«Lahore: “The City of Dreadful Night” As it is the case with most ancient cities in the world, the historical and geographic image of Lahore has ...»
DR ANNA SUVOROVA (Moscow)
If I had read Lahaur Ka Ek Vaqi‘a by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi before this text was written
I would have certainly included this excellent and mysterious short story in my book
―Lahore: Topophilia of Space and Place‖ as the cultural and phenomenological image of
Lahore re-created here is one of the best in the Urdu fiction. Anyway better late than never.
Now I have a privilege to dedicate this chapter of the book to Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
Sahib and congratulate him with his birthday and the highest civil award of Pakistan conferred on him.
Lahore: “The City of Dreadful Night” As it is the case with most ancient cities in the world, the historical and geographic image of Lahore has been taken up by literature and the fine arts, which have turned it into an artistic image. The artistic image of a city greatly augments the general capacity of topophilia to reveal the emotional connection between man and the surrounding environment and efface the phenomenological barriers between the subject and the object.
Reflection and dream, allusions and associations, imagination and invention that are employed by creative thought considerably transform and expand the chorological notions of a city.
I have already mentioned that Lahore made its way into Western literature as far back as the 17th century in John Milton's work. In the national literary tradition (first in Urdu and then in Punjabi), the artistic image of Lahore took shape only in the late 19th century.
Naturally, these ―inner‖ and ―outer‖ images of the city differ greatly. The latter are marked by exoticism, pronounced idealization, or, in contrast, demonization, while reflection and associativity predominate in the former.
The first "outer" artistic image of Lahore appears in the poem Lalla Rookh (1817) by Thomas Moore, who paints an exotic oriental picture in the spirit of European
romanticism. The main plot line of Moore's poem has a pseudo-historic ―Mughal colour‖:
the poem's heroine is said to be Emperor Aurangzeb's daughter,1 who makes a long voyage from Delhi to Kashmir to marry the son of the ruler of Bukhara. It is known that the historical Aurangzeb-Alamgir had five daughters from three official wives2 and that none of them was called Lalla Rookh or was the daughter-in-law of the Khan of Bukhara. On its way to Kashmir, the luxurious imperial procession makes a stop in Lahore in keeping with traditional Mughal practice. Moore gives here a brief description of the city, parts of which I have already cited in Chapter 4 in connection with Shalimar.
This description greatly resembles the pictures of ceremonial processions that were loci communes in Persian and Urdu tales: "The arrival of the young Bride at Lahore was celebrated in the most enthusiastic manner. The Rajas and Omras in her train, who had kept at a certain distance during the journey and never encamped nearer to the Princess than was strictly necessary for her safeguard here rode in splendid cavalcade through the city and distributed the most costly presents to the crowd. Engines were erected in all the squares which cast forth showers of confectionery among the people, while the artisans in chariots adorned with tinsel and flying streamers exhibited the badges of their respective trades through the streets. Such brilliant displays of life and pageantry among the palaces and domes and gilded minarets of Lahore made the city altogether like a place of enchantment; - particularly on the day when Lalla Rookh set out again upon her journey, when she was accompanied to the gate by all the fairest and richest of the nobility and rode along between ranks of beautiful boys and girls who kept waving over their heads plates of gold and silver flowers, and then threw them around to be gathered by the populace.".3 In this excerpt, the city is depicted as a procession. No specific or characteristic features of Lahore occur here, because palaces, domes, and gilded minarets were part of the standard image of every eastern Muslim city among Europeans in the 19th century and later.
Nevertheless, as he says in his notes to the poem, Moore made use of available historical and literary sources, even if they did not have a direct bearing to Lahore. For example, he got his information about the custom of scattering gold and silver flowers as alms from the English translation of Ferishta‘s chronicle published by Jonathan Scott in 1794.4 In the corresponding note, Moore writes, ―Or rather," says Scott, upon the passage of Ferishta, from which this is taken, "small coins, stamped with the figure of a flower. They are still used in India to distribute in charity and on occasion thrown by the purse-bearers of the great among the populace.‖5 Speaking about ―chariots adorned with tinsel and flying streamers‖, Moore refers to John Hoppner‘s popular book Oriental Tales (1805), which was a digest of tales from the Persian storybook Parrot’s Tales (Tuti-namah) and the Sanskrit Hitopadesha.6 Thomas Moore also mentions certain details about the geographic location of Lahore – in particular, the surroundings of the Grand Trunk Road. He writes further on, ―Fadladeen felt the loss of the good road they had hitherto travelled and was very near cursing Jehan-Guire (of blessed memory!) for not having continued his delectable alley of trees a least as far as the mountains of Cashmere.‖7 Moore got his information about the Imperial Highway from Bernier‘s book,8 which he cites in his notes: ―The fine road made by the Emperor JehanGuire from Agra to Lahore, planted with trees on each side. This road is 250 leagues in length. It has "little pyramids or turrets," says Bernier, "erected every half league, to mark the ways, and frequent wells to afford drink to passengers, and to water the young trees."‖9.
Here Bernier makes a mistake that Moore unwittingly makes his hero (the courtier Fadladeen) repeat: the "little pyramids or turrets‖ (kos-minars) that were located approximately three kilometers apart on the Grand Trunk Road appeared during the reign of Akbar rather than Jahangir. One of these kos-minars still preserved near the tomb of ‗Ali Mardan Khan is a tourist attraction of Lahore.
Curiously, Moore‘s description of Lahore as a procession coincides with the image of Lahore in the drawings of Moore‘s younger contemporary, the Russian traveler and artist A. Soltykoff (1806-1859). Soltykoff visited Lahore in 1842 and made several sketches, of which Lahore Street housed in the British Library is of particular interest. A cavalcade with horsemen and mounted elephants quickly moving down a narrow street to a gate arch takes up the greater part of the sheet. A young person of noble descent leaning on a bow sits on the biggest elephant; he is apparently on his way to hunt. His mounted companions are armed to the teeth with bows, sabers, and spears. In the background, one sees a long building supposedly in the Lahore style with scalloped balconies and wide windows (which never existed in Lahore), in which viewers stand, including barefaced female dancers in whom Soltykoff took a particular interest. Local colour is also provided by a group in the foreground on the left consisting of two bare-chested dervishes and a bearded akali with a lance in his hand.
The following letter by Soltykoff can be considered as a commentary of sorts to his drawing: ―You mount an elephant and make your way with difficulty through the narrow streets, constantly waiting for one of the rickety five-storey buildings to fall on you together with dwellers and balconies. On both sides … loiter creatures without clothing or in rags and with long beards: loathsome eunuchs and fakirs covered with ashes … Everywhere you hear the sound of knocking, roaring, and weapons clanking … Yet, if you look up, you see in the windows and on the balconies the impudent gazes of venal beauties and dancers covered with gems and gold.‖10 Without a doubt, the frame tale of Lalla Rookh, which repeatedly mentions Lahore and other Indian toponyms, was neither central to Thomas Moore‘s conception nor the main merit of his work. The tale of a ―Mughal‖ princess who falls in love with the poet Feramors on the way to her wedding and finds out upon her arrival that he is in fact her groom, the Bukhara prince Aliris, is nothing but a frame in prose for four famous interpolated poems: The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan, Paradise and the Peri, The FireWorshipers, and The Light of the Harem. These poems made Moore famous and were often imitated and paraphrased.
The translations of Thomas Moore‘s poems by Russian writers stimulated the development of Orientalism in Russia and the rise of interest in Eastern literature among readers.
Moore‘s work had a marked influence on Russian poetry in the 1820s and 1830s. Russian poets most often borrowed from the Irish Melodies and Lalla Rookh. Thomas Moore‘s works penetrated into the awareness of Russian readers where they occupied a special niche thanks to the rise of the Romantic Movement, the strengthening of Oriental trends in literature, and the reception of Moore‘s writings in a more general context together with the work of his friend and great contemporary George Gordon Byron.
Orientalism marked the development not only of literature but also of music, leading to the appearance in the mid-19th century of operas on Eastern and, in particular, Indian themes.
The forerunner of this trend in European opera was Mozart‘s Singspiel The Abduction from the Seraglio (1782), which is set in Ottoman Turkey. Oriental exoticism readily penetrated into opera on account of this genre‘s predilection for exotic scenery, vivid costumes, and pompous spectacle. Model Italian ―exotic‖ operas were Domenico Cimarosa‘s Cleopatra and The Sun Virgin (1789) and Gaspare Spontini‘s Nurmahal or the Rose Festival in Kashmir (1829) based on Lalla Rookh.
However, the real founder of Orientalism in opera was the Frenchman Félicien David with his operas The Pearl of Brazil (1851) and Lalla Rookh (1862). They were followed by such classic works as Charles Gounod‘s The Queen of Sheba (1862), Georges Bizet‘s The Pearl Fishers (1863), Giacomo Meyerbeer‘s The African Woman (1865), Giuseppe Verdi‘s Aida (1871), and Léo Delibes‘ Lakmé (1883). This list also includes Jules Massenet‘s The King of Lahore (Le roi de Lahore), which offers a fantastic and exotic image of Lahore.
The premiere of this opera took place in April 1877 at the Opéra Garnier (Grand Opéra) and was immediately acclaimed not only by the public at large but also by Massenet‘s most exacting musical colleagues. Shortly after the premiere, Massenet was appointed professor at the Paris Conservatory and elected to the Institut Français. This work made Massenet world famous as an operatic composer. After Bizet‘s early death in 1875, Massenet became the doyen of French composers.
In The King of Lahore, Massenet made use of the music of his earlier unfinished or unperformed works, especially his opera The Cup of the King of Thule, which had never been staged. The King of Lahore was performed at opera theatres in many European and American cities, including St. Petersburg in 1882. Pyotr Tchaikovsky was very impressed by Massenet‘s music and wrote to his brother Modest, ―I play excerpts from The King of Lahore with immense pleasure. How much taste and chic these Frenchmen have! I recommend that you get yourself a copy.‖11 Nevertheless, The King of Lahore still bears the mark of the style of the ―grand opera‖ – a traditional genre of French musical theatre that had largely worn itself out by that time. This explains why music lovers today chiefly know Massenet for his Manon and Werther, in which he shows himself as a lyric composer that gives an intimate and chamber interpretation of the subject matter and a development of romantic female images.12 The plot of The King of Lahore (libretto by Louis Gallet) is set in the 11th century during the conquest of Mahmud Ghaznawi. At the same time, the plot makes use of many stereotyped and banal turns and anachronisms.
The first act of The King of Lahore opens with a scene before the Temple of god Indra in Lahore. People gather next to the temple to beseech Indra to save the city from the Muslim invasion led by Mahmud. Then Indra‘s head priest with the non-Hindu name of Timur and the head minister Scindia enter the stage. As we know, Scindia (also transcribed as Sindhia or Shinde) was the name of the Marathi dynasty that ruled the Gwalior Principality in the 18th and 19th centuries and had nothing to do with Lahore. This Scindia, who somehow appears in 11th-century Lahore, is the opera‘s chief villain. He is in love with his niece Sita (the only character in the opera with a ―correct‖ Hindu name), a priestess of Indra who has taken vows of chastity (this motif mostly likely appeared under the influence of Spontini‘s opera The Vestal Virgin, 1807, that was fashionable at the time). Scindia wants to marry Sita, yet her vow can be annulled only by the king of Lahore, who bears, for some reason, the Arabic name Alim (‗knowing, educated‘). However, Sita rejects Scindia‘s proposal, as she and Alim love each other and meet secretly.
The second act opens with a scene in the Thol (Thal) Desert, where the royal camp has been pitched. Sita is anxiously waiting for Alim to return from the battlefield. She is consoled by the young servant of King called Kaled (more likely, ―Khalid‖ – yet another Arabic name), who is sung by a mezzo-soprano. Alim, covered with blood, appears: he has been treacherously wounded by Scindia. Alim curses the traitor and dies. Scindia declares himself to be king and, taking the lamenting Sita prisoner, leaves for Lahore.
The opera‘s third act brings the viewer to Indra‘s paradise, where celestial maidens (apsaras) sing and dance. According to Hindu belief, the heavens or Indra‘s paradise (Svarga) are located on Mount Meru. Brave warriors that die a glorious death in honest combat come to Svarga. They take pleasure in the singing of celestial beauties and savour heavenly food. Alim appears and begs Indra to let him return to earth to Sita. Indra is touched by his love and allows him to go on two conditions: Alim will return to earth as a beggar instead of a king and his life will depend on the life of Sita. If she dies, he will die, too.