The Floral Dream…

"A young man named Nasreddin planted a flower garden, but when the flowers came up so did a great crop of dandelions among them. Wishing to eliminate the unwanted guests, Nasreddin consulted with gardeners near and far, but none of their solutions worked. Finally, Nasreddin traveled to the palace of the sheik to seek the wisdom of the royal gardener himself. But alas, Nasreddin had already tried all the methods the kind old man recommended to him for eradicating such troublesome weeds. Silently they sat together for a good long time. At last, the royal gardener looked at Nasreddin and said, "Well, then, the only thing I can suggest is that you learn to love them." 'Nasreddin's Flower Garden' -  A Traditional Sufi Story
“A young man named Nasreddin planted a flower garden, but when the flowers came up so did a great crop of dandelions among them. Wishing to eliminate the unwanted guests, Nasreddin consulted with gardeners near and far, but none of their solutions worked.
Finally, Nasreddin traveled to the palace of the sheik to seek the wisdom of the royal gardener himself. But alas, Nasreddin had already tried all the methods the kind old man recommended to him for eradicating such troublesome weeds.
Silently they sat together for a good long time. At last, the royal gardener looked at Nasreddin and said, “Well, then, the only thing I can suggest is that you learn to love them.”
‘Nasreddin’s Flower Garden’ – A Traditional Sufi Story

The parable of good and bad friends…

 The parable of good and bad friends...
“The good companion and the bad companion can be compared to a man who sells perfume and a blacksmith. When you visit the perfume seller he may give you a gift or you may purchase some musk from him and at the very least you leave with a sweet trace of his scent upon you. When you visit the blacksmith his flying sparks may burn your clothes and you will leave smelling of the smoke from his furnace.” —The Prophet Muḥammad (PBUH)

The Saint of Lahore: Sir Ganga Ram & his Samadhi…

Sir Ganga Ram 14-24 - _14_resizeGanga Ram, for the people of Modern Lahore, is just an old hospital in the city, a part of the tragic history which is associated with emergencies, accidents and treating victims of terrorist attacks. Sadly not many remember the genius who had the hospital built, which is just one of his many gifts to the city.

The gentleman, Sir Ganga Ram, was born in 1851 in Mangtanwala (small town in Nankana Sb District, 64 km from Lahore). He joined the Government College in Lahore on a scholarship in 1869, and obtained a scholarship to the Thompson Engineering College at Roorkee, India in 1871. He graduated in 1873 and was awarded with a gold medal.

The same year after his graduation, he was appointed to Lahore in the engineering department, where he served under Rai Bahadur Kanhaiya Lal, the Executive Engineer (an amazing historian also, whom we often refer to in our articles), and author of the distinguished “History of Lahore”.

In 1885, he was appointed as an Assistant Engineer at Lahore, where he supervised the construction of the new High Court Building and the beautiful Lahore Cathedral. This marked the era of beautiful Colonial styled buildings on the Mall Road in Lahore. He occasionally officiated as Executive Engineer, and four years later became Special Engineer for the design and construction of Aitchison College, where he worked in conjunction with Bhai Ram Singh (this duo produced some of the greatest buildings in Lahore, and Bhai Ram Singh deserves more attention. More on him in the coming weeks!).

With the completion of Aitchison College, Ganga Ram was promoted to the post of Executive Engineer of the Lahore Division, occupying the chair he had once sat in as a student, but which he could now occupy in his own right. He held this position for the next twelve years, during which time he constructed the Lahore Museum, the Mayo School of Arts (now National College of Arts), the General Post Office (GPO), the Albert Victor Wing of Mayo Hospital, and the Government College Chemical Laboratory.

The City of Lahore substantially owes its metalled streets, its paved lanes and its properly laid drains to Ganga Ram’s unstinting efforts. In 1900, Ganga Ram was selected by Lord Curzon to act as Superintendent of Works in the Imperial Durbar to be held in Delhi in connection with the accession of King Edward VII.

In 1917, he applied for 23,000 acres of barren, un-irrigated land in Montgomery District (Sahiwal) near Bari Doab Canal. The land was situated on higher ground and he could only water it by the lift irrigation system. He was successful in his endeavours, and his arid acres soon turned into tracts of rich soil. He was then leased another 40,000 acres of higher ground land for a period of seven years, which he was able to irrigate successfully once again. He constructed a hydro-electric station on the Bari Doab Canal, and was able to complete his project within the time limit given to him (For more on the station, click here). By 1925, he had constructed 75 miles of irrigation channels, 625 miles of water courses, 45 bridges, 565 miles of village roads, and 121 miles of boundary roads, all at his own cost – the list of his achievements is endless. Altogether 89,000 acres of waste land had been developed successfully by this miracle worker. This was the biggest private enterprise of the kind, unknown and un-thought-of in the country before. By now he was 70, and in 1922 he was recommended for a richly deserved knighthood by the then Governor of Punjab, Sir Edward Maclagan.

Sir Ganga Ram’s services to education included the establishment of the Lady Maclagan School for Girls and Punjab’s first college of commerce, Hailey College, was made possible by a donation of his residential building “Nabha House” opposite the University Grounds for exclusive use to establish a College of Commerce.

However, the most impressive charitable act of all performed by him was the construction of the Sir Ganga Ram Free Hospital. In 1921, he purchased a piece of land at the junction of Queen’s Road and Lawrence Road to construct a hospital building at a cost of Rupees 131,500 which was open to the needy, irrespective of caste or creed. In 1923 the hospital was taken over by the Ganga Ram Trust Society, and today it ranks second only to Mayo Hospital in its services to the people of Punjab.

A statue of Sir Ganga Ram once stood on Mall Road outside Lahore Museum. Saadat Hasan Manto, a famous Urdu short-story (Afsana) writer, relates a shameful incident that occurred during the frenzy of religious riots of 1947 when an inflamed mob in Lahore, attacked the statue of Sir Ganga Ram. They first pelted the statue with stones; then smothered its face with coal tar. Then a man made a garland of old shoes and climbed up to put it round the neck of the statue. He was shot by the police and as he fell to the ground, ironically the mob shouted: “Let us rush him to Ganga Ram Hospital.”

Sir Ganga Ram's Samadhi...
Sir Ganga Ram’s Samadhi…

In 1927, Sir Ganga Ram travelled to London where he suffered a heart attack and passed away at his residence in London. The cremation ceremony took place at the Golders Green Crematorium, and was attended by dignitaries befitting a man of his stature. His ashes were brought back to India by his son, and the main portion of these were scattered in the waters of the Ganges, where about ten thousand people attended the ceremony. The remaining ashes were then taken to Lahore, and the urn containing his ashes was bedecked with roses and jasmine blossoms. It was carried on the back of a magnificently caparisoned Kotul horse from his house to the Town Hall and then to his samadhi near Taxali Gate. The crowds chanted ‘Gharibon key wali ki jai’ (Long Live the Friend of the Poor) as the procession wended its way towards the old city. After his death and right up to 1947, on Baisakhi Day a great fair used to be held in honour of him.

His samadhi (building which houses funerary urns) is located on Ravi Road, in the locality of Karim Park. It is an imposing structure built in 1927 in the style of a Mughal baradari and is topped by a raised bulbous dome. On the inside, it is a rather simple structure owing to renovation work following the damage done to the building during the riots of 1992, after the demolition of Babri Mosque in India. Currently, it is quickly being encroached upon and is in dire need of attention from the relevant authorities.

The Samadhi has been often vandalised and different flags and election posters dishonour the building. Marriages are held in its court and the interior of the samadhi houses drug addicts.

In our efforts to cleanse our history, we’ve forgotten the many Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and other non-Muslims who contributed to our land. Sir Ganga Ram was a great engineer and a great philanthropist and no doubt a great human being. He devoted his life to the service of the common man. Sir Ganga Ram is also known as “Father of Modern Lahore”, but unfortunately like many others we have forgotten this great man, the son of our soil. He was truly a legend. In the words of Sir Malcolm Hailey, the once Governor of Punjab, “he won like a hero and gave like a Saint”. What he did for Lahore can never be forgotten.

Photos: Saad Sarfraz | Text: Anon

Cash cows: Pakistan’s ‘white revolution’ is going astray’ (Herald Dawn May 2015)

11270198_10155510246700405_8138868124255633025_oProud to announce that I wrote one of the cover stories for Herald this May 2015…
The story discusses in great detail, the evolution of the dairy industry in Pakistan… It is one of the most well-researched and difficult pieces I have ever written! I was also able to travel all across Punjab! I met a lot of cattle, buffaloes and farmers on the way!
I am highly thankful to the editorial team for printing the article, along with my photos…
While the story looks at the history briefly, it also highlights a multitude of concerns, which affect the consumers deeply…
A lot of people have asked me to email them the article. I can only say that if you can watch a two hour movie and pay 600 rupees, you could buy a magazine for 150 PKR too, and read not just my article, but tons of other articles!
So kindly purchase a copy before the book-stores run out of stock…

You can read the excerpt here:

I bugged a lot of people for this story… thank you! you know who you are!

The umbrella is our moment of self-denial…

We accept that its raining, yet we try to reject the possibility of getting wet…


Like life itself, we seek to accept the impossibility of what we want, and reject the possibility of what lies outside…

Some of us wish that emotions too should’ve had an umbrella to repel unwanted external emotions, and the people that come with it!
How I’d love to ‘umbrella’ the hate that you shower on me, and how I’d love to take you under the umbrella and walk through the storms of our life!”
– Saad Sarfraz / ‘Barishoun mein bina chatri ke likhey huwey kuch alfaaz’

#pakistan #rain #umbrella #weather


Oh Lahore, what would you be without your old side?! A bunch of McDonald’s, Pizza Huts and KFC’s? The many Askari’s and DHA’s littered across the city? The true spirit surely lies in Old Lahore…4990014391_c19969557f_o

I fly into the ancient dust that surrounds the old city. My wings recognise the change in the air. I fly.

Burnt bricks, symmetrical walls, wrinkled men and lots of litter. Welcome to Old Lahore. A forgotten past, a faded story, visible ignorance. The walls are smeared with hate and the buildings look down at me. It’s just like any other day.

Along the colourful Vespa scooters that line up the wall of the walled city. Paras watches the alphabets fly off his type-writer. He is the forgotten few, the ignored illiterate, the unlucky uncouth, the poor peasant, the mistreated man.

Minutes later, Ashfaq rides into the narrow alley on his tonga. Does anyone need a ride?, he asks. In unison, they all thank him and happily point towards the assortment of motorcycles and cars parked across the road. Jobless!, he laughs to himself. Its back to transporting metal rods for him and his horse.


Susheela hasn’t had much luck either. She ties an ugly hair bun as she lurks along the road to the forbidden area. With summers, business hasn’t been good. Greased musicians tease her as she saunters down the alley, clapping furiously.


The Sitara Steel Band is one of the 300 bands that play at weddings. Band Master Ilyas hopes he that he will be able to fit his entire ensemble onto a noisy CNG rickshaw that seems to be overcharging. His wife says he is constantly out of tune and has been after him to sell his brass instruments as scrap rates. The journey for glory has brought nothing but disrespect.

Shakoor is worried. Everyday he needs 45 rupees to buy the cancer sticks he calls soota. He confidently explains that the soota eliminates his hunger for food and is more pleasing. All he worries is about where the next 45 rupees will come from. He says he is a malang, as he doesn’t ask for much, and doesn’t do much either.

Deewaron ke bhi kaan hotey hein?

The buildings are embarrassed and speak of unspoken tales. They open their doors in confusion and flap their windows in desperation. That is all that Old Lahore speaks of today, and not the yesterday that at once seemed to be brighter than the tomorrow we do not look forward to…



Ten Hindu families are said to migrate every year from Pakistan to India. But what of the poor Pakistani Hindus who don’t have the means to escape? Saad Sarfraz Sheikh attends a poignant Holi ceremony in one of the last living temples in Pakistan

Holika_19_resizePandit Bhagat Lal Khokar shivers as he tightly clutches his little sack of timber and carefully siphons kerosene. He squats on the dark courtyard and prepares a large bonfire for Holika, the night before Holi. Amid the struggle, the old man informs me, “Bonfires purify the air of evil spirits.”
Loh’s Lahore has hosted Panditjee’s family for six generations. Priesthood is inherited, and today, Bhagat Lal Khokhar is the pandit of the Valmik Mandir situated in Old Anarkali. His generation may be the last one here, as his children find solace in regular jobs and not temple duties. Living in a land obsessed with Islam, he’s had to run the temple and his house without any government support by doing odd roadside jobs.
Hindus whispering in the temple are distracted by the sight and sound of Bhagat striking a match against the ancient brick floor. As the fire towers high, we follow him into the temple.
The main room of the dimly lit temple is preserved for the worship of Baba Guru Valmik Swami (Valmiki), the supreme ‘Untouchable’ deity, and the author of the Ramayana. The other houses a prayer room with mini statues and posters.
Excited Hindu children worship the statue amid squeals of innocent cheer and laughter. Once done prostrating, they crawl and rest against the wall. Anu, a 6-year old, starts reciting a naat she said she heard at school. The pandit’s wife rushes in and silences her, warning her of dire consequences and unforgivable punishment if the Maharaaj (Panditjee) finds out. But the maharaaj is busy, immersed in praying and blessing everyone.

As the pooja ends, we exit the room and surround the bonfire. All ears turn towards Panditjee as he explains the origin of Holi. His frail hands tremble in the evening breeze as he tells the story of Holika and Prahalad.

According to Ratnaval, a 7th century Hindu drama, Holika was a female demon and the sister of Hiranyakashyap, the demon king. Hiranyakashyap considered himself ruler of the Universe, and higher than all the gods.
The demon king hated his son Prahalad because he was a faithful devotee of Lord Vishnu. One day the king asked him, “Who is the greatest, God or I?” “God is,” said the son, “you are only a king.” The king was furious and decided to murder his son. But the king’s attempts at murder went in vain. Prahalad survived being trampled by elephants, being thrown over a cliff, bitten by snakes, and attacked by soldiers.
Hiranyakashyap consulted his demon sister, Holika, for help in killing Prahalad. Holika made Prahalad sit in her lap as she settled in the middle of a fire. Holika’s magical robe made her immune to fire, so she thought Prahalad would burn to death while she remained safe. But because Holika was indulging in evil, the divine powers made a fierce wind blow across the land, blowing both Pralahad and the magical robe away. Holika’s immunity vanished and she was burned to ashes. Prahalad stayed true to his God Vishnu, who had protected him, and survived.
Later, Vishnu killed King Hiranyakashyap, and Prahalad ruled as a wise king in his father’s palace. To celebrate this story, Hindus ignite large bonfires a day before Holi, often burning a dummy of Holika. The story established the moral that good always wins over evil, and those who seek to torment the faithful will be destroyed.
That moral now seems as remote as the 7th century itself. Today, evil wins over good and the faithful are destroyed and tormented.
How is it that the minorities of Pakistan, despite being promised equal rights by the founding father, continue to be reviled and tortured in the name of faith? Pandit Bhagat Lal Khokar’s face reflects the sad reality and screams a thousand stories of discrimination and regret.
Holika_6_resizeHe remembers a painful childhood filled with stories of how Muslim traders in his neighbourhood always fussed about sharing utensils with his family, yet never minding the money they gave them.
Almost every Hindu at the temple has a similar story of persecution to tell. To avoid dampening our spirits, Pandit Bhagat Lal resumes the rituals and starts running around the towering fire, singing Vedic chants and screaming ‘Holika’, his people following him in unison.
As Muslims, we elevate Arabic, an alien language, to unattainable heights of reverence. And yet witnessing the ancient Vedic texts of our land come to life in this way also stirs up emotions. The majority of Muslims in Pakistan are Muslims by birth, not by choice. Most of our ancestors were Hindus. Can it be so easy to kill the Hindu inside you?
How do I explain this feeling to Pandit Bhagat Lal Khokar?
It is only when a trusted mutual friend refers me to him that Panditjee agrees to meet me. While the temple is nestled in Anarkali, one of Lahore’s most densely populated places, it is difficult to find. When I ask the Muslim shopkeepers for directions to the temple, they misguide me. Some want to know the reason for my ‘visit’. When I inform them of my intention to photograph the temple and interview Hindus over there, they recommend me not to “waste my time”. A call to the Panditjee reveals that the entrance is in a passageway, once called the Valmiki Street, neatly camouflaged behind a cart selling old clothes.
The Valmiki Mandir lacks the common statues found in most Hindu temples, and December 7, 1992, a day after the Babri Mosque was “martyred”, explains everything.
On that fateful day, Bhagat Lal Khokhar and other Hindus prepared for the worst at the temple.
The ancient temple was attacked by men with sticks and hammers. Valmik’s jewel-encrusted pre-Partition statue, built by a student of Punjab University, was destroyed. A white marble statue of Krishna was also destroyed. Surprisingly, no Hindus were harmed. The temple collapsed within minutes and the entire structure was set on fire.
Bhagat Lal Khokhar hid for fear of his life and many assumed that he had fled to India. Six months later, he reopened the temple and resumed his duties amid the rubble.

Holika_3_resizeThe authorities were kind enough to allot them money for reconstruction. The remaining money came from members of the community. A part of a wall from the original construction as a reminder of what had happened has been preserved. A new Valmiki statue has replaced the original, whereas framed pictures continue to represent the idol of Krishna.
Panditjee is reluctant to talk about “forced conversions”, but sums it up by saying that they’ve been taking place ever since Muhammad Bin Qasim and his men brought “Islam” upon the people of this land.
A Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report from 2010 informs us that at least 25 Hindu girls are abducted and converted by force in Pakistan every month. According to the report, the percentage of Hindus in Pakistan has dropped from 16 percent in 1947 (after Partition and the exodus of non-Muslims) to 2 percent in 2010. Yet three million Hindus continue to be the largest religious minority in Pakistan. The report states how in 1947, there were 428 functioning temples in the country, and now there are only 26. According to Indian sources, around ten rich Hindu families migrate from Pakistan to India every month. But for poorer Hindus like Bhagat Lal Khokar, escaping reality seems like a distant dream.

Saad Sarfraz Sheikh studies Global Journalism at the University of Sheffield and can be reached at

Published in The Friday Times



This is just the way Dara wanted his dearest wife Nadira Begum’s tomb to be… submerged… He wanted it to look as if it was floating on water…

But the invading East India Company saw the boundary walls of the tomb as a great source of construction material… they stripped the walls of its bricks and used it to build the Saddar Cantonment in Lahore… Ironically, this tomb is now also a part of the same cantonment and lies on ‘ Infantry Road ‘

The place is now called Mian Mir Park (as Hazrat Mian Mir’s shrine is right next to it) and Nadira’s pavillion tomb forms its centre…

Emperor Aurangzeb, in the bloody race for the throne, slaughtered his brothers and poisoned their children… Many were rendered fatherless, childless and motherless…

Now children play cricket under Nadira’s watchful eyes…

With endless rains, waters have surrounded her tomb and amid the floods, her tomb floats again…