[…], citing the desire by many residents to leave the unsanitary conditions of the Old City behind, another officer claimed that “any educated member of the [population] who can afford it builds himself a house outside.”
This passage is taken from Making Lahore Modern by William J. Glover (Making Lahore Modern, Constructing and Imagining a Colonial City; University of Minnesota Press, 2008). It quotes a colonial officer in Lahore back in 1893. If you increase the perimeter, replace ‘Old City’ with ‘the City’ and understand the problem of sanitary conditions as one of general infrastructure development, it may well be a quote from today. The fact that this book essentially describes Lahore how it develops (until) today by looking at colonial times makes it a truly remarkable publication.
Glover looks at how Mughal Architecture was included and transformed in the colonial expansion of the town, using as an example among others Anarkali’s Tomb which was used as a Church until 1891 and later converted into a document repository, a purpose which it continues to serve until today. He also mentions a tomb, which apparently was used as a police station – the last time I visited Dai Anga’s tomb (not the same place) in the middle of the night, it served as a place for a group of police officers to have a jovial get together, getting thoroughly hammered. Many more buildings from these times have since been swallowed by an ever growing city. Some are used as housing (especially within the old city where Sikh and Hindu temples were simply converted into residential buildings) others are often in an ever more disintegrating states with no direct use. An excellent initiative is collecting these sites online, documented with pictures, maps and for some cases even layout plans of the respective buildings.
Since in Colonial Times Lahore expanded tremendously to all sides of the Old City, the book to a large extent dwells on how the newly developed urban space was imagined to be used, based on the observation of the Old City on the one side and the villages around on the other. These development of new quarters which today are very much inside the city, were then outside – the Civil Station, Mian Mir Cantonment, Model Town. Glover describes how with the construction of these settlements, the colonial authorities followed intentions to educate the population in their use of the urban space, and also to control them. This was a challenge not so much on the outer fringe, where people from the countryside where included than on the inner, were the life in existing mohallas often eluded the colonial comprehension.
When people in Lahore asked me where I lived – in a Housing Society between Thokar and Punjab University – to evoke bewildered looks I often answered Hanjarwal, which is the name of the (former?) village the Society is located at. And the Society is till today not only bordering semi urban village-space but is also encapsulating a local shrine. At many points, with walls not everywhere intact, it merges with the still existing rural area within the wider Lahori city perimeters (which by now of course already extend far behind Thokar on this side.
These transitional spaces, between the geometrically ordered societies and – to the authorities and elites – chaotic urban and rural space have been a matter of large concern to the colonial government. Here you have to read the excellent essay City, Space, Power: Lahore’s Architecture of In/Security by Sadia Shirazi in parallel to see the striking parallels of the book to the present.
I am interested in the emergence of Lahore’s securitized zones and the way power inscribes itself in urban space through architecture.
While the perception of security in this context today and a century ago differs – today being the fear of terrorist attacks, then the fear of popular uprisings as well as the spread of disease – it is now and then about control and power in a (neo)-colonial context.
Parallel with this is my interest in using cartography as an analytic tool to interrogate processes of securitization. By architecture here I mean conceptual approaches to space, following Eyal Weizman’s definition [...]: “[...] architecture is employed as a conceptual way of understanding political issues as constructed realities…[where] the occupation is seen to have architectural properties, in that its territories are understood as an architectural ‘construction’, which outline the ways in which it is conceived, understood, organized and operated.”
I am surprised she is not quoting Glover. He calls it ‚the colonial spatial imagination’ and makes frequent use of maps which have a striking similarity to her map of bomb blasts in the city. What was Mian Mir Cantonment then, is DHA today.
You can read Glover’s book purely as a study on one aspect of Colonialism on the Subcontinent. I find it however an even better book when you read it while you pass by the check points into Cantonment that weren’t there two years ago. When you pass under Shalimar Flyover and try to remember what it was like having dinner here before suddenly that concrete lizard raised its head. When you recall how driving from Thokar to Defense around town was through a maze of semi urban space while today it becomes a motorway trip on ‚the thick toothpaste slathered across Lahore’s exterior’, to use Manan Ahmed’s definition of the Ring Road.
Lahore today, and Sadia Shirazi manages to portray that quite well in a very brief account (one can only hope it will develop into further future studies), is still being constructed based on vested interests that are not so different from a century ago.
When a Pakistani and an Indian General meet to disuss the issue of Kashmir, the Pakistani makes a taunting proposition: ‚You can have all of Kashmir if you in return cede Amritsar to us.’ Taken by surprise, the Indian enquires into his motivation for this move. ‚Well, you know, we are planing another extension of DHA.’
This joke portrays Lahore’s current swell in space. With new Phases of existing Societies and new Colonies popping up at breathtaking speed around the city’s perimeters, with new infrastructure projects being implemented throughout the city, Lahore is expanding rapidly in – and outside.
But the city has not started to do so recently. It is in a continuous state of rapid expansion since the urban space has spilled over the walls of the Old City in the 19th century.
Easily accesible work on Lahore and how it develops today – as an urban space, not just a stage for political rallies and GT gossip – is hard to come by.
Manan Ahmed’s collection reffered to earlier was a great recent addition. Rabia Ezdi’s paper on Land Use close to the Walled City and work by Muhammad Imran on Public Transport (PDF) are also available online. From the latter also a book is available. Offline, you may be interested in following THAAP, who held a conference on the Portrait of Lahore a year ago. These are some examples of a vivid documentation of the constant construction and imagination of the exciting urban space and fabric of Lahore. They are rather scarce though, and we welcome your suggestions on further material.