Harking Back: Lahore’s ‘pandit’ families of Dar, Kaul and Nehru

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Jul 13 , 2014


Every time I go to Wachowali Bazaar inside Lohari Gate, one tends to avoid the crushing rush. It is best to try making it through Kucha Seth Har Prasad, the third lane to the left after entering Shahalami Bazaar by-passing Papar Mandi and Jore Mori Bazaar.

For years this has been my route. Sadly, it never occurred to me to find out why this place is called Kucha Seth Har Prasad. Who, after all, was Seth Har Prasad? As luck would have it my wife’s late uncle was an amazing gent by the name of Prof Dr Saleem Kaul, a former head of Botany department of Peshawar University, and a man with the finest antique collection in Lahore.

He belonged to Kaul Street in Moghalpura. The family had come from Srinagar in 1857 along with a group of Kashmiri ‘pandits’ and Muslims fleeing to the ‘safety’ of Delhi. Little did they realise that Delhi would be completely ransacked by the British in 1857. That is when all of them fled towards Amritsar and Lahore.

Along with the Kaul family also came other Kashmiri families, both Hindu ‘pandits’ and Muslims. Among them was the Dar clan, as well as the Wachoo and Nehru families. The head of the family was Pandit Debi Prasad Dar, and it was in the confusion at the events of Delhi that Har Prasad was born. They moved to the street that was to later acquire his name, and it was in Lahore that he was educated and learned his skills as an accountant. The area around Shahalami was almost entirely occupied by Hindu traders, and hence accountancy was a much required skill.

My first clue about Har Prasad Dar came when one day the late Prof Kaul, in a moment of nostalgia, thanked the Almighty that he had not married a Dar. It struck me as an odd comment coming from such an educated person.

He had a Ph.D from Heidelberg. On inquiry he reeled off the history of his family and that of the Dars and others. His words I still remember. The other day I passed through this bazaar and stopped to ask which was the house of Har Prasad. I was informed that the front portion of the original ‘haveli’ had been knocked down and a concrete plaza had come up in its place.

The remaining portion had small shops and the upper portions housed six families who had come after Partition. Four portions had been sold to Afghans, who live almost five to a room.But back to Har Prasad Dar. My research tells me that after completing his education he joined the Bengal Railways and within a few years got himself transferred to Lahore. Here he worked very hard and retired as the Chief Examiner Accounts of the North Western Railways at Lahore. After retirement he went into business and was among the richest men of Lahore, becoming a major supplier to the fast expanding rail network all over India with a huge warehouse on Brandeth Road.

He was to become the finance secretary of the Kashmiri National Association of Lahore in 1891. This meant that he headed the Shahalami and Anarkali traders unions. His influence in Lahore saw him being made a Rai Bahadar by the British government in 1910. It was then that this ‘kucha’ was named Kucha Seth Har Prasad, a move officially notified. He passed away two years later in 1912.

But the family of this ‘seth’ was very well-connected. He married Pranpati Kaul, who belonged to another leading Kashmiri family known better for their scholarship. She was known in Lahore as ‘baujanji’, a woman renowned for her kindness and charity. This is where the ‘Dar and Kaul’ connection started as Prof Saleem Kaul was to explain to me. But then his daughter Kamla Dar was to marry Mohan Lal Nehru of Allahabad. Mohan Lal was a cousin of Pandit Nehru, and their daughter was to marry Pandit Nehru. This couple lived in their palatial house on Waris Road, where the Indian political leader used to often come to visit his in-laws.

One daughter married into another Kashmiri family named Waacho, and I am not sure whether the Waachowali Bazar is named after that branch of this rich business family of Lahore.

In 1947 when the entire Shahalami area was torched, hundreds of Hindu trader families burnt alive, among them a granddaughter of Seth Har Prasad. The remaining family fled to Delhi, an ironic twist in the fortunes of a family that had arrived there almost 90 years earlier.

The Kashmir ‘pandit’ Dar family was all highly educated, and my understanding is that they are now leading lights of the Punjabi-Kashmiri trading community of Delhi. There is much to a name after all, and today Kucha Har Prasad reminds us of a man who was a self-made ‘seth’. My only hope is that the ‘kucha’ is not renamed after some ‘bright light’ reads this column. In Pakistan heritage matters for very little.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2014




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