painting when they woke up to the incident. Now ‘the princess without a head’ is there for all to see.

Most of the inner walls of the Fort, Chauburgi and other such sites have always been plastered with pan-spits and engraved with obscene graffiti. People who live and work in Anarkali have a hard time telling you where Anarkali’s tomb is. Vendors sell T-shirts inside a small century-old temple in the Anarkali bazaar. Begum pura, an area that houses the mausoleums of many ladies belonging to Mughal royalty (hence the name), presents an even sorrier picture. One of the many buildings there is the tomb of Dai Anga, the wet nurse of the Emperor Shah Jehan. The less said of its condition the better, but what the residents of Begum Pura have done and continue to do to it, is significantly more appalling than the apathy of the authorities. Residents punctually deposit their daily garbage at the tombs of the royal ladies in the vicinity. The mausoleums have been sites for stray dogs, rats and garbage scavengers — again — for decades.

It is good to know there are people who care for the heritage of Lahore. It appeals to your sense of right and wrong when people raise their voice to preserve historical sites, but there seems to be a pause in civil society activism when concrete and cement ravage suburban greenery in the name of new housing schemes. Could it be that many activists live in these elitist housing societies and learn that sometimes concrete and cement serve a cause higher than preserving greenery? After all, the population of Lahore keeps swelling. You need more cars, more roads, more DHAs, more Bahrias. The city is expanding, its population increasing. You need to accommodate as many people as you can. To create you have to destroy. Except, sometimes you destroy more than what you can ever create.