Vandalism and Ours!
By Shoaib Hashmi
In the honored tradition of inventing
impressive terminology, they have begun calling
it the 'Built Heritage'. And being 'heritage' it
is, by definition, not to be mucked around with.
The trouble is that the other tradition of vandalizing
what the ancestors have put together, is even older.
At least as old as the pyramids! All of them were
mucked around with within years of being built.
The Greek and Roman visitors carved graffiti which
is still there, and eventually when the caliph Mamoon
Al Rashid came, he started digging into the Great
Pyramid of 'Khufu' to get at the treasure there.
He didn't find any, but the handiwork is still called
Before you start beating your breast at us unfeeling
Orientals, with no respect for patrimony, let me
put your mind at rest and tell you that the civilized
Westerners have been as prone to vandalism as the
next man. The great museums of the West, the repositories
of history, and ceaseless lecturers on the lack
of conservative spirit in the East, are chock-full
of treasures stolen, filched, pilfered or thieved
from the same East!
Not only does the British Royal Family, and Government,
still hang on to the Koh-i-Noor diamond, but the
venerable British Museum sits on its propriety when
confronted with the fact that Lord Elgin simply
plucked the wonderful sculptures from off the frieze
of the Parthenon, and carted them home. They are
only beginning to even admit that the revered Howard
Carter, and his mentor Lord Carnarvon -- makers
of the greatest discovery in Egyptology, the intact
tomb of Tutankhamun -- also sneaked into the same
tomb at night to steal choice pieces and take them
If you are going to quibble that these were artifacts
and we were talking of the 'Built Heritage', let
me remind you that the Brits pulled down the wonderful
'Taxali Gate' of Lahore, then their local resident
vandalized and razed buildings inside the Fort to
make a tennis court for himself. Meantime their
viceroy was renting out the Taj Mahal in Agra to
newly married nephews and nieces for their honeymoon!
In Germany Schlieman put them on to a good thing
by discovering the treasures of Troy and Knossos,
and they took it to heart. Eventually they uprooted
first the Altar, then the whole temple of Pergamon
and took it home to house in a museum in Berlin.
And then there is the venerable Springer! His name
is famous for the 'Springer Manuscript' which is
the only copy of the Urdu verses of Amir Khusrau
that had never been published until Gopi Chand Narang
managed it recently -- because the venerable Springer
simply pocketed the papers and went home, although
that is hardly mentioned!
And hard on the heels of Carter and Carnarvon came
the Americans, who dug up a whole Egyptian temple
and took it to New York. The usual rejoinder to
such accusations is that at least the stuff was
preserved and cherished, and now sits in the weather-controlled
and air-conditioned luxury of London and New York.
That does not change the fact that the cherishing
came later, and what came first was the shameless
thievery and pilferage and vandalism!
All this has been on the mind because of a peculiar
thing which has been happening. As you know some
time ago the PHA took a good thing one step further
and created a third 'Food Street', namely the street
that runs from the site of Taxali Gate, past the
Badshahi Mosque and the street of the courtesans.
They paved it and lit it and spruced it up despite
the fact that there was only one eating-place. That
seems to have generated a new and peculiar inspiration.
First our friendly World Banker from Islamabad bought
up the house next to 'Cuckoo's'. It was four rooms
stacked one on top of another with a narrow staircase
squeezed into the neighbor's wall. Now half a dozen
others are wanting to buy up more houses; and another
friendly hotel chain has its eyes on five or six
'havelis'. They are all being encouraged and lauded
and lionized by conservationists because all have
piously promised to conserve the places. I do not
doubt their intentions for a moment. I have other
things on the mind!
When we say, 'Lahore, Lahore Aye' we are not talking
of the hovels which jostle each other inside the
Walled City -- we are talking of the people! It
is the people of Lahore, friendly and hospitable
and full of life who fill the place with muck and
garbage, but also with vibrancy and with joy, who
make it what it is! And if well-meaning people buy
up all their houses and 'conserve' them, the people
will have gone elsewhere!
I hate to be a killjoy, but I have been thinking
of something someone once said about the Romans
in their quest for bringing the Roman Peace to the
world, "They make a desert, and call it Peace"!!!