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.