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Ismat and I

In Photo, WRITERS on December 19, 2012 at 10:42 pm

ismat

Renowned feminist author, Ismat Chugtai and I, circa 1985.

Genesis: a herstoriography/excavation

In ARCHITECTURE, CHILDHOOD, HISTORY, Photo on December 4, 2012 at 6:03 pm

The first tour guide was my mother.

Literally she was my first tour guide to the city’s monuments and more.

mom and d

The way I remember it my mother was always driving us to places. In the afternoon she picked us (my sister and I) up from school. Having expended all our energy at school, in the late afternoon we changed colours, drooping away in the backseat of the car as my mother made trips to multiple tailors around the city. If I was lucky we stopped at my favourite book store where I salivated over pencil boxes and Crayola crayons. My sister having been content with amassing cuttings of fabric at the tailors’ workstation would happily play in her tower of katrans by the carload.

In my child’s head it seemed my father was often at work and my mother ever-ready with the keys to her car. As a result my mother would assume the role of designated host and tour guide for anyone visiting us. And people, they did come. People came to visit from other cities and towns, mainly from Karachi and Okara. When my mother’s relatives came from Karachi they demanded to be shown what Lahore was famous for. What Lahore was famous for firstly was a long list of rich, oily, meaty delicious street food. What Lahore was famous for secondly were its monuments. In the manner of seeing and not consuming my mother would escort our guests to one of the monuments of note in the inner city. These could have been any one of: Shahi Qila, Badshahi Mosque, Shalimar Gardens, Wazir Khan Mosque, the twelve gates of the old city, Minar-e-Pakistan etc. Not all of the buildings mentioned on the list are from the Mughal era (buildings which can be seen in present day Lahore are from at least three different periods in the city’s history: Mughal, British, Post-Independence).

The visitors, “they” wanted to be shown the sights so they could report back on them, so that they could see what the talk had been about, so they could say they too had seen the monuments of Lahore.

On one of these outings I remember someone in our party was wearing an ajrak. This must be the time when ajrak was in fashion. On that day I can only remember the print of the ajrak, my mother and my sister with any clarity. The others are all ghosts, relatives who could be interchanged with a similar set of relatives. I remember someone posing for photos. My mother may have been the poser or the photographer. That was in the late 80s or early 90s. Even today this is what visitors to the monuments do: they photograph themselves at the foreground of colossal and precise architectures.

When I stood at the steps of the Badshahi mosque earlier this year I thought well, I’ve been here before. I felt a fuzzy déjà vu, but also nostalgia. The nostalgia came to me in layers. At first my memory of the building was in association of it with my family, but as I stood there it also became an acknowledgement of the material and spiritual history of the building itself, and later of each of the other buildings that I was engaged with.

The buildings were constructed for a purpose. Some were palaces to retreat into, some were fortresses which saw plunder and war, some were places of holiness and some created for aesthetic pleasure derived out of the organization of nature into formal gardens which paid homage to the Mughals’ Perso-Turkic roots. Seeing the buildings in 2012 I appreciated them not only as buildings, or as massive feats of architecture and construction but I believe they are as alive as the people around them. They’ve been living here the whole time we’ve (reader, you and I) been around and then some.

The memories I spoke of at the beginning of this post point to quite a glorious childhood where my mother took me on long drives and to old sites, to parks and to faraway corners of the city. This time around I’m going into all of those spaces, not to see how the buildings got there but to try to get at, and/or to guess at their secret spaces.

Did you linger and stay? Get at, or guess at their secret spaces? View not just for pleasure but to see the things you missed the first time around?

Shalimar Gardens with PET in pink

In Photo on November 30, 2012 at 12:02 am

Administering ruination

In Photo on November 29, 2012 at 11:21 pm