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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Sunday, May 26, 2024, ,

Pleased in PakPattan

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Pakpattan - the name is enough to start the travelers, cautiously curious and devoted faithful dreaming. Already the magic words like sultans and saints are stirring in the head. Let your gaze slip over the dhaki - original citadel of Pakpattan - and the town will suddenly appear. The antiquity is its own message: the town is heritage, and heritage permeates the town.

Enter the once walled inner-city through one of the existing gates and you will find yourself in archetypal form of an ancient town - crooked and narrow streets, dense housing, intricate woodwork on Jharokas, bay windows and doors. So many historic cities have developed losing much of their original character in the process during modern times, but Pakpattan has survived remarkably in tact. It is the entire urban fabric of the place that is historic. Though, the major portion of the fortification wall has disappeared. At places, the wall has even been utilized as a part of the residences. Four gates (Shahedi, Rehimun, Abu and Mori) have survived out of six but they are all crumbling. Now extensive suburbs stretch from the foot of the wall all around. Thin red bricks from centuries old wall are seen used in the new houses all over the town. The portion of the settlement that sits on the mound can be compared with walled part of Multan City.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Wednesday, May 22, 2024, ,

Shagufta Bano - Mano na Mano

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While doing interpretership (Russian Language) from National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, we were taken to different publishing houses. Having tea after the presentation at one of the publishing houses, we got a chance to talk informally to the wonderful people there.

While talking with Dr. Farahat Naqi – the owner and brain behind the success of the concern – Dr. Shagufta Bano – one of my favorite teachers -- came under discussion. I believed and praised my teacher. Dr. Naqvi listened to my discourse for some time and finally raised his hands and said, “Please stop. Stop! I know her more than you do because she is my wife for last 30 years.”

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Thursday, May 16, 2024, ,

Happy families are all alike

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The first sentence of Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina is: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Tolstoy, 1875-1877/2001, p. 1).

posted by S A J Shirazi @ Sunday, May 12, 2024, ,

Ears to ground

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One evening a few months ago, Ghulam Ali Bloch, a retired bureaucrat turned progressive farmer, who has his roots in remote village Jalla Balla in the suburbs of Sargodha, was finishing up a contract negotiation for buying a piece of land for opening an Ostrich Farm when he realised that a crucial piece of information required to close the deal is missing. He needed to know who had the right to haqq-e shufah (pre-emption). He could only obtain the facts from the central registry of the revenue department.

In order to verify the legal status of a property, including business homes and personal estates, one has to go to the patwari, garedawar, tehsildar and it entails a lengthy and laborious procedure. Historically, getting the required information takes a very long time. But thanks to an old man Mir Thana Khan, a minstrel in the village Jalla Balla, the information was available in his private but very authentic record.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Saturday, May 11, 2024, ,

The village boy

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There are lessons in the first landscapes of every one's life. Mine was a vista of green paddy fields, smoking with Salt Range mist, against a setting of ribbon of River Jhelum which from distance looked like a shore of another land altogether. The rough, rugged hill range appeared uninviting against a sky withering with the morning, interrupted by the dawn's red and blue brush strokes. My first learning in life was also in the village.

People in villages still live without roads or other civic amenities of this modern age. No telephone or the Internet (now smartphone works in my villages), even electricity is a recent phenomenon; some are still without it. You see one village and you have seen all. This was the setting where I spent the first twenty years of my life savoring the freedom of adulthood. It is where I decided what (and how) I wanted to do with life. It is where my brothers and friends live. It is where I return whenever my active (and now urban) life allows me to. It is where I want to settle and spend my future.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Saturday, May 04, 2024, ,

Chaudhry Norbert Pintsch

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Village Thatta Ghulamka Dheroka - a cluster of mud and brick houses - looks like any typical Pakistani village. The fact is that awareness, community work and use of appropriate technology has changed the village all together. Influence from Indus civilization from nearby Harappa and modern techniques brought by use of appropriate technology can be seen in the village together.

The toys and handicrafts made in the village are on display in international museums, prestigious galleries and showrooms in Pakistan and abroad. Thatta Ghulamka Dheroka (TGD) got an international fame when village project Thatta Kedona (meaning toy from Thatta) was selected as one of the 767 worldwide projects presented in the "Themepark" at global expo in Hannover (Germany) as an example of thinking of twenty first century. The toys and handicrafts from TGD show how culture goes beyond simple work of art and becomes collaboration among applied and natural sciences as well as other forces that affect our lives.


Thatta Kedona is a project, first of its kind, in rural area where handmade quality toys are crafted using all indigenous materials and traditional designs based on cultural and folklore themes. The workmanship of the dolls and toys has acclaimed international recognition through their participation in numerous international events, exhibitions, fairs and displays. These toys are the embodiment of dreams, hopes and most of all self-reliance of the hands, which breathe a part of their own soul into them.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Thursday, May 02, 2024, ,

Have a Blog or a Printing Press

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Who all should have a blog? The answer depends on who is being asked this question. Given my personal interest, I say everyone should have a blog.

For marketers, public relations professionals, writers and all those who need to reach out with their ideas and or products and services, blogs are a must; easier, cheaper, convenient. But think outside the box and you will find people have experiences to share, stories to tell and put the things on record. They all need a blog.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Tuesday, April 16, 2024, ,

Chillianwala Chase

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To-ing and fro-ing, at times zigzagging, in Punjab introduces wonders and legions of what may be called the middle ground of cultural fusion of the present Punjab. The area is a gold mine for history seekers, and spiritual and curious travelers. You may find much more than what you hear or read. It pays to get out into the countryside and talk to ordinary people.

People of the area are eager to help “at their own expense – when you ask anybody. One finds volunteer ‘guides’ who are forthcoming with a wealth of information. Chillianwala is a historic village that played an important role in the history of South Asia. It was a battleground where British and Sikh forces fought one of the decisive battles in the history of the Subcontinent in 1849. The quiet village has not changed much since then. Only slowly old agricultural methods are changing and tractors and wheat threshers are seen in place of bull-driven ploughs. Painted double-story houses are coming up where used to be conventional mud houses. The land is excellent with record carrying capacity and the display of seasonal crops is very powerful.

The Battle fought in the fields of Chillianwala (not to be mixed with the Jallianwala Bagh massacre) was possibly the turning point for the British. Had the British lost to the Sikhs on January 13, 1849, it is difficult to see how they could have sustained their hold over the Subcontinent.

Oddly, both the British and the Sikhs consider Chillianwala as their victory. The Sikhs say it was their victory because they broke the British force and the myth of them being invincible, who were forced to retreat. The British did retreat, but three days after the battle. The British admit that had the Sikhs realized they had the advantage and continued the battle after fighting ceased at night, they would have overrun the British who were exhausted, seriously depleted, and in unfamiliar terrain. As it was, six British regiments lost their standards at the battle. The Sikhs instead celebrated victory; three days of incessant rainfall prevented them from crossing suddenly flooded irrigation drains and streams, and the British, picking themselves up, marched away in reasonable order. Since the Sikhs appear to have disengaged first, the British claim the victory.

Of the Sikh forces, history knows little, except that the British estimate of 30,000 enemies was significantly exaggerated. The Sikhs had little if any superiority to the British force of 13,000. The artillery was about equal, with 60 guns on each side. The British handling of their artillery was much better than that of their opponents, and this was a winning factor in all the battles for the Punjab. The Sikhs were led by Sher Singh Attariwala and were deserted by some of their allies such as the Rohillas, and the Dogras under Colonel Stienbach, a former employee of the Sikh government, who turned coat to fight for the British.

The British were led by the 70-year-old Lord Gough, a fiery fighting general who was replaced despite the victories. Blame for the high casualties seems to be one reason. The list of military disasters that the British suffered in India is long, but most of these were rationalized by British military historians by highlighting situational factors that made British defeat certain and inevitable and was in many cases due to circumstances involving overwhelming numerical inferiority, excessive battle exhaustion, adverse weather and terrain.

The Battle of Chillianwala is, however, one odd exception and stands out as a battle in which the British failed to defeat their opponents despite having the advantages of the weight of numbers, ideal weather and terrain, and superior logistics. A succession of British military victories since 1757 barring few exceptions like the Battle of Pollilore (September 10, 1780), Siege of Bhurtpore (1804-1805), Monsoon’s Retreat (1804), Kabul Brigade’s Retreat (January 1842) which were dismissed as exceptions (to the general rule of “European Superiority) by virtue of exceptional numerical or other odds; it was assumed that no native army of India, Nepal or Afghanistan could stand a determined bayonet charge by the Red Coats. A feeling of superiority was produced accompanied by the natural attitude of overconfidence and rashness, and most British commanders felt that simply a direct march to the sound of guns and a simple frontal assault using “Cold Steel” was enough to disperse any native army however tough or well trained. The use of maneuver and the fact that a British army could ever be surprised was dismissed as impossible. Thus once the British suffered a rude reverse accompanied by heavy casualties despite having all the advantages; public opinion in Britain was shocked.

British Army despite a high European troop component, sufficient artillery, and two heavy cavalry brigades to ensure that no one could surprise them, little campaign exhaustion having fought no major battle since assumption of hostilities, winter weather negating the possibility of heatstroke and cholera the worst killers of white soldiers in India, failed to defeat the Sikhs. This is why Chillianwala stands out as a battle that changed Indian perceptions about British military effectiveness? The damage done at Chillianwala to the prestige of British arms was enormous and played a major role in changing Indian attitudes about the British. Though defeat at Chillianwala was forgotten soon enough and Gough again became a hero. Thanks to “angling” by the British historians.

In fact, the Sikhs did ask for a ceasefire and for terms after the battle, because they could see their end was near. Their requests were rejected; thirty-nine days later, the Battle of Gujrat was fought. The Sikhs lost. Those who were captured were killed; those who still refused to surrender were hunted down and killed. Of course, what happened to the defeated Sikh army was nothing compared to the wholesale atrocities inflicted by the British on Muslims during the war of Independence of 1857 and the civilians who happened to get in the way, but that is another story. After Gujrat, the vast area passed from the heirs of Maharajah Ranjit Singh to the sons of John Company, and ten years later, to the Imperial crown. At Chillianwala the Sikhs offered the fiercest resistance; yet, once defeated, they willingly entered British service, becoming, along with the Gurkhas, among the Empire’s most faithful servants.

Nothing is left of the history on the ground now. The only sign right on the Kharian-Mandi Bahaud Din Roadside is a British cemetery, commonly called Gora Qabristan, outside the village. Among the dilapidating graves, stands tall memorial Obelisk, like an obelisk built at Killa Kohna Qasim Bagh in Multan, and a Cross in the memory of those British who were killed in the Battle. The boundary wall of the cemetery too is falling apart and is used by the villagers for drying dung cakes. The children are seen playing Gulli Danda – local cricket in the parameter.

Nearby, there is an ancient banyan tree where busses plying on the route stop and from where villagers, oblivious of the past history of the place, board the overloaded busses to go to the town for exchanging commodities. The Union Council can hardly be expected to take care of the memorial or the historic graveyard. Maybe someone should think of preserving the past relic. It is part of our history.

The ionic counterpoint is the lack of attention to maintaining the bits and pieces of unique heritage. The neglect may be attributed to a lack of awareness, education, coordination between authorities, economic constraints, and or simply natural hazards. There is a need for information in the form of travel guide writing, pure travel journalism, travel book writing, and geographical description in the form of maps. No ordinary coldness of phrasing can express the surprise and delight, with which one makes acquaintance with the sites. Their perspective gives you a wonderful sense of being there.

Also here (photo from here)

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Friday, April 12, 2024, ,

Fine Art of Mud Architecture

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The future lies in mud architecture. Though this sweeping statement may sound prehistoric, but it is very relevant to modern times. Building living spaces with mud is a tradition dating as back as the start of civilization. Some excellent examples from the Great Mosque - the world’s largest mud building and UNESCO’s World Heritage site – to the oldest surviving mud specimens found in the Harappa, Pakistan, show the continuous use of mud buildings.


Having grown up in mud house myself (before I moved to urban center), mud buildings have a special place rooted deep in to my cultural consciousness and this personal bond encourages a more intimate relationship between me and the mud as the material transformed from formlessness to form. Hence my interest in mud architecture and how I see its future in Pakistan.

Why use Mud? Mud – a mixture of earth and water - is economical, practical, functional and attractive. It is easy to work with, and it takes decoration well. Mud is especially useful in humid and hot climates like we have in Pakistan. Mud is a natural material that is found in abundance, especially where other building materials such as bricks, stone or wood are scarce due to affordability and or availability. In Pakistan, use of mud has evolved from local necessity. Which is why the use of extremely sticky mud deposited found along river banks or elsewhere in Pakistan combined with appropriate technology makes an excellent material to build functional and climate friendly buildings.


Work has already started and many experts are critically analyzing the more purposeful use of mud as a building material. Dr. Gus Van Beek of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History is working on a book in which he is examining methods of construction and varieties of designs in contemporary as well as ancient structures found at many places. Dr. Gus Van Beek’s research started when he uncovered arch and vault construction at Tel Jemmeh, Israel. Dr. Gus Van Beek is covering major types of construction in Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, India and Pakistan.

At local level, Society for the Promotion of Art and Culture (SPARC), registered in Lahore since 1994, is undertaking the task of revival of much needed mud architecture in Pakistan. SPARC planning to hold workshops at different art and architecture institutions in order to restart the traditional building with mud in rural as well as urban areas of Pakistan. These workshop will not only create awareness and initiate a thought process at gross roots level but will also train SPARC employees in mud architecture. Dr. Norbert Pintsch from Senior Expert Service (Bonn, Germany) is planning to present new techniques of mud building to adapt the construction technique mixed with appropriate technology in Pakistan.

Prof Dr Norbert Pintsch is an experienced architect by profession and mud enthusiast by choice. Since completing first building project as an architect at the age of 18, Prof Dr Norbert Pintsch has been in various activities as an architect and civil engineer all his life. One of the best starting point for Prof Dr Norbert Pintsch may be a mud building that stands in Peerzada Festival Area, Green Acre, Lahore. Renowned Pakistani architect like Ghayyoor Obaid are also keen on mud architecture there. Any other example that I know of is remains of Sher Shah Suri built mud fort in historic village Sher Ghar near Okara.

The mud architecture is a great resource that focuses on architecture constructed of mud brick, rammed earth, compressed earth block and other methods of earthen construction. The proliferation of concept to use mud and improved techniques in order to raise the level of living in the population is a very welcome idea and we in Pakistan need that. This can go a long way not only in the form of changing the look of population centers, rural as well as urban, but also in solving environmental problems and problems related to use of energy and other finite resources.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Thursday, April 11, 2024, ,


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