'Lahore is a city without comparison', proclaims a Punjabi saying. And through the ages this timeless place has continued to enchant residents and foreigners alike. Whether it was the English poet John Milton who sang of the ' Lahor of great Mogul' in his magnum opus, Paradise Lost or his itinerant countrymen who spoke of it with unconcealed admiration, whether they were Europeans or Asian explorers or adventurers, merchants or missionaries, pilgrims or plunderers, all found this heart of the Punjab a magic-place. Gateway to the subcontinent, the city suffered countless invasions but eventually invaders succumbed to its charm. From Greeks to Afghans, from Iranis to Central Asian Turks, from Arabs to the original local population, all mixed and merged, giving the place a colour and diversity unmatche4d by any other city of South Asia. To crown it all, it such great cities of the Muslim World as Granada, Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad.
Much has been written on and about Lahore. From poetic panegyrics in Persian, Punjabi and Urdu to books in English. Despite centuries of scholarly attention, it still remains full of new discoveries and dimensions unexplored. Perhaps the earliest book devoted to Lahore was by T.H. Thornton and J.L. Kipling, Lahore, published in 1870. The most consulted book however, is Lahore: its history, architectural remains and antiquities by Justice M.A. Latif, after whom a lane in the old town is named. Published in 1892, it is a work of detailed, if uneven, scholarship listing buildings and inscriptions, with emphasis on historical aspects. It fails to capture the dynamic impulse of Lahore life. Kanhiya Lal's Persian book is basically about the architectural additions - - with which he was involved - - by the British. While he mentions some of the chief families and the rituals of the three religious groups, he too is unable to capture the special aura of Lahore. A short but delightful book by H.R. Goulding Old Lahore, 1924, emanates genuine love for the city. Rudyard Kipling's several short stories and famous novel Kim, pay the finest creative tribute to this town. This most evocative body of work brings alive the life, of those who inhabited, and continue to inhabit, the labyrinthine lanes.
Dr. M. Baqir's Lahore: past and present, first published in 1952 and later updated, brings the city into the sixties. In 1961 Waliuallah Khan published Lahore and its important monuments. As the name suggests, it is an archaeologist's examination for the city. Lahore: the city within by Samina Quraeshi appeared in 1988, followed by F.S. Aijazuddin's Lahore: illustrated views of the 19th century in 1991. Other books on Lahore - - and there are several now - - are photographic essays on the city.
Lahore Colours, in contrast and complement to all the above, captures the creative continuum of five decades. The city has always afforded artists a continuing stimulus. This volume brings together many a rich response. Lahore Colours spill out once the gates of the walled city - - on the end paper - - are opened. These images initiate on into quarters which witnessed the rise and fall of many a dynasty, the imperial monuments where emperors and rajas enacted the drama of kingly power, war and peace, the grand havelis of the nobility where splendour and intrigue wove intricate patterns, the lanes frequented by poets and artists, walked by Sufis, scholars and commoners, and the narrow streets that follow not like a tedious argument, but have the vivacity of the colourful language Lahoris are known for.
Then there are works that ferry one across the Ravi river on to Sher Shah Suri's Grand Trunk Road to witness the stones of the empire.
And of a different aesthetic, outside walls, the colonial structures of yet another imperial import. Along the splendid Mall, the British stood one glorious hybrid after another. Each is testament to their expansionist vi9sion and amalgam of South Asia's multifarious cultural strands. All tampered with the Western binding, transmuting, transforming initiative.
With the sole exception of Miran Bakhsh's paintings all the works date from after independence, whether they were executed by foreigners who made Pakistan their home like Petman and Anna Molka Ahmad, or by visitors from abroad, like Sir Hugh Casson or by Pakistanis.
Miran Buksh has been included for several reasons. His work so rare to find, suddenly appeared before the public in some quantity very recently. It had neither been seen by the post-Independence generations till that date, nor reproduced before. An important painter, he was active during the British Raj. He did not look to romantic mythology or legend or Mughal twilight for inspiration, like his more famous contemporaries, Allah Bux and A.R. Chughtai. Instead his was a more realistic approach. He saw Lahore, unencumbered by historical preconception, with refreshing clarity. And he painted what he saw.
Page after page stands the young next masters and the established, verve and enthusiasm next experience and expertise. In each work a skill and distinct sense, sensitivity and sensibility is visible. Here, surely, is God's Plenty. This book, like the proverbial richness in a little room, is a small but feeling compliment to the city, the people of Lahore and their joie de vivre.
Lahore Colours is a critique, a commemoration, a celebration.