About Zohaib Butt
Zohaib Butt Started his career as a Sub-Editor at Pakistan Press International in 2004 and then joined ‘The Post’ Daily two years later. He also served as editor of Eyecandy magazine (the magazine distributed along with the paper) on Sunday.
Zohaib has worked as a production associate and researcher in infotainment department GEO TV Lahore. He is currently working as associate producer news on Planning Desk at Express news channels (both Express News and Express 24/7). His duties include planning the “week ahead,” and determining and distributing schedules and releases to the coordination desk. He is responsible for monitoring the news/current events to determine if the bureau will need to re-deploy, change release times, or advance packages. At the planning desk, Zohaib originates, plans, and delivers feature package items for use across the entire network. He also coordinates with all aspects of the desk regarding interviews, obtaining credentials, determining logistical aspects of particular story coverage, and assessing staffing needs. Presenting stories, contributing ideas for graphics, montages, Vox Pops, and debate issues is also a part of Planning Desk.
As a Producer on the planning desk at Express News, Zohaib has developed very friendly relations with all most all the politicians and public personalities of Pakistan, so calling them at anytime and inviting them for any talk show or news bulletin or for conformation of any news is never an issue. Zohaib has recently created a short film named “Via Dolorosa” based on the life of a common Pakistan boy.
Latest Posts by Zohaib Butt
In the walled city of Lahore, Sheranwala is one of the twelve gates. It is also known as ‘Khiziri gate’, and in olden times the River Ravi followed by the city walls and the ferry was near this part. The gate was, therefore, named as Khiziri after the name of Khizzr Elias, the patron saint according to the Mohammedan belief, of running waters and streams, and the discoverer of the water of immortality.
Ranjit Singh kept here two domesticated lions in a cage, and the gate came to be called as ‘Sheranwala gate’ or ‘Lion’s gate’. It is an old crowded area with all the needful facilities including markets and schools. There are two major schools, Government Islamia High School Sheranwala Gate for boys, which is the oldest school and the best training centre for the youth of the vicinity. Then there is the Government School for the Deaf and Dumb Khizri Mohala, which is a mannequin school and also and a banquet hall. There is a Madrassa (an institution for religious studies) established by Moulana Ahmed Ali Lahori, and the Anjuman Khudamu-ud-Din (a great name in the Islamic religious revolution in the sub-continent). There are also many higher secondary private schools in the area to educate the coming generation of this historical soil.
This is the same hinterland where people used to live in joint families sharing their happiness and sorrows. The whole mohala was like a family, and everyone was close to each other and respected each other. However everything has changed now, there is no mohala, people have migrated to other places. Now, you go there and you’ll find a big market of Press Calendars (a heavy machine to iron unstitched cloth). I am not saying that people don’t live there; they do, but the way they are living is worse than anything. Poverty is a big ugly vampire sucking the blood of dwellers.
The rich are getting richer and poor poorer. People don’t want to talk about culture, the poor man wants shelter and the rich man wants to invest his money, buy land and make sky high plazas with two or three basements (where parking is virtually impossible) and consequently destroy heritage. They don’t care about the heritage and architecture; they want money to eat food or on the other hand to make a huge plaza, which is an open invitation to the investors, to come there, earn money and destroy the heritage. The biggest example of their negligence is when a rich resident planned to build a plaza on the ‘Bangla Ayub Shah’ site where a monument was found when workers were digging to make a basement for the intended building. The owner had to pay a fine for violating building laws, which require permission before digging a basement inside the Walled City. The Archaeology Department has disallowed digging or construction in the area without permission and owners of residential plots need the department’s permission to commercialize their land.
Concerned residents protested against building plazas in the Walled City, ‘at the cost of the national heritage’ and said that most commercial site owners did not get a No Objection Certificate from the Archaeology Department.
The discovery triggered a debate over the monument’s importance. An Archaeology Department report said that the mehrabs, paka kali plaster and paintings hanging ten feet above the floor suggested the building was from the Mogul or Sikh era. Now, you decide whose fault it is that we have lost another architectural heritage just because of our greed and negligence.
The Ravi Town Municipal Administration (TMA) has earmarked 506 buildings and 1056 basements as dangerous premises, and the lives of the people residing or working in these buildings are perpetually in danger. 485 out of the marked 506 buildings and all the dangerous basements are located in the Walled City, which could cause a tragic mishap during the coming rainy season.
The TMA has carried out a survey of dangerous buildings on the directive of the Town Municipal Officer Usman Anwar. It has got registered cases against 22 persons for constructing illegal basements, while legal notices have been issued to all the owners for vacating dangerous buildings and having new ones constructed. Sadly, in the Walled City money speaks louder then any legal notice. The survey team has pointed out 75 dangerous basements constructed inside Sheranwala Gate, Azam Cloth Market, Dabbi Bazar, Moti Bazar, Chetram Road, Bhaati Gate, Kot Khawaja Saeed, Koocha Shah Wali, Bazar Sadakaran Rang Mahal, Nawaz Sharif College Road, Masti Gate, Circular Road, Kanari Bazar, Chowk Saurgan Singh, Barood Khana Road, Kashmiri Ghaati, Akbari Mandi, Soha Bazar Rang Mahal, Shah Alam, Kashmiri Gate, Choona Mandi Chowk and Darbar Baba Sher Bukhsh.
I have no words to explain my grief regarding the current situation of my historical neighborhood; this place seems like a haunted citadel, preoccupied by human phantoms. It is my humble request to all of you to preserve this heritage as well as the humanity that remains in our souls!
Taxali Gate is also known as the red light area (Heera Mandi). It is the only opening of the Walled City to the West. Once it was also called Lakhi Gate. Behind this gate is the single arterial route of the Walled City which runs from East to West and connects Taxali Gate with Delhi Gate. Starting from the West this very route is called the main bazaar Taxali Gate and as we head east it connects with Kashmiri Bazaar and this bazaar ends up at the start of Akbari Mandi. Now, the ancient gate has vanished but the route still persists. It is believed that behind this gate and close to the Lahore fort once lay the royal mint (Taxal) —- hence the name Taxali Gate. It was pulled down during the early British regime-The name, however, continues.
There is a bazaar in Taxali Gate called Heera Mandi. Most of the people have the misconception and call it the Diamond (heera) Market because of the beautiful girls there, inimitably like diamonds. However, that is not the real meaning or origin of the name. Actually this mandi is named after Heera Singh, who was the son of a minister of Ranjit Singh’s royal court. Heera Singh was also a minister of Sher Singh’s court during the Sikh period. A few decades ago this place was famous for dancing and music. People used to go there to give there eyes and ears a treat. Beautiful girls (kanjiries) used to sit in a stall shaped balconies called kootha and ply their trade of the oldest profession in the world. But basically the place was more famous for singing and dancing.
However, slowly the aesthetic pursuit became less arty and more tarty and became the centre of prostitution of the city. During the Zia-ul-Haq era a rigorous operation was conducted against these vendors of pleasure, because these so called musicians were actually running brothel houses in the guise of music and dance.
Of course, the operation didn’t root out this iniquity and instead it scattered all over the city, The Mughals were the founders of that trend of dancing and singing, but as far as I have read about them they never promoted the prostitution publicly. These brothel houses were first developed by the British in old Anarkali Bazaar for the recreation of the British soldiers. After that these were shifted to Lohari Gate and then to Taxali gate. They seemed to have spent more time at Taxali Gate than other places. Thus they settled in Heera Mandi. One can still find the traces of that at Heera Mandi.
There is a dark galli (street) where every naughty boy wonders to go and every gentleman fears to go. We can call it Sinner’s Street, and please don’t go there because not only is it sordid but very dirty. When we were passing through the street, please don’t get me wrong I was there on a journalistic survey; there were prostitutes were standing in the dark corners of that street and calling customers, strange isn’t it? We saw two motorbike riders enter the street. They accosted a prostitute. She asked them where they had got the bike. One of them replied, ‘I just lifted it, now its mine.’
This street is full of filth, with no proper sewerage system. It’s like you are walking in a drain. In a way it is the most poignant loss of heritage, as once prostitutes were hired by wealthy families to teach their children culture and social behavior. All that it left of a colorful, gay street with music and the sound of ghoongros coming out of the carved wooden porticos is some old prostitutes lurking in corners, lots of lots of filth, a rotten smell and last but not least some drug addicts —- we call them ‘jahaz’.
The story is not finished yet. Taxali gate was not famous for its brothel houses in the beginning. Some very noble people and historical figures used to live there. Mualana Altaf Hussain Haali and Allama Mohammad Iqbal were some very eminent residents. Still some noble people are living here, like Main Yousaf Sala-ud-din, the renowned socialite and grand son of Allama Mohammad Iqbal, in a beautiful and well preserved haveli one of the finest examples of the architecture of the Mughal Dynasty.
The bottom line is that, this place is not worth living any more. Pardon me for being blunt, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feeling, but the truth is that there is an awful smell here. Yet some of the best delicacies of Lahore are sold here. Strange! Well not that strange, we can imagine that our authorities are more interested in the monkey business here than civic amenities. In the same way as these women are the cast-offs of our society, it seems this place has also been cast off. There are a lot of respectable people living here as well, and they too have to share this neglect. We mustn’t forget that these are humans living here and we should treat them as humans.
We have now come to the famous Mori Gate in our journey through the inner city of Lahore. It is located between the two main gates to the south, Bhati and Lohari Gate, in front of Urdu bazaar. The people of Lahore have a strange sense of humour. If you ever ask anyone living inside the Walled City as to how many gates the ancient city has, they will invariably say 12 and a mori (a hole). There is a brief history behind why it has been named so. It served as the preferred escape route for Emperors on the run, and it also served as a secret entry point for many. It was also the gateway through which the Hindu and Sikh dead were taken for their last rites. Once the Ravi River flowed on one side of the entrance and nearby, on the other side of the moat the dead were cremated
Almost 1,000 years ago the city walls— then made of huge mud blocks slightly baked and still muddy in color— had just six gates and a hole of a gateway. According to one account, a man riding on a donkey had to dismount and could barely walk through. It was, definitely, a hole like passage mostly used by the under-privileged. There are some different views regarding why such a small hole of a gate was built in the first place. One view is that the Hindu upper class did not want the untouchables (Shoodars; their lowest cast) to pass the same way that they did. Thus the Mori was built for them to pass through. Another theory is that it was essentially meant for the dead to be taken out and cremated on the riverside, though no solid reason for the dead taking this route has been put forward. The river outside soon became a moat. When the Ravi cut its way westwards, it remained just a sluggish pool of water, which then dried and then, was filled by the British, who finally levelled it into a garden as part of a defence plan.
After partition, the area was encroached upon and now the government just does not have the power to clear the place. However the British while levelling out the spaces outside, also tore down the original Mori Gate and built a much larger gate, which as an official document states was large enough to ensure that a camel cart can pass through with ease, instead of the five-foot six-inch hole in the wall.
I found what I learnt about this place in my history class very interesting and thrilling, so I want to share this knowledge with you. Mori Gate gained prominence when Mahmud of Ghazni laid siege to the city. The ruler, Raja Jaspal, resisted for a number of days, and then decided to escape, fleeing through Mori Gate. However his flight did not hold back the people from resisting the foreign invasion and Mahmud was shocked at the fierce resistance they put up. His spies informed him that Raja Jaspal had escaped through a small hole in the wall and he stood outside to see the mori for himself. One can imagine him standing just outside at the crossing of Urdu Bazaar and Circular Road. Then at night Mahmud and his men sneaked into the city after managing to break down the door of the Gate, paving the way for the conquest of Lahore. For seven days and seven nights, as several accounts tell us, the crazed Afghans burnt, raped and looted the city till all its inhabitants either lay dead or fled into the forests to the East. Lahore lay empty and desolate for a good five years.
This gate appears to have been the preferred entrance to Delhi for invaders from the West. When Emperor Babar invaded the Punjab from the West, he also met with resistance. Babar in a fit of rage decided to burn down Lahore, more out of his hatred of the Bhat Rajputs who lived inside Bhati Gate. The pillage that followed again emptied the city. From that point onwards as every time Lahore was pillaged, the population fled and the city remained empty for years on end.
Enough of this history lesson, lets talk about present. Today, its 2007 when the world has moved towards the Space Age from the Stone Age, but unfortunately we are progressing only on official documents or statements. These documents state prosperity, but the ground realty is quite opposite to the imaginary progressive picture presented by our authorities.
At the entrence of Mori gate there is a small very stinky fish market. On the left of the gate is a garden and a school along with a khara on the right, and not to forget the token Ganda Naala (open sewage drainage), at every gate. Here at Mori Gate this open drain turns into a little stream of disposal and waste, which is quite dangerous for the natives. We walk through the Mori Gate Bazaar which ends on Chowk Jhanda, which then connects it with Lohari Gate. You can see the condition of those streets through the pictures.
Mori Gate has the honour of having one of our greatest architectural heritage in its lap, the Haveli of Naunihal Singh at Paaiyan Wala Maidaan which has been converted into the Victoria Girls Higher Secondry School. I am quite surprised to see that this haveli is in good shape and colour. During the Ranjit Singh era this haveli was owned by his grand son, Prince Nuanihal Singh, the son of Kharak Singh. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was fond of great pomp and show. His durbars were imposing and he loved his valuable possessions, especially the’Koh-i-Noor’. The history of this diamond would have been different, but for the faithful and loyal officer Dewan Beli Ram who saved it for the royal successors of Ranjit Singh. Maharaja Kharak Singh was imprisoned and died while in custody and Naunihal Singh was assassinated by his Prime Minister, Raja Dhian Singh, by having his head crushed in the door at the Hazori Bagh while returning from his father’s cremation in 1840. Another haveli in a sad state is that of the loyal Dewan Beli Ram, and its meager remains can be seen under a huge mountain of debris.
So far I have covered ten gates of the walled city and after all that research I believe that poverty and illetracy are the two monsters which are sucking the blood of the people of this historical city. I don’t know who is going to correct the situation. However it is clear that nothing better can be expected for our doomed heritage without a collective effort.
This gate is an opening towards Delhi, which was the capital of the mughal dynasty. Right before the entrance of the gate there is the Shahi Hammam, built by Hakim Ilmud-din, who had the title of Wazir Khan, Subidar, Punjab during the regime of Emperor Shah Jahan in 1634 AD. Covering an area of 1110sq.m, the single story building was built in Mughal style and it is a unique specimen of that era, as a public ‘hammam’ in Pakistan.
Since 1991, the tourist information centre of the Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab Ltd, is rendering information services for the convenience of tourists. Renovation work is being carried out by the ministry of tourism, but one thing which is noticed commonly is that this monument is also being used as a banquet hall by some influential people, which is an adversity to this beautiful heritage.
After the Shahi Hammam, as you walk through the bazaar you can see the old buildings (havelies) on either sides in very abysmal circumstances, until you reach the gate of the Masjid Wazir Khan. This mosque was built in 1634- 35 AD during the regime of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, by Ilam-ud-dinAnisari commonly known as Nawab Wazir Khan, who was the governor of Lahore till 1639 AD. The mosque was completed in about seven years.
The entire mosque is built with small bricks laid in ‘kankerlime’, sparkling due to red sandstone, and even the grills are made of terracotta. Its outstanding architecture features are its octagonal four corner minarets, which are 107 feet high and decorated with mosaic tiles. A bazaar consisting of twenty two shops, forms an integral part of the plan of the mosque, which was the first time such facilities were added to a mosque. The shops are in two parallel rows with a brick-paved passage in between.
The mosque covers an area of 279.5 feet x 159 feet out of which the prayer hall occupies an area of 131 feet 3 inches x 42 feet and is divided into five compartments by means of four arches on massive piers, measuring 19 feet 3 inches x 11 feet 3 inches. The prayer hall bears five squat, turnip shaped domes. Frescos, kashi kari, brick-imitation (tazakari) vivid colours, large numbers of inscriptions with geometrical patterns and floral designs, arabesque and calligraphy have been used for its embellishment.
The entire floor is built on cuts and dressed with small brick work, laid in 13 patterns. The open area on the East of the mosque complex, measuring 150 feet x 102 feet, is known as Chowk Wazir Khan. Its original floor still exists about five feet below the present ground level. The drainage during the Mughal period was by means of ‘Gharkies’ (wells). The chowk had four big gates from which two still exist.
Then we move inside the area towards Jhotta Mufti Bakir, famous for its wooden balconies and many big Havalies, built in some very narrow lanes. Kucha Kharadiyan and Siryan Ojriyan Wala Bazar are also located within Dehli Gate. The most amazing thing I came across during my adventures within this gate is an unknown Haveli with the most beautiful wood work on its windows and balconies. The natives call it Haveli Jamil Soda Water and I was stunned no body knew its original name especially since it has been there since before Masjid Wazir Khan, and because it is far more magnificent than the Haveli Asif Jaah in the Kashmiri Gate!
Life within this gate is based on middle class people. Like all other gates, the Katrii System (common dwelling place) by the name of Katrii Dina Naat, prevails here too. Mostly people used to live here in joint families, and because of these narrow lanes the whole mohala (community) was like a family. As a resident of Kashmiri gate, I know for a fact that people genuinely used to care about each others welfare, but as times are changing and money reins supreme over relations, people are limiting themselves to their immediate families and really don’t care about the mohala. As I conversed with them, I realised that they feel very insecure in their own country.
An old man there told me with tears in his eyes that this is the same holy land of Pakistan for which his father sacrificed his family, land and all his wealth. “Now look at us”, he said, “is this the reward we deserve; that our children have no future in this country and that we don’t even have enough money for food? Is this the Pakistan we sacrificed everything for?”
The vampire of poverty is sucking the blood off the common man. It is so amusing that people living in the big Havelies- once the symbol of wealth- have not enough money to buy food. I am surprised that if we turn on any news channel, they keep saying Pakistan is progressing… that much increase in GDP… that much profit in this and that…blah, blah. I want you to walk with me through these narrow lanes in one of the oldest and biggest city of our country, and see how miserable life is within these walls.
The Yakki gate, originally known as Zaki Gate, is said to be named after a martyred saint, who according to legend, fell fighting against the Tatares who once invaded Lahore. Zaki Pir fought them with great courage and bravery. During the battle he got decapitated near the gate but his body kept on fighting for some time even without the head and finally fell in a quarter of the city some distance away from the gate. One tomb of this great saint is said to be built where his head fell and the other tomb where his body collapsed. Both are revered by the faithful of this soil. People from all over the country come here and pays tribute to this brave man.
Apart from this brave saint Yakki Gate is famous for its beautiful but semi-demolished havelies and temples. Unlike the last three gates this very one was primarily a residential area. There are small shops, mostly run by the immigrants from the Frontier Province and Afghanistan (Pathans). Historically speaking, the people from the royal courts of the Mughals used to live here in their beautiful havelies. Now, most of these havelies have vanished from the face of the Walled City. Along with the old style buildings and small, tiled houses, there are modern abodes too and there is the sky high building of Nawaz Sharif Hospital.
On the face of it, it would seem that this hospital, like Mayo Hospital, is a blessing for the residents of the Walled City after Mayo Hospital but Waste Disposal is the biggest problem over here. We are the kind of people who only want to move forward by hook or by crook. We progress at the cost of leaving a trail of mountains of garbage. In short we might say that we produce the source to spread diseases and after that we make hospitals and receive a round of applause from the patients and locality.
Let’s get back to our Yakki Gate. I was talking about the havelies. Haveli Mian Sultan, Haveli Alf Shah, Haveli Nadir Wali, Lal Haveli and Haveli Raja Endar Naat are the remaining havelies of the Walled City situated in Yakki Gate. Most of these havelies are turned into the katries (a common dwelling place of more then one family). Haveli Mian Sultan was owned by Mian Sultan the founder of Lahore Railway station.
Nowadays this haveli is being used as a residence by a family. Haveli Alf Shah of the Mughal era is now an Imam Bargha. A big part of the Haveli Nadir Wali has been demolished and the remaining section has been turned into a house with a little modification. Lal Haveli is a beautiful piece of architecture which was gifted by Raja Ranjit Singh to his munshi Gulab Chand. Currently the once magnificent Lal Haveli is in a particularly deplorable condition. It is still standing, but it’s hard to imagine that a building can deteriorate to this condition, with walls cracked and semi-blackened, broken stucco and portions collapsed. Haveli Raja Endar Naat is now called the Katri Raja Endar Naat.
The temples of the area have now vanished from the scene or maybe have been turned into houses. Luckily I found one but I failed to be able to trace its whole history because of the hostile welcome I received from the resident. He did not want to talk to me because he thought I was from the revenue department. So I tactfully moved on. Further I was quite stunned to see a building just like the leaning tower of Pisa. Italy is lucky to have a wonder of the world, but we’ll be very unlucky if we do not remove this dangerous structure from there. These narrow lanes and streets can be quite dangerous. They are open invitations to hazards like fire or short circuits of the electrical wires overhead and there is always the threat of some venerable old building falling down.
Yakki Gate, like all the other gates, needs our attention, not only to make it safe to live in but also worth looking at. This is one of the heritages of the world. We should preserve it. It is very strange that hundred years ago when people did not have modern devices and a consciousness of preserving our historical character, they managed to run such a big city fairly satisfactorily, but we with all our scientific and space age technology have failed to maintain it?
So much bloodshed, violence and hostility and they claim that we are humans, I feel sorry to be a human. Last Thursday the blast at the shrine of Hazrat Usman Ali Hajwari (famously known as Data Gunj Buksh) claimed more than 40 dead and 175 injured. Among the dead there were not only humans but so many little birds that used to sit over the shrine’s dome. Those were not the target but they got hit. For those innocent little creatures we humans are terrorists, we took their lives for no good reason. They were lying dead among the human dead bodies.
People were screaming and mourning over their loved ones but nobody was caring about those birds. Ambulances and rescue workers cleared the area and brought all those bodies to different hospitals and those dead birds to garbage. Those birds never knew what America is and what are Taliban? All they knew that we humans are strange creatures. Clash of ideologies, my land!!! Your land!!!! My religion!!! Your religion!!! I’m good!!! You are bad!!! And on the other hand there is a human sacrificing his or her life to save another human. However, if they are all humans, why do they fight? Why do they kill each other?
I talked to an intelligent or rather I should say a scholarly human and asked him why do we kill each other? He said, it’s not a big deal even animals kill their own species. This answer surprised me because I thought we human are supposed to be far superior to animals.
On the face of the planet earth we have fought many battles; some huge wars like WW1 and WW2. We got scared of wars, but we didn’t stop. We kept on fighting with each other using advanced techniques of hurting our fellow species. We have invented nuclear weapons we have heavy artillery to kill our enemy, but did we ever wonder who our enemy is, another human being. Strange but true, but it seems that this very world is like a circus where all we noble human beings are performing our acts, however I don’t know who we are trying to amuse?
Did you ever see the ants? Those busy little ants live peacefully together, most probably in greater numbers than us, but I am sure if you put brains in them they’ll do the same things we do. I’m confused. Is all this mess is because of the human brain? This is all because of greed. I call greed the brain’s bug. It is the same bug which bit Adam and cost him heaven. I believe that greed is the essence of evil.
We are all children of one father Don’t you see? We all have the same coloured blood. We all have two legs, two arms, one mind and a heart. What makes us different from others? It is not the colour of our skin. The difference lies in the beauty of our thoughts and love for others. The Almighty gave us this life and, my fellow beings, life really is a gift of God and how you live it is a gift from you to God. Now, what kind of a gift are you going to give to your Lord? It’s up to you. Being human I too can never ever understand myself completely, but I don’t want to understand. It is better to live a happy life then to spend it in a pain of contemplation. To live a happy life means to share happiness with your fellow human beings.
Give yourself a treat, a treat of a few moments of life without any greed or lust. See the beauty of nature as it is; do not try to capture it in your hands, but to praise it. Raise your hands not to hurt somebody but to pray for a better future for our fellow human beings. Get knowledge not to make weapons of mass destruction but to free the world from some painful and deadly disease like AIDS and cancer.
Do good and try to love your fellow human beings because soon this journey will end and then a new endless journey will start and the deeds of this journey will have deep effects on that. God bless you all!
Akbari gate is named after the Mughal emperor Jala-Ud-Din Muhammad Akbar‘, who rebuilt the town and the citadel. Close to this gate the emperor also founded a market, which was named Akbari Mandi. It is the biggest retail market of Lahore, in which food grains of all kinds are available. The unfortunate story of this gate is that it is one of those that were demolished by the British during the Raj. I am not feeling very proud while telling you about this very gate. Now it is just a trash yard and not a cultural heritage. Sadly there is no trace of monuments and our old heritage; all that is left for us is only the mess scattered there by the materialistic greed of humanity. When you walk through this gate it seems like it’s some kind of hell, filled with dust and animal waste in the air that even covers all the edibles sold there. Surprisingly people are living there, doing their businesses and very proudly contributing in increasing to the vast waste of garbage lying there.
The walled city covers an area of around 256 hectares and has a population of around 200,000. The area is dotted with mosques, havelis (enclosed mansions with courtyards) and British colonial buildings, many dilapidated. Until now, much of the restoration and demolition work in the old city has been piecemeal, unregulated, and often privately funded. Three years ago the Norwegian government gave $1.6 million to Unesco to begin restoration work and to draw up a master plan for the Punjab government to follow.
The World Bank has committed to give $10 million towards the conservation and restoration of the infrastructure of the walled city of Lahore, which despite its historical significance, has been crumbling for decades. The announcement of the new funding was made by Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, the chief minister of the Punjab, at the end of January. He also announced that, in a separate project, the Punjab government would spend $5 million each on the Lahore Fort and the Shalimar Gardens. This total of $20 million should prove a significant boost towards preserving the cultural heritage of the decaying walled city. I am sorry to say that Akbari Gate is the part of the Walled City that our respected Chief Minister was talking about. Politically speaking the funds will go towards a range of improvements on the cultural and structural fabric of the ancient Walled City, which along with the fort and mosque is envisioned as one of Pakistan’s biggest tourist attractions. Apart from architectural restorations, the project will include the widening of roads, the installation of traffic lights, the removal of illegal encroachments, improvements to the water supply and sanitation, control of pollution, and the promotion of traditional skills and handicrafts. Implementation is not expected to be carried out for at least a year. Please! I am not trying to compliment the authorities. As a resident of the Old City I feel this will just prove to be another spoof. I will put the picture in-front of you —- now you decide: will something concrete be done now or not?
There are thirteen gates around the inner city of Lahore, and as I mentioned previously in my article; all these gates have their own history and specific lifestyles. These are thirteen different but complete worlds surrounded by a wall in a universe named Lahore.
Let’s visit the first world in clockwise order: ‘Masti Gate’, located just behind the Lahore Fort. The name ‘Masti’ is a corruption of the word ‘Masjidi’ (mosque). A few steps from the entrance is located what is said to be the oldest surviving mosque in the city, the Mosque of Mariyam Zamani Begum, who was the sister of Raja Bhagwan Das, the mother of the fourth Mughal ruler Jahangir. Her mosque was completed in 1614. This brick structure is celebrated for two very important features: the double domes with which the prayer chamber is crowned and the exquisite fresco paintings on the interior surface. The mosque’s dimensions are 135.5 by 127.5 feet, and it is compared with paradise in a Persian inscription on its northern gateway. Like other Mughal mosques in Lahore, it has no garden courtyard, but it does have exquisite floral fresco decorations that remind one of the vegetal imagery associated with the gardens of paradise. This mosque is also known as the Masjid Begum Shahi.
The unfortunate story of this gate is that it is one of those that were demolished by the British, during the Raj. The remaining wall of the gate can still be seen right before the police station of ‘Masti Gate’. At the entrance there is a big shoe market called ‘Motti Bazaar’. This huge wholesale shoe market connects ‘Masti Gate’ with ‘Kashmiri Bazaar’. The one most important thing about ‘Masti Gate’ is the Haveli Khushal Singh; famously known by the name of Haveli Asif Jha, which is a misconception. Originally this is Khushaal Singh’s Haveli who was a minister in Ranjit singh’ court.
. This Havali was used as a jail during the colonial rule, but now it is a college for women, established by the Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and sometimes also an exclusive party venue for the elite, apart from being a major tourist attraction. A little ahead of it is a temple called ‘Mai Ka Mandar,’ which is now used as a dwelling place by a score of homeless families.
Once you have entered the gate, it’ll be an injustice not to meet its residents. One can never feel the true essence of a place, without getting to know the people there. Do try the special recipe for ‘murgh chaanay’ in this area, from anyone of the innumerable and various dhaabas scattered around ‘Motti Bazaar’.
On one side of the gate there are huge six to seven story high plazas with people earning tons of both black and white money, and at the same time just around the corner are people who don’t have enough to buy a decent meal. For example, in the shadow of a grotesque plaza there lies a poor man’s home which consists of just three walls. Right before the entrance of that ragged gate you can see cars costing millions of Rupees parked. People from all over Pakistan come here to invest money in dubious ventures that can instantly double their money, because of the poor law and order situation… However if you point out this disparity to the natives there, they will give you a rather brave and nonchalant answer; “Happiness and sorrows walk hand in hand together in life.”
The rich tradition of the Walled City is still there, but has been tainted by our confused modernized western culture. Few boys now go to watch Dangal (wrestling matches), preferring gyms instead. Men no longer wear the traditional lacha kurta, preferring jeans and shirts. The women too have begun preferring scarves or duppatas to the traditional burkhas. It’s not just the dressing that has changed, but also the language too, like merging English with Punjabi
On a brighter side, the education level has improved, providing equal opportunities for women, which was a phenomenon unheard of before. It is evident that competing with the global economy has influenced the culture and tradition of these people’s way of life. Hopefully once they are more aware and equipped to deal with a world light years ahead of them, they will be able to strike a better balance between the old and the new and the good and the bad. For now, we all know that one has to crawl before one can walk, and sadly the once glorious gate is currently at that stage. However with the stout hearted attitude its people show towards life, it seems it might not be too late for them and those concerned about them, to reduce the deterioration while preserving their herita