By Rabia Ahmed Pakistan Today 30 May 2011
Crowded, noisy and disorganised, the ‘old city’ within Lahore’s twelve ancient gates, with its intimate streets and sense of community, is responsible for Lahore’s reputation of historic charm.
A walk through old Lahore is an assault both sublime and foul on each of the five senses. Here are some of the best kulchas, yeasty bread covered with sesame seed hot from a tandoor, close to open drains, piles of refuse, and old buildings of astonishing grace. Carved doors in fortress-thick walls and intricate balconies enclose cool high-ceilinged rooms and serene courtyards housing a teeming population that is no longer serene or gracious.
The ancestral home of Begum Maratab Ali’s family near Bhatti gate, abutting the nocturnal Hira Mandi, is now the Naqsh School of Art, training students in painting, calligraphy and pottery making.
|Art collection: Fakir Khana museum|
Their carpets, weaponry, pottery and porcelain ware, miniature paintings, jewellery, books and documents may sadly not see the light of many more years. Or maybe the problem is that they have seen too much light over the years. Without proper display cases, and as subject to the vagaries of temperature as the rest of the city, this collection is falling to dust.
|Collection of weapons at the Fakir Khana museum|
Entire histories are contained within the artefacts in this museum (and others), recorded in tantalising words, faded inks and pictures, histories often strangely at odds with what is formally taught. This disconnect produces gems such as ‘Dr Israr Ahmed, may Allah have mercy on him, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr Jinnah was a Muslim and wanted Pakistan to rule by Islam and not on secular values. Please spread the word, especially among the Pakistani brothers & sisters. The secular minded want to fool us...’, a statement which would have astonished the dapper Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Although born to a Muslim family, Jinnah, a brilliant lawyer, had little or no religious education, while his Savile Row suits, ‘non-halal’ culinary tastes and beloved Parsi wife could hardly have met with Dr Israr’s approval. This did not prevent him from striving for the rights of the Muslims of India with the creation of Pakistan, which in his own words by no means excludes persons of other faiths:
Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims: Hindus, Christians and Parsis, but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizen and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.–Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Feb 1948
Jinnah ‘Rehmatullah Alaih’ has been canonised by the Pakistani public, whose concept of Pakistan bears as little resemblance to Jinnah’s vision as the man to a saint.
Museums around the world shed light on issues such as the above and other aspects of history. They create an awareness of the past, which impacts upon the present and the future. Equipped with laboratories and studios for the conservation of collections, museums strive to communicate this information to visitors by interesting means.
The Fakir Khana is one of the countless heritage sites in the country crying out for support, and the Pakistan government, as a signatory to the United Nations and UNESCO, is bound by its membership to provide this support.
Paragraph 2 (c), Article I of the UNESCO Constitution assigns to its member nations the task of ensuring the preservation, extension, and spread of knowledge, to ensure ‘the conservation and protection of the world’s inheritance of books, works of art and monuments of history and science’.
If the government of Pakistan is unwilling or unable to preserve the nation’s past, its future is certain to suffer, as its present already does, disintegrating before our eyes, just like the books and documents that record our history.
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