Danka-Nama # 14 -> Narrating a City alive – Lahore

I have collected snippets from different literary sources describing an urban space alive. This time it is Lahore, I hope I will be able to do this for other Pakistani urban spaces in the forthcoming newsletters, gradually developing it into a series of urban written imagery – your suggestions are most welcome.


Dina Nath, The Two Friends: A Descriptive Story of the Lahori Life (Virjanand Press, 1899) as quoted in Making Lahore Modern (William J. Glover, University of Minnesota Press, 2008)

Take for instance Anarkali, it is a good ‘bazaar’ out and out. The shops are clean and respectable. In the evening time when the student folks give up their studies for a little recreation, it presents an extremely busy aspect. Even the dry as dust Lahori yields to the temptation of an evening ramble. Side by side with the spirited Native student, giving vent to his English in a very destructive fashion, may be seen the Herculean rustic who has come to see the metropolis from the adjacent village. There again we see the N.W.P [North West Provinces] man whose tongue runs with a locomotive velocity, so fluently, so hurriedly as to leave the audience in a dilemma whether the speaker was using Latin or his own vernacular. Here and there the redcoated, bare-legged Highlander soldier from [Mian Mir] Cantonment can be seen walking always and invariably in a tipsy but wherewithal a strutting mode. Amongst this variety of people may also be found the famous Lahori ‘goonda’ with his pick-pocket looks and sullen scowling cut-throat face – a hated bully.


Yashpal in Jhootha Sach (Viplava Karyalaya, 1958, English translation 2010 by Anand) in then Bhola Pandhe’s Gali (Shahalami Gate).

There was a pall of smoke over the eastern horizon. Several three-storey houses towards the east dwarfed Puri’s house. A huge spiraling column of dense black and brown smoke churned upwards from an unseen source somewhere behind the building right in front of Puri’s house and spread out across the sky. Clouds of denser smoke followed in it’s wake.

Usha yelled at Kartaro and Rampyari to come up to their roof and look at the spectacle.

The women were making guesses about the location of the fire. One thought it was at the railway station, others guessed it was at Dheli Gate or Kashmiri Mohalla or Akbari Mandi. Puri agreed that Akbari Mandi was the most likely place, and said, ‘The fire seems to have spread. Must have been going on for some time.’ Usha said to Pushpa, ‘Let’s go to Dhanno’s roof, bahinji. We’ll have a better view from there.’ The rest followed them downstairs.


Samia Waheed Altaf in So Much Aid, So Little Development (Woodrow Wilson Centre Press, 2011), while in a meeting at the Provincial Health Directorate on Cooper Road.

Before the PD can turn his attention to anything else, we learn that someone needs to see him urgently. There are sounds of a major commotion outside. Apparently, this someone is trying to bring a buffalo into the room. The owner is adamant that he will bring the animal into the room with him, for there is danger of its being stolen. We learn that this visitor comes from the PD’s ancestral village and has traveled all night to see him. The PD makes an exasperated gesture and assigns someone to stand guard outside over the buffalo and bring the man in.

Myself on a nightly encounter in Shah Jamal area.

Even the driver of the small truck calmed down, was discussing eagerly with people and finally approached the Sufi. No way any truck could pass if he didn’t move. With a smile on his face, this proud, fair and tall 40 year old Maulvi, whose life consisted of prayer and work, was trying to convince this crouched man who was a lot older than him. The Sufi moved slowly, showed no emotion and answered seldom, speaking in a very low voice.


Manan Ahmed in his Slow Burn Lahore Series, somewhere in the Lakshmi Chowk area.

Up and down, asking for Mansoor Tailor. The man on the phone had said to meet at the Tailor. You mean the dude with the long beard? I am asked. I have never seen Mansoor Tailor and I have no idea if he has a beard. So I say yes. I am told to follow the road (pathway?) to the curve and take the third alley on the left. Slowly, unsurely, I make my way, looking at the political rally posters, giant signs for Summer Lawns, doting the way.

Outside Mansoor Tailor is a man, who hesitates when he sees me. You here for Jahangir Sahib? I nod. Come. He walks briskly. He is clean shaven (I never saw what Mansoor looked like) and his pants are really clean.


One Comments to “Danka-Nama # 14 -> Narrating a City alive – Lahore”

  1. Andreas says:

    I found this old newsletter (from 2005) written by Pierre Jolit. It deals with Lahore in 2055:

    Lahore, December 2055 (part I). I’m leaving my house, based in Shekhupura Colony. This nice cottage happens to be built next to the ruins of the Shekhupura Fort, recently replaced by an amazing shopping mall –the biggest of Asia people say. Shekhupura Colony is one of the nicest places to live in Lahore. The early 40’s witnessed the ending of the real estate outburst: there are now more houses than people in Lahore, so they stopped all the schemes. That’s why this very last suburb, at the end of the megalopolis is close to nature. Today, I’m bringing my children to the newly opened city open air museum, in the old town of Liberty. This museum is part of the aware-making project of the Tourism and History state-department. They deal with fascinating subjects: For instance, they produced an audio-CD collection on historical noises of Pakistan: I personally love “Sea Birds before Gawadar”, a vibrant symphony of animals. But I still wonder if those animals ever existed.

    Today’s visit leads us to the Billboard Forest, on the old Liberty Roundabout. They tried to re-create the mood of Lahore, 50 years back. The subject of the exhibition is “Modern communication and occupation of the public – visual space at the beginning of the century”. I am really confused. Not less than 45 billboards are soaring out of the ground. The curator explains us that at this time, each of them tried to grow more than its neighbour in order to capture the light above the fumes, which made it difficult to see what’s written on them. No walking space was given to pedestrians. Only cars rushing out of the clouds of gazes raced in front of the trees, which nobody watched. But nobody complained though. In this ghost place, moved by the daily rush, one could not imagine that life could exist. And only a few thought about looking behind this forest, where a green natural park was fighting against fumes and noise. Everybody forgot this place. Now, Liberty Town is totally abandoned. But the steel forest is still proud. It doesn’t care whether the city is empty or full. It never noticed that nobody watched it leave. We shouldn’t tell…But the park has been spoiled by the ever flowing time. Flowers disappeared, the nice paths are hard to find.

Leave a Reply