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Project Lahore: Telling A Story Pictorially

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By Ishtiaq Ahmed *

Siddique Shahzad and Qasim Khan’s devotion to Lahore testifies to the abiding attraction of the tall Punjabi boast: Jinai Lahore naheen vaikhaya, O jamaye hee nahin [Those who have not seen Lahore are not even born.]

I am not sure if any city on the Indian subcontinent exercises such mystique and charm as Lahore does. Its origins are shrouded in the legend that Lav, son of Lord Rama of Ayodhya, founded it. In Milton’s Paradise Lost (published 1667), Lahore and Agra are mentioned as great cities of the world.

At least since the time of the Great Mughal, Emperor Akbar, Lahore has enjoyed the steady devotion of myriads of citizens, visitors, the British who once lived here, former Hindu and Sikh citizens who were forced to flee in 1947, and indeed we, who have settled in faraway countries.

Nothing expresses more intimately the personality of a city than pictures and visual images. We must thank two young men, Siddique Shahzad and Qasim Khan, who are playing a unique role in documenting Lahore’s history down the ages in various types of visual images. Siddique Shahzad conducts most of the communications on facebook, twitter and emails. He is a very passionate archivist of vintage photos/images since many years and has collected a large number of historical photos that connect us to the beautiful past of Lahore. Qasim Khan manages all events and technical/social media activities. He also works on presenting recent developments of Lahore as Today’s Lahore.

Project Lahore is a voluntary, non-profit initiative. About its philosophy, we learn that its major aim is to preserve the visual history of the people, traditions, social gatherings, development and heritage of Lahore through pictures found in personal family albums and archives with textual/video/audio narratives. They assert that it is the human experience of Lahore that offers precise insights into its past. Photographs taken for merely personal reasons and kept in family albums become a treasure trove of valuable historical information. The old pictures contain astonishing secrets, and when revealed with personal narratives, they become the missing links to Lahore’s emotional history.

Shahzad wrote to me, “We have uploaded probably the earliest photograph taken in the subcontinent from circa 1949: that of the main gate of the Lahore Fort. It is from circa 1849. We also have on our website one of the earliest colour pictures in the world. It is of Lahore from circa 1914. The collection also consists of a number of late 19th century illustrated drawings and paintings of Lahore published in The London Illustrated News. There are also archives of rare videos from 1930s to 1960s showing different aspects of life in Lahore.” Their vast and variegated collection of pictures can be seen at:

Siddique Shahzad and Qasim Khan’s devotion to Lahore testifies to the abiding attraction of the tall Punjabi boast: Jinai Lahore naheen vaikhaya, O jamaye hee nahin (One who has not seen Lahore has not been born!). According to Pran Nevile, a former Lahore citizen who has chronicled the Lahore of the 1930s and 1940s in his book, Lahore: A Sentimental Journey, that famous saying was coined when some peasants from the Punjabi countryside visited Lahore in the early 20th century and were awestruck by the modernisation and beautification projects underway as a result of British patronage. I believe a playunder that title has been going on in India for a long time. It was recently being staged in faraway Mumbai.

What I like the most about this project is the complete absence of any political or ideological stance, though understandably the Islamic/Muslim component of the collection is the most preponderate. However, other communities and their memories of Lahore are also very well represented. Anyone interested in sharing their personal albums with the public can easily do it by following the procedure clearly stated on the Project Lahore website. As a result, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and others have been actively taking part in its growth and evolution. Consequently, pictures of mandirs, masjids, gurudwaras, churches, hospitals, colleges, schools and famous buildings and monuments are there for the historical record.

To my very pleasant surprise, I noticed that the daughter of the last British deputy commissioner of Lahore, J C W Eustace, had contributed some rare pictures, including one of an English wedding in Lahore. She was very thrilled when I contacted her and told her that in my book, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed (Oxford, 2012), I have quoted her father’s press conference in Lahore on May 16, 1947. It is about Muslim goons of Amritsar sending bangles to their counterparts in Lahore as a taunt to provoke them to attack Hindus and Sikhs; it immediately galvanised them into action and violence escalated.

Project Lahore has evoked animated discussions on facebook about the exact location of places. Sometimes senior Hindus and Sikhs from across the border and, in fact, from all corners of the world also help locate and name places. Sometimes it is easy to locate the various mohallas and localities, but, often times, a great deal of detective work takes place and someone then solves the mystery, but not always. It is truly an interactive project in the best traditions of social media. One also gets to know the architectural changes that have taken place. The entries on the gardens of Lahore are extremely beautiful.

On the whole, Project Lahore is a mine of information for historians, art and cultural writers and other scholars. For anyone wanting to write an illustrated history of the most robust and pulsating paragon of positive multiculturalism in pre-partition India and, subsequently, the capital of the Pakistani Punjab, Project Lahore undoubtedly furnishes the best online source material.

* The writer has a PhD from Stockholm University. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. His latest publication is The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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