THE WAY IT WAS: The larger picture —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Sardar Aseff, never short of wise digs, listened for a while to my bickering before addressing Shahnawaz to observe, “The trouble with Mian Ijaz is that after all these years he persists in believing that the state of Pakistan is for the common people”

The old must inevitably make way for the new. But is it necessary that in the process of creating space for new things the old must be indiscriminately brushed aside? The new is better secured if built on the firm plinth of the time-tested. Life and death, the process of coming into being and retreating is a continuous process of existence. New buds that raise their head and leaves that uncurl in spring would not be if the trunk of tree — and branches — were not tempered by all seasons. But sooner or later all must perish. This is the banal truth and yet immense sadness grips the heart at the loss of familiar objects.

This morning while a car was overtaking mine on Zafar Ali Road I saw with a shock the familiar pair of Gul e Mohr trees brazenly shorn off their limbs. Where for decades had gloriously stood most magnificently these trees — without doubt the oldest of their kind in Lahore — now stood two petrified grotesque torsos of bleeding wood bearing their pain in chilling silence. They and their dismembered remains have since then been cleared away by determined men. Soon their memory will fade away from our mind and we will get back to our urgent chores — but what a loss. This April there will be no spring on Zafar Ali Road and no one to lighten our burdened hearts with the cheerful radiance of their blossoms.

Obviously the owners of the property were compelled by urgent necessity to remove the pair of ancient trees that had been there decades before Gulberg was built. The question that worries me is not of inevitable necessities but the wanton haste with which they are frequently addressed. Could the old companions have been saved if the owner had tried to incorporate them with the incumbent needs? It may be recalled that at one time the Free Masons’ Hall and Tollington Market were both being pulled down. They were saved in the nick of time by the intervention of concerned citizens. That the Masonic Hall, which was to become the Punjab Crafts Museums, was later taken over by the chief minister is another matter. The great crafts’ tradition of the Punjab can wait. Sooner or later, I am confident, the citizens will get the premises vacated and ensure that the building restored at great public cost is turned into the museum for which it was intended.

Some people are always wandering in their thoughts and constantly asking, “What did you say?” It is a rude and irritating habit. But there is more to life than focusing on the moment. A moment can be the foundation of what can be, of gains, of dreams. But life is more complex and diverse in its unending possibilities than the sum total of moments.

I felt the instant need a fortnight ago to get away and recuperate from the fatigue of moment-to-moment living. Long views of distant prospects can be exhilarating. They can also help one see human claims and conceits in the right perspective. Sardar Aseff Ali, too, was feeling a bit roughed up by the constant demands of his constituents. So, we repaired to our friend Shahnawaz Niazi at his Jalpana estate situated between river Jhelum and the Salt Range.

Seeing our brown mood at arrival, an hour after dusk, Shahnawaz wasted no time before ironing out the creases with his warmth and usual conviviality. Shahnawaz, his friends will tell you, has a way of infecting others with his genial personality. With his lively conversation, he kept us in good humour till late night. The next morning, after we had partaken of a sizeable breakfast of freshly-laid farm eggs fried in butter with parathas the thickness of a Niazi thumb, realising that he may run out of conversation (an unlikely incident), Shahnawaz informed us that we were off to survey the Salt Range.

The first day we coursed through the Soan valley and the glens and glades adjacent to it. It was disturbing to see that mountain springs were dying out due to lack of rain for the past many years. The farmers who traditionally relied on seasonal rain and spring water irrigation have taken to boring tubewells. This does not auger well.

We drove up to Sakesar, the highest point in the Salt Range, and had our lunch at the civil rest house that has a splendid view of the Uchali Lake. To my disappointment we could not spot a single waterfowl on the glistening surface of the lake that has shrunk to about half its original size.

In the evening we returned to Jalpana. The next morning, taking another route, we drove further down the Salt Range. We were determined to reach Kallar Kahar and have our lunch among the wild peacocks around the rest house perched on the hill close to Takht e Babur. The great Mughal emperor, Babur, had rested here for a while before venturing on to Delhi. We noticed that the surface of Babur’s takht (throne), a red sandstone slab, has been smoothened (to make it more comfortable for the emperor, next time he is around?)

Babur is believed to have planted a pomegranate orchard during his sojourn at Kallar Kahar. It is now called the Safa garden. According to the information listed on a board at the entrance that leads to the rest house through the garden, it now has only 500 pomegranate plants. There are also 1,000 loquats in fruit at this time of the year. The other trees and plants here are 85 pears, 12 plums, 11 guavas, 10 shahtoots (long mulberry), two jamans and one chakotra (a grapefruit variety). I have only one recommendation for the gardeners: they should consider planting at least one more chakotra.

It is ironic that in spite of the pride taken in providing this information to the visitors, no one is permitted to enter the Safa garden or proceed to the civil rest house without written permission of the authorities that reside at an unknown place elsewhere. A sizeable iron gate has been installed some distance up the road to ensure that anyone who has slipped through the first entrance can be stopped before he reaches the rest house. When we drove up into the compound to have our picnic lunch we discovered that there was not a soul there.

The Kallar Kahar rest house has a spectacular view of the Uchali Lake and the hills beyond the motorway that lead on to Kuttas and Choa Saiden Shah. Why is the newly built and furnished rest house empty? The place can make money rather than losing it as it does now, retained for officials. Sardar Aseff, never short of wise digs, listened for a while to my bickering about the irrationality of guards stopping gentle visitors from getting through to the rest house before addressing Shahnawaz to observe, “The trouble with Mian Ijaz is that after all these years he persists in believing that the state of Pakistan is for the common people.”

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist. He can be reached at