harking back : Painful decline of Lahore’s residential quarters

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Apr 6, 2014


While driving past Mozang Road last Thursday, I took an abrupt and unprompted turn past the British Council office towards Masson Road, the place where we spent most of our school days. Its transformation into a virtual ghetto from Lahore’s most posh residential area was shocking.

It dawned on me to visit all the major residential areas where my family has lived to see how life in Lahore has changed over the last 100 years. Off I went to the old walled city where my father was born in 1919, to Kucha Chabakswaran near Rang Mahal. I first visited this famed ‘mohallah’ with my father at the age of ten or 11.

He showed me where Chughtai lived, where his mother, a Chishti, lived as did the Almakky family, what to mention Abdullah Malik, and nearby the family of Zafar Iqbal Mirza (ZIM). It seems that at the turn of the century this was where all the educated relatively well-off families lived.

I was appalled at the squalor and terrible condition of the houses. They are virtually collapsing. However, this is true of almost every ‘mohallah’ of the old ‘walled’ city, a reflection of the times in which we live.

My first stop had been Masson Road. We lived in a lane called ‘Lover’s Lane’, and the first house on the left was the house of an Anglo-Indian woman called Miss Auto, popularly known as ‘Auto Dibahar’. She was an eccentric old woman who lived alone, a British-era recluse, who was always on the hunt to catch us as we ‘helped ourselves’ to her guavas, for her exquisite English cottage grounds were full of fruit trees.

On the left was the house of the famed Zafar family, a massive almost two acre house, whose separate kitchen served as feeding pool to us hungry children. Their hospitality was taken for granted.

On the left side of the lane were just three houses, including our two-acre house the last on the left. On the right side were five houses, the last being a Christian missionary where the priests never spoke. ‘Lover’s Lane’ had just nine houses, all very large and children from here went to school together, most St. Anthony’s High School, Cathedral and Convent of Jesus and Mary. Outside the lane lived the family of Salman Taseer and Maulana Salahuddin the writer.

On Thursday, I was in for a real shock for all the old houses were gone and in its place stood almost 115 houses, and that was until I lost count. The narrow lane cannot handle the car traffic. The once reclusive missionary outpost now houses a children’s nursery.

I then moved towards Rattigan Road behind the District Courts. We spent our college days living here, and it was here that my father passed away. In our lane, which joins the main road behind the Central Training College and the College of Animal Husbandry, were a mere 12 houses, including the colossal four-acre house of Colonel Ataullah.

In the middle was the Parsi ‘ibadatgah’ of Hilla and Behroze, the house of Prof Salahuddin - a famous reclusive scholar - and then that of Dr. Abbassi, next to which was the house of the Jhang landlord (even Syed Babar Ali once mentioned living there), and then Khawaja Muhammad Saeed’s house. The last house was where we lived, a huge house called ‘Hunda Building’.

Today that entire area, according to official records, has 712 houses, mostly noisy presses, bookbinding outfits and paper godowns. Behind this lane is the famed Bradlaugh Hall, where the resolution for the freedom of ‘undivided’ India from British rule was 'passed', where Jinnah, Nehru, Gandhi and even Bhagat Singh worked.

In the entire freedom movement, irrespective of the shape it eventually took, no other building in the entire sub-continent has more history packed into it. Its condition today speaks volumes about our value of heritage and history, let alone the premium bigotry yields.

I have had occasion to pass through another posh road called Waris Road, where my friends the Almakkys still live. Around them motor workshops have mushroomed - a ‘high decibel’ cesspool. In the middle a huge textile unit of an alleged ‘man with a conscious’ emits coloured water that pollutes this once famed road.

The first house on the left was where once the mother-in-law of Pandit Nehru lived. It was the finest example of a ‘Who’s Who in Lahore’ road. Today well over 300 workshops and industrial units function here.

For that matter take Gulberg, a place that was advertised in the 1960s as a “purely residential paradise planned for peace of mind” by the Lahore Improvement Trust, precursor to the LDA. Today, thanks to our present rulers, completely commercialised in the legal sense. But then so is the old walled city. I do not have to explain what this piece wants to achieve. Probably nothing!




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