Daily Times: Sunday, December 24, 2006

Lahore Lahore Aye: Bhaati Gate — Lahore’s Chelsea

By A Hamid

If Lahore’s Mochi Gate is the city’s heart, then Bhaati Gate is the city’s brain. According to Hakim Ahmed Shuja who named it the Chelsea of Lahore, at one time, Bhaati Gate was where the city’s poets and writers were to be found. Allama Iqbal lived in Bhaati Gate and it was from there that Sir Abdul Qadir started the publication of his trail-blazing literary magazine Makhzan. Agha Hashr also lived here and so did Faqir Syed Azizuddin and Faqir Syed Nooruddin, the latter an accomplished Persian poet. Maulvi Ahmed Din was a resident of Bhaati Gate’s Waan-wali Galli. He wrote with great flair, his style based on that of his teacher Muhammad Hussain Azad. Not far from Waan-wali Galli, in a back street lived three brothers: Khawaja Rahim Bux, Khawaja Karim Bux and Khawaja Amir Bux, known to one and all as the Khawaja Brothers. So impeccable was their literary taste that Iqbal is said to have used them as a touchstone and never read anything in public till he had first bounced it off the Khawaja Brothers.

The writer Tahir Lahori also lived in Bhaati Gate. He once said that every one of Lahore’s gates had its own history and cultural identity, but the Bhaati Gate held a place all its own. No other Gate is as famous as Bhaati. Along Bhaati’s periphery was a lovely park (now much ravaged), which was always well tended and peaceful. A small road used to run not far from the canal that bubbled through the park. Today, very little remains of that road but you can still see where it once was. Mulsari trees stood on both sides of this road and roses and jasmine bloomed along its sides, their fragrance always hanging heavy in the air. In the morning, devotees of Data Sahib, Lahore’s great saint, would walk through the park, rosaries in hand, on their way to the tomb to pray and ask for his blessings.

One can’t even begin to count the number of artists, writers, poets, actors, musicians and sportsmen who were born in Bhaati Gate and who made their name in the world. This is where Lahore’s movie industry took birth. Mian Abdul Rashid Kardar, a resident of Bhaati Gate, it was who made the first silent movie in Lahore and rose to great fame and fortune as one of the most successful filmmakers of India. The great character actors M. Ismail and M. Ajmal, who starred in several of the silent movies made in Lahore, going on to gain fame and following when silent movies made way for talkies, both belonged to Bhaati Gate. It was Kardar who picked up a young man who worked in a Bhaati Gate goldsmith’s shop, took him to Bombay, when he moved there and turned him into a great actor. His name was Hira Lal, still remembered as a credible movie villain. He even played the lead in some movies.

Kardar’s friend and his long-time assistant M. Sadiq was also from Bhaati Gate. He later branched out on his own, becoming one of the most successful of India’s movie directors. Kardar created many stars. Gul Hamid, a handsome young man from Peshawar, became an all-India celebrity when Kardar cast him in his hit movie Baghi Sipahi. It is said that the movie industry never again saw an actor with Gul Hamid’s looks. Kardar also produced and directed such great hits as Baghban, Milap and after independence, Dulari. But before the division of India, another of his hits was Mirza Sahiban, starring Zahur Raja. It was a Punjabi movie and in my view one of the first quality movies made in that language. I remember beautifully-sung snatches of the epic on which the love story was based. Zahur Raja, I should add, also lived in Bhaati Gate. I got to know him after Pakistan when I was working for Anwar Kamal Pasha’s film unit. The famous poet and lyricist Tanvir Naqvi also came from Bhaati Gate. Another actor Ismail Godar, who started out in theatre and used to play the jinn in horror movies, was also a Bhaati Gate product.

Some of the greatest sportsmen came from Bhaati Gate and its adjoining streets. Most of the famous kabbadi players of those days were from Bhaati. The great wrestlers of those, indeed all, times, men such as Rustam-e-Zaman Gama Pehelwan and Rustam-e-Hind Imam Bux, were from Bhaati Gate and lived close to Maidan Bhaatiaan in Phullan-wali Galli. Where Mohni Road runs today, there was nothing once but green fields and water wells. When residential housing came to Mohni Road, the great wrestlers of Bhaati Gate made it their home. Another great wrestler of the times was Muhammad Shafi Pehelwan, a “shagird” of Rustam-e-Zaman Gama Pehelwan. It is said that when Shafi Pehelwan was invited by a Hindu princely state to wrestle a court-favoured challenger, the people of Bhaati Gate held special prayers for his victory. The Raja’s wrestler was no match to Shafi, so some of the Raja’s men offered him a fat sum of money to wrestle for a draw. When Shafi’s supporters found out what had happened, they surrounded his house, pelting him with accusations of having let them down. Finally, in exasperation he told them, “It was a Hindu state where I went to make some money, not to cause a Hindu-Muslim riot.”

The great Skipper Abdul Hafiz Kardar, Pakistan’s celebrated cricket captain, a cousin of Abdul Rashid Kardar, also belonged to Bhaati Gate. He is one of the few cricketers to have played for more than one country. He was a member of the last team from undivided India to tour England in 1946. Of the great singers, Muhammad Rafi and Ali Bux Zahoor also came from Bhaati. The music composer Khawaja Khurshid Anwar was another Bhaati Gate man, as was the famous writer, Mirza Adeeb. In 1948-49 I used to visit a friend who lived in one of the cul de sac streets of Bhaati Gate. A regular companion of ours was a failed stage actor, who used to declaim entire passages from Agha Hashr’s dramas for us. He also considered himself the best-read among us, although I was more conversant with English and English literature than the entire group put together. I remember the release at Plaza Cinema of the movie Jane Eyre, starring Orsan Wells. Our actor friend’s review of the movie I can never forget. According to him Jane Eyre was a love story like Heer Ranjha, Laila Majnu and Sohni Mahniwal. “But the director is a fool, he has failed to film the most effective scene from the novel,” he announced.

When we asked how, he declared, throwing out both arms, “When Jane is trapped inside a burning house, her lover Eyre comes running, calling her name. ‘Jane, Jane, my love where are you?’ Jane, who is already half consumed by the flames, replies, ‘Eyre, Eyre, here I am my love.’” Of course, there is no such scene in the novel but the intensity with which our friend played it out was so effective that many of us were overcome.

Those were the days.

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

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