At least 2000 years old, Lahore is said to gain its name from Lava the son of the Hindu lord Rama. As a city it truly flourished after Islam spread to the subcontinent through the Sufi mystics; later the Mughal emperors built its famous Shalimar garden, Badshahi mosque, the Lahore fort and many other structures like Choburji and the Shahi Hamam.

The often quoted story of Hazrat Usman Ali Hajvery, who belonged to Ghazni, present day Afghanistan, reflects on the influence these Sufis had. His teacher, Al Khutali advised him to go to Lahore in 1046, which perplexed him as he knew Hazrat Hassain Zanjani was already there as the Shaikh. But things became obvious to him when he saw the funeral of Shaikh Zanjani as he entered the city of Lahore. Lahore then became the city of Data Gunj Baksh who spent most of his life spreading ease and blessings for rich and poor alike. In his masterpiece Kashf ul Mahjub, Hazrat Data Gunj Buksh talks of the lifting of the veils of mystical knowledge (maaarifat).

Over time Lahore became a hub for culture and the capital for the Ghaznavid Empire. Maharaja Ranjit Singh made Lahore his summer capital when he gained power after the weakening of the Mughal Empire. In 1811 Lahore’s population was a little less than Amritsar but was noted to have 46 percent of its residents come from other cities. Thus this city’s hospitality and acceptance of diversity is a reflection of Hazrat Ali Hajveri; the Sufi who distributed blessings with generosity.

The Lahore of today with its glorious facade of graceful buildings extending along the Mall from Atchison College, Lahore High Court, Lahore Museum, General post office, Mayo hospital and Ganga Ram hospital were built by the British to glorify their rule through architecture. Rai Bahadur Ganga Ram an architect, civil engineer and philanthropist was responsible for the designing of these beautiful structures.

Today when you look around Lahore it seems as if we have lost our bearings. We are not aware of its history or culture. We have buried history or tried haplessly to erase it and in the process lost our present. A nation that forgets its past loses its future because it lives in denial and refuses to use hindsight.

Lahore is the sixth largest city in population globally but has the dubious credit of being one of the most polluted in the world right now. With an air quality index ranging above 250 for PM 2.5 on average throughout the year, it is an emergency. In the past 8 years that I have lived here, the sky has never been blue but a hazy grey on good days and murky brown on most winter days. The most alarming aspect is the apathetic response of concerned quarters. There are no health advisories from anyone, no one wears a mask and we are hopeless in our approach. The government’s response is we have shut down “bhattas”, reduced crop burning but current state in Lahore is due to the pollution from across the border. Does that stop concerned people from raising awareness in the general public? Upper respiratory illnesses, asthma, eye and skin infections, Pneumonia, depression and cancer are effects of this level of pollution. But no one is bothered by any of this.

 On another level a lot else is upside down; parents no longer give ‘terbiyat’ to children, they pass their children to illiterate maids and sleep till midday. The mothers are busy going from coffee “mournings” to launches and lunches! All decked up, totally oblivious to what is happening at home. Husbands refuse to go to dinner where alcohol is not served. The kids are busy in the house or school indulging in drugs, or disturbing activities with no one to monitor or advise them except their equally lost and confused peers. The overwhelming desire in the Lahore of today is to be judged favourably by ‘others’ who matter. Curiously all of them suffer low self-worth and constantly look for approval; it is this need to ‘jack’ up their worth that has been a boon for the Pakistani ‘brands’.

Life in Lahore in December is a frenzy to rush from one wedding to the next. It’s like a “mela” where millions are spent on a dress which looks almost like any other. Food, decor, mithai, makeup, photography and videos are all “personalized” for the couple but are actually according to a preset identical pattern and all end up looking alike. This after both families beg, borrow or steal to cover the expenses of the extravaganza.  Its almost like a factory that turns out clones. The poor bride starts getting ready at 10 am in the morning for an eight o clock evening function. When it’s time for the event she is already dead tired and can hardly smile for the camera. How can the bride and groom start the first day of their new life relationship when they are both exhausted and literally freaked out?  

I think its time for Lahore and Lahoris to pause the button, and reflect a little....


The writer is a socio political

activist and practicing consultant

aesthetic dermatologist.