I have noticed that the press tends to reinforce in the public mind the name of Lahore’s famous cannon as Kim’s Gun, which is not its real name but Zamzama is.
What needs to be recalled here for the benefit of the readers is that the said cannon was cast under the order of Shah Wali Khan, prime minister of the Abdali king, Ahmed Shah Durrani.
The last Persian line on the plaque over the cannon’s side forms a chronogram—a phrase in which each letter has a numerical value, and which when added, gives a specific date. Interestingly, the gunsmith, Shah Nazeer, cast not one but two such cannons at Lahore.
The reason the Anglophiles call the cannon Kim’s Gun has some history attached to it. The Nobel laureate of 1907, British writer Rudyard Kipling, who worked in 1882 for The Civil And Military Gazette of Lahore, wrote in his novel called Kim:
“Who hold Zam-Zammah, that ‘fire-breathing dragon’, hold the Punjab, for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror’s loot.”
It is clear from Kipling’s novel that he knew the cannon’s real name whereas our press mostly does not, and which shows that not many have read the English writer who introduced many Urdu and Hindi words into his works.
Kim, the fictional character in Kipling’s novel, is an Irish orphan boy in Lahore who is taught espionage. Interestingly, Chief Boy Scout, Lord Baden Powell, used a game called Kim’s Game (inspired by Kipling, of course) for training boy-scouts when he lived in pre-partition India. Both, Kipling and Powell, belonged to a very controversial secret society which Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto banned in Pakistan.
Suffice to say, Zamazama, this great relic from our historic past has details too numerous to be recounted in a letter. Therefore, the cannon need not be incorrectly associated with the title of Rudyard Kipling’s novel.
Today, Zamzama stands silently on its enormous wooden wheels over The Mall, opposite the Lahore Museum, embedded in the collective sub-consciousness of the people of the city. The least we can do is call it by its real name: Zamzama.
©Tahir Gul Hasan 2011