Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Bowling Stone, Gymkhana Cricket Pavilion, Lahore

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In a quiet corner on the east side of what was then Lawrence Garden – now Bagh-e-Jinnah – hot air balloon enthusiasts of Victorian years gathered on Sundays to soar the skies. During the 1870s, ballooning gave way to cricket and by the end of the decade the ground became an exclusive venue for the game.

In keeping with the English cricketing tradition, a pavilion was required for the purpose. Civil engineer G. Stone, who was at this time involved in the design and construction of a number of government buildings in Lahore, was called upon to design the cricket pavilion. Clearly a man who did not see eye-to-eye with promoters of the vernacular arts such as Lockwood Kipling, whose contemporary he was, Stone was a strait-jacketed English traditionalist.

The building he completed in 1880 was therefore right out of the English countryside. The brick and timber structure may have used locally produced bricks but the timber, all oak, was imported from the home country. Understandably, the gabled porch, pitched roof of red tiles, dormer windows and a high skylight crowning the top made the pavilion Stone’s signature creation.

One wonders how snooty Stone would have felt seeing local carpenters work the imported oak into window frames, pillars and the fine filigree of the porch he had designed. But the effect was, and remains, most pleasing. Even Stone could not have helped standing back to admire the craft of Lahori woodworkers.

Since its completion, the ground and pavilion have been regularly used for test and first class cricket. It is certainly this continued use and maintenance that keeps the structure in pristine condition even today.

In the 1980s, some restoration work was carried out on the pavilion. Thankfully, good sense prevailed and the building was not torn down – as was generally the practice in those days – to be replaced by another. Even so, the bright pink colouring of the roof tiles is set to something of a disadvantage to the dark green of the woodwork and the natural verdure surrounding the building.

An interesting footnote to the history of the cricket pavilion is the controversial belief that Ram Singh, a Kipling protégé, was the man behind its design. Those who maintain he was, marvel at the degree of Anglicisation of local architects. It may be that Singh, a carpenter’s apprentice before he was under Kipling’s tutelage, may have had something to do with the woodwork on the building. Over time, Singh’s engagement with the building became magnified, until his name replaced that of Stone in a somewhat recurrent error in Pakistan regarding the past.

Note: This story first appeared in Stones of Empire - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2013.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 09:27,


At 27 February 2013 at 19:56, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

I have spent many long afternoons sitting here contemplating life. Some peaceful place in crowdy Lahore.

At 3 March 2013 at 17:55, Anonymous M Behzad Jhatial said...

A comprehensive account.... well written.. would love to see more from you Sir...

At 13 September 2013 at 12:14, Anonymous Tariq Malik said...

I find it highly amusing how people tend to lay wholesome claims against their small contributions to a cause or project. It usually happens where the thing or monument has gained some national or historical significance. Everyone, no matter how remotely connected with the project, then starts projecting himself / herself as its sole designer-creator. Some people are essentially great boasters and they exaggerate out of habit; some do it out of genuine pride; and some few in a bid to take credit for self-promotion. Mostly, in my view, fall in the second category. I once met a laborer who had worked on Tarbela (dam) construction. He narrated his contribution in the following words: Aa Tarbela meray hutha'n da bunyiaa ae (this Tarbela dam was constructed by my own hands). Casual and boastful, yet innocent! 

Similarly, the other day a draftsman who moonlights as a small contractor and who I had hired for installing window grills at my house in Bahria Town, confided to me: Ae Baeriya sara mein design kar ka ditta ay Malk Riaz noo' (it was I who designed this whole Bahria Project for Malik Riaz). He then hastened to clarify: Sara idea ee mera see (the entire project was my brainchild). See? 

So in the pavilion's case too, it is just possible that Mr Ram Singh also acted in one of the above three ways. Except that his boast, claim, or whisper was picked up by the winds (or minions) and thus carried away to the annals of history. 

At 13 September 2013 at 12:51, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Very astute observation. Though, it must be said, that Bhai Ram Singh did turn out as a great architect in the end. However, to credit him with this when he was still a student is a bit far-fetched.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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