To most Delhiites, Sir Ganga Ram is associated with the hospital named after him. But there is much more to appreciate in pre-Partition Lahore’s best known philanthropist, writes Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty
The creases of time hide many a story. Of love and loss; beauty and duty; and some of course about quirks of fate. Had it not been a part of Saadat Hasan Manto’s Garland, this story, denoting a rather interesting quirk of fate, would have been buried too under the weight of time.
Garland is based on a true story, on mob fury during Partition in Lahore. A mob attacked the statue of Sir Ganga Ram, well known Hindu philanthropist of Lahore who had passed away long ago by then. When police opened fire at the mob, it injured a man who was trying to climb the statue to put a garland of shoes on it. The mob shouted, “Let’s rush him to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital”, forgetting that they were trying to destroy the memory of the very man who had founded the hospital, a live saver for Lahoreans. A master storyteller that he was, Manto, in exquisite Urdu, sketched the irony of the situation.
Of course, the story is little known in today’s India, where most of Ganga Ram’s family moved after Partition. In fact, to most present-day Indians or say Delhiities, the philanthropist of united India is associated only with the multi-specialty Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. Many don’t know that an equally popular Sir Ganga Ram Hospital exists in Lahore too. In fact, that was the hospital Ganga Ram started, while the one in Delhi was established by his family in the 1950s.
Many also don’t know that several of the heritage buildings dotting Lahore today were built by Ganga Ram as an engineer with the PWD. Say, the National College of Arts, Aitcheson College, Lahore High Courts, Lahore Museum, General Post Office and Hailey College among other landmarks. The talented graduate of Thomson Civil Engineering College — it is IIT Roorkee now, also planned Lahore’s sewerage system besides the tree-lined boulevards. He also acted as superintendent of works in the Imperial Durbar to be held in connection with the accession of King Edward VII.
“Most people in India don’t know about him beyond the Delhi hospital because he never lived this side. Though he made buildings like the Moti Bagh Palace in Indian Punjab, most of his work was in Lahore and he died before Partition. I would say, Ganga Ram today is better known for what he was in Pakistan than in India for this reason,” says his great grandson, 86-year-old Shiv Ram. His wife adds a rather interesting bit, “There is a Sir Ganga Ram fan club in Pakistan. It is a Facebook group of young people.”
Shiv Ram was born the year Ganga Ram passed away in London, in 1927. Obviously, he has no memory of him. His older sister, now 93, “might have some memories of him.” Every April 13, the family gets together at the hospital to celebrate his birth anniversary through a series of events. So in the boardroom of Sir Ganga Ram Trust, along side Shiv Ram, are a host of family members from two of Ganga Ram’s sons, Hari Ram and Balak Ram. His older son, Sevak Ram, they say, “had no children.”
“One reason I feel why he became a forgotten hero in India is because his family scattered here and there after Partition. Many family members lost touch with each other,” says Chanda Seth, a great granddaughter. The assembled members try putting together a lineage tree and are not successful in doing it fully.
A.K. Seth, his great grand son-in-law and Secretary of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Trust, says he visited Ganga Ram’s samadhi in Lahore recently. “It was in shambles some years ago. Today, it has a park around it,” he says. Seth has visited Pakistan several times but has visited Ganga Pur, the village that he built near Lahore with 50,000 acres of barren land leased from the British. The ardent agriculturist thought up “lift irrigation” to connect the area with Gogera canal, which made it arable, leading locals to name the village after him.
Among other innovations, Seth points out, is his Ghoda Train, a horse-pulled train he fashioned to run between Buchiana railway station and his village. “It has got the status of cultural heritage there. It stopped for repairs in the 1980s and is now a tourist attraction,” adds Sevak Ram’s wife.
The Delhi hospital has just taken over the reins of Kolmet Hospital (Karol Bagh) besides running City Hospital (Pusa Road). “We will also have new buildings in the main hospital, add more beds,” says Ashok Chandra, another great grand son-in-law and Chairman of the Trust. Chandra says, “Though Delhi Government mandates that 10 per cent of hospital beds should be charitable, 20 per cent of our beds are for charitable purpose keeping his ideology in mind.” He hopes “to expand in future, not only to other cities but outside India too.”
Any plan to introduce the philanthropist better to people, through a museum or such like? “No such plan yet,” says Chandra.