Lahore Lahore Hai: Bapsi Sidhwa and Mohsin Hamid’s City Fictions

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Publication details

Title of host publicationPostcolonial Urban Outcasts
DatePublished - 14 Oct 2016
Number of pages18
Place of PublicationNew York, NY
EditorsMadhurima Chakraborty, Umme Al-Wazedi
Original languageEnglish
ISBN (Print)978-1138677234


This chapter centres on the city as a simultaneously material and textualized space. It examines the fictional oeuvres of two authors from the Pakistani Punjab, Bapsi Sidhwa and Mohsin Hamid. I argue that their novels represent Lahore as a postcolonial megacity which is crucially important to the nation and the Punjab, and which interpenetrates with and is cross-fertilized by its Punjabi rural hinterland. In a section of his book Pakistan: A Hard Country entitled ‘Lahore, the Historic Capital’, Anatol Lieven mistakenly writes: ‘Pakistan is the heart, stomach and backbone of Pakistan. Indeed, in the view of many of its inhabitants, it is Pakistan’ (2011: 267). This tautological but revealing substitution of ‘Pakistan’ for ‘Lahore’ chimes with the saying Lahoris use, almost shruggingly, to emphasize their city’s distinctiveness: Lahore Lahore hai (Lahore is Lahore). The northeastern city is the cultural heartland of the country, with a detailed recorded history going back to the tenth century CE, and a much longer oral, cultural and communitarian presence. Its economic powerhouse status and the hold it has on the Pakistani imagination, particularly through the movies of Lollywood (the nation’s film industry, based in Lahore), have also meant large-scale migration from the rural areas to Punjab’s capital in order to find work.

In illustrating the importance of Lahore to the Pakistani nation, I focus on two central loci in the city as depicted in the novels: the red light district (Heera Mandi) and the nearby mosque (Badshahi Masjid). Examining literary representations of the heterogeneous nature of the people who congregate in these two very different areas enables exploration of the metropole/hinterland dynamic in West Punjab. The red light district is very near the Minar-e-Pakistan, a tower built in the 1960s to commemorate the 1940 Lahore Resolution, and adjacent to Lahore’s most famous landmark, the enormous Mughal mosque, Badshahi Masjid. Other nearby Mughal sites include Anarkali Bazaar, Shalimar Gardens and Jehangir’s Mausoleum. By highlighting the diversity and history of this district, I suggest that Heera Mandi can be read a microcosm of the city as a whole, and therefore of the Punjab more broadly, just as Lahore may in some ways be read as the nation in miniature. Yet, unsurprisingly, few in Pakistan are willing to recognize the ‘female street’ (Sidhwa [1983] 2008: 60) of Heera Mandi as a touchstone for the Fatherland (Saeed: 2002: vii). In the red light district binaries are broken down, given the contiguity of the nearby Badshahi Mosque and also given the professed religiosity of many of the area’s ‘urban outcasts’: Shi’a sex workers. The authors’ representations of the heterogeneous nature of the people who congregate in the two very different areas of red light district and mosque allow them to explore the metropole/hinterland dynamic. References to the mosque also necessitate discussion of the important and changing role of religion – the majority faith Islam and, to a lesser extent, the minority creed of Zoroastrianism to which Sidhwa and the Parsi community belong – in contributing to post-partition Lahori identity.

Bibliographical note

© Routledge, 2016. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details

    Research areas

  • Lahore; Pakistani Punjab; Heera Mandi; Mohsin Hamid; Bapsi Sidhwa; Pakistani literature

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