Sir Ganga Raam: A noble soul

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By Shahrukh Mehboob

Ganga Ram, a financially rich man, an architect, designer, and manager par excellence. His works stands tall even today in Pakistan and each monument speaks for his meticulousness and eye for detail. He was also called the ‘Architect of Modern Lahore’ and the ‘first modern South Asian philanthropist’ by the people. 

Lahore is a modern city loaded with a rich and interesting history. It has kept the marks of great men in its folds for centuries. Sir Ganga Ram was one such man who contributed incalculably to Lahore’s development as a modern city and we can safely say that during his time, Lahore saw a new style of architecture and zenith. 

Millions of people are familiar with his name because of the Ganga Ram Hospital located in Lahore. The dilemma is that hardly a few would know who he was. Sir Ganga Ram dedicated a major part of his life to Lahore as an engineer and a warmhearted charity donor. He has been credited for designing and building the General Post Office, Lahore Museum, Ravi Road House for the Disabled, Model Town, and several educational institutions. These include Aitchison College, Mayo School of Arts (now the NCA), Lady Mclagan Girls High School, the chemistry department of the Government College University, the Albert Victor wing of Mayo Hospital, Sir Ganga Ram High School (now Lahore College for Women), the Hailey College of Commerce and the Lady Maynard Industrial School. 

Among his other innovative contributions, Sir Ganga Ram’s ‘lift irrigation system’ was also important. He obtained 50,000 acres of barren land in the Montgomery district it on lease from the government and within three years converted that vast desert into smiling fields, irrigated by water, lifted by a hydroelectric plant and running through a thousand miles of irrigation channels, all constructed at his own cost. He also gave new waterworks which includes Renala Khurd Hydropower Plant, a small, low-head, run-of-the-river hydroelectric generation station with a 1.1 megawatts (1,500 hp) capacity, located at Renala Khurd, Okara District, North-East of Punjab province of Pakistan, on the flows of Lower Bari Doab Canal. 

In 1873, after a brief service in Punjab PWD, he devoted himself to practical farming. Gangapur village located at Jaranwala Nankana Road is known for portraying the vision of Sir Ganga Ram, which is now grappling with several problems due to constant negligence of the authorities, established this village on the land granted by the then Britain government. Gangapur was the first farm to introduce a mechanical reaper, riggers, harrows, scythes, sprays and a new type of gardening instruments were among the many modern designs and improved tools used. This was the biggest private enterprise of its kind, unknown and unthought-of in the country before. 

Ganga Ram Hospital

For twelve years he was the executive engineer of Lahore, a period which has been called as ‘Ganga Ram period of architecture’. Sir Ganga Ram earned millions most of which he gave to charity. In the words of Sir Malcolm Hailey, the governor of Punjab, “He won like a hero and gave like a Saint”. 

Two decades after Ganga Ram’s death, the subcontinent was partitioned into India and Pakistan, and with it came much bloodshed and riots on both sides of the border. Just like most other Hindus and Sikhs, Ganga Ram’s family too left Lahore to migrate to India. Famous Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto at that time wrote a satire on this blunt partition riot situation. He wrote a short story ‘Garland’ based on a true eye-witnessed incident in which the rioters in Lahore were trying to obliterate any memory of any Hindu in Lahore after Pakistan came into existence. 

In his story, an inflamed mob in Lahore, after attacking a residential area, turned to attack the statue of Sir Ganga Ram, the great Hindu philanthropist of Lahore. They first pelted the statue with stones, then smothered its face with coal tar. Then a man made a garland of old shoes and climbed up to put it around the neck of the statue. The police arrived and opened fire. Among the injured was the fellow with the garland of old shoes. As he fell, the mob shouted, “Let us rush him to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.” He was forgetting that ironically, they were trying to obliterate the memory of the very person who had founded the hospital where he was to be taken for saving his life. 

It is the strangest of comparisons: we have Sir Ganga Ram, larger than life, whose piety prompted him to hand over his ingenious lift irrigation system to the government on the condition that it should serve farmers at normal water rates, and who reserved great portions of his assets for the service of mankind. Humanity is not just a word but the basis of mankind. It is the basis and principle of every religion. 

On the other hand, we have men who do not tire of public proclamation of their godliness and make every effort for its exhibition. Yet these religious exhibitionists are the very people who would much sooner see Sir Ganga Ram’s legacy in their own pockets than in the service of their fellow man. Do we have a modern day Ganga Ram working so zealously for mankind? From 1947 to now, there is no government either democratic or militant which has contributed to Pakistan in substitution of the above-mentioned contributions of Sir Ganga Raam. However, there are exceptions like Abdul Sattar Edhi, Ruth Pfau, and many other foundations who have served and still serving mankind beyond religious and racial discrimination. The philosophy of Sir Ganga Ram’s life helped to build this narrative. He transformed the country into a proverb that it continues to be. The Lahore of today owes much more to Ganga Ram than it would care to admit. The above-mentioned contribution and his philosophy towards life can be erased but not forgotten, future generations can and will interrogate the past.

Humanity is not just a word but the basis of mankind.

(The writer is Legal Practitioner and columnist. He tweets @legal_bias and can be reached at shahrukhmehboob4@gmail.com.)