Obsessive compulsive explorer

By: Waqr Gillani

Faizan Abbas, popularly known as “Lahore ka khojji” (the explorer of Lahore), is a young man whose interest in the history and heritage of Lahore is keen to the level of being a passion. Abbas traces it back to “almost five years ago.”

In an exclusive chat with TNS, the twenty-five years old admits to having “worked on exploring the history of more than 75 sites.” Of these, he claims he rediscovered more than 40 neglected heritage sites.

“Once I was passing through the Anarkali bazaar when I saw a pamphlet by Loh Kot Society, an NGO working on preserving the history of the city. At once, I knew I had to join the group.

“For me, the pamphlet was a lost treasure I had found. The group furthered my interest in the historical sites of the city,” he says.

In the year 2009, Abbas had become a member of the NGO and started working as a volunteer. It was his mentor Rao Javed Iqbal “who gave me the title of ‘Lahore Ka Khojji’,” he says, smilingly.

Abbas reveals that his forefathers migrated from the Indian Punjab in 1953. His mother, a retired schoolteacher, studied History at the Punjab University at the post-graduate level. Heritage and archeology were household words at the Abbas’s.

He grew up reading books on history. He was also very fond of the late writer A. Hameed on whom Abbas has written a number of articles for newspapers. He has also published booklets on heritage sites in Lahore and is presently working on translating Kanhaiya Lal’s 1882 manuscript on the history of the city.

Based in Dharampura, an old locality of Lahore, Abbas says the “many Sikh temples in our area were my first exploratory project.”

With the passage of time, he went on to “dig out some of [the city’s] lost heritage sites.” In 2011, he discovered the grave of Bhai Wasti Ram, a Sikh notable in Ranjit Singh’s period, and is happy that today the government is paying attention to the place which is under repair now. “We should not forsake our history,” he declares. “If we cannot save them, we should at least put them on record.”

A year later, Abbas had set up Lahore Shanasi, an organisation that seeks to promote history and heritage, taking his passion to the next level.

He also landed a job as a researcher at the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA). Though, he would rather the government took greater steps to protect the city’s heritage. “Archeology should be offered as a study subject from Grade 10 and above,” he says.

 

Bhagwan Bawan building dates to 1938,
Bhagwan Bawan building dates to 1938,

More recently, Lahore Shanasi observed an “Awareness Week,” starting April 18, in connection with the International Heritage Day. According to Abbas, Lahore is among the most important cities in the world, “Therefore, I’d call for a collective effort to protect the city’s history and monuments.”

Through the organisation, Abbas exhorts on the government to plan local museums in different areas. “The government should also tighten the laws regarding damaging the heritage sites.”

He says he is shocked to read newspaper articles that say that the historic places in Lahore should be converted into flats in order to cater for the increasing population of the city. “We must understand that Lahore has its own place in the history of the Subcontinent.”

A couple of weeks ago, he gave a presentation, on the invitation of the Lahore Conservation Society, a civil society group, where he spoke of the lost historic sites and the neglected heritage of Begum Pura in Lahore. “There are many such historical places which go unnoticed,” he says.

He does not buy the idea of renaming the olden roads and areas of Lahore. “We are distorting history by doing this,” he insists. “History cannot be tampered with.

“It is ironical how a garden built by a Hindu on the Mall Rd was converted into a building which houses the office of a foundation working on Pakistan ideology.”