Off the record
Precious information on villages of Punjab is lying under layers of dust
By Haroon Khalid
Recently I paid a visit to the district office of Kasur to have a look at the land records for certain villages in Kasur and Lahore district. These records are kept in a separate building, opposite the main office. The record of each village in Kasur is bundled separately in a red or white cloth. They are stalked in such an order that they form columns. The condition of iron shelves, where the records are stored, is frail and warped due to excessive load. The colonial building where the records are kept is dilapidated. It looks like a bungalow, as there are old cupboards inside and a fireplace. According to the people working here, this building has also been declared unsafe because of its condition.
But the condition of the record was most alarming. Important papers, which should have been present within each village's file, are missing for mysterious reasons. These important documents that were hand-written during the British rule after long days and nights of research are severely damaged. Whatever remains is torn and bitten by mice.
To see the record in such a condition was shocking. These are precious documents that should in fact be stored in a room which is vacuum-cleaned regularly and not touched with hands. There is a thick layer of dust resting on them.
These records were initiated by Sher Shah Suri. He divided all the land that fell under his territory, into the smallest possible units which he called khasra number, a system which is still practiced but in line with today's requirements. Then he recorded all the land of South Asia and kept an account of its revenue. At that time instead of relying on any one language, he noted the record in the local language of each region. It was during the tenure of Akbar that his revenue minister Todamal translated this entire record into Persian, the official language then.
In a way this legacy is still alive. Today, the records are present in a language which is a hybrid between Urdu and Persian; however, it is closer to the latter. After Sher Shah Suri and Akbar, Ranjit Singh carried forward the tradition of record keeping; however, the real revolution came with the arrival of the British.
Before the advent of the British there was no tradition of private property. The State allotted land to people which it took away when that person migrated or died. The British introduced personal ownership during the 1860s and 70s when they developed new colonies all over Punjab.
Advanced canal system resulted in resettlements. Agricultural lands were allotted to castes such as Jutts for farming and new villages came into being like this. It was for the first time that a person was given ownership rights over his/her land. It was at this juncture that the earlier records, which had been carried forward from the time of Sher Shah Suri, were given its modern form. The 'Settlement Report' as it is known today was basically a register which included the complete record of all villages. Information like where the village is, how many houses it has, a hand-made map, what ethnicities and castes are living here, what is the food, habitat of the place, the plants and animals here and how many wells were present here, was all available in these Settlement Reports. Anything that anyone wanted to find out about a village was available here. It was a treasure for anthropologists.
The main file of the village has two pockets on each side. At one side, there is the hand-made map of the village, and in the other pocket is the family tree and wajh-e-tasniah of the village, which explained how the village came into being. I was searching for the latter document. Out of the 20 that I was looking for, I only found 4 and those too in the worst condition possible. The Government of Pakistan took over these records after the Partition and kept on adding to it. These records include ledgers of agricultural transactions, daily reports, etc.
Originally these records for Kasur district were present in Lahore, because Lahore and Kasur was one district at that time. When in 1972, Lahore and Kasur were separated these records were shifted into their present location. Many of these papers were lost or destroyed in the process. However, this proved to be fortunate because the records in Lahore were burnt during the sectarian strife of the late 80s and 90s.
By Saadia Salahuddin
While the country is facing bomb blasts in the cities and war in the north, the common man at large is facing another form of terrorism – namely, street crime.
Recently, a shopkeeper in my neighbourhood was robbed of cash a second time in a year. Only last week at 1 pm two boys came on a motorbike and stopped before a wholesale stationery and general store. Incidentally, a supplier was present at the shop to deliver the goods. A young man riding the bike, sitting behind the driver, walked up to the counter with a pistol in his hand and extracted Rs10,000 from the shopkeeper and Rs12,000 from the supplier, and sped away on the bike.
It took him hardly two minutes to carry out the operation. It was afternoon when pedestrian traffic is thin on the streets.
Second time in a year may sound unusual. The first time it was in the last days of Ramzan, half-an hour before the closure of the shop. That day it was a single robber on motorbike who extracted his day's earning at gunpoint and the amount was Rs30,000.
The shopkeeper who lives in my neighbourhood and is a thorough gentleman, asks me, "Baji what do you write? The truth is that there is no security for the citizens and there is no one they can lodge their complaints with."
When he was robbed the first time, a policeman in uniform came to his shop and asked him what did the robber look like. When the shopkeeper started describing him, he found out that the policeman had more details about the robber. He asked him if the robber was wearing shalwar kameez of such and such colour, had such a complexion and height, and left saying thank you, never to be seen again.
What did all this imply? The shopkeepers in the market suspected the policeman only came to confirm if he was the person he had sent and to confirm the amount of money he had managed to take away.
Such a statement may hurt the honest men in the police department but the fact is that this citizen and many like him don't look up to the police for recovery of their money or articles.
I learned from a shopkeeper selling packed food items that one day a food inspector comes to the shop, picks up some packets of foodstuff and says they have to be checked in the laboratory to ascertain whether they are consumable or not. The shopkeeper loses his goods and it pinches him but he keeps quiet for fear he may land himself into trouble by trying to stop the inspector from taking away his stuff.
Those sitting in roadside shops and markets consider themselves the most vulnerable citizens of this country. What is the city administration doing? They ask.
Then there are increasing incidents of cell-phone robbery, the most common street crime in the city. Yes, robbery, not snatching. I have come to know of three incidents by now where the robber took the mobile phone from inside the car at different signals in the city. Those robbed are all journalists – people around me.
Recently, at Muslim Town Morr signal, a man walked up to a car, opened its front door, picked up the cell phone lying on the front seat next to the driver and walked away. The person driving the car opened his gate and ran after him but the bandit crossed road after road and disappeared. A complaint was lodged with the police and the case ended there. Almost the same happened on Davis Road, when a man on motorbike stretched his hand and picked up the cell phone from the dash board of the car and escaped easily.
What to do in such a situation? One asks. Drive with windows and doors shut, particularly when the traffic is going slow and when waiting at signals, one would say, but what about the shopkeepers by roadsides, where anything can befall them anytime?
- Creative Arts and Crafts course for girls starting from 1st July at 142-F, Model Town. Call 0300-8403568, 042-5850969
- Exhibition of Ayesha Siddiqui's works at Alhamra, The Mall from July 6-11. The gallery remains open from 9am to 6pm daily.
- A dialogue with 'Amjad Islam Amjad' today at Aiwan-e-Iqbal Complex at 7pm. Amjad Islam Amjad will be the guest at 'Meet the Writer' session of Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zouq Lahore.
- Poetry: Adab Saraae holds 'Mehfil-e-Mushaera' on every 2nd Monday of the month at Model Town Library at 6pm. Contact: 0344-4788363
- Exhibition titled 'Logical Progressions' by Nauman Humayun at Alhamra, The Mall from Monday, June 29 till Saturday, July 4.
- 'Story Hour' at Faiz Ghar for children five years and above on Sundays, conducted alternatively by Shoaib Hashmi, Dr, Arfa Syeda, Naveed Riaz, Salima Hashmi, Moneeza Hashmi and others, every Sunday from 6-7 pm. The event is followed by a sing song session with Zarah David on keyboard.
- Faiz; understanding poetry: 'Sher Ki Baat'
every Wednesday from 5-6pm. Teacher: Dr. Arfa Syeda.
- Weekend Cycle Ride to start at 5:45pm today from Zakir Tikka intersection.
Host: Critical Mass Lahore.
- Puppet Show every Sunday at Alhamra,
The Mall at 11am.
Exclusivity at public parks
Parks are places where people from different classes mix, yet there are many recreational facilities that everyone can't access
By Noveen Abid
Many of us do not have the luxury of booking a flight to some posh holiday resort as soon as the summer starts. As the power shortages and water problems escalate, the heat drives people to seek refuge in places like public parks.
Upon entering a public park like Lawrence garden or Gulshan-e-Iqbal, one comes across many types of people, the majority belonging to low or middle income groups. The parks are open to the public and there is no ticket on entrance but there are still many facilities that everyone does not have access to. There are some select parks in the city which deter the general public from entering, reserving their facilities for members of the elite class.
Gulshan-e-Iqbal is one of those few parks in Lahore where one can see people from different classes mix. But even here, it is hard for the poor to enjoy recreational services, priced at Rs. 10 per person; the rides are expensive for those with large families. Razia Bibi confesses, "I bring my children to this park almost every weekend and they want to go on the rides but we are a family of six and all of us cannot go, we cannot afford them. There are so many rides that the children want to try but we only take one or two and leave." A major concern for her was that she could not send her children alone to take rides, she was afraid that conductors for the rides often tend to seat them next to strangers in order to fill up space.
Another woman, a mother of two, says that she has been coming to the same park for nine years. "Many rides have been added but there has never been an offer of a free swing or ride. There is no other place that we can take children to," she says. Even inside public parks, the facilities cannot be used by all. Although these parks are made for the public and there is that general purpose of parks for people of all classes to mix, there are certainly some parks that restrict the entrance of some classes and pride themselves on providing exclusivity.
Exclusivity is one factor that operates mainly in parks built in posh locales. Places like Sheba park in Y-Block Defence and Mini Golf near Kalma Chowk (as it is popularly known) offer their facilities and jogging tracks for the elite: those either with membership or who come with family. It is easy to understand why some amusement parks and parts of Mini Golf have been banned for single men or male groups; families and mixed groups of friends usually voice their concern against loafers who often follow and harass girls and point towards the need for security. Umal Ikram, a student at LUMS, feels "a little apprehensive of the atmosphere of such places and the people there, mainly the groups of guys who come looking for a cheap recreational place. They tend to leer and make you feel uncomfortable if you are with family."
This, however, does not explain why even low income families are discouraged to enter these places – parks are public after all. One does not see people from high income groups coming to parks like Lawrence Garden and Race Course Park (excluding the Polo Grounds and the Polo Lounge). Even though both these parks are carefully maintained and cared for and have excellent jogging tracks and grounds, they are avoided by the elite because they do not offer exclusivity and are essentially free for all. Most of the people who come there are either students from government schools or people from the average income bracket. It is sad to see such clear demarcations made by the society to accentuate the differences in lifestyle. It made me uncomfortable to sit in a sofa atop a tree house in Mini Golf and look at the people who couldn't enter, walk the periphery of the park. Parks are made for all; they should be shared by all.
Attempts to make these places exclusive increases deprivation and goes against the very purpose of parks.
Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmentalist who has been cycling religiously every Sunday evening for months now and calling people for bicycle rides to promote their use in the city for a better environment, points out that "prohibiting a certain class to enter parks is a form of social profiling and discrimination. This promotes anti-social behavior, the Polo Club for instance is just an example of acres of land that is used by the rich and the services offered to them are actually subsidised by the state. Keeping in mind the rural to urban migration, the state should invest in public spaces that are free for all." He gives the example of both Hyde Park and Central Park where "the poor can rub shoulders with the rich, this not only dampens revolutionary feelings and a sense of deprivation but gives way to a vibrant society and promotes that self-respect which is so advantageous to all classes."
Imrana Tiwana, an expert on city planning feels that these problems can be overcome by providing security. "Cities are built for people, it is sad to see that the majority of the people do not have access to greenery – as both pollution and population levels rise, there is an urgent need to build parks and facilitate people with open spaces."
She stresses that "parks should fulfill the purpose of allowing people to play sports and exercise. Public should be allowed but security should be increased so that unpleasant incidents can be avoided. Parks should be well-lit. The city government has taken a great step by providing free entry in parks; they should ensure that people should follow the timings of the parks.
Moreover, exclusivity leads to a sharp division in classes; we should all try to vie for a more humane city where the welfare of the people is paramount."
A night stall runner in the heart of the city, Chand Bhai is a sought after guide who knows his country well and can speak many languages
By Saleha Rauf
"Say Salam in Kalashi."
Chand Bhai instructs his elder daughter and she follows her father. "I was born in the mid of the century, mid of the year, mid of the month and my mother tells me, at midnight," says Chand Bhai.
He runs a 'cold corner' at the Muslim Town Morr. Everybody is free to come here and Chand Bhai entertains them with his never-ending conversation. This remains open all night and has become a cultural centre. Tourists sit there all night and some play chess.
Chand Bhai is happily married to a Nooristani lady Nuria who is 25 years old, 35 years his junior. Only foreigners were invited on his marriage ceremony. It was an interesting thing that at the time of marriage they had no language in common to communicate with. Now Chand Bhai knows Kalashi and talks about the beauty of Kalash extensively.
Chand Bhai is very famous among people. Everybody knows him without knowing the real name Talat Bilal Ahmed Khan. His ability to understand others and their culture has made him an expert in communication, one can say. He knows many languages Makrani, Punjabi, Pushto, Urdu, Seraiki, Balochi, Kalash, Chitrali and English. It makes him stand out.
"I love to travel and meet new people and have learnt a lot this way." He has travelled widely and has been a tourist guide to many. This way he got the opportunity to travel throughout the country, including Kashmir. He presents a mesmerising picture of Pakistan to tourists.
Chand Bhai's Shop is a hub of foreigners who can be seen thronging his stall all night because Chand Bhai answers every question that arises in their minds. He says it is his honesty that makes tourists rely on him and remember him. Consequently, tourists recommend their friends to Chand Bhai when they decide to visit Pakistan. Tourists don't hesitate to leave their valuables in Chand Bhai's custody who takes good care of them.
He is also an established chess player. He is so good in the game that people come to learn tricks from him. He proudly takes the credit of being matchless in this game. National chess champion Amir is one of those who mastered their skills with Chand Bhai. All his friends know and admire his skill.
Chand Bhai was born in Lahore and got his early education as a child from Karachi. He left school in grade 4 and shifted to Lahore. The only thing he regrets in life is to quit school. He threw a rotten pumpkin on his drawing teacher by mistake - that was the last day he went to school. He says he got another chance in Lahore to study but it was too late.
As a youngster his desire to see the world compelled him to become a vagabond. He spent the major part of his life in the streets of Lahore. Now, he is the one who knows each and everything about Old Lahore. He claims that he knows every building in the walled city and remembers the demolished parts of the city.
Nobody can guess this active man is 60 years old. This long bearded man celebrates sufi night, hates religious extremism and loves his country. He is an amazing person having an eye on national affairs, global culture and his country from Chitral to Gwadar. He has tales to tell to everyone which has been casting spell on tourists.