The Dawn: May 06, 2016

Punjab Notes: Lahore: slaughtering of nature and history

Mushtaq Soofi 



What is the difference between fertile and barren lands? A tree or something that is less than a tree, a patch of green! What is the difference between dead and alive places? Twitters coming from leafy branches! What is the difference between a forlorn dwelling and a cheerful abode? A creeper or a flower-bed!

“The little house among trees by the lake/from the roof smoke rises/ without it how dreary would be house, trees and lake,” writes Brecht.

Now imagine the opposite. What would smoke look like without lake and trees? Equally dreary if not more! Humans have evolved in a particular way in particular environments. Their survival and growth, whatever forms they assume, are inextricably linked with what is around them in multiple forms, visible and invisible. Remove or dismantle these mini-life-supporting blocks and you will be left with nothing but dull vestiges of what was once multi-faceted blooming life with its diverse expressions. If you are lucky enough not to have seen such a scene before, visit Lahore especially the area between Thokar Niaz Beg and Punjab University campus, and the stretch between Dharampura and Harbanspura on the canal road. Trees are being cut for the ostensible reason of widening the road. Strangely the bigger it gets, the smaller it becomes (in terms of frequent congestion one witnesses) if we go by the earlier evidence.

Driving along the canal these days what you see is nothing less than a mass slaughter of trees some of which were septuagenarian, octogenarian and even centenarian. It offers a look of dusty battlefield strewn with logs with peeled off skin and wilted branches of uneven length and fading colours where once doves fluttered and sparrows chirped. Where have all the birds gone? Could they land with their singed wings on the roof-tops of the houses in nearby colonies in sizzling summer? Could they find shelter in plants with sparse foliage in a close proximity of humans? Mind you humans in our part of the world are not only not bird friendly but also are in a way hostile to their delicate presence that offers them a lusty incentive to get their predatory instincts fired up. Birds for most of them are nothing more than lumps of delicious meat. Now all the dislodged and scared away flocks need to be preserved in elegies and for that we need someone with the lyrical intensity of Rainer Maria Rilke who could capture the angst and anguish of the remains of annihilated “audio landscapes.”

The unfortunate would have no place to sit for a temporary relief who are condemned to live in the concrete boxes called flats in a weather that can sear and dehydrate them for at least seven months in a year? Gone are the green belts along the both sides of the canal which for more than a century served as naturally cool shades for the people. Gone is the grass that titillated waifs and strays’ feet and insects that helped sustain the ecosystem.

All this is being done proudly in the name of development; the development that facilitates motorists, not public transport which millions of people desperately need in the overcrowded city bursting at seams. Apart from destroying the ecology of green belts and open spaces, the obsession with building signal-free roads the size of motorways has attracted the bigger volume of what one may call “fun traffic” i.e. juveniles driving for thrill and pleasure. Forget the high cost that can make your head spin. No one is bothered to know where the gazillions come from as long as they come. Affluenza Punjab’s rulers have is rooted in the unrestrained access they have to the exchequer. What above all has added to the woes of the people is the dreadfully high risk of crossing the roads. In order to make them feel what a hapless pedestrian feels on the signal-free city roads, the planners should be asked to cross, for example, canal road or main boulevard Gulberg. One may claim with some degree of certainty that they would be crushed under the wheels on the very roads they built as a mark of progress in total disregard of pedestrians’ needs in urban environments.The more development becomes visible, the more it reveals lack of savoir faire of our political elite.

Lahore has traditionally been known, apart from other things, for its highly valuable historical buildings and gardens some of which are on the list of world heritage site. In years to come, Lahore will be notorious for its modern architectural and infrastructural monstrosities if this model of development continues to inspire the lords of the city. So the people living in other areas of the Punjab should visit Lahore before it is no longer Lahore, the city Madho Lal Hussain lived in, emperor Akbar made his capital (for 14 years), Bulleh Shah sang of, Milton praised, Waris Shah talked about and Levi Strauss visited to experience its mysterious ambiance history books allude to. Lore says that a person who hasn’t visited Lahore isn’t born yet. It’s already being whispered that a person who visits Lahore in future, would repent their being born. —

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