Lahore Coming to Life in Virginia
By Khalid Hasan

Washington, DC: Noor Naghmi, a Pakistani-American entrepreneur from Lahore, has crossed the first hurdle in making his dream of building another Lahore in rural Virginia come true.
Naghmi, son of well-known Radio Pakistan, Lahore, broadcaster Abul Hasan Naghmi, who was Bhaijan to millions of children against Mohni Hamid’s Aapa Shamim, has bought all 235 acres of the tiny hamlet of Lahore in Orange County, Virginia, an hour’s drive from Washington’s Fairfax county where he lives and finances mortgages and related deals. Lahore, Virginia, is not new, having come into existence in late 19th century. The name was picked out randomly from a book on India. The place where only a few families live and whose only general store is now closed, came to attention when Pakistani journalist and Voice of America broadcaster Akmal Aleemi, driving with a few friends in the countryside came across a sign on the road that said ‘Lahore’. He stopped, explored the place, talked to its few residents and wrote a feature article on his “discovery” in a Lahore, Pakistan, newspaper. That was when young Noor first became aware of the existence of another Lahore, different from the one where he was born and from where he immigrated with his family to America in the 1970s.
A big write-up in the Washington Post on Thursday on Naghmi’s dream details how he has set about the task, which began two years ago. Naghmi told the newspaper’s Indian-American reporter Sandhya Somashekhar, “I didn’t know where to start, what to do. So I went to a realtor there, and I said, ‘Look, I want to buy Lahore’.” The $3 million deal which is all but complete, now only awaiting county formalities, will turn Lahore, Virginia, if Naghmi has his way, into a regional tourist attraction for South Asians and others. His plans include a banquet hall fashioned after his hometown’s famous Shalimar Gardens. He envisions a library and a museum dedicated to the histories of both Lahores.
He wants to open a bed-and-breakfast place to serve chickpea curry alongside eggs and toast. “And that is just the beginning,” he told the Post.
Naghmi’s enterprise is not going to be smooth. Among other things there is racism, rural Virginia being the once redneck American South, traces of which linger even today. The real estate dealer, G Alex Waugh Jr, whom Naghmi approached, told the Post reporter, “He came in with a coat and tie, Indian in color, and I said to myself, ‘What in the world is this?’ ”
According to the Post report, “Some supporters of the project worry that some in the conservative area might not accept the dark-skinned customers, with their foreign dress and accented English, that the development is meant to attract.”
The report goes on to point out that at the moment, it’s difficult to imagine Naghmi’s vision. The center of the 1,500-resident farming town about 75 miles south of Washington is a strip of whitewashed buildings on a quiet stretch of road. An old water pump sits idle. A faded Esso sign creaks in the breeze. “The venture is an expensive gamble for Naghmi,” it adds, but quotes Naghmi as saying, “I have this feeling I was born to do this. People might think I’m crazy for saying so, but that is what I believe.” He says he thinks that his successful ventures will help make his Lahore dream possible.
When Naghmi learnt of the other Lahore, he recalls, “In an instant, he felt the thrill he had when he read that article. I got on the Internet the next day. I went to Lahore that same day. I was so excited. Just to drive on that Lahore Road, it was like a dream. Maybe I’m homesick, I don’t know. But I knew I had to do something.” The 235 acres Naghmi sought, including the center of the town, were owned by Nancy Wallace, a farmer and tough negotiator who said she had no plans to sell, although “everything I have is for sale, for the right price,” she said.
After a year and a half of tense negotiations, Waugh and Naghmi persuaded her to sell. The deal will be sealed if the county agrees to grant Naghmi a special-use permit to operate a bed-and-breakfast in an area now zoned as agricultural. Local leaders say it will probably go through.
Naghmi’s offer has been “cautiously welcomed” by residents, who miss the general store that closed, as so many mom-and-pop businesses did in the 1990s. They have longed to see something in its place, especially a venture that would create jobs. In the community, rooted in the state’s agricultural past, the dominant industry has languished, its farmers have dwindled in number and its open space has been gobbled up by housing developments.
His estate broker has told Naghmi to “take it slow,” but the Post report says Naghmi is “barreling forward,” confident that his vision will gain approval from the county and the project’s neighbors. “A Lahori is a Lahori, no matter where you are from,” he said. “There is a saying, ‘If you have not seen Lahore, you have not been born’.” Naghmi is upbeat. He told the newspaper, “What did I bring here? When I came to this country, I had one dollar in my pocket. This country is for people who work hard and have dreams, and I think my dream is going to come true.” (Courtesy Daily Times)

 

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