As we walk into the imposing pavilion of the historic Gor Gathri complex on an unusually warm winter morning I recall visiting this grand site back in the 1990s when the eminent archeologist, Dr Farzand Ali Durrani, was busy supervising an excavation that established Peshawar as the oldest living city of the subcontinent, dating back to 1500 BC. Till then, Peshawar’s historic profile had been considered as old as 250 BC.
We have come to Gor Gathri today to celebrate the unveiling of two vintage “Merry Weather” fire-engines manufactured in London and stationed in this Peshawar fire brigade station in 1912. They have now been meticulously restored by the collective efforts of civil society members, media and the government.
[quote]Saad wanted to restore the palatial ancestral haveli of Kamini Kaushal[/quote]
As I watch the celebratory events unfold I think back to Malik Saad, the dynamic police officer who was assassinated by a suicide bomber five years ago. In the early 2000s, when things still held some promise; when people believed some good could come out of the so-called enlightened moderation of the Musharraf government, Saad, posted as DG Peshawar Development Authority, invited a few Sarhad Conservation Network members to the historic precincts of the Gor Gathri complex. As we sat and sipped tea in the lawns of this ancient site, I remember Saad telling us about the decrepit colonial building and the two rickety Raj-era fires engines that he felt deserved to be restored for posterity, along with the imposing Cavagneri House in his ancestral Kohat city and the palatial ancestral haveli of renowned Indian star, Kamini Kaushal. I have now learnt the latter has been demolished. Its grand artifacts and carved doors now adorn the modern homes of the high and mighty of KP. Saad was not allowed to live long enough to accomplish the tasks so dear to his heart.
Safyan Saadat Kakakhel, a young member of Sarhad Conservation Network® (SCN) and a first year engineering student at GIKI who published a report in a daily newspaper in 2003 exhorting authorities to pay attention to the degeneration of these historic artifacts. In response to this report, one of Peshawar’s oldest residents (who had not yet immigrated to Canada) contacted his friend Romano, Area Representative of the Islamabad-based Vintage & Classic Cars Club of Pakistan (www.vcccp.com), based in Islamabad. Having restored a number of vintage and classic cars in Karachi the club’s President Mohsin Ikram and other members were eager to play a part in restoring these vintage vehicles to their almost original condition. This did not include engine overhauls, but “dollying-up” as far as possible. But all this required funds.
Maureen Lines who has forsaken her UK citizenship to take up residence in Birir, Kalash valley with a Kalash family, networked on behalf of the Frontier Heritage Trust (FHT) with the pioneers of The Vintage & Classic Cars Club of Pakistan. This rare partnership paid dividends when the dynamic former MD of Sarhad Tourism Corporation (now TCKP), Azam Khan, allocated Rs 2 million for the entire project. Former DG, Pakistan Academy for Rural Development, Mr Naimatullah Abid, graciously provided premises and logistics for six months to restore the two engines to their former glory.
The Vintage & Classic Cars Club of Pakistan sent a set of competent hands who took turns visiting Peshawar at appropriate times to carry out the work.
[quote]The minister stands out amongst the mediocrities in the KP government[/quote]
At the launching ceremony the guest of honour Mr Inayatullah Khan, Minister for Local Government, said conservation has never been Pakistan’s priority, hence the destruction of heritage sites, he said that reading both “History of the World”, by HG Wells and Jawahar Lal Nehru’s celebrated work “Glimpses of India”, a compilation of letters to his daughter Indira Gandhi during his incarceration under the Raj, contributed to his knowledge of the history of the subcontinent dating back six thousand years. This revealing confession came as quite a surprise from a JI MPA and made me wonder if other JI and PTI leaders could ever become as visionary as this dynamic young minister from Dir? An impeccably honest man with extraordinary administrative qualities, the minister stands out amongst the mediocrities in the KP government.
Endeavours towards conservation and betterment are a much needed positive respite in a climate where good news is rare.
The author is a founding member of Sarhad Conservation Network