The book by Fatima Hussain has a fascinating beginning to it. It is the outcome of the romance of a ‘Dili di Kuri’ (Delhi girl) and a ‘Lahore da Munda’ (Lahore boy).
The author came to Lahore for the first time in 2005 and has recorded her first impressions of that historic city in the very first chapter, “I saw Lahore, I was born”
“It was April of 2005, as I walked down the aerobridge, I could not help noticing the grandeur of the Allama Iqbal International Airport. Moreover to my pleasant surprise, the immigration counters were manned by women staff with uncovered faces. As someone who was visiting Pakistan for the first time, this was contrary to expectations”.
From that narration she then moves on to historical perspectives on the city, beginning with the second chapter. It starts with Empress Nur Jahan’s image and her words about the city:
“I have purchased Lahore with my life. By giving my Life for Lahore, I have actually purchased another Paradise.”
The author notes that:
“Lahore has been for thousands of years the cultural capital and heart of Punjab. Since its creation it has changed hands from Hindus, Buddhist, Greek, Muslim, Sikh and British rule, finally becoming the heart of modern day Pakistan”
She has also written about that forgotten Rani of Lahore, the Princesses Bamba Dilip Singh, the immortal revolutionary Bhagat Singh; and the magnificent artist Amrita Sher-Gil. The historic gates of Lahore are spoken of here – Masti Gate, Kashmiri Gate, Sheranwala Gate, Yakki Gate, Delhi Gate, Akbari Gate, Mochi Gate, Shah Alami Gate, Lohari Gate, Bhaati Gate, Taxali Gate and Roshnai Gate.
She writes, inevitably, of the Sufi saints associated with Lahore in various ways: Data Ganj Bakhsh, Shah Hussain, Baba Farid Shakar Ganj, Hazrat Mian Mir and Hazrat Shah Jamal.
She also reproduces that famous couplet of Ustad Daman which was recited at Delhi in the presence of Jawaharlal Nehru himself:
Juggun Walian Rajj k Lauteya ae
Soye Tuse ve Nai Soye Asi ve Nai
Lali Ankhiyan de paye dasdi ae
Roye Tusi ve Ou Roye Asi ve Aan
Fatima Hussain is one of the leading Muslim women scholars of history in India. She teaches history at Delhi University. She has a number of books and numerous articles to her credit. Some of her widely acclaimed books are: The War that Wasn’t: The Sufi and the Sultan, Palestine: the historical perspective, Sufism and the Bhakti movement and Sufism Revisited.
She was born to an educationalist family of Aligarh University. In fact, her name (Fatima Tabassum) was for the first time used by her father Professor Dr. Farid Ali Shamsi to write letters to the editor. She did her M. Phil and PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) under the guidance of veteran historian Prof. Harbans Mukhia. She accomplished much of her higher education after marriage.
She visited Lahore in 2005 to attend the Waris Shah International Conference. There, she and Fakhar Zaman fell for each other and married soon after. This union with a Lahori provided her ample opportunities to know the ethos, history, culture and spiritual aspects of Lahore. Now she is familiar with every nook and corner of the city. And that is where the present book comes from. She writes of Om Prakash and director Yash Chopra. She goes over the myths and legends associated with Lahore. Moreover, the book is filled with the accounts and lived experiences of former residents of Lahore.
Few, if any at all, dare to mention that it was Lahoris who burnt alive Lahoris at Shah Alam market and forced the migration and large-scale killings of Hindu and Sikh residents of the city
Many books have already been written on Lahore, as is rightly acknowledged by the author. She, of course, brings her unique perspective to light with her writing on the city. One might still ask what is unique about Dr. Fatima Hussain’s work.
To me, this book is a brief but comprehensive history of Lahore. It covers much of the cultural and social history of the city. Cuisines, flora and fauna , architecture, Sufis, buildings, mazars (shrines), gardens, women of substance, men of letters, film actors, artists, musicians, singers, educational institutes, tombs – you name it.
Lahore has been the capital of a number of rulers. It fascinated not only intellectuals, men of letters and Sufi saints but also rulers themselves.
There is little doubt that Lahore before the 1947 Partition of the Indian Subcontinent was not a Muslim-dominated city. Followers of many religious traditions have lived and loved in that city.
There is an ongoing debate about who ‘spoiled’ the old culture of Lahore. A facile answer comes from those who accuse ‘newcomers’ – as though they or their forefathers were anything different. Few, if any at all, dare to mention that it was Lahoris who burnt alive Lahoris at Shah Alam market and forced the migration and large-scale killings of Hindu and Sikh residents of the city. In that vein, the book ends with the translation of Fakhar Zaman’s poem that asks ‘Whose Evil Eye has jinxed Lahore City – I am unable to see this city now!’
Above all, is a coffee-table book printed on glazed paper and contains dozens of historic and beautiful pictures of Lahore. In fact I would argue that the material presented here is so indispensable that perhaps a cheaper paperback edition might be necessary so as to reach a yet wider reading audience.
It is unfortunate, however, that an Indian writer who fell in love with Lahore at first sight has eventually become somewhat disenchanted with the city too. The traffic jams, she notes, are “nearly as nasty” as those of Delhi. As mentioned earlier, she concludes her book with a poem by her own Lahori husband, Fakhar Zaman, of which the translation is as follows:
Whose evil eye has jinxed this city?
I can’t bear to see this city now
On the expanding sides of this city
I see clots of blood
The glow of its eyes is dimming away every moment
And its eyes have become jaundiced.
Once the singing places for cuckoos,
the trees of gardens of the city are now being hacked heartlessly.
The tongue of this city is sewn with the blister of unexpressed feelings
The feelings, longings, cravings, and hopes of the city
Have fallen like leaves in a long-lasting autumn
The forehead of the city, which once bore strings of garlands
is now marked with the arched scars of sufferings
The bracelet tied around the boundary of this city
Has now transformed into a cold, rusted handcuff.
The anklets of cravings in the feet of this city
Have now changed into its fetters.
In the city once ruled by nightingales
the crows have eaten up the eggs of doves in a single gulp
And they have trampled under their boots the young ones.
Fallen from nets
The jingles of young ladies’ bangles
The melodies of the swings
The songs of the courtyards
Mahiey, tappy, dholey
Bhangra, ludi, dharees, sidha
All the city’s musical sounds and genres of rhythm
Have now turned into the sounds and dances of death