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Fatima Hussain’s love affair with Lahore

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Prof Dr Fatima Hussain is one of the leading Muslim women scholars of history in India. She teaches history at Delhi University.

She has a number of books and numerous articles to her credit. Some of the widely acclaimed books are: The war that wasn’t, Sufi & the Sultan; Palestine, The historical perspective; Sufism & Bhakti movement and Sufism Revisited.

She was born to an educationalist family of Aligarh University, in fact her name (Fatima Tabassum) was for the first time used by her father Professor Dr. Farid Ali Shamsi to write letters to the editor. She did her M.Phil and PhD from Jawahar Lal University (JNU) under the guidance of veteran historian Prof. Harbans Mukhia and interestingly, she completed all her higher education after marriage.

She visited Lahore in 2005 to attend Waris Shah International Conference. There, the Kuri of Dili and Munda of Lahore, Fakhar Zaman, fell for each other and married soon after.

This provided her ample opportunities to know the ethos, history, culture and spiritual aspects of Lahore. Now she is familiar with every nook and corner of Lahore. After acquiring in depth knowledge about all aspects of Lahore and interacting with people she decided to write a book on Lahore ‘Lahore: A City of Love’.

The book is an account of history, culture and morphology. She shares some salient features: various historical phases of Lahore; life histories and contributions of Sufi saints and poets like Data Ganj Bakhsh, Hazrat Mian Mir and Shah Hussain; analysis of the background of places of historical importance like Shalimar Garden, Lahore fort, Badshahi Masjid, Masjid Wazir Khan, Jahangir Tomb etc; Punjabi heroes like Dulla Bhati and Bhaght Singh; the personality and work of famous artist Amrita Shergil, who used to live in a house at Montgomery road; film stars belonging to Lahore like Dev Anand, Kamni Kaushal, Pran, Om Parkash and director Yash Chopra.

During the Mughalia Sultatant, Allahabad, Agra and Lahore were very important. The Suba of Lahore was the most important because the maximum revenue was yielded from it.

I sat down with the Fatima as we talked about various historic events and politics in the sub-continent.

Which particular part was ignored earlier and you have highlighted in your book, culture?

The name of the book is ‘Lahore the City of Love, An Account of History, Culture andMorphology’. So I am trying to bring out history, culture and morphology put them together because it is city of great warmth. People are so warm and full of love. They are very hospitable whenever any outsider visits Lahore he or she faces tremendous warmth from the people, they get love, they get affection, they get hospitality and that is why the name of the book ‘an account of history culture and morphology, city of love.’

I wanted to focus on its hospitality whenever anyone goes there he gets tremendous amount of affection and love. It is continuity of culture, history and morphology, all three are interlinked so all three are going to be focused upon.

If I am not wrong a sister of King Aurangzeb also had an affair?

I don’t know about the personal life of Aurangzeb sisters. Aurangzeb’s sister Jehan Ara lived there she also wrote a book because she was an educated lady but as Prof. Harbans Mukhia says (he was my supervisor).The Mughals refrained, barring their daughters from marring because a ‘damad, son in law’ would be a potential run to the throne.

There was an affair of Shah Hussain and Madho Lal?

And there is ‘Mela Chirgaan’ along with the festival of Madho Lal Hussain. These are very interesting events of Lahore culture.

The present Lahore is not the continuity of liberal Lahore or old culture of Lahore where people would say there are ‘seven days and eight festivals’. It is no more that kind of liberal and culturally vibrant Lahore?

I think it is culturally vibrant in a different way now. There are still many aspects which are still alive.

How do you call it culturally vibrant when the Lahoris say if there is no ‘basant’ or other ‘melas’ it cannot be called vibrant?

But many festivals are being celebrated. ‘Eid’ is being celebrated and on the night before, women would go out to apply ‘mehndi’ on their hands in Barkat and Liberty Markets. There are mehndiwalas sitting, churreewalas and at every crossing ‘gujjra’ is being sold. The way the streets are decorated in the winter is beautiful.

You won’t come across anything like that in any other city of the world, merry gold flowers, birds chirping.

Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Sec-Gen of Communist Party of India(CPM) once told me that Lahore used to be cultural capital of united India and the trends and fashion would originatefrom Lahore and would be followed and copied all over India. Is this true?

I don’t think Lahore is anymore cultural capital of India due to division of India and other reasons. But from the women’s fashion point, Lahore is still the cultural capital because it sets the trends that reach at least Delhi. There is tremendous craze for Lahori fashion in Delhi.

Is there any resistance against Lahore (Pakistani) fashion because now you have Hindu fascists like RSS who are trying to assert themselves?

It is a question of likes and dislikes and they cannot thrust their will on women. It is a matter of personal choice of a woman.

How do you compare Lahore and Delhi?

Lahore and Delhi are very much the same. The flora and fauna are the same.  Moreover, the culture is also the same because the Suba of Punjab covered both Lahore and Delhi, in British India.

I am told your future plan is to write on Heer Waris Shah

Yes, I hope this book will come out soon. There is already an article ‘constructing paradigm of religion through the Heer Waris Shah’ and now I am planning it to come out as a full-fledged book.

You have travelled widely all over Pakistan delivering lectures in Universities in Karachi, Lahore, Gujrat and Islamabad, how was your experience about it and Pakistan in general.

Pakistan is a beautiful country and there are many places which have tremendous potential for tourism. If Pakistan upgrades its tourist facilities, it will get lots of revenue. It is projected as a hostile country, but during my visit, I have found a it as a beautiful country and people are very loving and hospitable.

Don’t you think the visa regime should be liberalized and people should visit India/Pakistan more frequently and meet their friends and relatives.

I think there should be some kind of restrictions. Some kind of strictness is required but a background check is necessary before granting visas.

Tell us about your experience of your frequent visits to a great number of countries of the world and your favorite country and your favorite city?

I visited all these countries in the company of my husband; I was impressed by China, its city Beijing, Shanghai and Xian of Terra Cota Museum. I similarly liked Saint Petersburg, its architecture, palaces and world known museum Hermitage. I was thrilled by seeing the church where Rasputin was poisoned by the Son of The Zar. When I went to Denmark I visited Tivoli garden and remembered the children stories by Hans Christian Anderson. Sweden is a very neat and clean country. But the country I loved is Austria, and its capital Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities of the world.

You are a voracious reader of books on social sciences, have you read fiction and poetry also?

I have read a lot of fiction and drama from Shakespeare to Russian English and French writers. In Urdu I have read Ghalib, Manto, Faiz and Munir Niazi. Fortunately, I have met Munir in Lahore and was impressed by his graceful personality and amiable and taciturn disposition, whereas most of the poets have a tendency towards flippancy.

Have you also read Fakhar Zaman?

Yes I have read the English translations of his Novels. In fact I wrote a review on his modern classic novels ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘The Lost Seven’. I think he is a poet par excellence.

He has taught in many universities of India and a number of PhD. thesis have been written on him. I feel delighted when the writers in most of the countries we visited know him and his writings.

The interview was originally published in The News on Sunday in May 2018


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Naya Daur