Free Press Journal

Lahore: In the Time of the Raj-Review


Lahore: In the Time of the Raj

Authors: Ian Talbot & Tahir Imran

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 269

Price: 599


There is an old saying in Punjabi,” Jisne Lahore Nahi Dehiya, Woh Nahi Janamya” (One who has not seen Lahore, is not even born). The saying indicates that Lahore is a beautiful city and one must visit and see in person the glorious city. The historic city of Lahore went to Pakistan when the country was divided in 1947. Lahore was the center of Indian film industry and many actors, artists migrated to India after Partition. Lahore developed during colonial time and earlier during Moghul regime. The influence of British and Moghul architecture, and culture is visible. The city is full of gardens and greenery.

The recent book Lahore: in the Time of the Raj by Ian Talbot and Tahir Kamran throws light on social, cultural and economic life of Lahorite during British Raj. Lahore was one of the most important cities in North India. It was connected with Amritsar, Delhi, Karachi, and Peshawar by train route. As the city developed it became an important centre for education. Students from surrounding areas began to arrive in Lahore for education. Jobs were also available. It was also an important city as far as freedom struggle was concerned. Revolutionary Bhagat Singh and his comrades Rajguru and Sukhdev were hanged in Lahore prison on March 23 1931, which at that time stood at the present Shadman Chowk (round about). Progressive Lahoris are demanding renaming of chowk as Shaheed Bhagat Singh chowk. Bhagat Singh and his colleagues fought against British imperialists for the freedom and socialism. They are the part of shared heritage. The authors also gave details about revolutionaries such as Udham Singh and Madan Lal Dhingra.

The aim of the chapter Martyrs, Migrants and Militants: Lahore’s Transnational Revolutionary Networks, is to reconnect the Ghadr party with the Lahore. The party cadres were primarily made up of rural Sikh jat migrants to North America. The book brings to our attention city’s connection with revolutionaries. Apart from presence of revolutionaries, Arya Samajis and Muslim orthodoxies were also active.

The city rose to its glory because of its cosmopolitan culture. Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs contributed generously in making Lahore a beautiful and truly a secular city. Tribune newspaper was founded by leading businessman and philanthropist Dyal Singh Majithia. The editorials got them into trouble with the British. When Swadeshi movement was in full force, Tribune continues to carry foreign goods advertisement. Later in 1942, newspaper Eastern Times was founded. Initially it supported the Unionist Party but it switched loyalty to Muslim League in 1944. The Hindu traders continue to advertise in Eastern Times irrespective of newspaper’s political affiliations. The authors give various examples of non-Muslim traders advertising in Eastern Times. The city was growing and so there was a huge demand for various goods.

Colonial rule attracted migrants as it provided abundant opportunities. Lahore emerged as leading administrative, educational and political hub.  The city had risen from the tenth largest city in India in 1891 to fifth, thirty years later. Last colonial-era census was done in 1941 and it recorded population of 6,72,000.

The earliest colonial structure Britishers built was Railway station. The foundation stone was laid in 1859 and completed in three years. The GPO building constructed in 1904 is also a landmark building even today.

Music and acting also prospered in the British Raj in Lahore. The first Lahore film was made in 1925. It was the beginning of Lollywood. Himansu Rai and actress Devika Rani, Rabindranath Tagore’s great-grandniece, made The Light of the Asia on the life of Prince Siddhartha Gautama. The film fared badly. Rai moved to Bombay and co-founded Bombay Talkies with Devika Rani and Rajnarayan Dube. All India Radio (AIR), Lahore provided outlets to many aspiring musicians, singers and writers. The Kashmiri Pandit Jivan Lal Matoo spotted Mohammad Rafi’s talent. Noor Jahan and Shamsad Begum provided popular tunes to the Radio station before they became leading playback singer. Amrita Pritam also worked with AIR, Lahore. She not only broadcast her own writings but recorded many Punjabi folk songs for the station. Writer Rajinder Singh Bedi joined the Urdu department of AIR, Lahore in 1943.

British soldiers brought cricket with them to Lahore. Gradually, locals got involved with the patronage of Nawabs and Rajas. The main rivalry at the college level was between Government College and Islamia College. Crescent Club & Islamia College had many students who supported Muslim League cause. Lala Amarnath played for Crescent Club. The authors write,” Gandhi opposed the Bombay Cricket Quadrangular (Pentangular from 1937-38) precisely because the teams of ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’ reinforced communal identities and rivalries”.

The book is a must read for those who want to study Colonial rule and its influence in developing Lahore. It gives a rich account of the city. The book will also help researchers, journalists, peace activists to understand the true character of city i.e. cosmopolitan.