The ‘culture’ of Katra Rehman Shah changed imperceptibly over time, but the Independence and the establishment of Pakistan unearthed its traditions. 1947 was a traumatic year in Lahore. It shook up Katra.
Shah Alam Bazaar was the front line of Hindu-Muslim communal contour and it was less than 100 meters from Katra. By May/June 1947, communal riots in Lahore had engulfed the predominantly Hindu Shah Alam neighbourhood. Vanishing job, hunger and the fear of an attack by Sikh-Hindu gangs raked Katra. Young men became the neighbourhood’s defenders and the elders’ influence and prestige was reduced. The wisdom of age had lost its value.
Shah Alam Bazaar was the front line of Hindu-Muslim communal contour and it was less than 100 meters from Katra
Independence and the establishment of Pakistan (August 1947) was a critical juncture in the social life of the Katra neighbourhood and Lahore. It eroded long held traditions and introduced new values. Although the population of Katra and its surrounding neighbourhood did not change, the resettlement of Muslim refugees from India in areas vacated by Hindus and Sikhs changed the social composition of the city. Urdu, and the erstwhile unfamiliar dialects of Punjabi, began to echo in the streets. The old city had a thick weave of mutual acquaintances spanning generations.
The introduction of strangers injected an ethos of distrust. New foods – for example Harisa and Nihari – were added to the city’s repertoire of tasteful dishes. Traditional moral restraints about getting rich broke down with the scramble for the allotment of Hindu properties.
Jan, a handsome young man of Katra, took a marble-top table from a half burnt Hindu house in Shah Alam Bazaar. When his father found out about his ‘loot’, he threw the table out and made him take it back. He did not want haram (forbidden) goods in his home. That was April 1947.
A year later, boys of the neighbourhood were stripping the hardware and pipes from abandoned houses for sale, without much parental reprimands. How one got rich and acquired property began to matter little as long as one was successful. The practice of obtaining evacuee properties laid the foundation of the ethos of greed that evolved into an industry of land grabbing and acquisition of subsidized ‘plots’ (urban land lots). No one from Katra gained much and the moral values of fair and legitimate earnings began to erode.
The next wave of social change in Katra came with men beginning to seek employment out of Lahore. As the recession of Partition and its aftermath began to ease, Karachi started to develop into a commercial and industrial centre. Some young carpenters, furniture-makers and blacksmiths of the neighbourhood found jobs in Karachi, and after settling down, shifted their families.
Next was the movement to Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for jobs. Two brothers from Katra went to Ras Tanura, the Saudi oil port, leaving their families behind. A visible change in the food, clothes and possessions could be witnessed in their wives and children. Riaz was the first one in his family to complete the high school. He learnt typing and bookkeeping to qualify for office jobs. Soon he was recruited as an accounts clerk in Aramco, Saudi Arabia at the young age of 20 in 1951. Within a year, his younger brothers were wearing Boski (silken) shirts and his grandmother, who had raised the family after their mother’s death, was lording over other women in the courtyard. The earnings from the Middle East prompted movement of the expatriates’ families out of Katra to suburban colonies. Social mobility had come to Katra, and the solidarity cultivated over generations began to fracture.
The old city had open drains, leaking water lines, buffalo herds and houses packed together along labyrinthine narrow streets where the sun hardly came through
The old city had open drains, leaking water lines, buffalo herds and houses packed together along labyrinthine narrow streets where the sun hardly came through. Katra was a smelly place with the sewage flowing in open drains and the night soil taken out by the sweeper from houses piled in a corner for collection. As the possibilities opened for middle class Lahoris to live in houses with flush toilets, underground drains, wide streets and plenty of sunlight, many such residents of the old city started moving out. Find the best Dubai escorts with verified photos here.
The post-Independence development of suburbs like Samanabad, Gulberg and Shad Bag started to draw educated and professional classes out of the old city. Some of the established doctors took residences in these suburbs, though keeping their clinics in the city. Old city residents could no longer count on getting medical help after hours. Luminaries residing in one of Muslims’ literary/political ‘salon’, i.e. Kucha Chabak Sawaran, such as the painter Abdul Rehman Chughtai, art printers Macci brothers, socialist leader Abdullah Malik, and the high priest of Ahl-e-Hadith community and Khatib of Chinia Wali mosque Maulana Dawood Ghaznvi, moved out of the neighbourhood.
Businessmen who had shops nearby continued to be the persons of means and stuck to the old city. They would renovate their houses by installing modern facilities and making them more habitable. In Katra, the turnover of families had started with the expatriate earnings, but the rise of the newly educated generation accelerated the turnover of the population. Families with caste identities, not historically part of the neighbourhood, such as Khoja Sheikhs and Goldsmiths, began to filter in from other parts of the city and in one case from another town.
By 1980s, Katra was a different place. Partition and Independence had broken open the socially insular walled city. The neighbourhood and Katra were also swept by these forces. Katra was affected by the rebuilding of the burnt out Shah Alam bazaar into a broad boulevard lined with colonnaded buildings and shops. This boulevard brought automobiles right into the heart of the walled city terminating at the Chowk Rang Mahal and the Gold market. Katra was a stone’s throw from the chowk.
In the 1970s, Shah Alam Market turned into a market for imported goods, cloth, toiletries, cosmetics and knock-offs of branded products. A parallel market of smuggled goods grew in the back streets. Katra was at the periphery of these developments. A few houses in Katra became workshops for producing what came to be called as ‘number two’ goods, i.e. imitations of branded shoes and bags. Thus it became a manufacturing cum residential courtyard.
Our home was turned into a commercial ‘English-medium’ school when my brother sold it after moving to Garden Town. By now most of the nine houses in Katra have been knocked down and rebuilt in cement and concrete, removing the traces of historic small brick construction. Many families living in Katra are unknown to me. They are mostly new arrivals of the past 10-20 years. Of the old families, remnants of only two are surviving. They are perhaps those who had not caught the rising tide of mobility and modernity.
(Some names have been changed to maintain the privacy of individuals)
Mohammad Qadeer is the author of Pakistan: Social and Cultural Transformations in a Muslim Nation
Very nice story of neighborhood change. I would wish that the author could continue to describe the changes taking place now and and how the people in the neighborhood view the current conditions in Pakistan.