Rashmi Talwar

Book release: When Germany and Pakistan met in India, Amritsar

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Amritsar: In an afternoon with a nip of a winter chill, at Majha House, a literary hub in Amritsar, German writer Bernhard Moestl and Pakistan writer Tahmina Aziz Ayub shared the stage for the release of their respective books in the border city. 

‘Shaolin: How to Win Without Fighting’, a book by Moestl, and ‘Forgotten Legacies of Sir Ganga Ram – 1851 – 1927’, by Ayub.

Majha House founder, Preeti Gill, introduced the two – “Bernhard and Tahmina are not just writers but explorers of different philosophies”.

While introducing his book, Moestl said, “As rightly pointed out, my book was an exploration of the ancient Shaolin way of life, insights, life skills, and philosophies to win in life.” And, opined, “We don’t need to win, but we do need to fight all through our lives.”

“Many people live all their lives trying to prove to other people that they are the best. But in the Shaolin way, we do not need to ‘prove’ that we are stronger than others; we just ‘know’, and in this realization lies the win! The question is not what we can do, but what we think we can do. It is all about harnessing and realizing the power of the mind,” he added. 

Differentiating between ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’ he said, “To me, ‘Mindfulness’ means being aware and conscious of actions and reactions. For instance, If a person does not act or react according to our expectations, that person controls us. We react to his behavior, because he presents himself as different from the ordinary, as someone mysterious. But if we rise above this ‘expectation’, then that is ‘meditation’.”

The second session saw Tahmina talking about her book “The forgotten legacies of Rai Bahadur Sir Ganga Ram 1851-1927,” about the person, beyond the renowned Ganga Ram Hospitals, which we in North India are familiar with.

“To me, Sir Ganga Ram, the iconic engineer, and philanthropist, is an unsung hero whose life and art need to be known widely,” the author opined. Delighted that her book was being first launched in Amritsar, even before its book launch in Lahore, her hometown, she said, “I have strong ties with Amritsar, as well as the protagonist of my book ‘Sir Ganga Ram’. Not many people know that Sir Ganga Ram’s early life was in Amritsar, living in the area of Katra Ahluwalia in the ancient walled city near the Golden Temple, as this Aggarwal family arrived from Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. After going to Lahore College, Ganga Ram did his engineering at Thomason Engineering College, Roorkee. His first major project was in Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan, and later went on to shape the architecture of the city of Lahore with his valuable additions.”

Sir Ganga Ram’s contributions spanned the field of architecture and women’s rights with a special focus on widows and empowerment. Sir Ganga Ram when talking about the importance of Lahore in his life had famously said, “It was a –‘love affair’!”- If Lahore changed him, he too shaped Lahore.

Among his many contributions was ‘DAV college in Lahore designed by him, as were Aitchison College, Hailey College of Commerce; he renovated Tollington Market, created Mayo School of Arts (now National College of Arts, Lahore), the General Post Office, Government College Chemical Laboratory. He built Lady Maynard Industrial School for Hindu Sikh women training, who faced financial difficulties. Along with iconic buildings, the Lahore museum, Ganga Ram Hospital, Lahore, presently a 700 bedded state of art low-cost Hospital, besides the General Post Office, Lahore among many others.

Extolling the philanthropist’s intellect Aziz says, “His intelligence and vision went beyond architecture, and dedicated to the cause of education, women elevation and empowerment. He is credited with much including the introduction of the subject of Commerce, as a full-fledged institute in Lahore.”

“There are many projects which are his ideas and we still practice them- such as carpet weaving, and furniture making for jail inmates. In addition, the novel concept of lift irrigation and hydel power, and enhancement of agro-industry, all came from his visionary mind. He also got made schools for children, homes for widows and destitute children,” she said in conclusion.

Significantly, the closest Sir Ganga Ram came to naming places after himself were the two Ganga Ram hospitals in Lahore and Delhi, and a model village ‘Gangapur’ with new irrigation techniques and a farming system. Along with this, he created a unique transport system of single horse-drawn twin-train carriages on a narrow rail track; carrying 60 people at a time, a matchless marvel carrying people from his village Gangapur, to Buchiana to and fro, for trade and other activities.

Along with an innovative hydel project for irrigation that turned acres of barren land into gold; Ganga Ram also founded Widow’s Marriage Association and according to his Biographer – Pyare Lal Bedi, is known to recite verses of Munajat-e-Bewgan – The widow’s prayer, a poem written by Urdu poet Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali and was moved to tears while reciting it.

As the evening fell into dusk readying for another golden dawn to usher in the energy of the magnificent man -Sir Ganga Ram, whose aura and gifts are remembered fondly long after his passing, on both sides of the partitioned borders, it gave a glimpse to the German foreigner about our neck of the woods, and the history of two nations painful divide.

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