I consider myself lucky to have been born, bred and educated in a metropolis that was aptly referred to by names such as the City of Gardens or the Heart of Pakistan. The aura emanating from the place was so overpowering that people who had not visited it were told that they had not yet come into this world.

I left Lahore in the mid-sixties to pursue a career, returning to my family home now and then, before finally settling down in Islamabad to lead a retired existence. It was during my visits to this great city after gaps of many years that I was able to see the degenerative changes that were turning its serene, green and leafy roads into a nightmare of traffic, pollution and concrete structures.

For those of my readers who are from my generation or earlier, this week’s column will bring back some pleasant nostalgic memories, while for those who were born nearer to present times, these lines will perhaps kindle a desire to do something in order to stop wanton commercialisation and restore some of Lahore’s old beauty.

I read with unmitigated horror the news that one of Lahore’s iconic landmarks known as Lakshmi Building had been torn down. I was even more horrified when I saw a package about this act of cultural sacrilege on television and heard some shop owners from Hall Road speak in favour of tearing down the structure. I looked long and hard at these individuals and notwithstanding the fact that they were within their rights to form and express an opinion, I expelled them from my list of ‘true Lahoris’.

Some of Lahore’s most attractive heritage buildings once stood on both sides of the Mall. The first casualty in this murderous onslaught was the white Civil and Military Gazette (C&MG) building that stood majestically where Panorama Centre now rears its ugly glass fronted head. The C&MG building was once the workplace of Rudyard Kipling, one of Lahore’s most popular ‘gorasons’ and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. I remember visiting the premises a very long time ago and spending a considerable time standing in front of the commemorative plaque honouring this great man.

The madness for constructing tall concrete commercial megaliths prompted the destruction of some of Lahore’s beautiful parks and verges. I visited the historic Russian metropolis of St Petersburg in 1997 and was delighted to see that the city’s expansion plans included restoration of old buildings, mixing them aesthetically with new aluminium and glass structures and, above all, preserving the trees and turf in the green belts and dividers. The overall effect was a pleasant and refreshing ambiance that pervaded, wherever one went.

In stark contrast, those responsible for turning the City of Gardens into a concrete jungle have done so with impunity and lack of Lahori spirit. Some of the roads that have fallen prey to this ‘commercial cancer’ are Lawrence Road, Queen’s Road, Waris Road and Jail Road. These were once, lush green residential areas lined with old colonial style bungalows surrounded by spacious compounds. Families strolled on the footpaths flanking these roads in utter privacy and we as children rode our bicycles everywhere free of any worry or danger.

The corner of Queen’s and Waris Road sported a large open water reservoir that was a popular picnic and fishing spot for families on Sundays and during summer evenings. I passed the spot a few days ago during a trip to the Punjab Capital, but could not locate the tank, which had either been filled up or had been engulfed by buildings.

The Mall, which can rightly be termed as the city’s jugular artery, still has a number of old buildings that need to be restored and not torn down. The only stretch of this famous strip of asphalt that has somehow retained a semblance of its old look, runs from the edge of the Governor’s House to the far corner of Aitcheson College, thanks to security concerns related to both these premises. I fervently hope that one day my descendants will be able to walk by proudly and enjoy the beauty and grandeur of Lawrence and Montgomery Halls, Free Mason’s Hall, Shah Din Building, Dyal Singh Mansion and many other landmarks whose names escape my memory, for these structures are Lahore’s heritage and pulling them down would tantamount to nothing less than shamelessness.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.