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UK scholars pack Cambridge moot on Lahore

HE history of Lahore and the future of its monuments was the subject of a two-day conference hosted at the University of Cambridge over the weekend, in which some of Britain`s finest experts and historians presented specialist papers.

Hosted by the Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge, in collaboration with the Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge, and held at the famous Lee Hall of Wolfson College with 14 speakers reading their papers, the subjects touched on topics that left a packed hall spell-bound. It was the very first time that Lahore and its problems have been discussed in this famous university town with such candour.

The opening paper was titled `Mystery of the Origins of Lahore` by Dr Abdul Majid Sheikh, a Research Associate of Wolfson College, Cambridge, and a `Dawn` columnist, he traced the roots of the city using five different routes, they being Vedic myths, a study of topographical change over time, excerpts from 10th century recorded history concerning Lahore, scientific data of two archaeological digs in old Lahore, and a study of changes to the Lahore Fort and the Walled City. His main conclusion was that given a map of Harappa civilisation sites in Pakistan andnearby Haryana and Punjab of India, it is beyond doubt that Lahore existed, even if a few hamlets on a safe mound, in that time period.

Majid Sheikh was of the opinion that Lahore could well be an important Harappa small town when that civilisation was hit by climate change 4,000 years ago, which saw super flood and long periods of drought that saw this ancient civilisation disappear.

The urgent need for more archaeological diggings in the walled city and fort is the way forward now, he said. He ended by quoting a saying of Ahmed Zanjani that `Lahore is a city that refuses to die`.

The second speaker was Dr.

Iftikhar Malik from the Bath Spa University who spoke on the arrival of Islam in Lahore and its original influences. His contention was that though the route to Lahore was through Iran and Afghanistan, the real religious influence was Central Asian. The famous Prof. Robert Hillenbrant, FBA, from the University of St.

Andrews, Edinburgh, spoke of Iranian influences in Mughal architecture. He dwelt on the three Shahdara monuments of Jahangir, Noor Jehan and Asaf Khan and compared them to Iranian monuments. `Little do people know that there was a pavilion on top of his mausoleum and which might well be parts ofHazuri Bagh`. His was an amazing claim for he showed photographs of the pavilion foundations on top of the mausoleum.

This was followed by a similar presentation by Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi from SOAS, University of London.

The Keynote Speaker on Day One was Prof Robin Coningham, the UNESCO Chair of Durham and the person who compiled the Orange Line Report now under decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He put forward the reality of the situation, the destruction of the four water filtration plants outside which are partofthe basicengineering marvel that is Shalimar Gardens. He showed the alignment of the Orange Line Train Project and how it now seems that except for them going underground much before the gardens, what other solution will the courts approve.

He was guarded about his comments because the matter was in court. He remained silent when questioned by a participant that `Shahbaz Sharif had said that why were people going crazy, I can build another Shalimar` On the second day the opening presentation was by Sir Nicholas Barrington, former UK High Commissioner to Pakistan, who dwelt on the amazing array of minor monuments in Lahore. Hisfavourite were the Cypress Tomb, the tomb of Dai Anga and Buddu da Awa. All these are threatened by the Orange Line Project. His presentation showed through 30 beautiful slides thanks to Ms. Eman Omar, a Warwick University student from Lahore.

The Senior Curator of V&A Museum, London, Susan Stronge, talked about the Mughal-era workshops. From Oxford University, Dr Priya Atwal dwelt on `Lahore and Dynastic Diplomacy of Maharajah Ranjit Singh` and in an amazing flurry of facts presented the 40-year rule of the Lahore Darbar and how they were such a success. Lucy Peck, who has written a book on Lahore, presented the colonial and postcolonial buildings of Lahore. `The concept of perpetual maintenance seems to be missing from life in Lahore`, she said.

Prof Francis Robinson, CBE, of Royal Holloway University of London, presented a paper that got people excited. Titled `Lahore and Power Centres` he dwelt on where power lay. His contention that Punjabi language was slowly challenging Urdu and would one day be the dominant language of Pakistan had scores of questions nying from both sides of the argument.

He explained that ignoring the `Mother Tongues` as the basic starting point in education ofthe four provinces and of Kashmir would do more harm than good..

The Right Rev. Michael NazirAli spoke on the churches of Lahore. He said that the city has almost 1,400 small and medium sized churches, and that it was sad that they were under threat from extremists. Julius Bryant, The Keeper of Word and Image of the V&A London spoke about Locl(wood Kipling and Lahore.

His presentation had some new refreshing facts not known before.

The Concluding Keynote speaker was Fakir Syed Aijazuddin from Lahore, who explained why Lahore was `Crucible of History` and went on to explain its significance in subcontinental politics and architecture. Sounding pessimistic he just hoped that the rulers would put their heritage before themselves.

The Ancient India and Iran Trust hosted a `Lahori Dinner` at the end of the conference, which again was a great success.

The 11-course meal was planned by a Lahore journalist who writes an `Eating Out` column for the daily `Dawn` newspaper, and supplied by a Lahori Kashmiri eatery of Cambridge. As Sir Walker, a former diplomat who has served in Pakistan said: `Lahore, a good conversatiom and good food go together`.-MS