MANY moons ago I went, with my friend Shahzada Tahir Azam, to see Bangla Ayub Shah at Rang Mahal. His mission was to buy back what remained of his ancestral home, and to conserve what remained of this famous ?haveli? for posterity.
The remaining archway was being knocked down and to one side lay a mound of old small bricks and some shards of wood, whose carvings clearly reflected on the quality of the artwork that had gone into them almost 150 years earlier. Tahir is a ?shahzada? by temperament. He looked at the bricks and the remaining archway with a look that clearly took him back to his youth. I will not hide the fact that a tear or two he disguised very well.
He could not take his dream forward, for such was the destruction that the trading classes have let loose on the old walled city of Lahore. Now the son of the Punjab ?ruler? wants to build a ?food street? next to the walls of the Lahore Fort. Their madness tends to reach new heights at every turn. It is almost like collective suicide that all of us tolerate, surely guided by mass illiteracy.
Now the Lahore Walled City Project wants to take over a portion of Bangla Ayub Shah, the portion that lies vacant, and to ?conserve? it, or so they claim. It is a wee bit too late to try to rebuild the dream of the ?shahzadas? of Lahore.Their story needs to be told so that we can feel the hurt our ?collective madness? is causing probably the finest living old city in the world. Who was Ayub Shah and who were the ?shahzadas? of Lahore? Let me, like all good stories, begin from the beginning. When the British took over Lahore in 1849, from the west came numerous Afghan and Turkman tribal chieftains and their armies. Among them was a chieftain by the name of Ayub Shah. He took over a massive Sikh building and worked on it to build a new ?bangla? or ?haveli? which was named after him. For reasons not known he sold the massive ?haveli? to an Afghan royal family chief named Shahzada Sultan Ibrahim Durrani, the brother of the then Afghan king. He was a relative the lineage of which is opaque.
Shahzada Sultan Ibrahim also purchased another ?haveli? opposite his massive and grand ?bangla? by the name of Haveli Daddu Khana, which served as the stables for his huge collection of horses. Sultan Ibrahim had three sons by the name of Shahzada Salay Jan, Shahzada Moazzam and Shahzada Yousuf. As Sultan Ibrahim belonged to Herat, and there had fought a bloody battle for power with his uncle, he tried to patch up the old family feud by marrying his three sons to the three daughters of his cousin, who was, even then, the ruler of Herat.
These three brothers were known as the ?shahzadas? of Lahore, with all being so very different from one another. The sons of Salay Jan were Shahzada Alamgir, a former Home Secretary of West Pakistan, Shahzada Sayar, a Persian language expert and Director of the Persian Language Service of Radio Pakistan, and Shahzada Sultan, a senior police officer. The only son of Shahzada Yousuf was Shahzada Asif, a tehsildar. The six sons of Shahzada Moazzam were all sports oriented. Shahzada Azam, a British Army major, won an Olympic bronze medal in hockey playing for Afghanistan in 1936, the only time Afghanistan has won an Olympic medal. Shahzada Khurran won a hockey gold for Pakistan, while Shahzada Shahrukh won an Asian gold in cycling and also played hockey for Pakistan.
Here a strange story also needs to be told. In 1936 when the British Indian Hockey Federation ignored players from Lahore, the Shahzada brothers and their Afghan Club went over to Kabul and entered the Afghanistan hockey team in the famous 1936 Olympics when Hitler was in power. Their cousin, King Zahir Shah, took a personal interest. The entire Afghan Club of Lahore was the Afghanistan team and they almost beat India, but claimed the bronze. This team was to lay the foundation of the future team that was known as the Pakistan hockey team, with legends like Bunda and Naseer belonging to Lahore?s Afghan Club.
You might be wondering just why is Bangla Ayub Shah so important, and why are the Shahzadas of Lahore so important? The answer is simple.You must have heard of the legend of the secret ?Escape Tunnels? of the Lahore Fort, where in times of crisis the rulers managed to escape from the city. The tunnels started from the ?Royal Dungeons?, which have since been walled up for reasons no sane person can understand, and these tunnels emerged under Bangla Ayub Shah. From there they head outwards, one headed westward to emerge near the River Ravi, which then flowed just half a mile to the West, while the other emerged outside Delhi Gate near the Nakkas Khana, which the current Punjab rulers have demolished in the name of clearing the area.
Here the childhood memories of Shahzada Tahir Azam, the son of Shahzada Azam Khan, come so much in handy. He remembers the dungeons in the tunnels, and how they used to sleep there in summers. His elder brother, Shahzada Zalmay Azam, narrated just how cold it used to be in the tunnels and in the dungeons, and how they used to explore the further ends of them. The family owned lots of agricultural land and were among the richest in old Lahore. Their family is named in the famous ?Chiefs of the Punjab? compiled by the British Government of the Punjab.
In the 1960s the family started to sell portions of their inheritances, and very soon just one third of the famous Bangla Ayub Shah was left. The Haveli Daddu Khana opposite it was gifted to a remote family member. It might sound strange to readers, but till the mid 1960s, a lot of the shopkeepers of Rang Mahal understood and spoke Persian, and all because the Shahzadas reigned supreme in the area. As I searched for more information on the family, it came as a pleasant surprise that a daughter of Shahzada Sadaat by the name of Shayma Sadaat is an expert in the culinary arts with a website by the name of ?The Spice Spoon?, a leading European culinary site. She is a brilliant economist who works for the UNO.
This was a ?protected? building that has been knocked down. What remains the government is determined to take over, and just what they will do with it is anyone?s guess. With the intellectual limits of our rulers, and their obedient bureaucrats, limited to ?food streets? that promise to destroy the walls of the Lahore Fort, it seems that the few concerned voices of the city have fallen silent. Now the lambs will be offered for slaughter. Such is the fate of the dying walled city.