Lahore in the Time of the Raj, the new book by author Ian Talbot (a professor of modern British history and formerly head of history at the University of Southampton) and Tahir Kamran (who teaches history at GC University in Lahore), explores the city during the colonial era. It questions both the British portrayals of the city's past and interrogates the accounts of its ‘modernisation’ under colonial rule.
The authors draw on the history of Lahore, which during the Raj was a prosperous and cosmopolitan place, where many communities lived together and there was a constant flow of goods, people and ideas. In the Mughal era, the city’s strategic location at the junction of roads to Kabul, Multan, Kashmir and Delhi made it a seat of power, and poets, artists and traders flocked there for patronage from the royal court.
Lahore’s fabled Raj-era buildings — including the GPO, the High Court and the Museum — are widely acclaimed examples of colonial architecture. The 1930s and 1940s were a time of intense cultural and political creativity, and writers and artists flourished; FC College and Government College were celebrated centres of learning and there was great engagement between Lahore and the nascent Bollywood film industry, which the trauma of Partition ended.
Rich with historical insights, the book is also a visual treat, presenting the reader with vintage photographs. Few of then are reproduced here with excerpts from the book:
The Tribune newspaper was founded as a daily in 1881 by the leading landowner, businessman and philanthropist Dyal Singh Majithia. It was the first English language newspaper started by Punjabis. During the later colonial era, it developed a wide circulation in the Punjab and North India, mainly because of the high esteem in which its Bengali editor, Kalinath Ray (d. 1945), was held. His fearless editorials produced from the paper’s office adjacent to Mayo Hospital got him into trouble with the British, especially at the time of the 1919 Martial Law. They assured Tribune an avid Indian readership for close on three decades.
The exquisite Wazir Khan Mosque inside Delhi Gate was built by the Punjab governor Wazir Khan in 1631. His family originated from Chiniot in the Jhang district and he had risen to the top of the Mughal service class.
In the early 1920s, an Indian Army lieutenant-colonel, HA Newell, published a number of city guidebooks. He describes the Mosque of Wazir Khan as ‘the most beautiful building in Lahore, as a perfect example of fine mosaic it is without a rival in India’.
The North Western Railway headquarters were located in Lahore, initially at the main railway station. Maintenance was required for the locomotives, carriages and wagons. The first works were established on a 126-acre site at Naulakha. They were the largest of the nine workshops in the Punjab, and by the early 1880s employed over 2,000 men. Many of these were migrants from the Mughal artisan class. Within thirty years the volume of work was so great that it was moved to a bigger 1,000-acre site at Moghulpura, on the eastern edge of the city. Here 4,500 men were employed to construct and repair rolling stock for the North Western Railways network that covered over 4,000 miles. The number had reached 6,500 at the outbreak of the First World War.
The railway station was one of the earliest purpose built colonial structures in Lahore. Sir John Lawrence, (1811–79), Governor of the Punjab, laid the foundation stone in February 1859, and by the time it was completed three years later it had cost Rs 5,00,000 to build.
The Swiss-run Nedou’s Hotel, which had a grand Indo-Saracenic façade to its block named after Louis Dane (secretary to the Punjab government in 1898), was demolished in the 1970s. Its residents included many Indian tourists travelling the subcontinent with Thomas Cook and Son who were able to redeem their hotel coupons there.
The book will be published by Penguin Random House India on 28 December, 2016.
Updated Date: Dec 24, 2016 20:16:09 IST