on the national day… in the late 00s

I was born in mid seventies. Which means I grew up in the eighties during General Zia’s era; the Afghan war (part 1), the drugs and kalashnikov culture (the former I never took, the later I was never offered), the danda bardar Punjabi movies, the parda dar PTV, and the extremely conservative, super disciplined, highly strict, boys high schools.

In the nutshell I didn’t quite grow up to begin with… living in the city of Lahore (outside the walls though) during the times when time hardly passed and things hardly happened.

Then in the early nineties I went abroad. A short stint during high school to get accustomed to the rest of the world. Interestingly, as soon as I left Lahore, the city started changing… no wait, it actually started magnifying, electrifying and embracing a major paradigm make-over. And that too at a pretty brisk pace. So it was a fairly different Lahore to which I came back just a few years later. Lahore under full fledged democracy… pseudo nonetheless. At the onset though, it appeared to be a highly corrupt, self centered and unfriendly society trying to make its mark in transparency international reports and through unaccounted for and bizarre series of socio-political and economic events. However a deeper scrutiny revealed a silent transformation towards maturity… and towards modernity. Bit by bit though, and giving way to intense materialism, as a way of side effect.

Flooded with mobile phones (without SMS; they came later… and with incoming call charges), internet and CDs (even DVDs came later), late night hangouts and soft drink sponsored basants, satellite TV (cable came later too) with Indian reality shows that hardly had anything to do with reality, expanding roads, overhead bridges, new buildings, new factories, and what looked like a dusty path towards self attained prosperity. This was Lahore on a bumpy ride… hardly perfect, but better than before… So I imagined.

Then came 2001, and the Afghan War (part 2); this time without drugs and Kalashnikov; and for a while it mattered not much to anyone living here. The city kept flourishing, progressing; new buildings kept popping up, roads kept getting better, neater, cleaner, and larger… and everything kept waking up to life every now and then. But how can there be a war (cold or otherwise) and Pakistan be not involved in it. So it did; and the war actually spilled over to our doorstep… perils of it, this time around, being suicide bombings and terrorism… not sporadic, but very frequent… not fictional, but very real. That coupled with a “crisis of the month” situation did not quite make a decent bed time story. And with time it only got worse. And with more time, it came to the point when everyone I knew had been to at least one place; a building, a road or a mosque, which later-on was subject to a (suicide or otherwise) bomb blast. And everyone I knew, hated the fact that there seemed to be less and less electricity, let alone peace and quiet at either political front, or any other. Pakistan came to be known as the most dangerous place on earth… a title I still disagree with, even though I wouldn’t mind calling it the “most happening” place on earth.

This is pretty much where we stand today.

The reason that I just wrote the above passage was not to repeat what everyone already knows. The reason for writing the above is fairly simple… and personal.

Fairly simple because I grew up in Lahore in the eighties – when time hardly passed and things hardly happened. Now I am here in the late 00s – and the time does pass quickly and things do happen… we seem to have taken a 180 degree turn (or is it 360 degrees?). But isn’t it still the same old dusty path towards what might someday be a stable, self attained, socio-economic prosperity? We still haven’t quite gotten rid of the perils of the old past (the sheer backwardness and the senseless streaks that sometimes overwhelm our society)… So how long would it take us to get rid of the perils of new present and the upcoming future?

And personal because I have just crossed the age of 30. I have to take a decision whether to establish myself for the rest of my life here, or somewhere else. Should I be hopeful as in the nineties, or depressed as in the eighties, or both at the same time? Should I watch with keen interest what unfolds every now and then, or should I just ignore it all?

On 23rd March, our national day, as I put on the TV, all I see is the flock of gigantic floats, strolling on the roads like mythical creatures, carrying missiles and tanks on their shoulders. What I don’t see is what I want to see. A peaceful, modern, stable and still very happening (without being dangerous) Pakistan. And our cities (whether Lahore, Karachi or Islamabad) that relish culture, creativity and maturity… centers of excellence.

And this is me in an optimistic tone.

6 Comments so far

  1. mordantevil on March 23rd, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

    Can relate with all uv said, as i too belong to the same category of individuals who r just about to cross over to that age of 30. I used to be in love with this city and now as of now thinking of moving out.

    Ne ways, wat ever u or i wud do is separate thing, lets just hope n pray for the improvement in our society values & beliefs. If u do get time do read the article which Nadeem Faorooq Paracha has written today on suicide bombers (Dawn on SUNDAY)

  2. mozang bijjli (gadhishahu) on March 23rd, 2008 @ 5:36 pm

    you have very skillfully given voice to our dilemma. I too have just turned 31 and apart from other problems i have a handicap of womanhood. This is the city i adore, this is the country that has given me identity and freedom to expand myself. thanks to pkaistan i am free to go to any part of the world. But much though I love lahore I am uncertain of settling here. I want my city back. I want my darling peaceful lahore back to its original liveliness where the most dangerous thing used to be heroine. In case of heroine atleast one is given a choice between life and death but now u can get a life sentence anywhere any time,,like it or not.
    Lets be more tolerant of others and try solving issues through dialog instead of force.

  3. mozang bijjli (gadhishahu) on March 23rd, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

    by the way nadeem farooq paracha used to write in the news, and his beat was music. I liked his comments on JJ Jawad ahmed and all the singers who were making waves on music scene than.
    Is he working for dawn now?

  4. azface on March 24th, 2008 @ 4:27 am

    Quite a comprehensive piece on your personal journey growing up and living in Lahore. Not sure if I would necessarily agree with you that Lahore has continued to ‘prosper’ over the years until now.
    As a Lahori myself, I feel the city has been subjected to decades of cultural and architectural neglect. The city which once used to be the seat of an Empire and a cultural melting pot (pre-1947) has been reduced to a place which is soulless and very insular (at least majority of it).

    I find it very interesting that we keep counting the sacrifices that muslims made during independence but fail to recognise the suffering of all the Lahori sikhs and hindus who had to flee the city due to mass killings by fanatical muslims. On a trip to Model Town, I couldn’t help but wonder the fate of the millions of sikh and hindu residents of this ‘posh’ neighbourhood – someone drove them out of their beloved houses and city. Trust me very big void has been left in the heart of Lahore due to that catastrophic incident. I would like us to remember all those ‘lost’ citizens of Lahore on March 23rd.

    I agree Lahoris are deeply hospitable and keen to open themselves to outsiders – But will we be the city to lead the way in setting right the social and morals ills of our beleaguered nation. I hope and pray that we do…

  5. mordantevil on March 24th, 2008 @ 9:48 pm

    @mozang bijjli
    i think NFP is now a freelance journalist, and yes he did used to write about music but now he has this column in dawn every sunday which is quite good sometimes/

  6. Faraz Khalid (lah_faraz) on April 5th, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

    @azface: although i don’t fully agree with "soulless and very insular" part, but i do appreciate your comment on lost citizens of Lahore… that situation (although its been 60 year now) could have been avoided. But today’s Lahore is very different from yesterday’s. A whole new generation has just taken charge of the affairs, and in general its a more mature, progressive and tolerant generation.

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