Truth is stranger than fiction, wrote Mark Twain. Fiction was written within plausible facts, he went on to explain, whereas reality knew no bounds. Life furthers the boundaries of truth within which fiction plays out.
The tale told here is as coincidental as any that a Bollywood script writer could conjure up. This is the story, in general, of the children of the Partition of Punjab in August 1947. Specifically, this is the story of two of these children; one born to a Hindu family a year before partition and the other born five years after partition to a Muslim family. Fate linked them by the fact that they were both born in the same city, in the same neighbourhood, and, strangely, a few doors apart in the same gali (lane). Their families were uprooted from their ancestral abodes to undertake perilous journeys in opposite directions and settle in strange lands to rebuild their lives.
About five years ago, this author wrote about a neighbourhood in Lahore called Gowalmandi, where he was born in July 1952 to a family of Kashmiri immigrants from Amritsar. It was a popular article, as many people reconnected to this place with great nostalgia. An occasional email continues to arrive to this day.
But last month, a very interesting message came from New Delhi in India. The contents of the email and the tale of two families linked by coincidence will be described in the next instalment of this article. Here in this first part, a historical and socio-economic description of this part of Lahore is being given, which would enable the readers to better appreciate the strange coincidence that has prompted this author to write about Gowalmandi again.
Gowalmandi lies across the Circular Road opposite Shah-Alam and Mochi Gates of the walled-city. Shah-Alam Road emanates from the heart of the city, at a crossing in Rang Mahal – where Dabbi, Hatta and Kinari bazaars also meet. It continues as Bansawala Road across the Circular Road, that terminates in front of Mayo Hospital at Bansawala Chowk. Here five roads meet, namely Bansawala Road to the north, Railway Road to the east, one portion of Mayo Hospital Road to northwest, the second section of Mayo Hospital to the south and Nisbet Road to southeast.
Railway Road connects Bansawala Chowk (referring to bamboo dealers) with Railway Station through Food Street, Dawakhana Hakeem Ajmal, Amritdhara Building, Barafkhana Chowk (referring to the Ice Factory), Islamia College and Dalgran Chowk (referring to those dealing in pulses/lentils). Gowalmandi – itself meaning “Milkmen’s market” – is located on both sides of this road, enclosed by an irregular polygon described by Circular Road, Bansawala Bazaar, Nisbet Road, Dil Muhammad Road and Brandreth Road. Several roads, multiple residential streets (galis) and many commercial bazaars crisscross the locality.
In the near vicinity of Gowalmandi lies Lakshmi Chowk at the confluence of Nisbet-Abbot (once the hub of Lollywood) and McLeod Roads. Lahore Metro Train now runs through this chowk along McLeod Road. The chowk is named after Lakshmi Insurance Company, whose office building called “Lakshmi building,” still standing in the chowk, was the post-partition abode of Saadat Hassan Minto, ex-Prime Minister Malik Meraj Khalid and historian Professor Ayesha Jalal’s father. The insurance company was owned by Lala Lajpat Rai, founder of Gulab Devi Hospital, a philanthropist and a freedom fighter whose death in 1928 at the hands of police instigated Bhagat Singh and his companions to kill a British police officer named Saunders, and Channan Singh, an Indian Police Havaldar. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were later tried and hanged. All six connected with this violent affair died their unnatural deaths in Lahore.
The first planned housing colonies constructed for Indians were the Canal Colonies. The design was adapted in cities for the fast emerging educated and mercantile middle class. Gowalmandi was one amongst such colonies
The British East India Company (BEIC) annexed Punjab in 1849 after their victory in the 2nd Anglo-Sikh war. The post-1857 period saw rapid development of infrastructure in Lahore. King Edward Medical College was built in 1860, Government College in 1864, Oriental College (forerunner of Punjab University) in 1866, the Railway station in 1869, Mayo Hospital in 1871, Mayo School of Arts in 1875, Lahore Veterinary College in 1882, Central Model School in 1883, Aitchison College in 1886, the Cathedral in 1887, the High Court Building in 1889, the Town Hall in 1890 and the Museum in 1894. Governor House, which was once a private residence of Khushal Singh, a general of Ranjit Singh’s army, was reconstructed earlier in 1853. All these details, and many more, are listed in the book titled Old Lahore, written in 1924 by Colonel Goulding.
The area beyond Bhaati Gate, along Multan Road and around Anarkali Bazaar, was the first abode of the British occupiers. Civil Lines including government offices and courts were established. The military was housed in barracks in the same vicinity with Army headquarters located close to Chauburji. In the early 1850s, construction of the cantonment commenced and the army shifted there before the outbreak of the great Mutiny in 1857. Henry Lawrence disarmed the Indian troops in the parade square that is now the Fortress Stadium. A wide road, called the Mall, was constructed to connect the civil and military components of the colonial administration. This road and the streets around it, because of their location, became hubs of commercial and educational activity. The area north of the road around Charing Cross was initially named Donald Town, after Sir Donald McLeod, the Lt Governor of Punjab, a much-respected Calcutta-born colonial administrator.
It is obvious from the above narration that the population of the city increased rapidly and, at the same time, there was a need and a desire for planned and clean residential colonies. While the British established well planned and spacious cantonments and civil lines for the British personnel, the locals remained confined to the crowded city mohallas.
Among the first planned housing colonies constructed for Indians were the Canal Colonies starting with the beginning of the 20th century. The design was adapted for new colonies in different cities for the fast emerging educated and mercantile middle class. Gowalmandi was one amongst such colonies. A similar design can be observed, among other sites, at Satellite Town Rawalpindi and various blocks of Sargodha.
Construction in Gowalmandi commenced around 1911. At that time, as evidenced by a map of that era, the area was called Chura Mohallah. It was the first housing colony around the walled city that had straight uniformly-wide streets as opposed to the winding varying-width galis within the city (Model Town was established later in 1921). The plot sizes vary from around 70 to 125 sq yards but were mostly of 100 sq yards. Both sides of the streets are lined with sewage-cum-rainwater drains. The houses have piped sweet water with a regular supply twice a day. Every household had water storage tanks or ‘Hamams,’ a practice that continues to this day. Latrines on top of the houses were open-pit and had their own water storage. The houses are two-storey structures with common walls between adjacent houses on both sides. Most houses, if not all, are designed around a small courtyard in the center of the plot. A metal covering on top of the courtyard allows the sun to light the entire house. All houses are brick structures, without plaster on the outside, except the ones that have been rebuilt lately.
After 1947, Gowalmandi mainly became home to the Muslim-Kashmiri-Amritsari immigrants. They brought their culture with them, especially culinary specialties. The bazaars here are today famous for Baqar Khanis, Kulchas, Hareesa, Qeema-Nans, Lassi, Puri-Halwa and various Tikka shops
Another peculiar feature of the houses is that the roofs are made of layered bamboos or wooden planks covered with mud-straw plaster. The materials used and the techniques employed were of such high standard and quality that most of the roofs in the area are still in good shape, having endured human usage and weather for over a hundred years. The demand for timber was met by entrepreneurs by establishing shops and godowns in the bazaar that came to be called Bansawala bazaar. Till the early 1970s, when this author passed through this bazaar frequently, the bamboo business was thriving. During his last visit in 2016, bamboo sales had clearly fallen and many of the original shops were trading in other products.
A number of roads were constructed to connect the walled city with the Mall and beyond through Gowalmandi. These roads, named after prominent British officials according to Col Goulding, include Chamberlain and Nicholson Roads (prominent military officers of war of 1857 ), Mayo Road, Hospital and Gardens (Viceroy of India, murdered in Port Blair in the Andaman Islands aka Kala Pani by a convicted Afridi tribesman), Abbot Road (Deputy Commissioner of Abbottabad), Thornton Road (Secretary to Government of Punjab), Davis Road (Assistant Secretary to Government of Punjab), Napier Road (First civil engineer of Punjab), Queen and Empress Roads (Queen Victoria of British Empire), Edwards Road (Commissioner Peshawar) Beadon, Brandreth, Cooper, Cust, Lake, Hall and Nisbet Roads (ex-Deputy Commissioners and Commissioners of Lahore), Durand, Davies, McLeod, Egerton and Montgomery Roads (ex Lieutenant-Governors of Punjab), Maclagan Road (Major-General Maclagan or his son, an ex-Governor of Punjab), Temple Boad (Sir Richard Temple), and Lawrence and Lytton Roads (Governors-General and Viceroys).
The British names of these roads testify that the development here took place under a mighty colonial impetus. The names of bazaars and streets in Gowalmandi – Baghwan and Krishna Bazaars, and Kailash, Veer, Ram, Raja Ram, Khalsa and Gyan streets/galis – indicate that the population mainly consisted of the prosperous Hindu and Sikh middle-class elements who dominated commerce around the walled city. Even in the food business, the Sikh-owned Sardar Fry Fish shop in Gowalmandi was a popular restaurant and now forms the nucleus of the Food Street. While living the area, all families living there were migrants and none had been living there since before independence.
After partition in 1947, however, Gowalmandi mainly became home to the Muslim-Kashmiri-Amritsari immigrants. They brought their culture with them, especially their culinary specialties. The bazaars here are today famous for Baqar Khanis, Kulchas, Hareesa, Qeema-Nans, Lassi, Puri-Halwa and various Tikka shops – now being run by the third generation of the progenitors. The attraction of these eateries formed the heart of the first food street in the country, which has now been closed for causing rat infestation and traffic congestion in the area. However, the famed restaurants continue to do brisk business.
Gowalmandi was one of the centres of kite-flying in the city. Come autumn, and the evening sky would be covered with kites. This author, too, has spent countless hours flying kites on the roof of his maternal grandparent’s home in Veer Gali off Ram Bazaar. Closer to Basant, all eyes remained glued to the sky and even the cricket or hockey match commentary took secondary importance. As the houses were of nearly the same height and conjoined, it was possible to chase a loose kite by jumping from one end of the street to the other.
Pigeon-training was and continues to be another popular sport and pastime. Most neighbours knew each other and no one minded kids hopping over their rooftops. The mode of transportation in the area consisted of cycles, tongas, a few Vespa scooters and an occasional, very occasional, car.
During his last visit to the area to gather data for the article referred above, this author found no change in the socio-economic environment except that the tongas have been replaced with Qingqii rickshaws. There were still very few cars parked in the streets. The motorcycles were towed into the deoris – the tiny entrances of houses. Streets themselves were, however, clean: as they used to be till this author visited the place regularly up until mid-1960s.
Gowalmandi is one of the most populous areas of Lahore. Along with the walled city, its surroundings now form the heart of the city. Sons of Gowalmandi are prominent in politics, industry, the armed forces, medicine, technology and business.
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: email@example.com