The tall trees that still overlook the ground remind us of the importance of our primordial relationship with nature that modernity continues to alter each passing day. Blake put it well: But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. Trees symbolise both history and the future by promising regeneration. The Lawrence Gardens maintain a rich collection of rare trees and shrubs, both indigenous and exotic, with more than 6,000 trees. The speaking banyans, rustic keekars and shishams , mystical pipals , quiet oaks and the haunting camphors constitute the universe of the Gardens. Easily noticeable amidst the trees are groups of vultures sunning themselves in their treetop roosts. Inspired by the setting, Bano Qudsia’s landmark novel Raja Gidh – the vulture king – has Lawrence Gardens at the centre of its bleak and puritan moral landscape.
Some years ago, again courtesy the inimitable Majid Sheikh, I learnt that while the British forces were camped on the grounds of the Lawrence Gardens, the memsahibs and their obedient staff – faced with the shortage of rations – invented the famous ‘club sandwich.’ Memsahibs had to do something with the limited supply of foodstuffs and ordered the minions to layer ingredients between slices of bread. The club sandwich is now widely available across South Asia and beyond; and by this account it owes its origin to Lahore and these Gardens.
The Lawrence Gardens also nurture two fabulous, manmade “hills,” which were probably brick kilns in the Mughal era. The famous principal of Lahore’s Government College, Mr Sondhi, contributed to the creation of an open air theatre where performances by the College dramatic society were often held. Sadequain frequented this place for a few years in the 1970s, in order to paint some of his great works. For decades, it has been the venue for the All Pakistan Music Conference, held in the crisp spring air and the chill of early winter. Roshan Ara’s voice and the ambience must have made the place truly surreal. With the passing away of the great patron of the Conference, the future of this event hangs in the balance. Classical music of the Lawrence aesthetic is vanishing from Pakistan at the speed of light. Another symbol of degeneration has been the fate of the cosmopolitan club within the Gardens, which had to shut down last year due to claimants feuding over its administration. It was re-opened and now, allegedly, is a gambling hideout.