in the house
A century of culture
Delhi Muslim Hotel in the heart of Anarkali had served many notable men of the subcontinent. Now it lies deserted in the wake of increased commercialisation
By Rabia Ezdi
Delhi Muslim Hotel is one of Anarkali bazaar's best kept secret. Hiding behind a blur of signboards, service infrastructure and traffic meltdown, the 'hotel' is visible from the main street only if one makes a conscious effort at finding it. Upon entering the hidden enclosure, the plaque reading 'Delhi Muslim Hotel' seems almost surreal. At once, the ambience shifts and one has entered a serene hideaway almost completely divorced from the urban jungle. "This is the changa-manga of Anarkali", jokes Syed Ahmed Shah, the recently retired khateeb of the hotel mosque.
The hotel originally a serai or inn dates back to the early twentieth century. 'Serai Mohammad Shafi' as it was originally named, was located in close proximity to the walled city's Lohari Gate. A number of serais are found to the south of the walled city. The traders, who were not able to enter the city after its gates were closed at night, found cheap lodging there. In 1929, Mohammad Shafi turned the serai into 'Delhi Muslim Hotel'.
"Delhi was the capital and one of the educational and literary centres of the subcontinent before partition. My late father was closely associated with the Delhi notables so the Delhi name was used. Delhi Muslim Hotel has been here for a hundred years spanning three generations. Well known people, including Quaid-e-Azam, have also stayed here," claims Abdullah Shah, one of the surviving sons of Mohammad Shafi, who has inherited half of the premises from his father while the other half of the property belongs to his step siblings. Most historic cities originated from an older nucleus where urban activity had been concentrated. This is the walled city and the areas that developed around it in the 19th and early 20th century that formed today's Lahore. This is the nucleus where trade, administration, manufacturing, culture and residence have co-existed and thrived for well over several centuries.
While 'Purani Anarkali' street was the original location of the British army's barracks, its northward extension connecting to the walled city was known as Lakhpat bazaar. Around the mid-nineteenth century, Lakhpat bazaar was developed into Anarkali bazaar, with shops and residential clusters. It was here that Serai Shafi Mohammad was located. At partition, the hotel premises were taken over by the Muslim Auqaf, to whom the property's heirs now pay a monthly rent. In 1977, many of the hotel's original built structures were demolished and replaced with new construction. Some surviving structures dating from the early British period such as a mosque, a printing press, and two of the original guestrooms are still there.
"Delhi Muslim Hotel's history can be seen in two or three parts," explains writer Jamshed Imam. "One is pre-partition when it was a centre of political activity especially for the Muslim League quaideen. Whenever a political jalsa or meeting would take place in Lahore, these important political figures used to stay at Delhi Muslim Hotel. The second phase was when the area became a posh residential locality and the hotel also became a symbol of social status. And thirdly I would say it was in the 1960s that Delhi Muslim Hotel reached its peak when it began to act like a centre of culture and fine arts because of Maharaj Kathak sahib who had a permanent room here. All activity would revolve around his multi-shaded personality, and many of the big names you hear today like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Sabri brothers, Naheed Siddiqui, Aziz Mian qawwal, were his students here. Discussions would take place for hours and covered all sorts of topics and anyone could join in".
Jamshed sahib and his counterparts, all long-time residents of the Anarkali-walled city area, have been meeting at Azeem Khan's 'Metal Shop' in Anarkali bazaar every evening for several decades. "We also used to go to Delhi Muslim Hotel and spend time with Maharaj Kathak", adds Azeem Khan. "Filmi units used to come and stay at Nizam hotel too which was a serai opposite Delhi Muslim Hotel". It was with such events and developments that platforms such as Delhi Muslim Hotel evolved into pulsating socio-political hubs of Lahore, owing both to their location within the inner city core, as well as the politico-literary citizenry that regularly frequented them.
Faisal Sajjad, a college teacher in his mid-thirties, remembers coming here with his father as a 7-8 year old child. "My father used to be a supporter of the leftist movement. And he would often come here and sit with his friends and contemporaries for hours, over never-ending cups of tea. My most lasting perception of the place is that time seemed to move extremely slowly here."
While once Delhi Muslim Hotel acted as an informal socio-political institution, today it is lost in the fast-paced cloud of Anarkali bazaar. "We had a total of 35 staff, now we just have three. We don't need more because nobody comes here. Foreign tourists also used to stay here, but these weren't many. Only the name of Delhi Muslim Hotel is now left", laments Abdullah Shah. "It does not run as a hotel because people have other hotels to go to now. And there is such a severe problem of electricity and water these days which also adds to the cost of running the hotel, and we cannot afford a generator."
The fate of the hotel is uncertain to Abdullah Shah and many others who have valued it as one of Lahore's prized assets. "We value this as a very important place in the history of Pakistan, which is why we have not left it yet. But we are very perplexed as to what we should do with it now. Sometimes I think we should turn it into a hospital; at other times I consider making it a students' hostel as there are so many educational institutions around and students would need affordable accommodation." Jamshed Imam says, "Places develop importance because of people. It is very sad that we do not value such places any more. We keep hearing that it may be converted into a parking plaza or a commercial building. I think Delhi Muslim Hotel has been so important in the cultural life of Lahore and it should be converted into an art and music academy. Mahraj Kathak's room should be preserved and singers and artists from all over the world should be invited to stay in the hotel".
It is widely agreed that Lahore's inner city is undergoing 'decay'. And although some of the symptoms of Delhi Muslim Hotel's decline are visible, the key to understanding its causes lies in viewing the hotel as a part of the larger organism of the inner city. In functional terms, Anarkali bazaar has become an extended part of the neighbouring wholesale market of the walled city Circular Road. As a consequence, much of the residential space in the area is rented out in the form of warehouses for the neighbouring market, causing the infiltration of commercial traffic. Delhi Muslim Hotel falls in the heart of this commercial congestion. This 'degeneration' and apparent 'chaos' in the hotel's immediate surrounding, has caused a direct decline in demand for the hotel, leading to its neglect.
In the words of American writer Kevin Lynch, "the city is a fact in time, and prosperity, decline and regeneration are natural processes in all living environments and agglomerations". Undoubtedly, degeneration is a direct outcome of the social and economic pressures placed on inner city areas like Anarkali. The question then arises: Does Delhi Muslim Hotel has a future in this sea of urban change and commercial outgrowth? And can these layers of activity co-exist within each other's folds?
Most importantly, the signs that there still exists a need for such platforms are loud and clear. Jamshed sahib's group of friends is one example where people are able to simply come together as equals and express themselves, shed their fears, vent their angers and go back feeling like an essential thread in the web of a larger human family. Many more examples are found across Lahore where citizens are in search of such platforms, especially in trying political and economic times like the present. It is also evident that the real treasures of cultural heritage are not only a city's buildings and tangible assets, but just as importantly its cultural patterns and social associations. Places such as Delhi Muslim Hotel act as the glue of society, and enable citizens to strengthen their relationships not only with each other, but also with the city's treasures its chowks, trees, neighbourhoods, streets, and tea houses.
The key to addressing the decline of Delhi Muslim Hotel and planning for its renewal lies in upgrading the larger Anarkali area, as well as a decision about the hotel's future use. Also, a greater hope for the revival of the hotel as a socio-cultural platform lies in the fact that unlike Pak Tea House which had private ownership and gave way to market forces, Delhi Muslim Hotel is government property hence its conservation bears not only a cultural but also an ethical dimension.
By Sidra Mahmood
What is the worth of human beings among us? We gauge humans on their personal worth or the monetary worth? Is it the person – as an individual – who is significant for us or the things that he possesses that makes him notable? What is friendship? What are neighbours? What is the idea of fraternity? Do we even ask ourselves these questions?
The Eid that we have just celebrated apparently manages to give us only one lesson, that is, eat as much as you can and party till the last shreds of meat last in your freezer, or else the essence of this Eid will be lost. What we fail to remember is that this Eid-ul-Azha was one of those important events in our lives when for once we are supposed to let go of the envelope of consumerism in which we have stowed our lives away. The real essence – as far as any child of the 21st century should understand – is sharing and caring, and sacrificing. What many among us would prefer to understand in this message is that share but among friends, take care but of those who are your immediate family and sacrifice, well, what are the animals for if not for sacrifice?
If only we open our eyes and hearts up, we will find that this Eid was one of those times when sharing was the most required. A country whose 70 percent of the population exists below the poverty line includes those people who never get to eat meat except on this one day; that these people are never considered humans for the rest of the year, except on this day when a stranger out of sheer fervour unknowingly clasps them in their arms after the Eid prayers. However, those among us who can afford to give out these moments of happiness to these individuals are people who want to live in their gilded homes and not be bothered about the world that exists beyond their posh surroundings. Why is it that we are blinded to the plight of others?
Why do we think that money makes the man? Why is it that we refuse to acknowledge those who live in our neighbourhood whose houses might look shabbier than us or who might not have the same number of cars in their porch as us? What is the role of parents, teachers, religious heads and elders in our society? We hear many people – apparently intellectuals of the society – who bemoan the fact that the contemporary youth has failed in ethics and morals. Period. Do they ever try to understand that it is our own failing as elders that our youth has gone astray?
Things don't change over-night but like it is said, even one stone thrown in the pond starts a ripple, and that too, spreads.
* Group Show of 9 Master Artists at Revivers Galleria at 84-B-1,Ghalib Road,Gulberg 3 till Dec 19. The gallery remains open from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm.
* Monthly Classical Music Concert at Lahore Chitrkar on Sat, Dec 12 at 7:30 pm.
* Play: 'Kamraa' at Bukhari Auditorium GC University from today to Tue, Dec 8. Time: 6:00 pm. The play is an absurdist reflection on reality of our existence.
* Minorities International Conference on Sat & Sun, Dec 12-13 at Loyola Hall, 28 Waris Road.
* Play: 'Mera Ki Qasoor' at Alhamra, Gaddafi Stadium, on Thu, Dec 10 at 7:00 pm, written & directed by Aamir Nawaz.
* Sufi Night every Thursday at Peerus Cafe at 9:00 pm featuring live qawali performances.
* Ghazal Night every Friday at Peerus Cafe at 9:00 pm.
* Qawwali Night every Friday at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall at 7:00 pm.
* Jazz Night every Saturday at
Peeru's Cafe at 9:00 pm featuring live performance by Jazz Moods.
Pit dug deep
State neglect and rapid commercialisation have led to demise of desi kushti and akhara culture
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
A frequent visitor to the Walled City or the areas surrounding it is bound to come across the fast diminishing open spaces amid dense neighbourhoods called 'akharas' in native language. The akharas (wrestling rings) have been the hallmark of the city for ages where people would come early in the morning, and also during the later parts of the day to exercise and grapple with each other.
For those who have never been to an akhara, it can be described as a circular or rectangular earthern wrestling pit, softened by ploughing or digging. For the traditional wrestlers, skilled in the art of "desi kushti" (conventional wrestling), this place is as sacred as one can think of. With their bodies glistening with the oil rubbed all over, they would bend down, touch the ground with their hands and kiss the ground respectfully and hop around to the rhythm of the deafening beats of the dhol.
Many of us would have heard from our elders tales of world-renowned "pehalwans" (wrestlers), hailing from the Indo-Pak sub-continent. There were times when pehalwans were looked at with awe and the attainment of physical beauty and strength was dream of every young person.
Unfortunately, things have changed very fast over the years. Desi kushti, which happened to be the most popular sport in the region, is dying gradually due to multiple reasons. As admirers of the sport put it, the biggest reasons are the government neglect, use of akhara lands for commercial purposes, encroachments and popularity of modern sports like hockey and cricket.
Muhammad Iqbal, 65, a resident of Mohni Road, tells TNS that he would spend four to five hours in akhara during his youth and even middle-age. He says it was his father who took him to a nearby akhara and requested Akram Pehalwan, a popular trainer of that time, to make him his disciple. "We took garlands, turban cloth and sweets along for pehalwan jee. This was the practice of the time and every new disciple was supposed to do this as a token of respect," he says.
Iqbal says parents in those days wanted their children to avoid bad company and spend spare time in healthy activities. Life was not as fast as today and distractions such as cable television and VCR were unheard of, he adds. He says desi kushti was an essential part of every festival where professional and amateur wrestlers showed their skills and won prizes and people's praise. "Unfortunately, this sport is fast disappearing from the scene though some people are struggling hard to keep it alive," Iqbal adds.
Sardar Pehalwan of Rang Mahal holds the successive governments responsible for the decay of desi kushti. Instead of patronising this sport, the rulers damaged it beyond repair, he adds. Sardar, who is son of famous Pamma Pehalwan Choorigar, tells TNS that the worst blow came from Mian Nawaz Sharif's government in early 1990s.
He says at that time the tomb of famous poet Hafeez Jalandhari, who wrote Pakistan's national anthem, was shifted from Model Town to Minto Park (now Iqbal Park). "This move came at the cost of the wrestling stadium at the park. The government promised that many wresting stadiums and pits would be built around the city to compensate this loss but these promises never materialised," he adds.
Sardar tells TNS that wrestling matches, held at this stadium every Sunday, were a popular feature of the city life. He says wrestlers came here from all over and were rewarded with cash prizes and awards. This inspired more and more people to join the sport. "Unfortunately, this inspiration is no more and the rudderless youth are taking refuge in drugs and other unhealthy activities," Sardar adds.
One reason for fading popularity of the sport is the lack of financial support by the state. In pre-partition days, the rajas and maharajas of different states would patronise pehalwans and pay for all the costs related to the sport, including that incurred on their highly nutritious diet.
"The minimum cost of a pehalwan's diet hovers around Rs 800 to Rs 1000 a day. How can one afford this in the face of escalating inflation, especially when there is no future for us," says Bhola Pehalwan of Wassanpura, Lahore. Bhola has left professional wrestling and runs a naan chanay shop. "Retiring from kushti was like parting with a limb but I had no choice. I have to earn bread and butter for my dependents," he adds.
Shahid Ali, a wrestling fan in Northern Lahore, tells TNS that private owners have started selling akharas. He says a popular akhara adjacent to Wasa office in Chowk Nakhuda was sold by its owner to a developer, a couple of years ago. This sale deed hurt the locals a lot but the offer was too big for the owner to resist, he adds. Shahid says he has seen akharas where contractors have set up parking lots, workshops and so on. "These things are bound to happen when nobody seems concerned," he laments.
While everything appears gloomy, the statement of Lahore District Coordination Officer (DCO) Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta has come as a gush of fresh air. In a recent meeting with district government officials and union council nazims, he announced that the government had plans to preserve the culture of the Walled City. The plan, according to him, includes revival of "tharas" (informal meeting places) and akharas.
Ch. Muhammad Asghar, Honorary Secretary Pakistan Wrestling Federation (PWF), tells TNS that the biggest problem they face is the dearth of corporate sponsors willing to finance competitions of desi kushti and leading pehalwans. The government does provide some funds but these are insufficient to give this sport a shot in the arm, he adds.
Asghar says, "PWF hold Rustam-e-Pakistan dangal every year and plans to invite international pehalwans to the country. However, the materialisation of this plan depends again on the availability of corporate sponsors, who mostly invest in sports like cricket."
Asghar disagrees with the notion that there are very few akharas left in the country. "We have many affiliate associations on board. To become a member they are required to have 10 akharas under their control. If this is not the case, PWF cancels the membership," Asghar adds.
Illegal Afghan immigrants are everywhere in the city, living right among us for decades and posing a serious threat to the lives and property of citizens
By Shahnawaz Khan
In view of the security situation in Pakistan, there is a fresh drive to send Afghans back to their homeland. Lahore has a good number of them. Following are some of the businesses being successfully run by these immigrants in Lahore.
Garbage Collection: Once considered a business of sweepers and scavengers, garbage collection is now totally in the hands of Afghan nationals. Afghan men, women and children all are involved in this business. They collect garbage from city roads and streets and sell it as scrap.
Muhammad Fayyaz, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of Crime Investigation Agency (CIA), views them as carriers of drugs and weapons. They can hide such things under the garbage in their sacks and transport it. He alleged that they are also working as informers to criminals. Roaming in the city's streets, they collect information for criminals. He said in the past he had also arrested several of them for running their illegal businesses under the cover of garbage collection. DSP Fayyaz further revealed there were even contract killers among these garbage collectors as about a couple of years back he had arrested a gang of such contract killers.
Scrap Market: The Misri Shah scrap market, which locals say is Pakistan's largest scrap market, also provides business opportunities for hundreds of Afghans and thousands of Pakistanis. Majority of the workers and dealers is Afghans or people from the NWFP. Scraps of weapons and tanks reach this market. In the wake of an explosion that took place here some years back, the government directed the market to receive everything in shreds but shredding the scrap has its own cost. We can't say how much this direction is followed.
"Pakistan tries to control the import of war debris by permitting scrap imports only via Taftan, a customs post on the Iranian border," says Aslam Raza Butt, President of the Central Iron Merchants' Association. "Merchants often hide cheap "bomb scrap" in shipments to increase weight and boost profits," he said. "The government must properly check these trucks (at the border) and prevent bombs from coming to Lahore," he says.
He further says some of the people who come here have links with those fighting in Afghanistan. "Everyone knows these facts and law enforcement personnel have arrested suspects from this market several times. Keeping this in view we are only doing business with people we know. It is not possible to stop them because majority of them has now Pakistani Computerized National Identity Cards. They live among us," he added.
Azam Cloth Market: This market is considered one of Asia's biggest cloth market. The business of transportation of cloth across the country is in the hands of Afghan nationals and people from NWFP. Siddique Malik, President of Azam Cloth Market Association says, "It is a fact that there are hundreds of Afghan nationals who are working in this market and have links with militants, but we have not been able to do any thing in this regard". There are fears that militants might disguise themselves as labourers. To avoid any mishap, the market's association has issued working license to such Afghan nationals who are working here for decades.
Afghan colonies in Lahore are one of the main threats to law and order in the city in the eyes of security personnel. Several times police have found militants from these colonies, hiding in the houses of their friends and relatives.
In December 21, 2004, Lahore police, with the collaboration of other law enforcement agencies, had arrested four al-Qaeda operatives from one of the above-mentioned colonies. These al-Qaeda operatives were close aides to Abu Farj and were also involved in two attempts on the life of former president Pervaiz Musharraf.
Landa Bazaar is one of the oldest markets of used clothes in Lahore. A good number of Afghan nationals are into this business. After the recent terrorist activities in Islamabad in which terrorists used uniforms of law enforcement agencies, the business of uniforms was closed at Landa Bazaar.
One of the oldest traders in the market Malik Suhail says, "About a couple of months back, most of the business in this market was in the hands of Afghan nationals. Most of the Afghans have left this market due to fear of crackdowns by police and security personnel." He says many Afghan nationals sell their wares on carts and are doing business across the city. A few of them also have godowns in this area.
Illegal trade of weapons: The business of illegal weapons in Lahore is largely under the control of Afghan nationals. Police had launched crackdown on these weapons smugglers several times in the past. This illegal trade came to the fore in November 2004 in GOR-III where personnel of police and law enforcement agencies seized a huge quantity of hand grenades and rocket launchers from Faisal, the brother-in-law of Qari Abdur Rehman, a muezzin at the GOR-III mosque.
The police reports said weapons were being smuggled in through three major points in the city General Truck Stand on Ravi Road, General Bus Stand on Bund Road and Badamibagh and Lahore Railway Station. Several Afghan colonies are set up around these three points.
Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Lahore Pervaiz Rathor says, "There is no permanent solution to this problem. Illegal Afghan immigrants have to be deported because militants use them as cover." Another senior police officer disclosed that police is compiling a database of such Afghan nationals.
email: [email protected]