Thursday, June 5, 2014


The 70’s and 80’s were a time in Pakistan when towns, neighborhoods and streets still had anglicized names. Lyallpur and Montgomery and Campbellpur were part of our geographical vocabulary, until they were changed . Some names were so integrated into the vernacular that, despite a concentrated effort to rename all such towns, Abbottabad and Jacobabad have escaped change to this day.

In Quetta, my hometown, we had our fair share of streets named after the British. We spent our lives going up and down Anscomb road, McConaughey Road, Mission Road or Ingalls Road. One of the most beautiful thoroughfares in Quetta was named Lytton road. This was the main street that stretched from the Cantonment to Saryab. It was wide and lined with majestic Quetta Ash trees. In local speak we referred to it as “thandi sarak” or the cool road..this was a reference to its temperature and not its pop culture status though, I would argue, that it was a pretty cool road in that aspect too.

We never once questioned the identity of the people who had their names associated with our homes. Were they heroes in our history? Were they valiant warriors who had helped us gain our freedom?  If they were such great figures deserving homage decades after we had won our freedom from their countrymen, why had we not read about them in our history lessons? I decided to start with Lytton. I figured that he must be a great figure in Indo-Pak history to warrant the honor of having our beautiful road named after him. As I researched him I found out that, indeed, he was a prominent figure in the history of our region..just not in the way I had anticipated.

Robert Bulwer-Lytton, the first Earl of Lytton, was the Viceroy of India from 1876-1880. He was in charge during the great famine of 1876 which is said to have claimed 10 million lives, according to some estimates. Lytton, during this trying time, arranged for an Imperial Assemblage which was to proclaim Queen Victoria as the Empress of India. Historians have documented that during these preparations, “nothing was too rich..nothing was too costly.”  At the climax of these celebrations, a feast was arranged for over sixty thousand friends of the Raj. It is estimated that just during the time of this feast, 100,000 Indians died of starvation.  To add to his impressive resume of heartless governance, he also oversaw the export of a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat to England during this time. Some historians have rightfully called Lytton the Nero of India. 

Even though the name “Lytton Road” was eventually changed to “Zarghoon Road”, Lytton was not a man who should have been celebrated for a second let alone decades after we gained independence. We shamed our struggles and our sacrifices because we did not engage in the study of our history. Our curriculum taught us about our heroes but ignored to teach us about the villains of the subcontinents. Instead of reviling them for their atrocities, we celebrated them for years. That, to me, is an egregious insult to every citizen of the subcontinent. We need to rethink our way forward. This is but one example that illustrates the gaps in our education. If we are not aware of our past how can we plan our future?