Where all times are one

In ARCHITECTURE, CHILDHOOD, HISTORY on December 17, 2012 at 9:37 pm


D. was coming towards us with a skip in his step and a shiny packet of potato chips in his hands. As soon as he was done with the chips he clapped his hands, brushed the crumbs aside, and ignored us, heading for a clandestine opening near the backdoor of the Shalimar Gardens.

That’s D. in the photo above, his head inches away from the wide metal bars of a door intended to deter the public from entering the gardens. D. looks quite comfortable in the photo. But in reality, the attempt to pass from one space to another required effort and a certain contortion of the body—something he has mastered over the many times he has squeezed into the monument through its backdoors.

D. didn’t stop for me but I stopped him to converse. He told me that the gardens were beautiful and that one can do “anything” in the gardens. By “anything” I’m sure he meant the “anythings” that kids do: play, run and laugh. The gardens for him are a source of freedom, and their existence points towards a hopefulness, an expanse symbolising a large reach.

I was pleased that he appreciates the gardens and makes use of a space that is almost in his backyard. Of course, he was going through the back entrance and not the front one because:

a) it was more fun than simply walking into the building

b) he saves 20 rupees each day by going through the back

c) the back entrance is closer to his house, and

d) it’s just a thing he does after lunch, most days

I, too, was aching to follow in D.’s footsteps, wanting to twist alongside tiny bricks from long ago, wishing to contort my body to get to the other side. But my companion was concerned I would get stuck partway, half of me in the present and half of me in the past. I had come to engage with rust, metal and sandstone, so the uncertain seesawing would have been fitting. But out of fear of embarrassment—or perhaps bodily harm—I was held back, even though other grown men and women have likely done something similar before.

Punjab’s own revered Sufi poet Shah Hussain had once remarked on such a passage. He is said to have preferred going the way of the mohri (موري मोरी morī [for mohrī = muhrī = Prk. मुहडिआ=S. मुख+र+इका], s.f. A subterranean passage for water, a pipe, a conduit; a drain, gutter, sewer, a sink;—a passage, canal (of the body, &c.); an orifice, opening) rather than entering Lahore through proper city gates.

D. made me to think of the crevice as a portal through which one may embark upon a journey, traveling from 1641 A.D. to the present day, amassing everything that has grown around and at the back of the Shalimar Gardens. There, you’ll find a whole colony of people, squatters, small homes and, most interestingly, a collection of pool tables where men pass their time in the evenings.

This is how D. becomes a hero for some of my recollections, and an entry point into the times of the Mughals seen through the eyes of a boy. He will take us to and through the past, joining the picnics at Shalimar to the changing courses of the river Ravi, to the tunnels that Wescoat and others write about, and finally, emerge on the other side, at the end of empire, coming up through the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh in 1848.


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