Punjab Research Group


Posted in Conferences, Events by Pippa on March 27, 2015

Date: 06-08 November, 2015

Venue: THAAP, 43-G, Gulberg-III, Lahore, Pakistan.

Dear Friend,

THAAP is a forum of academics and professionals dedicated to improving the state of education, particularly in the field of Arts, Architecture and Culture. Friends and colleagues made THAAP Conferences 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 successful and now, I am happy to announce the launch of THAAP Conference 2015. With your contributions I am sure this too will be a great success.

THAAP has organized five international conferences, various talks, evening series and cultural events from year 2010 onwards. First Thaap Conference 2010, titled ‘Historiography of Architecture in Pakistan and the Region’ projected various viewpoints in the writing of history. A consensus developed that history acquires a meaning for the people if written from their perspective. Second Thaap Conference 2011 on ‘Portrait of Lahore: Capital City of the Punjab’ projected the city as an integrated human endeavor. Third Thaap Conference 2012 on ‘Life in Small Towns’ studied various small towns from all over the world in which life becomes the focal point of any composite and meaningful study of towns. Fourth Thaap Conference 2013 on ‘Cultural Roots of Art and Architecture of the Punjab’ explored different dimensions of the sub-continental Punjab to resolve the identity crisis we are in today as Punjabis. Fifth THAAP Conference 2014 focused on exploring the ‘Culture, Art and Architecture of the Marginalized and the Poor’. This year Sixth THAAP Conference 2015 sets out to shed light on ‘People’s History of Pakistan’. Please see the attached Call for Paper for details.

All interested scholars are invited to participate and write a paper. We welcome contributions from all over the world. We learn from each other.

Kindly email us 300-word abstract of your paper by APRIL 15, 2015. A confirmation email will be sent to you when we receive your abstract. If you do not get the confirmation email within a week of sending your abstract, please assume that we have not received your abstract and send us the abstract again.

The Paper Selection Committee will inform the selected paper readers by May 01, 2015. The full paper will be due by September 30, 2015.

Travel costs of selected paper readers (Economy Class Fare from point of origin to Lahore and return) and local hospitality will be provided during the conference.

Looking forward for your active participation in THAAP Conference 2015.

Email: thaap.conference@gmail.com

Address: 43-G, Gulberg-III

Lahore, Pakistan

THAAP Talk Series: People’s History of Pakistan

Posted in Events by Pippa on March 27, 2015

23rd THAAP Talk by Mr. Tahir Mehdi

Mr. Tahir Mehdi has kindly agreed to give the 23rd THAAP Talk on

“GAWALAY OF LAHORE: A history of resistance against land grabbers and corporate onslaught”

SATURDAY, APRIL 04, 2015 at 6 pm, 43-G, Gulberg-III, Lahore, Pakistan


“Gawalay of Lahore: A history of resistance against land grabbers and corporate onslaught”

Speaker: Mr. Tahir Mehdi

Chairperson: Prof. Dr. Anis A. Siddiqi

The talk is about the untold story of peri-urban milk entrepreneurs of Lahore who fought against much more powerful and highly sophisticated adversaries in market, in ‘battlefield’ and in courts of law and survived.

Mr. Tahir Mehdi works at Punjab Lok Sujag, an advocacy and research organization that aims to put ‘local issues high on global agenda’. He is also a part-time journalist writing mostly for dawn.com

Lahore Literary Festival: 2015

Posted in Events, News/Information by Pippa on February 15, 2015
Tagged with: , , ,

2nd International Conference of History, GCU, Lahore 17-18 November 2014

Posted in Conferences by Pippa on November 1, 2014

5th Thaap International Conference 2014, 7-10 November 2014

Posted in Art, Conferences by Pippa on November 1, 2014
1.InaugurationYou are cordially invited to attend the 5th Thaap International Conference 2014 on the theme “Culture, Art and Architecture of the Marginalized and the Poor” to be held from 07-10 November 2014 at 43-G, Gulberg-III, Lahore. 

Thaap Conference 2014 will include the Paper Reading Sessions and a Research Exposition running parallel to it from 07-09 November at 43-G, Gulberg-III. 

Thaap has organized a Film Screening and a Photography Exhibition on the same theme which will be inaugurated on 8 November, 2014 for private viewing at University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore.
Please see full programme: Conf Prog. 2014


Special Issue of South Asian Diaspora: Imagining Punjab and the Punjabi Diaspora

Posted in Academic Journals, Articles, Migration, Poetry and Literature by Pippa on July 30, 2014

South Asian Diaspora Volume 6, Issue 2, 2014




Imagining Punjab and the Punjabi diaspora: after more than a century of Punjabi migration

Anjali Gera Roy


  • ‘The heart, stomach and backbone of Pakistan’: Lahore in novels by Bapsi Sidhwa and Mohsin Hamid Claire Chambers
  • Culture shock on Southall Broadway: re-thinking ‘second-generation’ return through ‘geographies of Punjabiness’ Kaveri Qureshi
  • Punjabiyat and the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Virinder S. Kalra
  • Tracing Sufi influence in the works of contemporary Siraiki Poet, Riffat Abbas Nukhbah Taj Langah
  • Exiled in its own land: Diasporification of Punjabi in Punjab Abbas Zaidi
  • (Dis)honourable paradigms: a critical reading of Provoked, Shame and Daughters of Shame Shweta Kushal & Evangeline Manickam

PRG Conference 27-28 June 2014, Coventry University – revised programme

Posted in Conferences, PRG Meetings by Pippa on June 11, 2014

As you know this year we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Punjab Research Group. To celebrate this milestone we have teamed up with Dr Churnjeet Mahn, University of Surrey, and are planning a two-day conference at Coventry University. The conference will be supported by the AHRC project, ‘A Punjabi Palimpsest: Cultural Memory and Amnesia at the Aam Khas Bagh’. A website connected to the project can be found here: http://www.thegtroad.com.

Attached are all the details for the conference, including the programme and abstracts. If you would like to attend please complete the registration form and send this to me by Thursday 19 June. Please note that the programme for Saturday has been revised and extended.


PRG 27-28 June 2014

Useful Information

blank registration form

The politics of exclusion By Sarmad Sehbai

Posted in Articles, Partition, Poetry and Literature by Pippa on January 21, 2014

This is an old article but worth sharing here:

Tossing the empty bottle he shouts,                                                          

‘Oh world! Your beauty is your ugliness.’                                                  

The world stares back at him                                                                  

Their bloodshot eyes rattle with the question                                          

‘Who nabs the pillar of time                                                                        

By the noose of his drunken breath?                                                      

Who dares to break into dim corridors                                                        

Of twisted conscience?                                                                            

Who intrudes upon poisonous dens                                                            

Of demonised souls?                                                                        

Through icy glasses his rude glance                                                                    

Chases us like a footfall                                                                            

Foul monster!’                                                                                        

Bang! Bang!                                              -Majeed Amjad, Poem for Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto, a red rag to both conservative and progressive writers, was feared by the reactionary press, the state and the literary mafias of his times. All his life he fought the bigoted social reformers, ideologues and religious fanatics, facing various court trials with a heroic smile. His characters were not the mouthpieces of ready-made truths who would sermonise from a pulpit as saviours; neither Noori na Naari, neither angelic nor satanic, Manto’s Adam was born out of mud.

Manto spent the prime of his youth in Bombay and Delhi where he celebrated his poverty and prosperity, his successes and failures with the same zest for life. In 1948, betrayed by his friends, Manto decided to leave Bombay and move to Pakistanin the hope of a better life in the new country. He was disturbed by the communal riots and the gruesome scenes he had witnessed during the migration. With his failing health and two dependent daughters, he couldn’t figure out his whereabouts: “all day long I would sit on the chair lost in my thoughts not knowing what to do.”Lahore was far from welcoming. The doors of Radio Pakistan were closed to him and the reactionary press was hounding him for his bold writings. After a few months he wrote Thanda Gosht for which another trial was ready for him.

Manto could have survived all those slams and slurs but what threw him into total despair was the attitude of his own friends who expelled him from the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) in 1949. What had created panic among the progressives was first, a book Siyah Haashiye, and then Urdu Adab, a literary journal, through which Manto included writers from all schools of thought without bias. Siyah Haashiye was a book of black jokes about the callous killings during the riots. It showed a terrifying despair where one could not tell laughter from a scream. Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, the secretary-general of the Punjab branch of PWA, said after reading the book, “What I can see is a field littered with dead bodies where the writer is stealing cigarette butts and money from their pockets.” Qasmi’s critique was as callous as the callousness of the characters in the book.

On the publication of Urdu Adab, edited jointly by Muhammad Hasan Askari and Manto, Qasmi as the spokesman of the PWA, wrote  an open letter to the latter: “Get rid of the opium of art for art’s sake; bring Askari into your fold by converting him to the art for life. Our movement is based on owning, understanding and respecting the suffering of the masses.” Qasmi guided Manto like a protective father, fearing that Manto could be spoilt by Askari’s “influence of decadent French writers like Baudelaire, André Gide and Flaubert.”

In November 1949, at the all-Pakistan conference of PWA, a resolution was passed against certain writers including Hasan Askari, Manto and, according to Abdul Salam Khurshid, Qurratulain Hyder, whose name was later withdrawn. While Manto didn’t react directly at the time, he later (1951) wrote in Jaib-e-Kafan, “I was angry that Alif (Qasmi) had misunderstood me, doubted my intentions … I am depressed. I earn through my writings by working day and night. I have my wife and children, if they fall sick and if I were to beg for money going door to door I will be really disturbed. Art is autonomous and is an end in itself. It’s no one’s monopoly and it cannot be hegemonised by ideology. The government takes me as a communist and the communists take me as a reactionary.” Probably during the same period he wrote his epitaph which was inspired by Ghalib’s couplet, “ya rab zamana mujh ko mitata hey kis liay/loh-e-jahaan pe harf-e-mukkarrar nahin hoon mein [Oh God, why is Time rubbing me off? I am not a letter twice written on the slate of the world].”

Urdu Adab was closed down after the publication of only two issues. In the first two issues both the progressive and non-progressive writers were published but soon after an ‘office order’ by the PWA forced the progressive writers to boycott the journal. Many of them requested Manto to return their work to them. A desperate and visibly intimidated Arif Abdul Matin wrote to Manto, “for God’s sake return the manuscript of my play; it is no longer possible for me to get it published in Urdu Adab as our union has decided not to cooperate with certain writers.” Qasmi also withdrew his request for Manto’s story which earlier he had wanted to publish in Nuqoosh: “I had asked for your story before the decision by the union to avoid publishing those authors who don’t agree with the progressive movement.”

Why was Manto considered a threat to the progressives? Could it be ‘obscenity’ that had offended them in the context of the newly-founded Islamic Republic of Pakistan? But Faiz Ahmed Faiz had appeared in his defence at the trial of Thanda Gosht, and had not found the story obscene. According to Intizar Hussain, writing in Saadat Hussan Manto — After 50 Years published by GC University,Lahorein 2005, the reason for Manto’s exclusion “was all about the reaction of progressives to the Partition of India.” Quoting Askari, he says, “the progressives in their opposition to Partition were implying that had there been no demand for a Muslim country there would have been no communal riots.” Even this doesn’t appear plausible. If the progressives were not in favour of a Muslim state, why would Faiz, a staunch progressive, be the first and one of the very few commissioned officers who opted for the newly established state of Pakistan, and continued his job with the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Public Relations? And why would he write an editorial in The Pakistan Times on “the glorious role” of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in “the birth of a major state and the liberation of a major nation.”

In Siyah Haashiye or Urdu Adab, Manto did not appear to advocate a separate country but simply brought out the barbaric humour out of the killing of people in the name of religion. Manto in his writings had never defended one religion against another. Mozel, a Jewish woman, dies while saving a young Sikh, Tirlochan. While she is dying, Tirlochan tries to cover her naked body with his turban, but she sneers back: “Take away your religion.” In Thanda Gosht, it is the “wretched blood” of the wounded Ishar Singh that topples religion, caste and race. As to the demand forPakistan, Manto who had property in Amritsar didn’t claim anything after Partition except for an ice store inLahoreand that too was denied to him.

“Those who were talking of freedom of expression were resented by the progressives,” says Syed in Noori na Naari. But why should the progressives resent Manto when in their manifesto they had committed “to promote the freedom of expression”? They were struggling for the freedom of expression and so was he; they were “respecting the suffering of the masses” and he was going through suffering; they were talking about poverty and he was living it; they were romanticising the fallen man and Manto himself was the fallen man. So what caused such a reaction to the most gifted short story writer of his times? Muzaffar Ali Syed further elaborates, “immediately after the Second World War, the leaders of bourgeoisie socialism were ready to collaborate with the bourgeoisie — they were willing to sacrifice Mira ji, Manto and [Noon Meem] Rashid.”

Perhaps all that has been said are mere polemics of their times but there could be more than meets the eye…

Sometime in the mid-1930s, on a foggy “Night in London,” young Sajjad Zaheer saw “The Light.” In Nanking restaurant, amongst a coterie of like-minded male writers, Zaheer, lovingly called Banne Miaan, announced the manifesto of the PWA. Zaheer’s novel A Night in London established him as an icon of social commitment. The novel featured Hiren Pal, a committed freedom fighter who leaves his beloved Sheila Green to pursue the ideals beyond the love of a woman. This motif became a template for the progressive writers, “Aur bhi gham hein zamanay mein mohabat kay siwa [There are other woes in the world, apart from the woes of love]”.

The ‘othering’ of the female to assert the progressive mission created a binaric schizophrenia between the love of woman and social reality. The deferral of anima, the feminine side of male, is to repress the mother, the womb, the unconscious and to assert the father. As [French psychoanalyst] Lacan states, “When ideologues preach, they assert the patriarchy and it’s phallic.” Manto renames Qasmi as Alif, the vertical alphabet of Urdu language. The unbending thrust of ‘Alif’ is suggestive of phallic oppression. In his playful irreverence, Manto calls Zaheer an armchair communist, Faiz an afimi (lotus eater), and his own guru Bari Aleeg, a coward and a runchhor (unreliable). He prays to God to turn Chiragh Hasan Hasrat into Stalin who could dictate from behind the iron curtain. For Manto, they were the oppressive fathers who in Freudian terms would tell the child not to play with his genitals.

Mumtaz Shirin says, “Manto has presented the mother in the image of the prostitute.” In her book Noori na Naari, she discovers Manto in myth and religious archetypes. For her, Manto juxtaposes the holy mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, the sinful whore; the sacred and the profane. Manto’s heroines don’t queue up with the hearth-bound bibis or the drawing-room ladies of the elite; they stand out mostly as sex workers fighting for bare existence in a male’s world of exploitation and human degradation. With detached limbs and body parts as utility props they are the disfigured image of Madonna; damaged Eros. The loss of mother is the loss of womb, the loss of compassion, love and humanity in a society which is admonitory, tabooed and restrictive like the punishing father.

Manto resurrects the ghost of the feminine side, otherwise banished by the progressive patriarch, and by giving her a voice topples the despotic father figure of reform, pity and sympathy. Manto brings out the mother from the womb of a prostitute and confronts the oppressive father. He shatters the romantic ideal of the progressives by bringing out Sheila from their closets. He strips off her romantic trappings and places her next to Janki and Saugandhi. Perhaps this act of Manto made the progressives run for lights; he had nabbed “the pillar with the noose of his drunken breath.” His rude glance will keep chasing us like a footfall for many ages to come.

Sarmad Sehbai is a poet, playwright and drama director.

Link to article: http://herald.dawn.com/2012/05/14/the-politics-of-exclusion.html

Fakir S. Aijazuddin, THE RESOURCEFUL FAKIRS – Three Muslim brothers at the Sikh Court of Lahore

Posted in New Publications by Pippa on January 21, 2014

the resourceful fakirsTHE RESOURCEFUL FAKIRS – Three Muslim brothers at the Sikh Court of Lahore. The Foreword has been provided by William Dalrymple.

Under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Punjab was welded for the first and only time in its tumultuous history into a unified kingdom. The Resourceful Fakirs traces the history of this colourful period in an original and intriguing way—through the careers of three Muslim brothers who were courtiers at the Sikh Darbar of Lahore.

Fakir Azizuddin served as the Maharaja’s indispensable spokesman and trusted negotiator in all the dealings he had with the neighbours surrounding his expanding kingdom, including the increasingly powerful British. It was a tribute to Azizuddin’s skill that throughout the 30 years of their association, he enjoyed the unalloyed confidence of the canny Maharaja. Fakir Imamuddin held the keys to Govindgarh Fort (near Amritsar) where the fabled Sikh treasury and armoury were located. Their youngest brother Fakir Nuruddin occupied a position of prominence at the court and, after Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, acted as a member of the Regency Council during the minority of the young Maharaja Duleep Singh.

Portraits, engravings, maps, and period photographs visually enhance the text of this historically reliable and eminently readable narrative.

*  *  *  *

William Dalrymple in his Foreword writes:

The Resourceful Fakirs is a fascinating, original and long overdue study of these three intriguing characters, written by their direct descendant, Fakir Aijazuddin. The Sikh Khalsa as a whole is a much underwritten subject. Although Pakistan has very similar boundaries to the Kingdom of Ranjit Singh, the Sikhs have attracted the attention of far too few Pakistani historians; while Sikh historians have rarely been able to access the voluminous records of Ranjit’s Singh’s court, held in the heart of the Punjab Civil Administration in the Punjab State Archives in Anarkali’s Tomb in central Lahore. Many of the documents used to Aijazuddin to write this book have never been published before, and this book is a substantial contribution to the subject. In addition to creating memorable pen portraits of the three brothers, he gives one of the best sketches in print of life at the heart of Ranjit Singh’s inner circle.

To date, Aijazuddin has been known mainly as one of Pakistan’s most eminent art historians. With this volume he has now become, in addition, one of Pakistan’s most interesting historians and biographers. The Resourceful Fakirs is a remarkable achievement.

*  *  *  *

Available from:


ABG BhavanM3,

Connaught Circus

New Delhi 110 001


How our entire history was dumped in a horse stable by Majid Sheikh

Posted in Articles by Pippa on October 9, 2013

Published in Dawn, 6 October 2013. http://dawn.com/news/1047719

Away it went in ignominy, on hundreds of wheelbarrows to be dumped in a dirty, humid and putrid discarded horse stable. I am talking about one of the world’s finest, and surely the second largest collection of rare books, manuscripts and document dealing with the history of Punjab, from Kabul to Delhi and from Kashmir to Sindh over the last 500 years.

In the old horse stable of the Lahore Civil Secretariat, in dark, moldy, dingy conditions, lies this amazing collection, all official record let me clarify, of over 70,000 rare books and under one million rare manuscripts and documents, piles upon piles, on the floor, on old broken desks, in cupboards without glass panes. The stink and humidity overwhelms the senses. Only in the British Museum Library of London is there a better collection, all kept in mint condition. They respect our rich history. In terms of our own history, we are the wretched of the earth.

I do not know the daft former chief secretary who ordered this evil move. All I have learnt from officials inside the Secretariat, and I have no reason to doubt their opinion, that after retiring he sits on judgment on the fate of other bureaucrats. His antics, they claim, still reads like a mad hatter’s tea party. But then that is what our present rulers probably want. I leave his bizarre ways for younger journalists unearth.

My attention today is focused on the old official horse stable in Lahore’s Civil Secretariat and the damage done to our heritage. In any other sane society he would be arrested and tried. In his reign he got vacated the old world-famous library and record-room in General Allard’s old home, where once Lawrence, Kipling and Garrett studied and researched and produced books that will live forever. Small men need a lot of space; such is their ‘imagined greatness’. A spacious second conference hall and a new rest room emerged. The brown ‘sahib’ acted his part with a vengeance.

In wheel-barrows by the thousands went the world’s finest record, rare manuscripts, rare documents and books, even the first litho prints the world had ever seen from the year 1600 onwards. In heaps he got them stacked in the horse stable, throwing them on the floor to decay. Mind you I am talking about over 70,000 rare books and under a million documents and manuscripts, the world’s second largest collection after the British Museum Library. If you are shocked, I am not surprised, for you have no idea what the Punjab bureaucracy has morphed into. The brilliance of Hallard is a distant dream.

You might well ask just why I am stung. Well let me share just a few, only a few examples of what lie in these heaps, in the putrid humid environment with the smell of dampness and decay heavy in the air. Initially I did not believe what an honest official had told me, so I went to the place myself. Let me begin by telling you that the original letter written by the great poet Mirza Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ in his own hand seeking a restoration of his pension lies among this heap. What would the poet have said? But then who really cares, save a few sorrowful ‘letters to the editor’ that might, maybe, follow this piece.

Forget the fact that by any measure this is a national crime. Bureaucrats are never punished, especially of the ilk I am talking about. When the rulers are ignorant and insolent, bureaucrats fear for their jobs. Heritage has no place in the scheme of traders, who only know how to sell what everyone collectively owns.

Next let me tell you of a rare document that once lay in the record of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It is the 1616 original litho print, among the first of two left in the world, of Sir Thomas Roe. It is an original, and in Lahore original rarities lie on the floor. The only other version in the world is in the British Museum Library in a nitrogen-filled glass casing, a rare manuscript that the British are proud of. In Lahore such rarities lie in heaps, only to be picked up and put on a table by an enlightened public servant. Beyond that he dare not. Honesty brings no laurels.

The original record of the Bhagat Singh incident, known as the Lahore Conspiracy Case, also is in this collection. Among the books are the original prints of all the great masters of Punjab, which once included Delhi and Kabul. Just run your mind from the year 1600 to 2000, a full 400 years of rich heritage, a collection of the Mughals, the Afghan rulers, the Sikhs, the British and the finest record of the early Pakistan years, and all you can see of this glorious period lies on the floors of the dark main halls and verandahs. Our retired bureaucrat ordered a huge bathroom to be built in the middle of the horse stable, one last stab at immortality which adds to the stench.

The roof of the main hall collapsed just six months ago, and given the way bureaucracy runs in Punjab, funds for the roof’s repair were denied. The rain did the rest. A deft educated bureaucrat of another department spared funds from another project to erect a makeshift roof. But then it is a matter of time before it gives way and we will have a massive deluge, which will, all things going the way they are, produce a massive killing field of the finest collection of rare books, documents and manuscript the world has ever seen.

Yes Sir, it is a matter of time only. The fun is no one is bothered, least of all the ruling family. The funds allocated for the library repair, in a stroke of ‘genius’ were diverted to construct a huge new ‘canteen’ serving burgers and sandwiches. Life goes on and the heap continues to grow where once horses treaded.

Tucked away in the heaps are the rare manuscripts of letters from royalty and rulers of the world over 400 years to the various rulers of Lahore. There is an array of secret documents about the hundreds and thousands of happenings in Punjab and its neighbourhood over the centuries. This is a researcher’s goldmine. The original record of the entire 1857 Uprising (War of Independence) is there. Mind you Lahore was the epicenter from where was controlled the fight for Delhi. This is a world original that not even the British have. Our khaki rulers demolished the historic ‘1851 Barrack’ which was the operations headquarters to make way for housing plots. Who dare challenge their intellect?

Mind you among the record are even older manuscripts, one almost 1,000 years ago which, in Sanskrit, records the invasion feared from the ‘looting Afghans who know no morals’. Excuse me, morals. That concept died a thousand years ago. In any other country all this would need 20 massive libraries the size of the Quaid-e-Azam Library, built by the British, to hold. Mind you these foreigners – the British – left behind almost 900 libraries in Punjab, of which only 179 remain. Who needs libraries now?

The head of libraries sits in the Lahore Civil Secretariat with just one typist. That is his department and mind you he is a secretary level bureaucrat. Full stop. That is his status in the present scheme of things in Punjab. A very hurt friend signed and commented: “There is a difference between the strokes of an ironmonger and a goldsmith”. Aptly put.

The table on which the chief of Punjab libraries sits is the original teak table built by the former principal of Government College, Lahore, and once Punjab’s first Record-Keeper, the great Lt. Col. Garrett. Even that was retrieved from the rubble that our daft former chief secretary created in the horse stable. I am not surprised at just where we are headed.

Infinite Inquilab Celebrating a revolutionary past in Pakistan’s present By Chris Moffat

Posted in Articles, News/Information by Pippa on October 9, 2013

Published in The Caravan A Journal of Politics and Culture, 1 August 2013

JUST SOUTH OF BAGH-I-JINNAH, in the heart of Lahore’s Shadman Colony, a fountain stands at the centre of an otherwise unremarkable chowk. No water flows from this dusty structure, though markings on its base betray signs of life. A name is inscribed in black spray paint—not the colloquial ‘Shadman Chowk’, nor the official ‘Choudhry Rehmat Ali Chowk’, but a dissident’s epithet: ‘Bhagat Singh Chowk’, scrawled in both English and Urdu.

The unsanctioned nature of this inscription seems appropriate for a man effectively barred from official history in Pakistan. ‘Bhagat Singh’ is not a name found on commemorative plaques; it does not appear in school textbooks or amidst the national stories promulgated by Pakistan Studies curricula. It evokes a figure allocated to India and Indian history: an atheist to some, a Sikh to others, but a figure necessarily outside the narrative of Muslim struggle curated by the Pakistani state.

The spray paint defies this partition of memory, suggesting this name still means something in Lahore. In spite of several attempted exorcisms, a stubborn spectre remains, bound to the city where Bhagat Singh lived his political life and faced his death on 23 March 1931.

In this alternative history, the chowk is central. Built on the former grounds of Lahore Central Jail, it is widely believed to mark the spot where colonial authorities executed Bhagat Singh for conspiracy. Since 1995, a small group of Left and secular activists have been honouring this connection, meeting annually at the chowk on the martyr’s death anniversary. Banners are raised, candles lit and the revolutionary’s life celebrated in story and song. In recent years, the activists have demanded the site be officially renamed.

“How can we forget our heroes?” said campaigner Saeeda Diep in the south Lahore office of her Institute for Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS). For Diep, who initiated the chowk campaign, militarised borders with India cannot negate a history of shared struggle. “Bhagat Singh shaheed is a son of the soil,” she said. “You should be proud of that.”

For Shahid Nadeem of Lahore’s Ajoka Theatre, “the struggle of Bhagat Singh is an ongoing struggle.” The writer’s 2011 play Mera Rang de Basanti Chola places the chowk at the centre of a history of state violence, opening at the Baba Shah Jamal shrine a short walk from the fountain. Here, an old man recalls his life in the area: first, as a jail official meeting the condemned Bhagat Singh, and later as witness to a political assassination before Zia-ul-Haq’s coup. For Nadeem, the revolutionary remains a symbol of a fight “between exploitation and the forces of freedom.”

Conjuring Bhagat Singh is no anodyne gesture in Pakistan. In March this year, the provocatively named “Bhagat Singh Chowk Naamanzoor [Disapproval] Action Committee” was formed to oppose the chowk’s renaming. Echoing earlier condemnations from the Islamic group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the committee declared in the Daily Express that, because Bhagat Singh was an “atheist” and a “terrorist”, he should never be recognised as a hero in Pakistan; this, they asserted, would be an affront to the nation and to Islam.

On 23 March, this group announced plans to establish an “Istihkaam [Strengthening] Pakistan Camp” at the chowk. As Diep and other activists assembled to mark the death anniversary, the ‘camp’ materialised as a counter-demonstration. Participants shouted slogans and hurled insults at the activists, sparking a confrontation; police soon arrived to disperse both groups.

The malice behind this attempted exorcism appears, perhaps counter-intuitively, to demonstrate the political promise of Bhagat Singh’s name in contemporary Pakistan. This is, after all, a spirit that thrives on confrontation. The IPSS condemned the counter-demonstration as “yet another example” of how spaces for peaceful protest are being hijacked by those who “believe in imposing their version of Islam and nationalism on everyone.” Drawing “namanzoor” becomes productive for the cause: it makes explicit the intolerance and intimidation Bhagat Singh is conjured to fight.

From this vantage, the revolutionary’s potential lies not in his absorption to official history, but in the way he restlessly challenges foundations. Renaming the chowk would certainly be an accomplishment, but when activists gather in Shadman every year, they realise the spirit of struggle itself. The famous slogan “Inquilab Zindabad” (Long Live Revolution) evokes this call for unrelenting critical movement: the promise of provocation. Official recognition, in contrast, can never satisfy the infinite scope of Bhagat Singh’s demand, communicated from prison in 1929: “Old order should change, always and ever, yielding place to new, so that one ‘good’ order may not corrupt the world.”

– See more at: http://caravanmagazine.in/lede/infinite-inquilab#sthash.afN168K5.Rdh8GnWh.dpuf

From Amrita Shergil to Lady Harrison: A journey through history by Ali Zaef

Posted in Art, Articles by Pippa on August 12, 2013

Original article in Dawn: http://dawn.com/news/1033224/from-amrita-shergil-to-lady-harrison-a-journey-through-history/1

Earlier this year, I set out in search of some old houses in Lahore city, where the legends of arts had once lived, I came across the house of Amrita Shergil, a true Punjabi artist, who breathed her last in this city. She resided in an apartment at 23 – Ganga Ram Mansion (once called the Exchange Mansion), where presently a family of an auto mechanic is living.

They were well aware of the historic importance of the house. I enjoyed their hospitality and took many pictures. Coincidentally, I learned that 30th January was not an ordinary day but unfortunately, the Pakistani and even the Indian media seemed to miss the 100th birthday of Amrita Shergil, “the Frida Kahlo of India”, who painted the sufferings of Indian women and died at the young age of 28.

I also found the studio of art legend Bhabesh Chandra Sanyal, also known as B.C. Sanyal, who gave a new stroke to Indian art. Sanyal, born on 22nd April 1901, is the guru of the art of the undivided Indian sub-continent. In 1937, he set up a studio in the premises of the Forman Christian College, which later became an art school. Then, Sanyal moved his studio to the basement of the Dayal Singh Mansion, opposite the Ganga Ram Mansion, where Amrita had also lived for a few months. It was my good fortune that I was able to find B. C. Sanyal’s studio, however, it was saddening to see it in a complete state of decay; I was unable to find a single trace there that paid tribute to this once celebrated artist.

A few weeks later, I got the opportunity to interview eminent artist, Professor Ajaz Anwar, I told him about my progress. He was happy to hear of it. That is when he told me that B.C. Sanyal had established studios at other places in the city as well. I instantly pounced on the opportunity to explore them and sure enough, found another studio at McLeod Road.

Then, I searched for the house of another Lahore-based painter Roop Krishna and fortunately, I found it without any trouble because it was splat at the entrance of Anarkali, the second shop from the Mall. There was once a big book shop here, which was owned by the family of Roop Krishna.

Satish Gujral, another eminent painter and brother of former Indian premier I. K. Gujral, also lived in Lahore for a short span of time. He essentially belongs to Jhelum but moved to Lahore to pursue his career in arts and got himself enrolled at the Mayo School of Arts. There, he had an opportunity to meet art legends like, Roop Krishna and Amrita Shergil. Legend has it that one day, Satish Gujral went to pay Roop Krishna a visit, when he saw some of Amrita’s paintings lying on the street. He was shocked to discover that Krishna thought she was not a good painter and was “just making trash”. It was a great irony that the family of Roop Krishna later sold their bookshop called Ramakrishna and Sons and settled in London and that Amrita is today considered a legend while, very few people now know about Roop Krishna.

I hesitantly entered the building, almost completely like a ghost house. I shouted but no one replied. Then I found some people working in a room. I told them that I was a journalist and wanted to take some photos of this building. They said I would need the permission of the owner of the building. Interestingly, I am still waiting for their call.

My expedition took me next to College Road, where near the square, there used to be the studio of the famous painter Sobha Singh, who mostly painted Sikh gurus. He had moved to Lahore in 1946 and also worked as an art director on a film. I couldn’t find his house, because many old buildings had been demolished here. So I went to a nearby hosiery shop and asked the shopkeeper about Sobha Singh’s studio. At first, he didn’t understand what I was asking about. Then when I told him that I am was looking for the place of the artist whose paintings were all burned down during the partition riots, he asked me to go to the nearby S. Mohkam-ud-Din & Sons, which he said had been there long before the partition. When I arrived, Mohkam-ud-Din, the owner of the bakery warmly welcomed me and assured me that he would help me find the studio of Sobha Singh.

However, several days later Mr. Mohkam too, couldn’t find anybody who could tell me the exact location of Singh’s studio. While, I was upset about this, I was delighted by the hospitality that Mr. Mohkam displayed, a jolly man in his late 50s, he was keen on telling me the history of his bakery. He said the Syed Mohkam-ud-Din & Sons bakery, was established by the young man of the same name Mohkam, whose father Qamr-ud-Din was an army contractor for tea supplies during the British Raj before moving to Lahore from Jalandhar Cantt. He was on good terms with the then Punjab Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Aitchison, the celebrated founder of Aitchison College. His wife Lady Aitchison, a true socialite was popular for her extraordinary baking skills. On the request of Syed Qamar-ud-Din, Lady Aitchison taught his young son western baking traditions. It was at a time when the concept of a bakery was new in Lahore. When Mohkam gained expertise in baking, he decided to pursue it as his career and opened the first bakery in Lahore on 1st January, 1879. Many British dignitaries and government officials were present at the opening ceremony, and of course Lady Aitchison cut the ribbon.

During those times, baking items were not very affordable. British socialites and local elite were the only regular customers of the Mohkam Bakery. Famous literary bigwigs, educationists and politicians, Tufail Hoshiarpuri, Waqar Ambalwi, Muhamad Tufail (Former Editor “Naqoosh”), Agha Shorish Kashmiri, Maulana Kausar Niazi, Dr. Ghulam Mustafa Tabasum, Dr. Nazir Ahmed, Dr. Ajmal Khan and many others were among regular customers also.

Mohkam-ud-Din said, “the founder of Ahmadiyya community Mirza Ghulam Ahmed and Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal also used to come here and meet my grandfather and spend hours discussing religio-political issues in here.”

Several decades later, Nagina Bakery became the place for literary gatherings. But in reality, Nagina Bakery was only a tea shop owned by a young Sikh, where the bakery items were actually supplied from Mohkam Bakery.

In the beginning, Mohkam said, the clientage of Mohkam Bakery was limited to British officers, Anglo-Indians and the Christian elite because the common natives considered the bakery items as “foreign food”. After the partition, another bakery opened on Mall Road but it didn’t flourish.

Mohkam bakery makes cakes on order. In the first half of the last century, Christian wedding cakes and Christmas cakes were their specialty. Later, Muslim cakes became famous for events such as Eid Milad-ul-Nabi and other religious festivals.

Interestingly, Mohkam Bakery makes cakes ranging in weight from one to three hundred pounds. The ingredients of their routine cakes are dry fruits, nuts, royal spices etc. One cake of 300 pound is baked in 15 to 20 days. Wedding cakes have several other ingredients which include rum, brandy and red wine. The prices of the cakes also vary according to the quality of the item. You can buy a cake anywhere from 550 to 5500 PKR per pound. Cakes made with red wine are the most expensive product in the bakery because they are made with the finest quality of wine.

They usually sell 15 to 20 cakes daily but on special occasions sale increases. Around a 100 special red wine cakes are sold a month because of their costliness. After taking a bite of it, I could safely say that I had never tasted a more delicious cake before.

Many people also buy the cakes as souvenirs. That might have been the reason why former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, former president Farooq Leghari, to name a few, preferred this bakery during their stay in Lahore. It is not only a bakery but a symbol of cultural heritage. In the words of Mohkam: “We are not worried about the declining sales because we believe in quality, not quantity.” Moreover, workers at the bakery have been working there for the last several decades, so the taste of the items is enduring. Even the most junior baker working, has been there since the 1970s.

Lady Harrison, a renowned painter of the late 19th century, who served as a teacher of fine arts at the Mayo School of Arts (now National College of Arts) was very good friends with Syed Mohkam-ud-Din. He often praised her fingers.

One day, Harrison asked Mohkam, “Could you make cookies like my fingers?” Mohkam replied, “why not?” And so he set about to bake cookies, which were not only delicious, but also a symbol of friendship and a tribute to the art. Since then, these cookies have been known as ‘Harrison’ Fingers’. Mohkam tells me a regular customer of the bakery, aged 90, asks for these cookies as “Lady Harrison di ungliyan”.

Lady Harrison is alive today because of these cookies.

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