By Brig Iftikhar Hasan Siddiq, Retd (1st SSC)
I must say right at the beginning of this effort of recording my observations about life in Lahore that I am not a professional writer; and not at all a historian. However, I am of the view that any one of us who crosses 50 years of age, must write at least one book on his observations about life. I will, therefore, request the readers to consider it an effort from a novice in that spirit; and I will be happy if it triggers others to write their own story.
Remembering and recollecting the time spent in Lahore is a favourite pass time of all Lahoris, whether living in Lahore or not; and whatever their ages. Such memories also includes how cheap it was to live in Lahore 10 to 50 years ago and how good the mutton used to be and delivered at the door step. And that is a common feeling of all those who have spent time in Lahore. So I find it prudent to talk about “Lahore of Today” before I start recording memories of My Lahore. And I hope that what I miss from Lahore’s description, others on the forum will add or correct.
There were times in 50s and 60s when Pakistan had only one city, Karachi. A Mamoo of mine living in Karachi said during his visit to Lahore that “Lahore aik bohhhhhhat barra gaon hai; (Lahore is actually a real biggggggggg village)”. I found that out when I visited Karachi somewhere around 1968. Lahore of today has grown to be a real big city; and has overtaken Karachi in every aspect of life; other than not having its own beach. I find a rare fine balance of life in Lahore of today than any other city of Pakistan; and that is what is special about Lahore.
l consider myself privileged for living in Lahore Cantt, the most mature and preserved area of Lahore, still having a link with the old times. When I shifted to the Cantt after my retirement in 2003, it was rather a laid back and somewhat neglected locality. Since then a well thought out plan has been put in place to improve Cantt’s infrastructure and the soft image. The last decade also saw Lahore’s overall road infrastructure developing well ahead of time to meet the coming traffic needs; the underpasses along the canal and flyovers at Thokar Niaz Baig/Minar-e-Pakistan/
Demographically, Lahore has changed a lot since 50s, a logical outcome, I suppose. A large number of people have permanently shifted to Lahore from surrounding towns and cities including Sheikhupura, Faisalabad and Sialkot due to its quality of life. However, very few from Rawalpindi and its surrounding area have chosen Lahore; probably due to comparative weather conditions. And those who could not permanently shift to Lahore due to business or family compulsions, have bought and maintain houses in colonies in Lahore’s suburbs. Due to persistent unrest in Karachi, a larger migration from Karachi to Lahore has set in for the first time; with that a growing trend of street crimes so typical to Karachi. This Karachi-Lahore migration and setting up their businesses is likely to have a long-term effect on Lahore’s life.
Thanks initially to DHA and then to Bahria Town for setting a trend for quality gated housing colonies. With that comes the issue of fake societies that have mushroomed around Lahore. The other day, LDA demolished infrastructure of 4 such unauthorized societies; with potential loss to hundreds of investors. Concerned government officials mostly are not bothered about the issue. An unauthorized building at Kalma Chowk was allowed to rise to 14 floors before government ruled that only 7 floors were sanctioned; and then demolished extra 7 floors.
To meet growing demands of education, a large number of schools and colleges and an equally big numbers of tuition centers have also come up in Lahore. Education has become a business in Lahore and the government allows it to go ahead. The government has no control on fees of private schools; and have no plans to curb tuition centers. Resultantly, the standard of teaching and learning is going down drastically. A cousin of mine who is in Canada assisting students in their PhD courses told me that the worst students in his university are those from Pakistan and Bangladesh. We need to take this matter very seriously at the government level and academia. Decentralization of education to provinces is aggravating the situation further.
The Old Lahore has finally found a voice. A growing number of Lahoris are now keen to visit Old Lahore and remain attached with it. In our childhood, we often visited interior city where our relatives lived; but our children and grandchildren have not been that lucky. Thanks to Kamran Lashari and his workable ideas, restoration work on Old Lahore has gained momentum through active technical support of Nayyar Ali Dada. Lahore now needs a marketing strategy to sell its value. After a ‘conspiracy’ to take Basant away from Lahore, Lahore needs to stop being passive and project itself through its heritage.
Traffic management is currently one sour point of Lahore. The rules of the games are simple: (1) If policeman is on duty, you stop at the red light; and start advancing 10 seconds before the light turns green; (2) If there is no policeman at the crossing, just pass through; if someone hits you, it is his fault. (3) For some, the safest time to pass through the traffic light is when it has turned red for you. The police in turn has evolved their own systems to make money through official patronage. They are no more controlling traffic; they are just challaning those who are taking risks. Of course they are being given their daily challan targets from their officers and in turn getting a share of the generated fund. Sufferers are mostly the poor motorcyclist who can easily be caught for anything and everything; from helmet to indicator light to tripple-swari to stopping ahead of zebra crossing. And the worst part is getting your CNIC/license back from police after depositing fee in the bank. Police is simply ruthless.
Lahoris have finally become aware of the need to exercise after what all they eat. Sports and physical fitness is now gaining momentum. The gyms are generally occupied to capacity; and more are needed. However, trend to stay indoor is growing in the younger generation. Parents are too busy to take care of this aspect of their off shoots.
Lahore’s real original or settled population is exposed during Eid and other long holidays; as most of the ‘settlers’ go away to their native areas. Lahore also comes alive during festivities of 14 August, 23 March, Muharram and Eid Milad-un-Nabi. Then on Eid-ul-Azha and start of summers, seasonal qasai and AC mechanics mushroom in the city; doing only the essentials, no quality. Poor service quality has become order of the day, you hardly find good quality electricians, plumbers and others. Car workshops are another area to worry about.
Lahore is, however, maintaining its literary activities through Alhamra Arts Council. Every now and then, some fine performances are seen here. If one keeps a track, a number of occasions are offered by Lahore to relax your mind.
Doing business in Lahore is as difficult as any other place. The best business in Lahore is where you get the money before you sell or provide your services. If it is the other way round, your payments are doomed for ever.
Security environment in Lahore has also changed like any other city in Pakistan; forcing people to think before deciding an outing. Farm houses are providing alternate locations for recreation and family events.
I am sure there are many other aspects of Lahore that could be covered here. What did you expect from a novice?
In my next article, I plan to write about Lahore of my childhood and earlier.
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