Lahore of the olden days…

I have recently been reading a wonderful book about Lahore, called “Sohna Shehar Lahore” (Beautiful City Lahore) by Mr. Tahir Lahori. From what I have read so far, I must commend Mr. Lahori for so eloquently describing early 20th century Lahori life that believe it or not as I read his words, I feel as if I have traveled back in time. Here, I will take the liberty of translating (my translation doesn’t do justice to his words though) a page out of his book, which I hope will take many of our readers back in time as well, to the early 1920s to be exact.

“Electricity lights had not come into the walled city yet and people used to light gas and oil lamps in streets and bazaars. In the bazaars, there were long wooden poles. As the sun would set, employees of the municipal committee would spread out in every corner of the city streets and bazaars. In many of the streets there were large and beautiful oil lamps that provided light for the residents. A committee’s employee would walk around carrying a small ladder on his shoulders and upon reaching a wooden pole in the street, would set it against the pole, climb up, pour oil in the lamp, and light it up. The lamps were kept in a large wooden box attached to the pole. The box had glass on all four sides and these lamps were located at determined distances from each other and at every street corner. The bazaars had these poles at a much closer distance to eachother to provide more light for the shopkeepers and customers to go about their business.

In the houses, people would use laaltains, gas lamps, and oil lamps (diya). Rich people used beautiful containers, whose glass sides would amplify the light from gas lamps kept inside them. The mosques had oil diyas (oil containers made of clay with a wick to burn like a candle) which the people of the neighbourhood would fill with oil. Mosques had small niches built into their walls, there would be these small clay lamps in every single one of these niches. This is how the mosques were kept alight. Mandirs also had a similar type of system for lighting and same was the case for mizaars and samadhis.

People also used to light many oil lamps and candles on Eid Milad-un-Nabi, Miraaj Sharif, Shab’raat, Uroos, and other Islamic festivals. On Diwaali, the whole city would be bathed with miniature lights like these. On Christmas, the Christians of walled city would also light lamps and candles. Churches had large candles which would be burnt through the night. Students and other people who studied did so in the light of oil lamps and in the mornings they would spit out black soot that they inhaled all night long in the form of smoke.

On festivals everyone used to get together. There were Hindu-Muslim conflicts but then they would also take parts in eachother’s festivals. Friends would exchange gifts also on these occasions. At a group level, Hindus were also often good friends with Muslims.

It was a unique time, it was good, it was bad, and it is still alive in people’s memories.” Translated from Tahir Lahori’s “Sohna Shehar Lahore”.

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