It might have been a coincidence or some stroke of luck that led me to a discovery I was least anticipating. Coming out of a meeting a bit early at the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) in Lahore I waited for my car to pick me up. Since my driver had already informed me that it’ll take him some time to arrive due to traffic congestion on The Mall, I thought of killing time by strolling in the driveway.
Wandering aimlessly around the building, a small garden caught my attention. As if blessed with a vision of peace in the hot and humid weather, my wan face lighted with a sudden smile as I walked towards the garden for some reprieve from the afternoon sun. “Yaad Bagh, Inaugurated by Syed Saleem Gilani, September 1976,” read the inaugural plaque, at the entrance of the garden. Inside the small space was an unkempt garden, with algae growing on the ground, and green mould spreading across the walls. The garden attracted dampness, and it is only fair to say that no money had been spent on them in many years except to shore up walls when serious problems occurred, or maybe not.
Oblivious to the historical significance of the garden I spent a couple of moments of solitude under the trees and left. There was something about the garden that kept bugging me that night. Its name had a certain type of melancholy attached to it, the name plaques of legendary singers, writers, and musicians around the small garden kept me thinking why were they even placed there?
The dismal state of the garden in the corner of the building must have a story — something stirring must have happened in there which would have given this small patch of land its name. This led to a series of phone calls to friends and acquaintances, maybe someone will enlighten me with something regarding the place— no one knew anything. I made one last call to a teacher of mine. “Ah, yes, I remember Yaad Bagh,” said a reassuring voice. Afzal Rehman was serving as a Senior Producer, Current Affairs, and participated to materialise the idea of the garden in the PBC premises.
According to him, the idea behind Yaad Bagh was to dedicate an area where legends would plant trees in their names for people to remember in years to come. It was conceived by Syed Saleem Gilani, the then Station Director of Radio Pakistan, Lahore. On September 7, 1976, the leading lights of Pakistan’s art scene gathered at the station and planted mahogany saplings in a plot right behind the recording studios.
“It was a sunny day, and the radio station had a festival-like buzz,” Rehman called. “Among those present were Madam Noor Jehan, Roshanara Begum, Munno Bhai, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Ustad Sadiq Ali Mando, Inayat Hussein Bhatti, Qari Ghulam Rasool, Farida Khanum, Mehdi Hassan, Saeen Akhtar, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, Saeen Akhtar, Hafeez Jullandri, Sufi Tabassum, Munawar Sultana, and Qari Ghulam Rasool. Every one took turns to plant a sapling in their name.”
Today, over forty years later, Yaad Bagh has lost its lustre as plants, bushes, and trees merged into each other. A patch of land which, according to Rehman, has not only be a victim of neglect. “Somehow, the vision of Saleem Gilani was never carried forward by those who came after him, leaving every employee of Radio Pakistan, Lahore, wondering if they would ever see the garden’s glory again. That day never came.”
He further said that the Radio Pakistan Headquarters in Islamabad “didn’t spend a penny on the construction of the garden; we had to bring free plant saplings from Bagh-e-Jinnah.”