Hindustan Times (Amritsar)
Unravelling multi-cultural past in today’s Lahore
WRITER-COLUMNIST HAROON HAS GAINED REPUTATION BY WRITING ON MINORITY COMMUNITIES OF PAKISTAN
CHANDIGARH: In the midst of busy traffic of Lahore is a donkey cart of a garbage collector in which two boys blissfully listen to a popular romantic Bollywood song on a cheap mobile phone as exasperated drivers honk on. This is how Haroon Khalid, 33, takes the reader to the very heart of today’s Lahore.
Writer-columnist Haroon has gained reputation by writing on minority communities of Pakistan and earlier his books “Walking with Nanak” and “In Search of Shiva” have been of much interest to the Indian readers. In “Imagining Lahore”, he tells of Lahore today but not without delving deep into its multicultural past and bringing forth the charismatic story of this coveted city with warts and all. He tells of a Valmiki Hindu girl who sees a body floating in the Ravi and runs to her mother who hangs a cross round her neck and tells her that now her name is Mary.
More is to be found in this book that moves back and forth in time to show what the city is and what it was. When asked how this unusual book came about in an online interview, Haroon says: “Lahore has always been home to me but it was my mentor, senior author-folklorist Iqbal Qaiser who made me see what it was and I began taking notice of havelis, temples, gurdwaras and mausoleums that were there but were overshadowed by the new buildings.”
Not just the history, the author also talks about the legends of Lahore: “Lord Vamiki sitting on Ravi’s bank, or Luv, the son of Lord Rama, founding the city, Shah Hussain calling out the executioner of Dulla Bhatti, or Lahoris refusing to visit Badshahi Masjid for its association with Dara Shikoh, are today accepted as the city’s history even without evidence,” says Haroon. He adds: “Of course, I feel the Lahore of today is in many ways a completely different city that rose up from the ashes of Partition that burned the cosmopolitan and multi-cultural Lahore before Independence.
Tracing past in the present interests the author to how culture travels and transforms over time. He says: “The mainstream Pakistani narrative has always been hostile to its non-Muslim past. Some writers or scholars who wrote thus were held suspect. It is only recently I feel that there is some space to talk about the non-Muslim heritage of the country, albeit in certain communities and definitely certain languages.” His work has been received with surprise and curiosity in the two countries, he says.
What next? To this, he says: “I am taking a break from books but I will explore historical fiction on history and religiosity of Punjab.”