Friday July 01, 2022

Lahore and the little things

April 18, 2017

Have you ever found yourself in a sudden summer rain and suddenly wanted to dance? Have you ever caught a falling leaf in autumn and felt the crunch as you crush it? Have you raised your arms in the new spring and felt the last of the winter chill, an electric shiver run over your skin? Of course you have.

There is, and should be, an inherent joy in living, born of the little things in life – the things that make us more than empty vessels of meat and bone shuffling through existence. A rejection of this, by either man or culture, is a sign of sickness.

The carriers are people whom you have certainly known your entire life. The men and women who, unasked, have appointed themselves the keepers of culture, morality, identity – of all those things that nobody owns and everyone possesses.

Their main pathogen, weaponised and perfected, is the Big Picture Virus (BPV). They use it to dismiss what has long been known as essential in every healthy culture. All those things that bring us together, celebrate life, gives rise to fresh new thoughts. Festivals, sports, the arts. Sound familiar? The BPV is dangerous because it masks itself as something profound to slip by our defences.

Don’t be fooled. It’s not only a lie, it’s a lie that fundamentally misunderstands what it is to be human. The keepers feed on the warm blood of a living culture, fattening themselves as they drain us. They come in swarms to bite away at it, sandpapering away its texture, leaving its features an unrecognisable ruin.

Remember the roar and cheer and colours of Basant, the wild spring energy surging down taut kite strings and grounding itself on every rooftop?

Many seethed at its centuries-old entrenchment in the soul of Lahore. They tried to denounce it as a Hindu festival and then looked around in red-faced humiliation as nobody put down their kites. That rare failure led to them adopting the BPV. They became intensely concerned with the value of human life and worried themselves sick over the accidents that happened during Basant. As tragic as the 10-15 deaths a year were, more people die every fortnight in Lahore from road accidents, without any demands being made for greater traffic safety. An estimated 100,000 Pakistanis die from smoking annually and there appears to be no move from concerned citizens to even raise the taxes on cigarettes.

Could it be that it was never about public safety?

Basant is part of the blood of Lahore, passed down like an heirloom for a hundred generations. The paper knights dueled far above both kings and paupers, in a place that belonged to no class or religion, that was owned by every Lahori who had ever looked to the sky. Of course, it was intolerable to the keepers.

When Holi was declared a public holiday in Sindh, there was an immediate and predictable backlash. The decision was a waste of productive time for no value, they said. As if there was no value in letting besieged minorities know that they are acknowledged, that their customs are Pakistani customs and that they are equally our citizens.  

One gentleman, well-connected in education and therefore presumably literate, gave an exemplary response: “Tomorrow we will be telling everyone to read Ramayana!” he wailed, beseeching us to think of the “negative impact on the young and innocent children”.

It’s hard to miss the BPV, isn’t it? Raw emotional appeal supplants reason and draws a straight, hysterical line from “acknowledging a minority holiday” to “the corruption and Hindufication of our youth”.

Many people bemoaned the PSL final being held in Lahore. Too dangerous. Not worth the risk. Not worth the expense. It’s just a game, after all.

Recognise the symptoms of the BPV?

The PSL packed a cricket-starved nation into Gaddafi Stadium again. Hours before the match started, that spark that so many feared (and others hoped for) was long dead and had combusted. There was a raw joy in being there again, together, of telling young children who were too young to remember that this is what it was like, that this is who we are.

People sprang to their feet for the national anthem and unfurled banners of green, not because they were told to look patriotic, but because for a brief moment, they were taken with the joy of being Pakistani. Not bad for ‘just a game’.

If these things weren’t important, why is energy being directed towards their suppression? The feral hive mind of the keepers recognises the threat they pose. The sickly, sallow culture the keepers offer bears the unmistakable mark of a truly distasteful idea: one which even its hawkers know that people will only swallow if all alternatives are destroyed. Sadly, throughout history, terrible ideas have persisted by cheating.

We recreate the world in the image of our imaginations – collectively, every day. If revelry, music and sport are allowed to fade from our memories, if the dreams of our children are grey and monotone because they have never seen colour, we are allowing the keepers to drain our souls.

Lahore has been a cultural centre of South Asia for centuries. We are greater than insects, however dangerous they may be. We are bedridden, but we will rise. Oh yes.


The writer is a columnist and a student of persuasion.