Daily Times: Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lahore Lahore Aye: The parks that were

By A Hamid

Lahore used to be known as the city of gardens. And while it still is, so many of its old parks and gardens are gone, some of which were integral to the city's identity. Let me go back to the early years of Pakistan. Between the Badami Bagh and Shahdara, there was a park on the banks of the Ravi which was triangular in shape. In its place now stands a sprawling bus stand for people travelling upcountry. This park had a maulsari tree, a species that seems to have disappeared if not become extinct as far as Lahore goes. Maybe if you look long and hard, you can find a tree or two, though I haven't been able to do so. That maulsari tree stood straight and high in all its splendour and during spring, if you stood under it, its aromatic, delicate white flowers would come wafting down the gentle breeze. In the evening, one could buy maulsari flower bracelets outside Bhaati Gate.

This park also had mango and pear trees. No one interfered with them or plucked their fruit, in the same way as flowers were left untouched in springtime. One would often see weary travellers resting under these trees, their bodies stretched on the grass. Labourers would sleep here during summer nights and nobody bothered them. Despite all the people who frequented this lovely triangular park, it retained its beauty and maintained its green and colourful treasures. One narrow path shaded by trees led from here to Jehangir's tomb. Hardly ever did I see anyone walk down that way.

Then there was the great circular garden that ran alongside the outer wall of the city. It dated back to Mughal times and it was well cared for during the British Raj. I remember coming to Lahore as a child from Amritsar and I can never forget this small mosque that stood outside Masti Gate at the edge of the great park. At a certain place in the park, there were tall bushes that had been trimmed neatly to serve as dividing walls for a section where a festival exclusively for women took place after Eid. Between that point and Bhaati and from Bhaati to Mochi Gate, there were several nurseries and a profusion of roses and marigolds. Outside Mochi, one section had been set aside for public meetings. It was said that a politician who had not addressed a big crowd outside Mochi had not yet arrived.

This long circular park had bent around the mausoleum of Shah Muhammad Ghaus. I also remember a municipal library somewhere around this area where Aqa Baider Bakht used to teach Adeeb Fazil and Adeeb Alim students in the evening. If you kept walking through the park beyond the library, you went past Delhi and Yakki Gates and then on to Sheranwala and Kashmiri Gates. This circular park was like a garland around the city of Lahore's neck. In 1949 or 1950 when I was living in Misri Shah, I used to walk under Ik-moria bridge and enter the park, then walk through it all the way to Lohari Gate, past the flower-sellers and then across the road to Anarkali, which was my route to Pak Tea House. Once when I was walking through the park, I ran into Muhammad Tufail, the Naqoosh editor, who asked me to complete an unfinished novel that Saadat Hasan Manto had left with him before his death. I told him that I would never be able to replicate Manto's style.

Then there was the Gol Bagh in front of Government College, which to our good luck has survived. Bhutto renamed it Nasser Bagh, which is how it has been known since, a permanent tribute to the great Gamal Abdel Nasser. In winter, a chrysanthemum show used to be held here, attracting large crowds. Lahore's legendary parks, which exist now only in historical accounts, include Bagh Gul Begum, which was laid by one of the Mughal kings. There also used to be a park at Chauburji which stretched over the present residential neighbourhood of Rajgarh. It is said that ladies from the Mughal court used to talk walks in this park. There was also Shadbagh, but all that now remains of it is the neighbourhood that goes by that name, and where I once lived. Before Pakistan, there used to be fruit gardens around Lahore, which no longer exist. Nor are there any gardens where girls would throw swings across tree branches when the rains came after long, hot summers. Even Charagh Hasan Hasrat's romantic ditty sung by Ustad Barkat Ali Khan about those swings is barely remembered today. So let me revive it: Baghoon mein paray jhoolay: Tum bhool gaye hum ko, hum tum ko nahin bhoolay. (It is that time again when swings are strung across trees: You have forgotten me, but I have not forgotten you.)

Badami Bagh is no longer a park, though it once was, having been destroyed by the Sikhs who destroyed much in Lahore. The magnificent Badshahi Masjid was used as a stable during Sikh rule. However, Hazoori Bagh was laid by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to celebrate his acquisition of the Koh-e-Noor diamond. But as was to be expected, the marble used was obtained by vandalising the mausoleums of Zebunissa, Noor Jahan and the Emperor Jehangir. Ranjit Singh also laid a garden for Moraan, a Lahore courtesan whom he liked. The park no longer exists, nor does Bagh Rani Gul Begum, an Amrtisar courtesan whom the Maharaja married. This park was situated in Mozang.

I also miss some of Lahore's roads as I remember them. I can never forget Davis Road as it once was. There were brick footpaths that lay on both its sides. In those days, there was very little traffic on it. There were not many cars in Lahore then. In winter, on a clear day, with white pigeons flying in droves in the blue sky, Davis Road would shimmer in the sun, assuming a strange air of mystery. It remained quiet even during daytime, but at night it was draped in a profound and peaceful silence. When I look at this road today, I feel that the Davis Road I knew once now lies buried under the noise and pollution that are Lahore's hallmarks. There is so much traffic on it now that unless you are young and nimble-footed, you cannot cross it

Lahore has become a big city but it is no longer a city in which you can walk. The footpaths, where they exist, are like parking garages. There is commercial pandemonium everywhere. No one seems to know anyone. Everybody is in a rush, running, running, running. I sometimes ask myself, "Where are these people going and why?"

A Hamid, distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer, writes a column every week based on his memories of old Lahore. Translated from Urdu by Khalid Hasan


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