It was in the mid-80s that I visited the Governor's House in Lahore on the invitation of a relative. As I was taken around on a tour of the grounds, I was intrigued by the fact that the building appeared to lack design symmetry. One could see that the North and the South Wings flanking the central structure had architectural variations and appeared to have been added later at two different points in time.

I discovered that my observation was not only correct, but more bizarrely, the central structure had once been a tomb. Enquiries revealed that the grave was located under the dining room and the person interred therein was a Moghul era notable named Qasim Khan, who had been given the title of Mir Behar by Emperor Akbar. Rummaging through old 19th century write ups, I also came across one mention of a spectral presence that was seen occasionally in the grounds near the main entrance.

The thought occurred to me that there should be many premises in and around Lahore where present-day occupants went about their business oblivious of the fact that right beneath their feet lay the remains of people out of history. There was also the possibility that some of these people had, perhaps, died violent deaths and their ethereal presences may still be stalking the dark and silent corridors, as clocks struck midnight and living mortals went to sleep.

The romantic, but tragic tale of Anarkali and Prince Salim (later Emperor Jehangir) has been immortalised in books and movies. According to legend, this beautiful kaneez captured Salim's heart and suffered the royal wrath of Emperor Akbar by being bricked up alive in a wall. A magnificent tomb was erected over her last resting place when Salim became Emperor. This edifice served as the workplace and residence of Sir Henry Lawrence after annexation of the Punjab by the British and later a church was consecrated here. It subsequently became an office of the Punjab Administration and remains so, to this day. It is exciting to think that, perhaps, one day, some adventurous 'ghost hunter' will venture out on a vigil to discover if Anarkali's ghost inhabits the building, waiting for her prince to return to her. On a more serious note, I think the premises holds great promise as a revenue earner from tourism point of view and must be utilised as such.

As Lahore expanded after the fall of the Sikhs, new localities were built outside the old city by levelling old cemeteries and tombs. One such area was the Civil Lines, which comprised portions of the Queen's and Lawrence Roads. Our old house on Queen's Road was constructed on what was once a graveyard, which is why we grew up witnessing apparitions and strange happenings without much fear.

My mother often told us of seeing white clad figures appearing from behind the trees in our rear lawn and walking slowly to disappear near the old tomb and last resting place of the Saint Hazrat Shah Inayat Qadri, who was the religious mentor of Baba Bullay Shah. While we did not see mysterious figures, we often experienced inexplicable phenomenon such as the sound of footsteps heading towards the Saint’s shrine or waves of perfume, as if some entity wearing attar had passed close to us. The only time we saw physical evidence that the house and its grounds were built over a graveyard was, when our malis dug up the ground to plant trees and found parts of human skeletons a few feet below the ground.

Lahore had its share of Hindu Shamshan Ghats in the pre-independence era. One existed on the banks of the Ravi River, while one was located outside the Taxali Gate. A. Hamid, the celebrated writer and columnist, once wrote about his supernatural experience when he visited this place at night as a young lad. Petrified with fear, he was unable to move till jolted into action, by what he thought was mother’s voice asking what he was doing there. He ran home screaming and never ventured into the place again. The area once occupied by this Shamshan Ghat is now densely populated, leaving no place for restless spirits.

As cities and towns expand and land becomes premium, areas that were once gardens or graveyards have been overrun by progress and development. This is the irrevocable law of nature and cannot be impeded. What can be done, however, is to ensure that no edifice of history is destroyed in the process, for nations who destroy history are wont to destroy themselves.

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