behind the archives
Treat for your feet
The traditional, colourful
khussas and sandals are a specialty of Lahore’s
By Zoha Majeed
Amidst the open
sewers that trail along narrow roads and tarnished buildings, lies an
heirloom that is traditional and cultural in every aspect. A product of
the grand Mughal era, which highlighted the glorious and celebratory,
luxurious lifestyle of the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent, we have
the hand-made, hand-embroidered shoes.
As I crossed the Taxali
gate into the Sheikhupurian Bazaar in the walled city, the entire street
was lined with traditional shoe shops on either side of the road. Be it
Ajmer Chappal House or Bhatti Jee Shoes, all the shops were equipped with
designs, varieties, sizes and shapes imaginable. The common denominator
that separates these shops from the more popular ones such as Ehsan
Chappal Store or Bata is that the shoes they sell are altogether
The leather sole of the
shoe is made by aged craftsmen who sit in their workshop cum store and
spend, what would seem like an eternity to any one of us, working on those
shoes. The top of the shoe, be it a chappal, khussa, Peshawari chappal,
sandal or kolhapuri, Sheikhupuri juti, kannay wali juti, is all made of
leather that is then embellished with gold thread, diamonties and other
inexpensive stones by women employed on cheap labour.
It may take up to a
month or even a month and a half to complete a pair of shoes, sold at Rs
1,200 or more depending on the design and handiwork. Some even go up to Rs
5000 per pair. This is a price many buyers, usually grooms and their
families, pay for the legacy of this traditional craft which should
survive us for centuries to come.
Ahsan remarks, “At first plain brown sandals were preferred but now we
have customers that come to us and demand decked-up shoes in different
designs and cuts”.
Commenting on the
popularity of his product, he says, “We have many buyers in villages and
suburbs of Lahore. It used to be an elitist fashion item which only the
nawabs and chaudhrys used to purchase. Nowadays this product is purchased
by all — rich, poor and middle-class.”
On the contrary,
65-year-old Mumtaz Khan, the oldest craftsman in the market, laments that
his work is no longer appreciated as it once was. “There has been a
30-35 per cent decrease in sales in the last decade which has driven
karigar away from this cottage industry. Hum nay khoon paseena bahaya aur
saath saath apnay bachon ko burger ki bimaari bhi lagaya.”
He reflects on how the
current western influence has taken the children away from tradition and
culture. “It has driven us roti eaters to shawarma. It has left us
questioning our identity as we have turned into hybrids of western and
eastern cultures, yet belonging to neither.”
He says our progression
should be like the colourful chappals hanging in his store — fast enough
to keep up with the times but gradual enough to keep it rooted to its
Muhammad Hussain, who
has run a one-man workshop since 1967, says, “The last couple of decades
have seen a drastic decline in the popularity of this product. I wonder if
these will still be worn by my grandchildren.”
Even though, these
embodied shoes constitute and represent our diverse culture, their worth
is fading away as we progress. Be it westernisation, modernisation or
whichever phenomenon that defines this transition, it is okay to revisit
our roots, our culture every few years to ensure that our culture and our
legacy live on.
expressions, folded foreheads, shivering fingers, bitten nails, and other
symptoms are an immanent part of the pre-result period. With days passing
by like crisp pages being flipped in a book, candidates have been seen
marking the D-day date on their calendars, notebooks, phones, and almost
every possible item which would negate the possibility of forgetting the
arrival of the ‘big day’.
Some pray day and night
that time would somehow be put on hold, some devote time to devising plans
in hopes of absconding from this mental torture, while some ‘live life
like there’s no tomorrow’ — but at the back of the mind, all of them
keep alive the plaguing reminder of ‘the end being near’, until the
end indeed does arrive.
Having experienced the
same ‘exam-result phase’ just a few days ago, as the Cambridge
International Examination Board was releasing my Ordinary Levels result on
the 13th of this month, I can fully empathise with all those who have
spent this July or August hiding under their beds or in their cupboards
trying to find Narnia — a fantasy world far away from our own.
I would count the hours,
not the days as the 13th came nearer and nearer. Several friends and
acquaintances stopped replying to mails, others switched off their cell
phones and some were even seen deactivating their Facebook accounts,
trying to maintain an isolation or seclusion for themselves. The fear of
attaining what we categorise as ‘bad grades’ is probably one of the
biggest nightmares, for a student. Even the over-achievers, and the
possible valedictorians of the most prominent educational institutions,
are seen in line with victims to serious anxiety and pressure.
Bipolarity can be found
everywhere and in essence also in educational centres. There are those who
are incredibly ambitious and crave to achieve their goals by following a
motto of ‘hard-work paves the road to success’. Then there are those
that give course books only a perfunctory glance and are quite rightly on
the road to perdition. However, as the result comes nearer, attracting
minutes and seconds closer to itself, students are seen behaving in a
common, most troubled way. Tension and suspense pervades the atmosphere no
matter how calm a countenance one may appear to wear.
Why have we made
examinations, and the results that ensue, a matter of life and death?
With the progression of
time where one expects to see a development and widening in human thought,
the suicide rate in universities and colleges has ironically increased,
and one asks, why so? Wasn’t education supposed to be a purpose in life,
as opposed to being a life taker or a dream killer?
Before my Cambridge
International Examinations, a senior in my school wisely said, “Once
your exams come nearer, you will truly realise what an exam really
comprises of. A good performance entails mainly stress handling and so
much more than plainly rewriting what you have learnt off paper.”
At first thinking this
was only a conjecture. I ignored the statement. However, later
circumstances vindicated this judgement. Examination hype created by
society can indeed be blamed largely for tensing up nerves and making the
phenomenon seem almost like an ordeal. Recurrent voices of teachers and
family chanting the words ‘this is it’ or ‘this will make you or
break you’ are haunting earworms that act as background music to exam
life. It is true that the world has so much to offer, but man only chooses
to make those things matter which he wants to. Everything else just seems
irrelevant. In this case, students are made to make results matter, by the
people and circumstances around them. That is not necessarily something
negative, but what is problematic is the extent of importance given to
Another senior once said
to me, “Don’t gauge your potential and talents by your results.”
Wasn’t that the whole purpose behind an examination? To distinguish the
brilliant from the ordinary? Or to translate one’s abilities into grades
imprinted on paper?
This means the whole
idea behind a ‘test’ has become redundant. Whether that is an opinion
or the objective truth is a debate in itself, but what is certainly
established is that educational success is only a means to achieve
‘absolute bliss’. It is the general attitude of society that has put
the youth under the impression that a Matric, O’level, SAT, or any
examination is a do or die situation.
I remember turning to
stone for the initial five minutes of my very first board examination
worrying that I might do something ‘wrong’. What we do not realise is
that what’s wrong is aspiring a ‘means’ of as much value as an
‘end’. There is always hope, always room for improvisation, and
betterment no matter how big a blunder you have made in a fancy
airconditioned hall, with laced curtains and polished floors.
Do better in the
subsequent exam, and if all fails, the option of re-giving an exam can
always be explored.
Judgement day brings
with it the climax to the crescendo of emotion. Bright smiles, sobs,
result cards being waved into the air, or curled up to avoid disclosure,
or even used as fans to break the heat, have been a part of common sights
this month. Whether it has led to happiness or sadness, the pressure has
eventually been broken and brought an end to the prolonged suspense.
Another year can now be waited for, and then again will begin the tales of
worrisome students, with yet another examination and its awaited result.
Agenda by Ayesha Siddiqui at Koel Gallery opening on Aug 11 from 5-8pm.
The exhibition will
open till Aug 31.
*3rd International Gems
and Jewellery Exhibition at Pearl Continental Hotel
from Sep 14-16.
*Urdu Baithak/Sing along
sessions: “Story hour” for children 5 years and above every
Sunday from 5.00 to 6.00
pm at Faiz Ghar.
*Open Mic Night at
Institute for Peace and Secular Studies on Wednesday at 6:00 pm.
Eid brings joys
to everyone and Hassan, a student of grade 5, is no exception. He has
waited, like every year, for this festival to arrive. It is a special
occasion for him as on these days he sees some of his most favourite
relatives, especially cousins, after a year. Based in Gulf, they come to
their ancestral city – Lahore, to celebrate the occasion and stay for a
few days with his family. All the gifts and chocolates these affluent
relatives bring are an additional attraction and add colour to his life.
Despite all this, Hassan
could not enjoy these days to the full. His happiness was short-lived as
he had to attend his school on August 23. This was just a day after the
three-day Eid festival finished. In fact, his mind was occupied, even
during these days, about thoughts of waking up early in the morning and
going through the same old rut once again. With cousins still sleeping in
their beds after watching movies all through it, the pain of changing into
uniform was simply unbearable. His eyes were also sore as he had not slept
well. Routines do not change overnight, and it may take him a week or two
There were those lucky
ones also who could convince their parents to allow them to avail two more
holidays-on Thursday and Friday. This was the missing link which once
established helped them ward of their worries till Monday-the next working
day of the week. Hassan could not even dare to avail this option. His
father-a strict disciplinarian-has never been receptive to such proposals
and believes nothing is more important than being punctual at school.
The same situation
arises every year and students and their families find it hard to re-plan
their schedules and budgets. The concerns can be common as well as unique
depending on the situation of a particular family.
TNS talked to different
individuals to know how prepared they were to adapt to the change in their
lifestyle once schools opened. The responses were as diverse in nature as
the sample. Some them are mentioned in the lines that follow.
Shahid Musa, a
businessman associated with publishing profession, had to send his
children to school on 23rd after receiving a text message-which he terms
threatening-from school administration. They had warned to strike off his
children’s names from rolls if they did not come that day. “The moment
we arrived we were surprised to read a notice posted on the gate. The
summer vacations had been extended by over a week.”
He says full of
desperation he wanted to bang his head into the gate but controlled his
emotions. “We kept our kids awake throughout the night to make them
finish their homework.” The children were excited to meet their friends
after two and half months but the discomfort of waking up early and
changing into uniforms was unbearable.
9, is an exception. He wishes there are no summer vacations next year.
“What’s the purpose of having these when you have to stay inside, in
hot weather and without electricity? Our parents kept on promising to take
us to the hills but that day never arrived,” he says while talking to
The school owners have
always been advocates of opening schools early. Besides, they do not wait
much to announce summer camps and makeup classes once schools close. A
major allegation against them is that they do this to keep their allied
businesses such as canteens, stationery shops, uniforms sales etc running.
Otherwise, they collect fees for the vacations’ period in advance.
Mirza Kashif Ali, owner
of Lahore School Systems (LSS), denies these charges saying they simply
want their students to finish their educational courses early and focus on
revisions. His point is that unlike government schools their survival
depends on students’ performance in exams. “They cannot perform well
with academic calendar shrinking more and more.”
People, he says, are
over-reacting this time as they got an extra month of vacations last year.
“Floods and spread of dengue virus were the main reasons and thankfully
the situation is much better this year.” He says he remembers schools
used to open by August 15 a few years ago. On advance fee collected for
vacations period, he says this does not go into their pockets. It’s
spent on bearing fixed costs such as building rent, teachers’ fees,
maintenance costs and repair work done during this period.
There are still those
who have mixed feelings about the opening of schools. Shakir Rasool, a
customs forwarding agent who lives in Ichhra, is one such person who hopes
his electricity bills will come down once his all four children start
going to school. The children who are often fighting each other have to be
kept in separate rooms, leading use of more electricity and running of
fans in all rooms. He says normally they switch off their air-conditioner
at 7 am but in vacations it keeps on running till 12 noon while children
Shakir foresees horrific
traffic jams on roads especially those around the proposed Bus Rapid
Transit (BRT) route in the afternoon. “It takes commuters hours to clear
these routes even when schools are closed. Just imagine what will happen
once all the city’s schools are open in a week’s time.”
we entered the main hall of the house in Gulberg, where Tahir Yazdani
keeps his poster collection, gramophones, records and other old material,
he asked us to wait while he disappeared into an adjacent room. Returning
with a small bottle of ittar, a traditional Arabic perfume, he put a
little on our wrists. “This is a traditional way of welcoming guests,”
he added. “This organic perfume has the same smell but would react
differently to different skins and give a different smell altogether.”
Yazdani’s house is
divided into residential quarters and archive collection. The entire
ground floor is reserved for the latter. “Well I am archiving actively
for the past 18 years, but professionally I would for the last seven
years. I began with terracotta figures,” he says. A glass showcase
contains his collection of terracotta figurines and objects, some of them
from the Indus valley civilisation dating back to the 4th century BCE.
Next to them is another collection of not so old items of glasses,
porcelain pottery, pipes, matchboxes, etc from the 19th and early 20th
On the wall facing the
showcase is a collection of pre-partition photographs of Zoroastrian and
European families from Lahore. Underneath them hang traditional clothes
from far-flung areas of the country. “Another of our aim is to preserve
the living culture of indigenous people. These are the communities from
Cholistan, Kalash, Kashmir and Balochistan, etc. We commission them to
make traditional dresses, baskets, carpets, etc, which we then sell in the
markets of Lahore. The profit is used for the uplift of the
communities,” say Yadzani. As he says this I notice a handmade Persian
carpet placed on the floor, underneath our chairs.
Yazdani buries himself
into a huge trunk carefully picking out books and slowly placing them on
the ground. Most of them are in horrible condition. Rusty brown in colour,
a few of the pages are missing their covers, while a few books have
missing pages. “This is my collection of historical books. Some of these
books are 400 years old. These are books in Sanskrit, Persian, handwritten
manuscripts in Arabic and Punjabi as well. I have a lot of literature on
Guru Granth Sahib, the holy Sikh book,” he adds. “Some foreign
conservatives go into a shock when they look at the way I preserve these
books. ‘You shouldn’t touch them with bare hands,’ they warn me. I
laugh. I tell them that we were preserving books even when there were no
modern techniques. I combine the traditional and modern methods of
preservation. I use neem’s leaf, which when dried is an insecticide. I
occasionally take the books in the sun, which is important,” he
“One day is not enough
to show all of my collections,” he says. He once again disappears into
the room, from where he had gotten the ittar and emerges with a box.
“This is my collection of coins,” he says. Neatly compartmentalised,
this is a collection of coins from antiquity up to present day Pakistan.
“You can find coins from the time of Shahjahan in here and also from the
early days of Pakistan,” he explains.
Tahir Yazdani operates a
facebook page by the name of ‘The Lahore Heritage Club’ which is the
name he has given to his archive and enterprise. “It is futile for
archivists to work in isolation,” he says. “Look at this
gramophone,” he says, pointing out to a gramophone placed behind his
chair. “It is useless without the needle on its tip. Without that, it
would not be able to play any of the records and all my records would go
waste. Now the problem is that there is no company which makes the needle
anymore, which is why I am working on making a network of archivists and
interested people. I contacted a man in England who used to work for a
company responsible for the production of these needles. I
assured him that I would buy all his needles after which he agreed to make
them for me. In this way we were able to put to use our gramophones and
records. Similarly, I have a network in Pakistan, South Asia and the world
over, of archivists and collectors. We talk over the phone regularly and
discuss our collections and ways to increase coordination,” he explains.
Across this room is his
small theatre, where he runs his own show of private screenings of old
movies, also part of his collection. “Once in a while I call all my
friends and we watch a movie,” he says. There is an old projector,
placed in the centre of the room, whereas a roll is technically placed
around it, by the operator. The movie being played is Baiju Bawra, a
blockbuster from the year 1952. “We find a lot of these movies from
scavengers, sold to them by different film studios and embassies,” he
Yazdani understands the
importance of digitalising his archive which is why, for the past few
years, he and his team are working on digitalising everything. “We have
covered a lot of manuscripts but there is still so much to do.”
At Race course park there is no parking facility for visitors’ cars. How can they come to the park then? People are extremely upset at the missing safe parking stand.