In the street parallel to the one I live in is an old house with large trees that is called ‘Rabat-e-Khuld’. Loosely translated as a house in paradise, it’s a fascinating name in a locality where most houses are named after the owners or just have the address in numbers to identify them by.
Somewhere in Gulberg is another one named ‘Gul-e-Gulzar’. The famous literary duo, Ashfaq Ahmed and Bano Qudsia, built a house in Model Town and called it ‘Dastan Saraye’, almost an invitation to everyone to hear and narrate stories from and about the inmates. There’s another one called ‘Ren Basera’ on Habibullah Road.
For many years, I was intrigued by the word ‘Shukr’ (thankfulness) on one pillar of the gate of Shafqat Tanveer Mirza’s house in Defence. I wondered how the calm and rebellious spirit mingled and settled comfortably in his personality; so what then drove him to call his house ‘Shukr.’
I never had the courage to ask him this in his lifetime. Now that he is no more, his wife tells me it was named after his father Shukarullah Khan. It did seem like an anti-climax, after all these years.
For the Mirzas, how the ordinary people, especially the neighbours, read it was even more interesting. “They invariably thought we had put the sign ‘Shukr’ because we managed to build a house after all,” his wife laughingly recalls.
It is customary to name the house after your father, to seek your parents’ blessings, as some say, but also to put a seal of affirmation that the property belongs to its rightful inheritors. ‘Qadeer Khan Palace’ is a two-marla, four-storey residence of Khalil Ahmed in Krishan Nagar. It’s an old house that has been renovated to the last detail. “For us it’s a palace,” says Khalil, a man in his 40s.
“We are in the world because of our parents. That is why I did not name it after myself or my children. Through this, we remember our elders. We are grateful to have a roof over our heads; it gives us peaceful sleep,” says Khalil.
It turns out that people are not pushed to name their rented properties. One needs to own a house to be entitled to name it. It empowers them to not just build or buy it but to give it a name too, something which they were too powerless to do for themselves (most of us carry names that were given to us at birth by our elders).
Though the trend of naming houses — as a cottage, palace, manzil, mahal, villa or mansion, or even trying to be more creative about it — is on the decline, the older localities seemed to have more of them. “Syed Maratab Ali’s house on the Davis Road was called ‘Nasheman’ and Noorjehan and Shaukat Rizvi’s house ‘Sheesh Mahal’,” recalls Sarwat Ali, an old Lahori who has seen the city’s developments closely. “Maratab Ali’s new house in Gulberg is called Nasheman too.”
Some prominent people deemed it fit to name their residences after their family. “So, there was Nawab Palace in front of the Railway Headquarters. Then there were Mamdot House, Daultana House, Khar House etc.
“Not many people know there is Ganga Ram’s house called Ganga Ram Mansion, next to Urdu Bazar, which has turned into a cluster of shops selling laboratory equipment. And then there is Shadilal Building near Jain Mandir which is still intact [even though Jain Mandir isn’t],” Ali says.
It might seem a bit strange but quite a few properties in the city are named after women. ‘Fatima House’ is engraved in cement on one side of a two storeyed building, again in Krishan Nagar. The owner Ahmed Hasan who has rented the property and lives next door tells us he named it after his grandmother.
A glib talker, Hasan (who is nearly 70) has firm views on life and both genders. “Men are hypocritical and clever. Women are diplomatic, they divide and rule. They are basically insecure and try to cover it with diplomacy,” he says.
What about his grandmother Fatima, I am compelled to ask. “My grandmother was a great woman. She had no demands whatsoever.” (He had just said something about men being hypocritical!)
The Walled City boasts of the most interesting darwazas, kuchas and havelis with fancy names but it is difficult to spot ‘houses’ carrying names. Maybe it was not considered necessary in the communal culture of the old city. Or, maybe the trend picked up as people started moving out, building new houses and needed an identity of sorts for their living quarters.
Habiba, the daughter in law at Rabat-e-Khuld, says her mother-in-law Khalida named it in 1961, “She was a devoted housewife in a typical household and was just fascinated by the name. She wanted her house to be a reflection of the name.”