Wednesday, April 26, 2017


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Lahore In The The Time Of The Raj by Ian Talbot and Tahir Karman ; Published by Penguin / Viking ; Pages 267 ; Price Rs 599/-


Ian Talbot is a Professor of modern British History at the University of Southampton who has several books on  Pakistan. The co-author Tahir Karman is a notable Pakistani historian ,author of four books and   founder of  journal 'The Historian' 

 Partition bequeathed the historic city of Lahore to Pakistan. It bursts with life  and for ever outward-looking its “walled” existence. It is according to Talbot a city, eager and capable of effortlessly adapting to the needs of ‘imperial globalisation.’  “Lahore was a city connected through trade and movements of people and ideas centuries before the colonial era.”  Lahore was not a backwater, but indeed had “a long and continuous history of trans-regional and transnational connections.” It was a city of “professional, political and cultural connections that spread across North India.” 

 Lahore’s population burgeoned  during the last six decades of the British rule. It eclipsed Amritsar as the most populous city in the Punjab. A Railway Station, a Civil Line, a GPO, the High Court and other colonial buildings not only reshaped the geographical expanse but also introduced new attitudes and ideas, new patterns of construction and consumption. 

The city underwent a revolution--- new retail shops and grocery stores in Anarkali Bazaar and The Mall; the rich Aroras, Khatris, Aggarwals and other banias moved out of the walled city. To quote the authors , Lahore had twenty bank offices, “more financial institutions than any other Indian city…..The Sunlight Building at 14, The Mall housed the New Bank of India, with its lady assistant to attend to purdah clients.” 
Hindu businessmen like  Lala Lajpat Rai and Lala Harkishen Lal came together and created the Punjab National Bank and insurance companies.

Talbot is eloquent on the Darvazas (the Bhati Gate, Shah Almi Gate, Mochi Gate) and mohallas (Haveli Mian Khan); of Faletti’s Hotel (where “French, Italian and German was spoken”); of mushaira and poets (Mohammad Hussain Azad, Altaf Hussein Hali); of akharas, their patrons, khalifas, ustads and wresters (Gama Pehalwan, Buta Pehalwan) as “Lahore was the wrestling capital of the Punjab”; of cricketers (Lala Amarnath, Jahangir Khan) and cricket rivalries (“the 1944-45 final between the Muslims and the Hindus was witnessed by a crowd of over 200,000”); and, not the least, of Lahore’s “transnational revolutionary networks” and martyrs and revolutionaries (Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, Madan Lal Dhingra). 

The city rose to its glory because of its cosmopolitan culture. Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs contributed generously in making Lahore a beautiful and truly a secular city.

 Talbot writes on the artistic attainments of Lahore. Himansu  Rai and  Devika Rani, who was  Rabindranath Tagore’s great-grandniece, made “The Light of the Asia “ on the life of Buddha .This is the  first film to be made in Lahore in 1925.  Rai gravitated  to Bombay and started the  Bombay Talkies with Rajnarayan Dube. All India Radio (AIR), Lahore’s All India Radio was the home and hearth of budding  singers and writers.  Mohammad Rafi was discovered here . Noor Jahan and Shamsad Begum were AIR products crooning sweet  tunes over  the Radio station and only later blossomed into eminent playback singers. The highly respected Amrita Pritam  broadcast her own writings along with  recording Punjabi folk songs. Rajinder Singh Bedi was also part  AIR, Lahore .

Lahore was  the glittering star of  North India, an unrivalled  hub of trading,  education, culture, architecture, travel and freedom struggle. It was rightly known as the Paris of the East .

To slightly hark back, Lahore was  part of the Mughal empire in 1536, and was next only to Delhi and Agra in imperial prominence. It had been even the Empire's capital. There is the ancient Ramayana connection that connects  Lahore to Rama's son Lava.
Lahore was the seat of Mughal power  before the East India Company annexed Punjab.The British , however, left a lasting impression on  the city. Lahore’s strategic location at the junction of the roads to Kabul, Multan, Kashmir and Delhi made it a seat of power, but the turning point arrived with the inauguration of the railway station in 1862. It served to transport  troops and goods and also led to the arrival of  a great number of migrants who laid the foundation of the city’s  growth and transformation. 
The British departure from India violently ended the colonial chapter on Lahore’s long history. With Partition, Lahore, a multi-ethnic melting pot, now part of Pakistan, became a Muslim city and lost its cultural and commercial links to the world. Over the years, the city has declined in every sphere that it once excelled in: administration, trade, industry, cinema, tourism, culture and sports, quietly slipping into near-oblivion.
 This pioneering study provides fresh insights and interpretations. The book recounts the changing equation between Lahore and Amritsar, and traces the traumatic and dramatic changes in the two cities in 1947, their sudden transformation from heartland centers into border cities, and, later, their contrasting evolution.Comparing Amritsar and Lahore  there is no doubt that Lahore's intellectual life was clearly richer, yet two of Pakistan's (and the subcontinent's) best-regarded intellectuals, Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984) and Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955), spent their formative years in Amritsar.

 Expressions of nostalgia are heard on both sides of the border, from Hindu and Sikh refugees . Although both Lahore and Amritsar lost their religious minorities, their Punjabi-ness was intact. The refugees settling in the two cities were, like the locals, Punjabi-speaking. By looking jointly and objectively at Lahore and Amritsar and at the two Punjabs, Talbot has enhanced our understanding of the India-Pakistan story. His study is at once instructive, entertaining and packed with information. We have a collection of wonderful photographs and an excellent bibliography.One wishes there will be more such seminal books on cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Karachi and Dacca.

Tit Bits

1.Lahore finds a mention in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, Book  X

To shew him all Earth’s Kingdoms and their glory..
City of old or modern Fame, the Seat of mightiest Empire,from the destined Walls
To AGRA  and LAHOR of great Moghul

2. In the 1930s, the future ‘Melody Queen’  Noor Jehan first sang as a child in a concert at the Mahabir Theatre.

3.The place where Bhagat Singh and his compatriots were hanged was known as Shadman Chowk was  renamed in 2012 as "Bhagat Singh Chowk".

4.We have charming vignettes of  the Tribune Paper, Forman College, the G C College, Rudyard Kipling.

23 / 04 / 2017

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