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Sunday, 13 April 2014

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Down memory lane in old Lahore

When Prof Ajaz Anwar invited me to his studio in Lahore with all his scattered unfinished paintings and the finished ones displayed on walls during a visit to Lahore to attend the Women's Cricket Conference, I never had the time to feel the impact of what I saw until lately when browsing through some of his imprints he had presented to me.


Lodge Street. 27 x 39. Medium-Water Colour in the collection of Shehia Saigal.

That was one glorious discovery.

They were some of his spectacular paintings, mostly on the splendour of old Lahore, no match to any Pakistan paintings I had seen. As I look into everything I saw and perhaps making a guess as to what was going on in my mind, he broke the silence by saying that it is a misconception that western art is richer than that of the east.

The art of Ajanta is at least 1,500 years old at a time Europe was entering into the dark ages. The Indus Valley civilisation proves that we were a most advanced people 5,000 years ago.

I let him rest on his patriotic feelings because I belong to a different category of art critics.

Enthusiasm

The surroundings were dusty, crowded and cramped. I had to avoid people who almost knocked me down in my search for the old buildings of Lahore that Prof. Anwar had put on canvas. My Pakistani friend was disgusted but amazed at my enthusiasm.

A canal flowing through the new area and lined with blossoming trees was a breather for both of us. ‘I would not do this even to see a Picasso’, my friend said. I ignored her remark and pushed ourselves into the legendery city.

On the left bank of the river Ravi is situated the legendary city of Lahore whose never-ending charm still attracts tourists. I passed off as one of their kind in a salwar kameez. The weather was in a varying mood; pretty cold and the next moment awfully hot.

What attracted me to their buildings was the typical indigenous architecture that had remained intact. I saw a lot of character in them and realised that this old allure was the foremost attraction that made Prof. Anwar to paint them on canvas.

Singing birds

The old city had always overflowed with children, men and women equally shared with buffaloes, horses, cattle and goats for sacrifice. There were also the singing birds that never escaped the eyes of the artist. The walled city is a monument with its tightly-knit atmosphere constituted by the multi-storeyed houses built over the smaller areas to accommodate the growing population.

That Lahore is best seen by pedestrians was one reason I opted to walk with a grumbling friend trailing behind me. She had pulled a kerchief over her nose while it mattered little to me what I was breathing. I loved the smell of jasmine floating in the air and the flowers some women had on their hair.

They were the younger ones, perhaps college students. I could not imagine how many times Prof. Anwar would have passed through these passages each time he put on a canvas for a new painting.


The Golden Mosque, 28 x 39. Medium-water Colour. In the collection of A. Jezierski, USA.

All his paintings were marvellous. The brush would never have strayed nor the hand shaky. The brushstrokes were firm and powerful all the way up and down and across the canvas. He was a small man with a large canvas before him.

It mattered little as he stretched himself even to reach the top edge of his painting. Though it looked painful to me, he was much at ease. Of course, he had long hands compared with his body.

All paintings bore his special identity. Ancient Mohgul buildings, courtyards all jampacked, one leaning against the other without a breather against the blue heavens of Lahore. His skies are always blue and the evenings pink. Neither one mixed with the other. The old complemented each other with their architectural balconies and arches. It was laden with effectiveness.

Minarets

I came face to face with the shimmering minarets of the famous Wazir Khan's Mosque with the universally famous tile mosaics depicting floral patterns that is a clear landmark that guide people through the lane. The street leads into an open area with three huge and ribbed gilt domes of the Sonehri Mosque.

This opens to the Arcadia of Lahore where the river Ravi is seen with boats and picnicking parties. Farther are the white marble minarets of Emperor Jahangir's tomb standing against countless date palms.

The countless rich heritage and the baroque garden extravaganzas that embrace the buildings are so magical and eternal that Prof. Anwar cannot think of any thing superior for him to paint.

Prof. Ajaz Anwar is the son of the famous Anwar Cartoonist, born in Ludhianu in 1946. He earned a first class along with a Gold Medal. He obtained his Ph.D in Muslim Art, from Istanbul, Turkey. He followed a course on conservation of cultural property in UNESCO, Rome in 1977. He was a research scholar from 1972 to 78 and a senior lecturer at Makerer University, Kampala in Uganda from 1978-79.

He was awarded the President's Medal for Pride of Performance in Painting in 1997. He has exhibited his paintings at Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Ankara, Istanbul, Rome, Kampala, Chandigarh, New Delhi and London.

The only reason for painting buildings comes from his childhood training in Italy. From his adolescence he has seen the lanes in Qila Gujjar Singhe and the Old City. It is a sort of a return to his native land and believed it was the beginning. He felt that there was a lot to be done as these buildings were disappearing and felt that he was losing a race when an old building was pulled down.

To save their grandeur and magnificent history, he was determined to put on canvas for the future generation. And this patriotic dream earned him the President's award which he richly deserved.

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