The Dawn: Apr 10, 2015

PUNJAB NOTES: Young landlords: bulls and bullying

Mushtaq Soofi 


Lahore, the metropolis of Punjab, is generally a cheerful place and Lahoris are known to have inexhaustible love for three things; good food, cultural entertainment and intellectual activities. Lahore’s food is delectable because being an ancient urban centre it attracts the best of all the things eatable produced in the fields of vast plains of Punjab, the most fertile region in the subcontinent.

Cultural entertainment is an essential mark of human civilisation that exhibits its humane face in sharable artistic expressions and practices. Lahore is an heir to a great civilisation. Harappa, the sophisticated urban centre of the Dravidians, is just hundred miles from it in the southwest. The Rig-veda, the first Aryan scripture, was composed on the banks of Iravati (Ravi) whose waters used to splash the walls of the city not in distant past. Lahore is the repository of diverse traditions shaped by the intermingling of cultures such as Dravidian, Aryan, Iranian, Greek, Arab, Central Asian and British, to name a few.

With such a historical background Lahore was bound to evolve the institutions of higher learning which it did. Known as a city of colleges and gardens it had a magnetic pull for great teachers, writers, scholars, poets and artists not only across Punjab but also from all across the world. Even the Europeans like Milton, the poet and Levi-Strauss, the anthropologist, could not resist the irresistible lure of Lahore. The former mentioned Lahore in his ‘Paradise Lost’ as one of the glorious cities that emerged in the world; ancient and modern. The latter visited the city twice in mid twentieth century with the express purpose of discovering its undying mystique which suffused its environs with its hazy glow, keeping the people intrigued generation after generation.

Intellectual activity takes place when wakeful minds express what appears to be inexpressible, in forms, tangible and intangible. Cerebral and imaginative activity if sustained over a reasonably long period of time, strikes roots and becomes a habit of mind for the coming generations due to its cumulative effect.

Lahore, the pride of Punjab and the envy of the Northern India, has always been a melting pot and continues to be so. People come to Lahore driven by needs and dreams. The newcomers imbibe its ethos and become its integral part adding to its richly diverse sociocultural landscape. But, as they say, there is a limit to everything. So is the case with Lahore which seems to be bursting at seams due to an awfully increased influx of people from small towns and countryside. Socioeconomic reasons for such an avalanche are not difficult to discern. Most of the incoming people, especially the poor ones, are a peaceful lot and work hard to eke out a living. Unfortunately, a small but powerful segment is proving to be a disaster for the city’s social life and cultural traditions. This segment is usually referred to as ‘feudal’ by the ill-informed. We in the subcontinent never had feudalism. Feudalism was a Western phenomenon organically linked with the politico-economic growth of European societies and states.

What we had was landlordism, a product of a system of revenue collection specific to the subcontinent. Our contemporary landlordism is an artificial political instrument manufactured by the British colonialists who endowed their touts and lackeys with perpetual legal rights over lands with the stroke of a pen. Toadies, the recipients of the colonial largesse, became landlords overnight. The ugly historical role they played was that of keeping their colonised countrymen servile to the colonial masters. The family histories which our landlords are proud of are in fact chronicles of infamy.

Scions of landlords, alien to and contemptuous of urban ways of life, though placed in work-oriented urban setting have parasitic existence. They usually live off the rental of their lands. They go to their bed well after midnight and get up late in the noon. They vegetate shadowed by an army of servants imported from their lands. When they step out they move escorted by a gang of uncouth guards armed with automatic weapons. A large number of them are either on drugs or are alcoholic. The prized display of their inherited riches is to have two or three wives. Some prefer to make it simple; they have mistresses holed in rented houses away from the public eye. The upkeep can cost more but mistress is debarred to be a legal heir to their property.

The height of their ‘cultural activity’ is to arrange a ‘Mujra’, a vulgarly erotic live performance of dancing girls. With their sickly satiated looks, ensconced in their luxury vehicles, they look down upon the people riding motor bikes and economy cars. In their reckless driving if they can’t have the whole road to themselves, they are ready to shout and shoot in a show of arrogance driven phony road rage. If they have to wait being served in a restaurant they can slap the waiter in a fit of royal rage.

Sons of landlords will continue to invade Lahore and muddle its cultural ambiance as long as their economic base (lands) remains intact. Their shenanigans bordering on criminality will not stop as long as their fathers are sitting pretty in parliament and echelons of power. The state functionaries, gutless and tainted, will always be spectators if not accomplices as long as the social and cultural vandalism of the philistines is seen as an expression of blue blood. Lahore has to be saved from yahoos if we care for the civilised social life it stands for. But who cares in an age that glorifies the worship of naked power as an emblem of social achievement.—

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