Lahore is Lahore, Even if it is in Virginia!

lahoreYesterday my very dear FB friend Qaisar Janjua posted a picture on my page that gave an impression that a car in America might have a registration number of Lahore. That reminded me of an incident that happened in late 1990s when I was working with South Asia Partnership Pakistan. We were based in Lahore and used to communicate with our desk in Canada on regular basis. Email was there, but not that commonly used for official approvals etc. So snail mail was a routine. It happened so often that I did not get mail from Canadian colleagues which they would insist they had sent. The anomaly was resolved soon when we discovered that our mail was going to Lahore, Virginia instead of Lahore, Pakistan!

I was thrilled to know that. Tried to research a bit on it but could not find anything except that it was a small village comprising few households in Orange County. The village, it was told, was established by an American couple in 1860s who chose its name through random reading of a book on India, which was quite in news those days because of War of Independence fought by the natives against the English.

The story got Pakistani media’s attention in mid seventies when a Pakkistani American journalist, Mr. Akmal Aleemi wrote a column in a then popular Urdu Daily Imroz. The column informed about the existence of Lahore in Viriginia, which Mr. Aleemi discovered accidentally, when he lost his way in Orange County. The story although, got lost in people’s memories and the life went on. Khalid Hasan, another very senior Pakistani journalist (who died early this year), broke the story once again in early 2007, with a pleasant news of a Lahori soul who was trying to buy the village of Lahore in Virginia.

Noor Naghmi, son of very well-known broadcaster Abul Hasan Naghmi brought the American Lahore to the news once again in 2007. The senior Naghmi would still be alive in the memories of 1970s’ kids who would devoutly  listen to Mohni Hamid’s (Apa Shamim) program on Radio Pakistan those days. Naghmi sahib played a much loved “Bhaijan” in that program and was famous for his typical tone and polished accent. The junior Naghmi is a dealer in mortgage and rental of properties in Washington’s Fairfax County. After a years long negotiations with Nancy Wallace, a farmer and tough negotiator who owned the 235 acres of American Lahore  including the center of the town, Naghmi was able to strike a deal for USD 3 million. It was not, however, an easy venture with an owner who believed she had no plans to sell, although “everything I have is for sale, for the right price,” she said.

Naghmi now, has a dream. The centre of the 1,500-resident farming town about 75 miles south of Washington is a strip of whitewashed buildings on a quiet stretch of road. An old water pump sits idle. A faded Esso sign creaks in the breeze. “The venture is an expensive gamble for Naghmi,” a Washington based newspaper says, but quotes Naghmi as saying, “I have this feeling I was born to do this. People might think I’m crazy for saying so, but that is what I believe.” He says he thinks that his successful ventures will help make his Lahore dream possible.

Naghmi told the Washington Post’s Indian-American reporter Sandhya Somashekhar in 2007 that his $3 M deal will turn Lahore, Virginia into a regional tourist attraction for South Asians and others. His plans include a banquet hall fashioned after his hometown’s famous Shalimar Gardens. He envisions a library and a museum dedicated to the histories of both Lahores. He wants to open a bed-and-breakfast place to serve chickpea curry alongside eggs and toast. He wants to organize Basant with all its fan fare and pomp, in American Lahore.

The Washington Post, however, sees it with suspicion that Naghmi would be able to materialize it with out hurdles. Its not only money that could alone make dream a reality. Racism is a big hurdle in Naghmi’s way. It would be difficult for American whites to see colored people  having all that fun in the heart of Orange County.

But Naghmi is not deterred. He is confident that his vision will gain approval from the County and the project’s neighbors. According to reports, he has begun negotiating with a film studio in Hyderabad, India, to create the facades for his buildings. He recently put up a sign — written in English, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi — advertising the coming of the Lahore Museum!

For the benefit of the readers, I’m posting here an interview with Naghmi and following link to Lahore on Google Map:

Google Map for Lahore, VA