Book review: “Lahore -Topohilia of Space and Place”

There is no city like Lahore/ Everything that is wrong is set right here

It is a mystery as to how a layered city such as Lahore has attracted little scholarship in the past few decades. This is why Anna Suvorova’s book “Lahore -Topohilia of Space and Place” is a major book of our times. Suvorova is a distinguished scholar and currently heads the Department of Asian Literatures at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences. Her earlier works on Urdu, Sufism and numerous translations of Urdu prose works are well known. This book, while a work of formidable scholarship is distinctive for its personal dimension. Like countless others, Suvorova is an ardent admirer of Lahore and tells us why Lahore has survived historical vicissitudes and also why its memory is so lovingly remembered, invoked and reproduced.

Lahore – Topohilia of Space and Place
Anna Suvorova
Hardback, Nov 2011
Price: Rs.925.00
Oxford University Press, Pakistan

LahorebookSuvorova begins the book following the style of an oracle and explains why she chose to explore the topophilia, literally ‘love for a place’. This apparently simple term, as we finish the first very chapter, becomes a kaleidoscope to view the boundless affection that many across the globe experience vis a vis Lahore. Suvorova is one of such Lahore-philes, if one can be excused for inventing such a term. Her fascination for Lahore, as it emerges in her book, is evident throughout the narrative as she takes the reader into the labyrinth of history, cultural memory, urban geography, and sociology of the city.

This affinity for an intriguing city therefore places Suvorova in a unique position as she documents Lahore’s myriad facets, not as an orientalist outsider, but asan enchanted scholar and a traveller who has developed an uncanny empathy with the topophilia that defines Lahore as a construct of memory and consciousness. Thus follows an eclectic narrative employing an interdisciplinary approach, which successfully attempts to undo the academic tone while avoiding populist, market driven cliches that comprise many contemporary travel accounts. She describes this rather well: “When we visit Oslo, Dublin, Paris, or Lahore it is difficult, at first, to separate the living images of the new places from the “mental maps” that we have drawn up in the footsteps, and along the routes, of literary characters…It is topophilia that overcomes our eternal fear of space, and emotion dumbness and gives us a living feeling of longing to a place- the sense of city.”

The book is divided into eight chapters, which tread on the various cultural nodes of Lahore’s past and present. The epilogue entitled Lahore vs. Lucknow, is an outstanding inquiry on these two cities famed for their topophilia. Suvorova tells us how Lahore’s topophilia is different from Lucknow. She is also quick to note the similarities between these two great cities, but she admits that she fell inlove with Lahore in 1997 during her first visit despite her intense familiarity with Lucknow. […]