For those who know me, I am always on the lookout for books on Lahore. Lahore is where I was born and it’s my hometown and even though I have a very hate-love relationship with Lahore, I still find drawn to its rich history. I remember how in one of my electives in university, Urban City Design, I had to do a presentation on my birthplace and I did that project with so much passion that only my project was selected for public display (this was in 1997 when the concept of social media was non-existent so no pictures available). That was the first time I actually looked into Lahore, how the name came about, who had settled in Lahore, how the city was designed and modelled by different rulers (my favourite had to the Mughals).
Imagining Lahore by Haroon Khalid is one huge love letter to Lahore. It is a book that I would imagine writing myself. The writer traverses through the streets of Lahore discovering hidden gems that I had no idea even existed in Lahore. There is indeed much to see and explore. The book is not a tour guide version of Lahore, nor is it merely superficially covering all these gems. Instead, Khalid takes us down the off-beaten path to show us how much more history is lurking underneath the busy facade of Lahore.
What I really liked about the book was how it connects the present to the past. Right from the first chapter, we see the writer driving down the busy roads of Lahore (famous for it’s crazy traffic!), sharing with us the sights and sounds of the donkey carts and motorbikes, the honking cars, the billboards and the major development work done by the then Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. While giving us a brief political history of previous rulers and governments over Lahore, the writer makes his first stop at Chauburji, which literally means Four Minarets. While describing the sorry state this structure is in, he takes us back to its history, how it was made by the Mughals and the importance of the building.
While he covers the major monuments and buildings, what really surprised me were the smaller temples and tombs that are spread out all over the city. I had no idea these even existed, and each one of them brings with them a deep history behind it, which is fascinating to read about. There are so many tombs in Lahore and each one of them is so unique, I felt like I was beginning to see Lahore from a different perspective.
I enjoyed the parallels drawn between the development of Lahore by the past rulers and how the current government. They are so stark in contrast that it made me sad to see how there is no regard for the previous ruler’s dedication to the city. The Mughals had literally envisioned Lahore to be the City of Gardens, and that can be seen in their buildings and public parks. The government is driven by other purposes, hence the introduction of the overhead train metro service, which meant digging up the roads of Lahore (even though the Nawaz Sharif had said he wants to make Lahore the Venice of Asia!)
The one thing that I felt was becoming very apparent was the discoveries of so many tombs, mausoleums and graveyards of the people who have lived in Lahore. It is these people who had made an impact on the city and in way or another influenced the culture of Lahore. I mean, this book could be the unofficial guide to Lahore’s hidden tombs. While this was great information, I did begin to feel like I wanted a greater coverage of Lahore city away from the tombs and graveyards.
Imagining Lahore is totally a love letter to Lahore.Those interested in the city of Lahore and its hidden gems will really enjoy reading this book. While I loved going down the history of Lahore, it also made me disappointed at how poor we have been in preserving our historical structures.
Lahore is made up of its people, and there are so many people of all sorts and backgrounds. Conservatives and liberals, religious and atheists, those living in poverty and the super elite. Lahore is a city of contrasts- you can go from slum areas to Inner City to the posh neighbourhood within hours. This is what makes Lahore Lahore.
What the book has done is changed the way I see Lahore. Now I am more attentive when I am driving, especially towards the Inner City. Each street, each locality, each roundabout has a history behind it, and Haroon Khalid has helped us to reconnect to that history. We cannot change the future until we learn from the past.
As people famously say, Lahore Lahore Hai!