HARKING BACK: Saving remnants of Bangla Ayub Shah

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn Nov 6, 2016

To know Shahzada Tahir Azam is to invite ‘hope’, and as I am trying hard to rope him in to save his family heritage from the evil world of ‘teh-khanas’ and concrete plazas, I just hope he succumbs to my heritage-oriented charms.

Tahir Azam is the son of the late Shahzada Major Azam, an amazing character of old Lahore in his own right, an Olympic hockey player for Afghanistan in the 1939 Berlin Olympics, and the first cousin of the former ruler of Afghanistan, King Zahir Shah. But royal connections apart, Tahir Azam shrugs off such earthly compliments. One just hopes he gets to grip with the old Lahore house of his ancestors, namely Bangla Ayub Shah. Mind you in his youth he spent many a splendid night there, so he has fond memories, and a lot of stories.

Located at the end of Kashmiri Gate Bazaar is Gali Bangla Ayub Shah, which starts where Gali Purani Kotwali meets it, the ruins of this ‘protected building’ stand out. For some it is a picture of utter neglect. Nearby traders see it as an opportunity to bring down yet another heritage building. In such ruins they see profit, even though by all legal standards they will be committing an illegality that can land them in jail. But our traders are never bothered by such irritants. In a way they are like Hitler who famously said: “When I hear the word culture, I go for my gun.”

The history of this ‘bangla’ is amazing, and the possibilities of its origin interesting. This is the house from where the ‘mystery’ tunnels ran to the Lahore Fort, and if popular lore is to be believed it was the ‘alleged’ escape route when Lahore was attacked for they led to the other side of the Ravi. Let me caution the reader that in this piece I am going to introduce the possibility that this middle Sikh period building could have been built on the unknown Haveli of Nur Jehan, and this could have been the place where Emperor Akbar stayed when he first arrived in Lahore. But serious research on this is required.


However, the pointers are available in Abul’ Fazl’s ‘Ain-i-Akbari’. Though no certain indicators exists, yet it is written that this ‘haveli’ was at the highest point of the city. Mind you the road that leads from Purani Kotwali and Kashmiri Bazaar meet to head towards Gali Bangla Ayub Shah. This place, much before Akbar erected brick walls, was located at the northern most tip of ancient Lahore. Hence the inference has some substance, even though it would be foolhardy, at least at this stage, to assume such a thing. But we do know that the ‘haveli’ was reconstructed on old Moghal foundations in the early Sikh era. Who exactly owned it is not known. What is known is that with the fall of the Sikhs in 1849 an Afghan chieftain pledging allegiance to the East India Company came with his forces and occupied this empty ‘haveli’. That chieftain was Ayub Shah from Kabul.

What is also known is that the British gave him funds to repair the damaged ‘haveli’ which he did and sold it to, again for ‘unknown reasons’, to the brother of the Afghan king, Shahzada Sultan Ibrahim Durrani. This royal shahzada also purchased a huge ‘haveli’ opposite it to serve as his magnificent horse stable. We read in Noor Ahmed Chishti’s ‘Tehkekat-i-Chishti’ that the Shahzadas had a horse collection finer than the Company Bahadar itself. His three sons were Shahzada Salay Jan, Shahzada Moazzam and Shahzada Yousaf. These three brothers became famous as the ‘three Shahzadas of Lahore’. They were, in those days, the richest family of Lahore.

Of the family a few details might help. Shahzada Salay Jan had three sons: Shahzada Alamgir, a former home secretary of West Pakistan and a most powerful man in the Ayub Khan era, Shahzada Sayar, a director of Radio Pakistan Persian service and Shahzada Sultan, a Punjab police officer. Shahzada Yousaf had one son, namely Shahzada Asif who was a tehsilar.

Lastly, Shahzada Moazzam had six sons, all of them outstanding sportsmen. Shahzada Azam, my friend Tahir Azam’s father, a British Army major, played hockey for Afghanistan in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The Afghanistan team was basically Lahore’s Afghan Club, which ended ranking sixth among 18 teams. Then came Shahzada Khurram, who won an Olympic hockey gold for Pakistan and his younger brother Shahrukh who won an Asian gold in cycling. The reason Azam played for Afghanistan was because the famous Afghan Hockey Club of Lahore was ignored by the hockey federation and they simply took the entire team to Kabul and then on to Berlin. After 1947 half the new Pakistani hockey team were Afghan Club of Lahore members, and these merry Lahoris sang in the 1948 Olympics the film song “Lal Dupatta Malmal Ka” as the country then did not have an official national anthem.

But back to Bangla Ayub Shah where my friend Shahzada Tahir Azam and his brother Zalmay Azam once lived. Of all the existing ‘havelis’ of Lahore, it is probably the oldest ‘haveli’ site in ancient Lahore. From its tunnels royalty ‘allegedly’ escaped towards the fort, or across the Ravi or even some distance to the east, probably near Landa Bazaar outside Delhi Gate. The foundations are genuinely there. The skeleton of the original ‘haveli’ still stands, a sorry picture of our unbelievable collective neglect.

What will the Lahore Walled City Authority (LWCA) do to save this precious part of our heritage? My opinion is nothing, absolutely nothing. If anything my information is that a few traders are viewing this place for a new concrete ‘godown’. Should Shahzada Tahir Azam be asked to save his family heritage? Will the LWCA assist him, let alone meet him?

As a first step I talked the issue over with Shahzada Tahir Azam and his response was that if what is left is given to him, and the LWCA asks a good conservation architect to prepare a plan for Tahir, he would be willing to take on the project. But should not the LWCA put in a reasonable amount of money to assist Tahir? My view is that the so-called ‘concerned citizens’ should also donate to a special ‘Bangla Ayub Fund’ to assist in this huge enterprise. But for starters let the top LWCA ring up Tahir Azam and invite him for tea, biscuits, and, maybe, sympathy.


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