VIEW: The Pakistan Arts Council that was — Part III —Naeem Tahir - Saturday, April 30, 2011

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Who would be the architect? A detailed discussion took place in a meeting of the board of governors and finally the decision was made in favour of the architect from Lahore who was young and would put his heart and soul into the project: Nayyar Ali Dada. The board had, once again, put its faith in the youth

As the President of Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan and his entourage arrived at Alhamra, his car stopped at the porch and the Chairman of the Pakistan Arts Council, Justice S A Rahman, received him. The board of governors was introduced and, in the end, I, as the Secretary of the Council, shook his hand and held it! He smiled, a bit surprised, and I quickly asked, “Sir may I have a couple of minutes and show you the model of our new building displayed for you right here?” He replied: “Yes, yes, Musa let us look at it.” General Musa replied: “Sir!” We took a couple of steps towards the model and I blasted out a quick brief ending with a request for funds! The president smiled, looked at General Musa and said, “Musa, we must help them.” General Musa said, “Yes sir, we will.” I looked at Tajammal and he winked. The deed was done and we escorted the president to the main arena where the ambassador of the USSR was waiting.

Overnight, a provision of the first installment of funds amounting to one million was added to the provincial budget! There is a memorable photographic record of this moment captured by the internationally known photographer Zaffar Ahmed. It was a happy moment, but there were many ups and downs waiting ahead.

The hope of finding funds and actually realising the dream were heightened. For proper planning, the actual land available to the Council had to be clearly defined. The gutter running through Alhamra’s land had to be stopped. I closed it and forced the local administration to provide a decent alternative to the hutments at the back. I requested the neighbours, which was a carpet factory, to stop draining their acid based waste water (from carpet washing) on Alhamra’s premises. They were there courtesy Mr Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Mr Faiz had a large heart. The next thing was to own the land legally and to have perpetual rights on it for the Council. During that period of time, Sheikh Manzoor Ellahi (who became the Punjab CM some years later) was the Chief Settlement Commissioner. Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj called him up and set up an appointment for me. Sheikh sahib was very helpful and agreed to give Alhamra permanent ownership of the land on payment of the reserve price. If I remember correctly, it was about Rs 325,000. This was a lot of money at that time. Presently, it may be equal to billions! The Council did not have enough money so the shortage was made up by other members and through donations. The money was paid to the government via a permanent transfer deed and we had to wait for due process to be completed. However, it was signed and my signatures were recorded on appropriate documents on behalf of the Council.

Now the key question had to be solved. Who would be the architect? Options were considered and Murat Khan, the Turkish architect who designed the Minar-e-Pakistan was made a potential possibility. I talked to Mr Shakir Ali who was the principal of the National College of Arts (NCA) because NCA had a department of architecture. He recommended Nayyar Ali Dada who had just graduated. A detailed discussion took place in a meeting of the board of governors and finally the decision was made in favour of the architect from Lahore who was young and would put his heart and soul into the project: Nayyar Ali Dada. The board had, once again, put its faith in the youth.

By this time, the constitution of the Council was modified and three board members were elected from the general membership. If I recall correctly, Syed Babar Ali and also Mr Ashfaq Ahmed were members of the board and, possibly, Yasmin Tahir was also elected.

I handed over the technical brief and requirements in the form of a booklet to Nayyar and he got to work. Since the designing of the complete project was to be time consuming and the actual start of construction would have procedural steps, it was decided to prepare a celebrative small memorial with a ‘foundation stone’. It was designed to be placed in a small wall with a small stage around it in the central lawn. This stage was to be used for inaugural ceremonies and talks. Nayyar designed it in consultation with Syed Babar Ali and myself. The actual foundation stone and the writing on it was to be done by Saeed Akhter, a young artist at that time and an icon now. He decided to make an unusual ‘stone’. He wanted the black, hard stone ‘Sang-e-Moosa’, then cut a smaller space into it, to be fitted with a less than one foot rectangle of marble with a calligraphic inlay of ‘Sang-e-Bunyad’ (foundation stone). Artistic, but hard to make. The consideration behind this design was that it was to be laid by General Musa — therefore the use of Sang-e-Moosa — and since a large stone is hard to handle, a small piece of white marble was to be fitted into it for convenience and aesthetic attraction. The date of this foundation stone laying ceremony was fixed for February 26, 1969. All preparations were complete. The platform and walls were ready and the stone was to be placed by the governor in two days time, so we needed to set up the Sang-e-Moosa wall immediately. Saeed Akhter and I went to collect the finished stone from the shop near Shah Alami Gate and discovered to our horror that a speeding truck had rammed into the shop the night before and the foundation stone was lying in pieces! How we got it prepared and laid the foundation stone is another story but it was finally laid.

What happened afterwards? Why were the funds promised by the president and governor not released? Who made the foundation stone disappear? This story still needs to be told.

(To be continued)

The writer is a culture and media management specialist, a researcher, author, director and actor

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