in blind alleys
and its benevolence
An ordinary citizen of extraordinary faith
By Naeem Safi
Lahore has witnessed and endured its own share of the human evolution over the course of the millennia—the greater part of which is—not by the Lahore known to us today, but by what is known as the Walled City of Lahore, once a capital of the Mughal India, where the river Ravi used to flow below its magnificent walls, of which only a few meters of remnant has survived. The complex labyrinth of streets and bazaars within could be accessed by thirteen gates, Delhi Gate being one of them. Here each street has its own story to tell; studded with myths, legends, anecdotes, and events from history—layers upon layers just like the ground underneath them.
Inside the Delhi Gate bazaar, just opposite the lane that leads to the historical spice market Akbari Mandi, is a street called Gali Surjan Singh, within which is Kucha Charkh Garan, a cul-de-sac. Here lives Bhola, in a very old house on the corner of this kucha, originally built by a Hindu, which his father had bought for seven thousand rupees when he and his siblings were little children.
Bhola came into picture, or should one say several pictures, when I was documenting the Shahi Guzargah. Bhola has painted his advertisements "Bhola painter, Delhi Gate" in Urdu with consistency over the entire route, composing them into the available spaces on the façades, which are not very prominent yet clearly visible. It was the paradox between the very name Bhola, which means gauche, and this advertisement campaign that first intrigued me. Being from a relevant discipline, it was an interesting set for me to respond to.
Bhola is painting for the last 25 years, a profession that he inherited from his father who left this world about exactly the same period. But he is not our regular bloke who caters to the aesthetics (or the lack of it) of the bourgeois. He paints advertisements, mostly text based, on banners, streamers, and walls etc, usually for the common folk. A profession which used to be considered as art that later evolved into graphic design. But he still calls himself a painter, just like the others here, who are in the same business. And he would share with pride how he did projects on the GT road, outside Lahore.
A few days back, I was walking down the gali when someone asked me, "When will I get my photos?" I looked back and it was Bhola, standing there just wearing an old but stainless brown shalwar, holding a blue t-shirt in his right hand and a cigarette pack in the left. A caked layer of henna over his unevenly shaven head, some of which had dripped down his neck. He seemed much weaker and down than before.
Since he uses the walls in the gali to hang the banners, his work was very slow due to the monsoons. We both looked up to the dark grey sky as a few drops announced it was time to move. We took cover under the scaffoldings that are being installed for the restoration of the street façade. I asked him how he is managing all this and he said he can barely make ends meet for himself and the medicine of his mother— who is suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. She is like this since he moved to the ground floor of the house along with her, following the marriage of his younger brother, where there is no ventilation or view. Once, he did get engaged with a fine girl "…when there was no silver in my hair." But somehow they could not get married. He dropped the idea altogether afterwards. I asked him who will take care of him in his old age. "Allah", was the answer.
The level of his indifference towards material world is such that he said he refused to get his share of the house transferred in his name because he has nothing much to do there. Once his Heaven (mother) is gone, he would rather sweep up his parents’ graves and live in the graveyard.
His left arm and right leg are affected by polio, most probably, but he says it was typhoid when he was an infant. He can not lift that arm, though he can hold things in his hand. Despite the low season and other challenges he has not lost his hope and says that Allah is their guardian. Then to support his belief, he shared his observation of an old man who rides a bicycle through these lanes early in the morning and scavenges various recyclables from the garbage.
One may wonder that if everything about and around Bhola is so common, then why should one be interested in his story? He may appear to be an ordinary citizen and his story may be common, but his outlook on the sound and fury of life is not; just like his existence.
Noah’s Flood 2
By Haneya H Zuberi
A few weeks ago, in the early hours of morning I woke up to the murmur of rain outside my room window. I could hear the celestial downpour banging on the pavement outdoor. In just a matter of few minutes I found myself walking across to my drawing room which is lined with a huge window, in my pajamas to get a full view of the divine shower. It was almost magical. "I have never loved the monsoon this much." I remember texting a friend. I was filled with over whelming happiness when I looked at the leaves of trees outside the window of my dim and dark drawing room drenched in heaven’s waters. This city deserves this heavy downpour I thought. It is tired, sick of the sun, dirty and overworked with almost no energy. I remember smiling to myself thinking how one shower makes the city come alive with romance and calmness.
I walked across my garden after rain and watched the dawn break. The surrounding air still smelled of rain. I marveled at the thought of how rain always leaves its remnants on my lawn and on my city. Plants are so green and trees look so satisfied just like the people who leave for work the following morning it has rained. The clouds start to breathe better and the potted plants overflow with earth and water. Even the brown canal changes colour after the sky delivers its fruit. It felt like a dream.
Only a few moons later, we saw this beautiful rain shower turning into a disaster. "Excess of anything is bad", I was made to believe yet another cliché. The tiny droplets which felt like blessings pouring from the sky were now a curse. The death toll from the flood rose each time I tuned into the television. A national depression started spreading like the waters. According to the United Nations, "The number of people suffering from the massive floods in Pakistan could exceed the combined total in three recent megadisasters the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake." The reason behind this statement requires no explanation.
Our president was too busy enjoying his Euro trip while the water was hitting the peak and our beloved innocent Prime Minister was being fooled by fake relief camps. While the calamity was brought live to our living rooms on the television we watched with horror the havoc it was causing to our fellow Pakistanis, while our President was paying a leisure visit to the Louvre. What I fail to understand is how was visiting the Louvre going to help him raise international funds for the flood victims which he, now after returning, describes was the purpose of his trip. If anyone understands the science behind it, please feel free to contact me I am a little confused here to be honest.
Around one-tenth of our population is going to be homeless in the aftermath of these floods. The economic disruption this will cause us seems too much to measure at this point as the damage is increasing by the second. Considering the fact that we are already in debt and on aid with no electicrity and are fused with inflation and economic misfortunes of all kinds, the light at the end of the tunnel looks a little far. A friend described it as Noah’s flood 2. Except that there is no Noah who is going to build a gigantic ark there is a government which is wasting much time and energy declaring that it is a true democracy promoting free speech and at the same time burning newspapers and banning a news channel. Hence depriving the rest of the nation from the news of their affected brothers.
Another problem which has plagued the country along with the floods is the lack of trust. Precedent has it that at the event of the October 2005 Earthquake much relief items and goods did not reach the victims. People are now a little skeptic and confused as to who to trust with their donations but are still contributing with open hearts nonetheless.
History has it, that the last time a shoe was hurled at a President, out came Obama. Is that a sign that Pakistan’s "change" is near too?
Hafeez Centre is a tricky market where customers need to tread carefully
By Rana Musa Tahir Koshal
Ask anyone in Lahore where you should go if you want to buy, sell or get repaired, a mobile phone, a computer or a laptop. Surely, the only answer you would get is Hafeez Center.
In the heart of Lahore, this 5-storey building has more than 700 shops which attract thousands of customers everyday. The basement and the ground floor have hundreds of small mobile phone shops and the rest of the floors are devoted to computers and laptops.
"Hundreds of mobile shops under one roof make it easy to compare the prices of the phone you want to buy", said 21-year-old Omer Wattoo, a student at University College Lahore (UCL), while buying an expensive mobile phone at one of the shops in Hafeez Centre. Although the competition among the shops does make it easier for you to buy items at the right prices, as a whole, these shops have a monopoly. The shopkeepers have developed a mutual understanding to squeeze money from any customer who comes in their shops. So, you must have noticed that anyone who recommends you to go there also warns you to stay sharp of the sly salesmen there.
These shopkeepers have developed numerous ways to cheat the customers. The perfect victims are those who are in some sort of a ‘hurry’. These customers go to the first shop they see and do not verify the costs and prices with other shops. A large number of customers are students who come here to get their computers repaired. "Beta aap zara Pace (a shopping mall next to Hafeez Centre) ka chakar laga ao tub tak hum isay theek kar dain gay", (Son, you go and take a round of ‘Pace’ and we will have repaired it by then), these students are told typically.
It is claimed by many that if you let the shopkeepers keep your computer even for a few hours, it is most likely that they will replace new parts of your computer with the old ones they have in store. Therefore, many who go there know that they will have to stay in the shop while their things are being repaired, even if it means hours of wait.
Junaid Ashraf Awais, a student at the London Metropolitan University, said, "In the first shop I went to, I was told that the repair would cost Rs.9000. The second shopkeeper said that it would cost Rs.7500. It was not till I went to the fourth shop did I come to know that there was a minor problem which would cost less than Rs.500."
Another way by which customers are deceived is ‘incomplete repair’. This way of deception can occur even if you remain in the shop during the entire time. The employees in the shops temporarily repair whatever you have brought, in the hope that you will go back to them after a few days, and thus, they will be able to earn more money. These hopes often turn into reality as the customers will almost certainly go to the same shop they went to earlier. This is how they are trapped. The shopkeeper will now tell them that the repair they did was perfect and a new problem had occurred in the software. This will go on and on as the shopkeeper will intentionally start creating more and more problems in the computer.
The Hafeez Centre traders’ union claims that they try their best to rid the plaza of its bad image. Talking to TNS Malik Kaleem Ahmed, the President of the Union said, "We have taken the responsibility of protecting the rights of the customers as well as the shopkeepers. Whenever a customer feels he is being cheated he comes to us and we try our best to settle the problem in a way which satisfies him.
Another method, which may be surprising for many, is selling old mobile phones and laptops at the price of new ones. An important person in the Hafeez Centre Traders’ Union, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed to TNS that the shopkeepers ‘polish’ and ‘clean’ cell phones and laptops in a way that they look ‘brand new’. After that, they place them in boxes which are carbon copies of the original ones. "In this way they are able to earn large amounts of money," he said.
The man further revealed that almost all the mobile phones stolen in Lahore were sold at these shops and that some of the shopkeepers even had ‘connections’ with the thieves. "The police come here from time to time to retrieve stolen mobiles," he said.
The ex-general secretary of the union, Sheikh Muhammad Farooq, talking to TNS, said, "In the eight years when I was the general secretary, we tried our level best to kick these kinds of shop owners out of the building. But it must be understood that in many cases the shopkeepers are innocent. The thieves come and act as normal people, not who they actually are and it is difficult to recognise them."
Whatever the case maybe, one thing is for sure, that it is hard to discern honest and genuine shopkeepers at Hafeez Centre from the deceptive ones but whatever they do, people will not refrain from going there. So, the only message that we have for you is: ‘Beware’.
The writer is a student at Aitchison College, Lahore. [email protected]
Selfless individuals and organisations have brought out the
By Minahil Zafar
Facebook invitations to groups and events, emails on my gmail and university campus mailbox, and text messages from various people from registered organisations and independently-run bodies to donate for the flood relief efforts have picked up momentum in the last couple of days. More and more people are realising the gravity of the situation, incompetence of government agencies to reach out to the masses and their own responsibility as citizens of the state, and have taken up the task of helping Pakistan out of this catastrophe. The 2005 earthquake saw the benevolence of these people, the flood victims will see no less. This natural calamity has proved yet again, how resilient and generous people of Pakistan are, and how united they can become when the hour demands it. It’s overwhelming to see the response of the people here in Lahore. And penning it down would be an experience in itself.
I started calling up the people who had texted and emailed me and told them I wanted to write about their efforts. The immediate response was; we are not doing it for publicity or recognition! Therefore all the people I commemorate in this piece are selfless individuals/organisations who in no way wish to be glorified for their contributions. I write about them, so that whoever reads this, realises who the real heroes of Pakistan are today.
Edhi – a compassionate leader and a state of the art organisation! Edhi centers in Lahore have a much systemised set-up of donations. They have centers all over the city collecting donations in the form of cash, cheques and items ranging from food, utensils, clothes, medicines etc which are loaded on to trucks and transported to flood hit areas. Edhi himself is in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwah monitoring the relief efforts of his team. They are operating ‘langar khanay’ in various areas where food is cooked and provided in the camps set up. On talking to one of the members of the staff at the foundation, I learned that they had even transported some rescued families to a building in Township in Lahore. They were providing food (three times a day), clothes and medical facilities to the fifty people residing in the building. The credibility of the organisation is apparent from the fact that they hardly have to make an appeal for donations. Their work and its transparency, brings out the philanthropist in people.
Another organization I came across was the Al-Khidmat Foundation, which highly impressed me. With four mobile trucks circuiting around Lahore with megaphones, asking for help of any kind, and eighteen camps within Lahore specifically set up for flood relief, Al-Khidmat Foundation is facilitating people in need throughout the country. Be it Ali Pur, Taunsa, Rajanpur, Muhammad Pur, Layyah, this foundation with its entire staff comprising of only volunteers, has reached areas where the army has still not established its support programme.
Rashid Daud, in-charge of the relief efforts by this organisation in the Punjab Region commented on the magnanimity of the disaster by saying that it was too big for the government to handle on its own. His suggestion to the government was that they should define areas and assign work to all the organisations working for flood relief in order to cover more ground, more efficiently.
I happened to meet Umer Agha, a student of Columbia University, who had been working with the Sarhad Rural Support Program (SRSP) fairly recently. On inquiring about his job description, I was more than over-whelmed to find out the brilliant work this branch of the Rural Support Program Networks (RSPN) was doing for flood relief. It has received funds from many international organisations (USAID, UNICEF, UNHCR, Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, etc) and the army has offered its helicopters so donations reach even the most cut off victims. Umer said their priority has been Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa because it has been the worst hit. Within the province, they have tried to focus on areas that have not received any aid including communities in upper Swat and Kohistan. All kinds of people from Lahore particularly have been contributing in kind from major industrialists who produce food items like sugar to students who have emptied out their closets of old clothes. The range is pretty wide, from wealthy individuals to not-so-wealthy ones. People on foot and on motorcycles have even dropped off what they could. This kind of response is what is beyond doubt inspiring.
These organisations have build up trust over the years, and receive an extremely charitable response from people. But it is more heartening to see individual efforts by people in Lahore, who have little or no stake in the areas hit by the flood. Dr. Nighat is independently collecting donations by word of mouth. She doesn’t have the backing of an international donor but with the help of family, colleagues and friends, she is travelling to areas surrounding Peshawar and Nowshehra with supplies to support people throughout the month of Ramzan. She believes she doesn’t need the support of the government, or any organisation when she herself can take this initiative and contribute. Maryam Mustafa, a housewife, along with her husband is using her house to store food items and other necessities which will be transported to flood-hit areas, with contributions made by her neighbours primarily. Likewise, people have set up camps in their vicinities which assist the transport of goods from their area to the nearest relief camp.
Similarly, Afran Khalid, a university student along with his family and friends is independently reaching out to the areas of Rahim Yar Khan, Kot Addu and Muzaffargarh. They are providing ration packs which are enough to sustain a family of 4-5 people throughout the month of Ramzan. Many students from my university have also taken up similar initiatives and are trying to cover as much ground as they can in their own capacity. They have desks set up around the campus with drop boxes to facilitate the process of donations. I can vouch that similar activities are rampant in all schools and universities across Lahore.
Much time by our people and media has been spent spouting accusations and curses at President Zardari for his visit to the UK and France at this hour. Much comparison has been made about the generosity of people in the 2005 earthquake to the calamity that has hit Pakistan now. But I believe that there are people who have risen above such cynicism, who are much nobler and believe in action more than just criticising the existing system. Such are the people I wish to praise, who deserve to be honoured. Such are the people whose efforts are worth celebrating. These are the heroes of today that I mention in my writing this Sunday, who have accepted the shortcomings of our state and are optimistic that their altruism will help millions out of their misery!
Youth activities need government backing for meaningful output
By Salman Ali
Youth plays a pivotal role in the economy and overall progress of a country. According to UNDP which is working on a project on the youth in Pakistan, 63% of the population in our country fall under the age of 25 years, that is 103 million Pakistanis. The literacy rate is estimated to be 53 percent.
In Pakistan, young people have been historically absent from the policy debate. It was only in the late 1980s that a Youth Affairs Division was set up by the Government of Pakistan to look after the needs and problems of the young, resources were allocated for vocational training centers, youth hostels and sports facilities for the youth. Currently 28 civil society organisations are enrolled with the Youth Affairs Division (Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs, Punjab) and about 1100 organisations are enrolled in All Pakistan Youth Federation. A few are working in Lahore district.
Youth is the time to dream big, take initiatives. Youth is the time to take daring steps, to channelise energies into constructive activities and provide them maximum opportunities so that new talents surface. However, Pakistan does not have a comprehensive national youth policy. Youth Policy is under consideration in federal cabinet for the last two years. Various ministries and departments have some programmes for the youth but they are not integrated. Many NGOs and alliances working for youth in Lahore are trying to fill this gap.
Akmal Awaisi, General Secretary All Pakistan Youth Federation and President of Al-Fajr Organisation working here in Lahore said, "Youth in Lahore are absent in all fields of life but our organisation arranges different programmes, dialogues and field trips with youth. It’s for the first time that Pakistan Youth Federation is trying to bring together youth from all over Pakistan along with youth from outside Pakistan. The idea is to provide them a ground where they can interact. Sharing of ideas and resources open up new avenues for them.
Last year youth delegations from China and Korea were here in Lahore and the meetings was greatly appreciated by all. There is no plan to take youth from Pakistan to these countries though.
Akmal Awaisi sees unemployment as the greatest problem facing youth. Many graduates feel frustrated because jobs commensurate with their qualifications are not available to them.
"Al Fajar is working to create awareness about health and the use of narcotics. We arrange seminars and debates in different colleges of Lahore on the damages of drugs. I personally believe that our youth need backing from parents who need to accept their choices in life."
Moreover, Pakistan Youth Federation is planning to launch ‘Music for Change’ series across the country which would urge the musicians to use their music as a tool to shake the youth of Pakistan.
Noreen Waryam, Executive Secretary of Christian World Service Organisation working in Lahore for youth says, "Pakistan is in 21st century. It’s time to facilitate and provide opportunities to the young population, both male and female and facilitate education and youth literacy programmes for those who have missed childhood education. This is what we are trying to do for the last two years. Youth need to be apprised of their rights, they are not aware of them yet. Our organisation is working for youth, especially in the minorities where they face serious problems. Recently, we have started a programme on creating awareness about the importance of ‘vote’ in different colleges of Lahore and the response is very good. We are providing free consultancies to youth in Lahore by arranging workshops and by inviting consultants in them. They guide the college going youth for their better future.
Qazi Jabir who is heading the Rising Youth Organisation in Lahore says, "Youth has great ideas but are usually handicapped because of lack of resources to experiment on these ideas and develop them to enter the market to mitigate risks in new ventures. It is necessary that the risk of trying bright ideas be underwritten by entrepreneurs and talent should be given a chance to succeed. It is possible only if effective youth policy is adopted. This will be definitely a step towards taking Pakistan on the path of progress. Our organisation is working for the betterment of youth in Lahore through different sources like arranging debates and quizzes through which we deliver social messages. Lack of opportunities for youth is the foremost problem and government should work on it.