Fixing the Androon: Reimagining Old Lahore

The session was based on a documentary made by Attiq Uddin Ahmed in which he gathered facts that how rapidly the Androon Lahore is being commercialized in the last three decades. The documentary is about building 8 km wall around the Androon Lahore to fix its problems like congestion and rapid commercializing. This ‘Wall’ will be a vertical garden on both facades, a public promenade and an event space on top and is made up of many buildings that house, bazaars, parking, warehouse, food courts, police station and schools. According to Attiq ‘The Wall’ would allow the city to breathe again. Commenting on this project Nayyar Ali Dada gave his expert opinion and said, “Construction and conservation are two different aspects. A critical balance between the two should be maintained and for that we need professionals and sensitive decision makers.” He also pointed out that both culture and nature were in danger during ongoing construction projects in the city. “We are living in some sort of monarchy,” he said tongue in cheek. “Such mega projects like ‘The Wall’ need voice and public support,” he said. Imrana Tiwana was of the view that Lahore was a beautiful city and wasn’t needed to make it Paris or Dubai. “It is the most amazing city filled with romance. No replica can replace its beauty,” she said. DG Walled City of Lahore Authority Kamran Lashari appreciated the project. He emphasized that the culture of Androon Lahore should be saved. “It is the only thing which we have to showcase if any foreigner visits our city. We can’t take them to DHA or Baharia Town,” Mr. Lashari said. Highlighting efforts of WCLA he said that lot of money had been invested in Androon Lahore but it was underground in form of sewerage system or to remove the clustered wires of electricity. It was a wonderful session and audience liked the idea of building ‘The Wall’ and to preserve the culture of Androon Lahore. Some of the attendances were also willing for contributions if the project would start.

Urdu Ki Maqbool Kahanian

The session was to differentiate between the famous literature and the real literature. The title ‘Urdu Ki Maqbool Kahanian’ refers to those stories or novels which are famous among readers but lack literary characteristic. Intizar Husain differentiated the two and said, “Maqbool Kahanian could be explained in two ways; first the stories which are best-sellers and the second are those which we call Alif Laila.” Tracing out the history of stories he said, “Urdu stories are derived from three sources. Arabic, which is the oldest one and Dastan-e-Ameer Hamza is its example. The second source is Persian and Rustam and Sohrab is its example. The third source is Kata Kahani in which ancient Indian stories fall like Singhasan Battisi,” he said. He explained that the relation with these sources was detached when the era of Premchand started and writers were influenced from the Western style of writing short stories. Explaining more about the difference he said that for the audience present there in the hall Qurratulain Hyder could be a famous novelist but in the market it could be Ibn-e-Safi. Intizar Husain also emphasized that like Western writers and publishers we should also translate our classics into simple versions so that everyone could read and understand those. Recently he translated Singhasan Battisi for the understanding of common readers. Mr Nasir, a well-versed critic also enlightened the audience in this regard. He said that Maqbool Kahanian were written in special context and thus short lived. “Famous literature is something different and real literature is something different. Famous literature is written according to the wishes and demands of the readers. Real literature raises questions and creates doubts in the minds of the readers whereas the famous literature snubs the already existing doubts,” he explained. Kishwar Naheed said that adaptation of Maqbool Kahanian made them more famous. The session successfully made clear that every famous novel and story couldn’t be true literature no matter how famous its writer is.

 Temples of the Indus

The session was to highlight the Indus temples in Pakistan and Indus civilization. Reema Abbasi’s recent book ‘Historic Temples in Pakistan — a Call to Conscience’ and Aitzaz Ahsan’s book ‘The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan’ also became the topic of discussion. Reema Abbasi pointed out that only two temples left in Punjab and the Sikh and Hindu community had largely left Punjab but she happily shared that in Sindh Sikh and Hindu community still lived in a large number. Talking about reasons of disappearing most of temples she said, “Most of the temples were demolished by land grabbing mafias because all these temples were located on main location and had vast tracts of land. Most of such cases happened in Thatta and Hyderabad.” Aitzaz Ahsan explaining about our relation to Indus civilization said, “We belong to Indus Basin and Indus territory. But unfortunately during General Zia ul-Haq era we were taught in history book that our ancestors belonged to Arabs, which was unfortunate.” He said that destruction of those temples had a metaphor that the little Hindu in us had died. “Every one of us had a little Hindu in us and that was because our forefathers and ancestors were Hindus. But it was Zia’a era which killed that little Hindu in us,” Mr Ahsan said. I. A. Rehman speaking about hypocrisy of leaders said that minorities had never been an agenda for any government in Pakistan. He said that he was afraid that in next 10 years the remaining temples might also be demolished. Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro called Sindh a land of religious diversity. “Most of the surviving temples are in dilapidated condition. However, there are many morti makers in Sindh but unfortunately no moorti maker left in Punjab,” he highlighted the fact. The session was ended on a unanimous note that we should stop calling them minorities. “We should call them Bahtar Pakistanis (BP) because most of outstanding personalities in different profession belonged to minorities,” Mr Ahsan suggested by giving some examples like one of the finest Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Cornelius. The audience approved Mr. Ahsan’s concluding note by clapping that the temples which were survived made him happy but he would be more satisfied if those buildings would be peopled and available for worshippers.

Pakistan’s New Soft Power

The concept of soft power was put forward by American Harvard University professor Joseph Nyre. According to him hard power of a country is the ability of its military strength, economic strength and political strength; whereas the soft power is a country’s ability to attract and persuade other countries through to its goals. America and India have practiced this power successfully. In the session ‘Pakistan’s New Soft Power’, the speakers discussed what the potential soft powers of Pakistan are. Ishrat Husain speaking on the topic said, “Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the past and artistes like Atif Aslam, Fawad Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are making vibes across the border” is one aspect of Pakistan’s soft power. Syeda Abida Hussain added that sufi music, folk lore, the traditions of art and painting, the leather industry, handmade shoes, embroidery work, truck art and delicious Pakistani food were some other aspects of soft power. She said regretfully, “All these aspects of Pakistan’s soft power are shadowed by terrorism.” She said that when she was posted in Washington DC, she persuaded many Pakistani’s to make food chains over there but no one took it seriously. “We have also lot of potential in Gandhara civilization for Japanees and Koreans,” she added. Ameena Saiyid drew attention to another aspect and said, “Our writers like Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif etc are known worldwide and their books are available at any bookstore of Europe.” However, she said, “The problem is that we are not projecting these soft powers.” She quoted two examples and said, “In London there is Nehru Center which organizes the cultural activities but there is no Jinnah Center for any such activity. Even though I once asked to Pakistani Embassy to make a Jinnah Centre in London but I was told that it would require millions of pounds. Similarly once I visited Frankfort Book Fair there was a separate hall for Indian publishers where almost 60 publishers displayed their books but there was no Pakistani stall.” The projection of our soft power was the concluding point of the session. Commenting about incidents of terrorism which become hurdle, Ishrat Husain said, “These issues are temporary and are not imbedded with Pakistan.” He also emphasized on the flow of information about our events.