Fakir Khana Project is the largest private antiques collection in South Asia. Haven to almost 30,000 relics that have fervently been revived and preserved by Fakir Iftikhar—the managing director and curator—attempting to beat the dramatically increasing artifact trafficking the world over; the museum is the honor, possession and pride of the illustrious Fakir Family whose vibrant history can be traced back to the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh when Fakir Sayyed Azizuddin served not only as the revered prime minister, but also the royal physician as well as the Maharaja’s personal interpreter and friend.
Last year, the family crossed another milestone by launching Fakir Khana Museum Online; the first e-museum of the region where all of 30,000 historical artifacts and antiques are displayed over a period of time in the form of online monthly exhibitions.
The real deal, however, is open for private tours inside the grandeurs of an early 20th century Haveli in Lahore, Pakistan.
Talking to Iftikhar, the eldest son of the opulent Fakirs, it becomes evident that the museum doesn’t only commemorate his influential ancestors but also preserves the undeniably overwhelming culture and lifestyle this region has had to offer both prior to and during the British regime.
What was your initiative? How and when did the thought of congregating a modern museum cross your mind?
Initiative was quite simple: preservation and highlighting. I’ve literally grown up in the Fakir Khana museum as we all [the family] used to gather there on various occasions. As a kid I never bothered, but in my teens I started to realize what treasures we had and couldn’t help but get fascinated by the fact that I could actually trace my roots back a few hundreds years through our collection. Anyone who took an unofficial tour was left mesmerized. I finally started with the simple job of cataloguing the collection and bringing it to the fore for the general public. It’s a real pity that today most of the younger generation identifies Fakir Khana largely with the Basant (Kite flying) functions we throw every year but nobody knows much about the real Fakir Khana and its history.
When did you first unveil for public viewing?
We first showed our collection in the mid 19th century but it was obviously very amateurish then compared to how we’ve assembled it now. I took charge a few years ago and started cataloguing every piece according to its genre. We also decided that we would only show by appointment so every guest can get undivided consideration and particulars regarding every item on display.
Are all the items are basically from your family’s private collection?
Entirely. Infact, a large collection from Fakir Khana has been transferred to the Lahore museum for display as we’re short of rooms. A complete section of our items has been put up there with a special note and one of our ancestors’ photograph and family introduction but we still continue to face the same problem; there are more objects than there is space to accommodate them. The permanent collection of the Fakir Khana has remained unchanged for a while though, and the whole collection belongs solely to my family.
I’m an antique buff myself and I know how hard it is to start a legitimate collection. Either you invest loads of money into your passion or you have to have a way with bargaining. Where and how did your family find these things?
It is indeed hard to start, let alone maintain a collection. What we have was started by my ancestors more than 200 years ago so we have an edge over other collectors like you! Since they were royalty in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and were his most trusted lieutenants, they very often exchanged gifts with the royalties of different areas which included the Queen Victoria. Also, the Maharaja also showered great gifts on them. Apart from that it was their love for art, culture and history that they bought and mounted such a huge collection. Even today we buy things for the purpose of displaying in the museum. It is true that you have to invest money into this passion or you might even have to have the bargaining ability but I believe above all one must possess the eye for the right things.
Tell me something interesting about a few of your more prominent possessions.
Now that’s a hard one. It’s funny but I feel if I choose a few items as my favorite I’d be doing great injustice to the rest of the items as I love every single piece dearly as they all have interesting stories to go with them. But since you asked, the holy relics unquestionably top my list. A painting done on ivory by a single hair brush took over fourteen years to complete. How can one not fall in love with things so wonderful?
I see you’ve put everything up on the website as well. Don’t you think that’s a bad business move? Why would people want to visit the museum when they can just log on and take a tour?
We understood that the best way to reach people was through the internet, and that’s how the e-project all started. It was only after we’d finally launched the website on August 14, 2004 that we realized that Fakir Khana Museum Online was the first e-museum in all of South Asia! It was a big accomplishment, really, and ever since, we’ve been operating without any glitches or regrets. There’s been a massive inflow of people wanting to have a look and they, like yourself, leave highly impressed, usually calling me up immediately for reservations. An e-visit is obviously no substitute to a visit in person.
Tell me a little bit about the current generation of Fakir family. Their roles in bringing today’s Fakir Khana together and what there’re doing apart from looking after the place?
I’m proud to say that we, the sixth generation of the Fakir family, consider ourselves some of the true representatives of Lahore’s effervescent culture. And that’s probably one reason why our services aren’t restricted to the Fakir Khana museum alone. We are approached by a plethora of people and organizations including the government who acquire our help and expertise for various projects. We are involved in the launching and commissioning of numerous other prestigious projects right now as well but you’ll have to wait for further insight into them.
Do you ever feel there’s a lack of history/culture enthusiasts down here in Pakistan? Because I’ve noticed that generally, even the learned section of our society isn’t really fascinated by history and its remnants when what they should be doing is religiously holding on to whatever that’s left of it. Could this be a reason as to why your efforts have gone relatively unnoticed—at least locally—so far with no apt exposure?
That’s a very interesting question. I agree with the first part of your question totally. It’s really a pity that most Pakistanis are completely oblivious of their past, history and culture. What we have—or had—Is precious and we should savor it. We strive to portray the so-called softer image of our nation yet we continually fail to cash in on our cultural strength.
As per the second part of your question, you’ll be surprised if I shared with you the number of average hits we receive on our website every month. But at the same time I must also add that you’re right, in a way. People in other cities probably don’t know much about us because of what you’ve just pointed out: We have not been celebrated inside Pakistan as much as we would have liked. Foreigners show more curiosity than our own but we’re working hard to change that and InshAllah we will.
Do you think there’s any chance you might, if you get the right sponsors of course, think about taking the museum on a ride all over Pakistan? Or at least to the prominent cities?
Most certainly. Since the younger generation of the Fakir family has started working for the museum, it has seen a prominent change. We’ve had people approach us to take the collection to various places including Japan, India and the New York Metropolitan Museum. We’ve been thinking about local Fakir Khana tours as well so it’s a matter of time before we start traveling.