Zahid Akkasi took up journalism as his career and as incharge of the magazine for daily Musawat and later as editor of the Lahore Development Authority’s Sheher Lahore combed the city of Lahore, gathering information about its past and present by coming in contact with many who loved the city. He also read what others before his times had documented and realised that he was sufficiently qualified to write about the city that exists more as a make-belief that an actual cityscape.
Zahid Akkasi was only eight when he landed in Lahore on September 1947 at the Walton Railway Station from East Punjab. It was the first train that had arrived without becoming the target of arson and bloodletting. In other incidents, his sister-in-law had been abducted, his uncle injured and niece killed. Like million others, he had travelled through blood and gore and was lucky to survive but the scene was generally very appalling.
According to Humayun Adeeb who was heading the Muslim League National Guard and had later become the editor of Nawa-e-Waqt, even Quaid-e-Azam when visiting the Walton Refugee Camp had said that had he known that five hundred thousand Muslims would be massacred and thousands of women would be raped or abducted he would not have made this call for a separate country.
The moment Akkasi landed, they were robbed of whatever little that they had brought with them. Since a brother of his was in Lahore as news editor of the Azad, a Majlis Ahrar newspaper, the family would sleep in the office of the newspaper but later moved to a ramshackle house in Shamnagar. He was admitted to a school near Jain Mandir and like all others he adjusted to the new reality and struggled to make a home with whatever resources at hand.
He found journalism to be a lifelong profession. It was basically film journalism that he was first introduced to and then he was exposed to the larger canvas of other activities, generally the social and cultural mores of society.
Most of the political meetings by the Muslim League were held in the University Ground and he was witness as a child to one by Quaid-e-Azam and then a year later by Liaquat Ali Khan when he showed his clenched fist mukka for the first time to the Indians. When the meeting was over Liaquat Ali Khan went to visit the office of Muslim League on Mcleod Road As a preteen Zahid Akkasi had bolted through the legs of the grownups to be on the scene when this happened. Liaquat Ali Khan was asked by a young F. E. Chaudhry to pose with his “mukka” once again for no proper photograph had been taken of the actual “mukka” in the jalsa. He did just that and the same photograph was carried by all the newspapers the next morning.
Initially, the Independence Day was celebrated on the August 15, the actual date of the creation of Pakistan but then it was decided it should be celebrated on the fourteenth, probably to distinguish from the India’s day of independence. When Iskander Mirza promulgated the 1956 constitution it was announced that March 23, the first day of the jalsa in which the Pakistan Resolution was passed in 1940, was to be the Republic Day.
But when Ayub Khan took over it was changed to Pakistan Day and in 1959 when this day was being celebrated in the Municipal Council Lahore it was announced by the administrator Malik Abdul Latif that a yadgaar will be constructed there. Some tax was levied on the cinema tickets and funds were collected but instead of 1965 when it was scheduled to be completed the construction dragged on for a while for paucity of funds. In 1966 Manto Park was renamed as Iqbal Park by West Pakistan Governor Musa Khan. Minar-e-Pakistan was finally completed but according to Zahid Akkasi it was never formally inaugurated.
Since Zahid Akkasi had show-business as his beat he was familiar with the film scene. In 1935 on the silver Jubilee of the George the 5th, a big exhibition was organised and that also included the Royal Circus. Since then the place came to be known as Royal Park. Only five or six buildings were owned by the Muslim, the rest were all by non Muslims. Lakshmi Chowk was named after the building that was bought and renovated by the Lakshmi Insurance Company.
Later the same company built the Lakshmi Mansion on the Mall and one such building also exists in Karachi. The other buildings in the Chowk were Geeta Bhawan, Bristol Hotel, West Indian Hotel, Mansarovar Hotel and one Mamoo ka Hotel that catered to the poorer clientele.
Cinema houses like Capitol, Nishat, Palace, Odean, Ritz, Parbhat (Sanobar /Empire) Jaswant (Moonlight) adorned the area. And when the film business was at its climax all the major film companies had their offices here. It became the centre of film business in North India. Socially it was a very active place and there were a number of bars like Bristol and West Indies and film people came in tongas, a few came in cars and from there went to the studios for work. On these tea tables and bear mugs films were made, unmade, remade, million won and lost with every sip. The place was a hub of gossip and backbiting.
Film posters were also big business and Azad, a graduate of the Mayo School, specialised in poster design of the films. Those who followed him in this field were Moojad, Akhtar, Manzoor and S. Khan.
The book includes many such anecdotes and the articles by others like A Hameed, Khalid Mehmood, Hameed Akhtar, Majeed Sheikh, Professor Randhir Singh, Farhat Saeed, Mian Ijaz Ahmed, Dr Kanwal Feroz, Farooq Qaiser, and Abdul Qadir Hasan.
Despite all the change and upheavals there is a constant as well. Since Lakshmi Chowk was in depression, a sewerage line was laid linking it to Shamnagar where a pumping engine was installed to throw water into the River Ravi. Shamnagar was all open and agriculture took place there. But massive building activity, exponential expansion of the city, wading in it by the high and mighty and many drainage schemes later the water still ponds in that depression and the problem has not gone away.