Waiting for Santa at Gill Chowk
A street in Kot Lakhpat is attracting people in hordes because of the traditional nativity scene laid out there and much else
By Waqar Gillani
A walk through the
well-lit Gill Chowk on a cold Christmas Eve truly personifies the spirit
of Christmas. The street situated in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat gets a
complete new-look around this time of the year. This is a thickly
populated predominantly Christian locality of Lahore.
The fervour is unmatched
and you just become a part of the entire scene once you put your feet on
the ground. Listening to the choir, men and women on the street sharing
their joy and cheer, someone wanting the best Christmas cake and others
just yearning for a huge Christmas tree. Santa, like in any other part of
the world, is incredibly popular with the kids in this street.
Modern Colony is a lower
middle class Christian locality where most of the Christians do their own
small businesses or jobs. The decoration shops in the locality reach their
peak sales at this time of the year. Every shopkeeper has a big smile on
his face, because he knows the customer who has entered the shop won’t
Each church, home, and
generally all buildings are planned to be embellished, and it is these
very shopowners who take the cake! “That is true we have people swarming
the shops. In fact everyday our stock finishes and we have to get in new
things. There is more demand of imported things and it is heartening to
see that people are getting imported decoration in relatively cheap
prices,” says Irshad a shop owner.
What makes this street
at Modern Colony unique is a crafted traditional Nativity Scene (charni)
— a depiction of the birth of Jesus Christ. It shows figures near the
manger in a barn that represent baby Jesus, mother Mary, Joseph along with
the shepherds, the three Wise Men and the angels. Animals such as an ox,
camels of the wise men and donkey are typically depicted in the crib
is amazed to see the work of the artist. Nadeem Dat and Samuel Gill are
the ones who pioneered this event and have been involved in it for the
last 22 years now. “People from all over Lahore come to see this place
each Christmas,” says Suleman a local resident. “The crowd you see now
is nothing; wait and see as the night progresses you will definitely see
the numbers grow,” says Huma, a young girl from Sheikhupura who has just
come down to see the street.
The vibes the street
emits get to you. No one is ready to give place to the other, and everyone
just wants to be as close to the manger as the little donkey or the wise
men. “Believe me I have been standing here for the last one hour now
just to get one photograph of the scene but to no avail. It’s hard to
move the people away because no one wants to leave the place; it seems
they want to spend the rest of their lives on this very street,” says a
rather disappointed Emanuel.
“The staging of Charni
is the only such event in Lahore on Christmas, which we have been
arranging for the last more than 20 years,” says Samuel Gill, one of the
main organisers of the event. “And, perhaps this is the only event in
the whole country where Charni is decorated this way with flex-made
The Gill family is one
of the oldest families of this Modest Colony and the whole family is
involved in this festivity decorating Charni every year for a couple of
started it almost 22 years ago and my uncle Nadeem Dat was the
inspiration. He put me in this great job,” Samuel, 41, says, adding,
“One good evening in December two decades ago, my uncle and I were
sitting together at a small empty place near our house from where this
idea came.” Now, the families of eight uncles of mine, and ours are
deeply involved in this job to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Nasir Dat, Asharf B Gill, Saleem Bhatti, and many other friends are
involved in this activity, he says.
“It gives us pleasure,
peace and happiness,” Samuel tells TNS, adding, “We and hundreds of
other people of the area enjoy this activity. Even the Muslim families of
the nearby areas come to see this event happily,” he points out.
The group, last year,
also managed to telecast this event live on the local cable. It is further
attracting thousands of people. They have a one-time cost of Rs150,000 for
the statues and some money they spend every year on decorating the plot,
Cherry for a reason
This cake or that? It
has to be the best
When you think about
Christmas cake, the first name that comes to your mind is Lahore’s
Mohkamuddin Bakers. Located in Anarkali, the 132-year-old shop has a vast
history of baking cakes in the city, but even they know that it is their
Christmas cake that has made them famous in Lahore.
“Yes the Christmas
cake has been popular with the masses. The entire Christian community is
purchasing cakes from us, be it the VIPs, the clergy men or common
Christian friends,” tells Mohkam Naqvi.
Both the brothers are
now running the bakery of their forefathers, their grandfather Syed
Mohkamuddin and father Khushbakht Hussain had been running the show
earlier. “The sales of the bakery reach a high during Christmas season;
the difference is almost 70percent,” Naqvi tells us.
The Mohkams are using
their family recipe for the Christmas cakes. Without giving much away,
Naqvi talks about the strenuous cake-making process, “It is one long
process. We start preparing for the Christmas season from September.”
The rich ingredients used are raisins, black currants, orange beans,
Californian almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts, saffron, royal spices; the
bread is also made by the book.
— Naila Inayat
Last week was nostalgic,
reminding one of the school days close to Christmas. The tableau would be
held in the Cathedral; the rehearsals would start with the onset of
December. Well, that is what I remember of Christmas at Cathedral School.
All the children in our
school would get a chance to see it. How I envied the children who were
chosen to act in the play held every year in the church around this time.
All the children who made up to the tableau were Christian by faith and I
often wondered if the teachers could be more egalitarian while picking the
cast of the play. After all, they celebrated the birth of Christ and
doesn’t everyone have equal reverence for him.
Probably the teachers
were unsure of the parents’ reaction in case the Muslim children were
picked; though when I was in school nobody talked of these differences the
way they do today.
I had a secret wish
while in school; to get a chance to be a part of the choir but I was not
lucky enough. To be fair, I should not complain because I never
volunteered. I just waited for the music teacher to pick me out of more
than forty children in my class and an equal number in the rest of the
classes. Also, I learnt with time that the one who gets the opportunity is
the one who takes the initiative.
I had till then listened
to piano in the school hall just before and after the morning assembly. I
found it lovely and soothing. Hundreds of children marched in a line and
settled in rows in the big assembly hall while the music teacher played
the piano. The moment he stopped playing the piano, silence fell heralding
the entry of the principal in the hall.
But I can never forget
hearing the choir at the Cathedral for the first time. I was ten. How it
filled me with wonder and how the organ exerted immense power on me.
Later, I learnt from Sir Griffin James, who played the organ at the
Cathedral and piano at our school, that an organ was much more complex
Another regular feature
around this time was decoration of the assembly hall and the Christmas
tree. I was fortunate to be a part of this team once. Oh, what fun it was
to flex our creativity. We were given dozens of colourful crepe paper
strips, shiny balls, stars and multi-coloured folded paper balls to
decorate the multi-purpose hall.
The assembly hall, as we
used to call it in Cathedral School, had many functions. Apart from
debating contests, badminton matches were held in the full-fledged court
inside the hall and a film was shown to children on projector every year.
But I always thought the best use of the hall was the Christmas party.
That seemed to us children the only purpose of decorating the hall on the
occasion. And the classic good old well-kept piano at a corner of the hall
at the entrance added to the decorations.
I wonder if it is still
the practice at Cathedral School. My generation grew up with a sense of
fraternity — learning, sharing, lending a helping hand to school fellows
and no fuss of the religious differences. I wonder what happened to this
country over the years as I grew older. Who had heard of blasphemy till
What has been happening
on charges of blasphemy for the last two decades in this country is
horrifying. Salmaan Taseer’s killing followed by Shahbaz Bhatti’s
murder early this year marked the people of Pakistan as most bigoted and
intolerant in the world’s eye. The sane citizens of this country, who
are greater in number for sure, condemn the murders. We must make an
effort to restore peace and appreciate all that is good.
The Christian community
in Pakistan has immense contribution in educating our children. Weren’t
Cathedral, St. Anthony’s, Convent and Sacred Heart the best known
schools? Who has been educating the children of this city for generations?
Weren’t all these educationists from the Christian community? Their
contribution to this society is immeasurable. We should be grateful to
them. They are our brethren and we should share with them however we can.
Christmas is one such occasion.
*Exhibition of Drawings
& Paintings by Ali Abbas in Ejaz Art Gallery on Thursday, Dec 22 from
5–9 pm. The exhibition will remain open until Dec 29.
titled Conch Curve Creation by Ali Asad Naqvi at The Drawing Room Art
Gallery till Dec 26.
at Grey Noise of Bani Abidi’s works in collaboration with Green
Cardamom, London till Jan 13. Gallery timings: 5pm-9pm.
*New works by Hasnat Mehmood at Rohtas 2 Gallery till Dec 29.
It’s been a year since
the Chief Minister Punjab, with the intention of providing shoppers at
Liberty Market with parking facility, inaugurated the Park and Ride Plaza
amidst considerable fanfare. The project was part of the city’s
beautification drive which was supposed to put an end to unplanned urban
spread and encroachments and in return provide the dwellers of the city
some breathing space. The idea behind the beautification drive has mostly
fizzled out by now mainly due to the fact that the government projects are
a pure example of unplanned urban development and the very legality of
these projects are being questioned.
The failure of the Park
and Ride project can be attributed to a couple of reasons but the first
and foremost is not communicating properly to the citizens how such
projects operate. A Park and Ride facility in the developed countries is
an endeavour to encourage motorists to park their vehicles at designated
car parks and opt for public transport to travel to other parts of the
city and as a result an attempt to curb carbon emissions and avoid traffic
congestion. By limiting the function of the facility to overcome parking
woes, the project has ended up as yet another case of importing novel
ideas into the country without preparing a culture for the idea to set in.
Hence, the project was never intended to serve the purpose for which it
Secondly, the plaza ran
into problems on legal grounds when a case was filed in the Lahore High
Court (LHC) questioning the construction of the facility on a piece of
land which was designated for the development of a public park. The area
adjacent to United Christian Hospital where the plaza stands was an open
space owned by the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) which was
illegally transferred to the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) through a
process of file shuffling and a touch of bureaucratic magic. The LHC
issued notices to the Punjab Government, LDA and PHA and directed them to
file in their replies to the petition in March, early this year. But in an
extraordinary display of bad taste the LHC request was like water off a
duck’s back for the government officials. It was not until October this
year when the PHA admitted to the dodgy work they did and confessed to the
illegality of the project.
PHA’s confession came
after enough damage had been done. Early this year a Chief Minister’s
Investigation Team (CMIT) came up with an inquiry report which smoked out
a massive corruption scandal during the construction of the Park and Ride
Plaza. The report revolves around the construction of the project which
was intentionally kept on a go slow mode in order to increase the cost
from Rs 499.96 million to Rs 677.47million.
Such incidents gave way
to pertinent questions on the intentions of government regarding the
project. When the government was well aware of the possible outcome of the
project why did it blatantly kept spending public funds which could have
been better utilised somewhere else? Does this count as embezzlement of
tax payers money? It was the same government that stopped the construction
of a multiplex at the Lahore Doongi ground in accordance with many Supreme
Court judgements and LHC decisions, then why did it openly violate these
But this did not stop
the government to lavishly spend on a project which is supposedly said to
be the brainchild of the Chief Minister. After the inauguration of the
Plaza, LDA hired the services of an advertising company by the name of
Collier International, to launch an extensive media campaign to attract
investors to buy the 80 shops and two restaurants the facility has to
offer. The two auctions that took place this year received a lukewarm
response and only managed to sell 24 shops.
An official on condition
of anonymity is of the opinion that the investors are wary of opening up
business in the plaza in the shadows of the controversies that has
engulfed the project. “It’s none of our concern whether the project is
a success or a failure. Our job was to construct the building and now we
are being paid by the LDA to keep things running,” he further revealed.
While talking to TNS, the official said that the 300 cars parking facility
is not generating enough revenue for its upkeep and the LDA has to pay for
it. In a nutshell, he termed the entire facility as a “white
Fleeting attempts are
being made to save the project from being labelled as a failure. The
government is using every possible resource at its disposal to somehow
draw in motorists to the facility. A fleet of police wardens are
especially designated around the plaza to direct people into the parking
facility. Off the record, these wardens confessed to have been instructed
to use high handedness in order to get motorists into the parking area.
Furthermore, the government blocked all the adjacent streets so that
shoppers have no option but to park their vehicles at the Park and Ride
Plaza which is badly affecting the businesses of nearby shops.
The Punjab government
has announced a total of 10 such plazas around the city but the claim made
is looking increasingly threadbare. If we take a dispassionate look at the
Park and Ride Plaza we find it a project conceived on the paths of folly.
The building might impress many for its state of the art features but to
the sane minds what is achieved still pales in comparison to what is not
achieved. The LDA is not coming to grips with the failure of the project
and is boastful of its achievement. This attitude makes us wonder what
their benchmark of failure is.
Last week, the city of
Lahore experienced one of the worst traffic jams in its history. The
vehicular traffic came to a virtual standstill on different roads,
especially those that lied close to the canal. The main reason quoted for
this jam was the closure of two sections along the canal road for
carpeting. One was from The Mall onwards to Jail Road and the second from
Jail Road to Ferozepur Road.
The traffic police and
district government tried to implement a diversion plan but unfortunately
it did not work out. The commuters belonging to all walks alike suffered
greatly and felt like being stuck in the traffic block for ages.
TNS tried to look into
the causes of this mess and talked to different people to know their
opinion on how to handle similar situations in a better way.
Asif Zafar Cheema, SP
Traffic, Saddar Division says most of the work along canal had been done
in the presence of traffic moving in one or two lanes. The sections were
closed only to lay asphalt layer. He says though diversion plan was there
the alternative routes could not take the heavy load of the diverted
He tells TNS a
suggestion was made to the National Logistic Cell (NLC) the company which
is doing the project to work during night time but it said this way it
could not ensure quality. For this reason the road had to be closed during
Cheema adds there is
extra-ordinary rush on roads as the day is too short in winter. People
wait till noon to leave their houses to avoid cold and try to return home
before it gets dark. This leaves people with just 4 to 5 hours to finish
their tasks, hence the increased congestion, he adds.
He says now they are
giving ads in newspaper much in advance to inform people about the traffic
diversion plans. Besides, he says the commuters should cooperate with them
by not violating traffic rules especially in such situations. Cheema
suggests people should be patient if the traffic is moving slow and should
not make a U-turn or go in wrong directions.
Tariq Zaman Khan, Staff
Officer to DCO, Lahore tells TNS the diversion plan did not work as much
as it was expected to. The reasons, he thinks are multiple and says they
have started tackling them one by one. For example, he shares the district
government and traffic police have identified 20 roads, including Davis
Road, and plan to convert them into model roads. Under this plan, traffic
police will be responsible for removing temporary encroachments like
wheel-carts, stalls, wrongly-parked vehicles etc from main roads and the
district government for those from service lanes.
Tariq shares it with TNS
that there would be zero tolerance for violations on these roads like
driving in wrong direction on one-way roads and driving without license.
Tariq says the canal
road that links east and west of the city takes huge load of traffic
coming from The Mall and other roads like Jail Road, Ferozepur Road and
Allama Iqbal Road running parallel to it. Unfortunately, two of these
roads are also under construction which has resulted in further congestion
on the remaining two roads. He hopes the situation will improve with
completion of these roads.
spokesman for Rescue 1122, tells TNS the traffic jam due to canal road’s
closure was a situation for which they were mentally prepared. He says on
such occasions the center nearest to the place where help is needed is
asked to rush the rescuers. For example, the 1122 centers at Thokar Niaz
Beg, Township, Muslim Town Mor and Dharampura are situated next to the
canal and can be asked to act.
However, he says, in
extreme situations the rescuers have to carry the stretchers and rush on
foot to give emergency medical aid to patients or the injured in an
accident. What they do on August 14 (Independence Day) is that they place
several ambulances along the choked Mall Road at different spots. If an
emergency arises, rescuers can reach the spot on foot, he adds.
Faheem says traffic
wardens and the public on the whole try their best to help them out. But
in traffic jams like the one seen last week they are themselves helpless.
He suggests ideally there should be emergency lanes left vacant on roads
and the commuters made to obey traffic lane rules.
SP Asif Zafar Cheema
also shares with TNS that work on the other side of the canal will start
soon and the need for similar traffic load management will rise again. But
it’s hoped there would be less traffic due to closure of schools and
colleges due to winter holidays, and better traffic management.
He agrees commuters
violate traffic rules with impunity during severe traffic jams as wardens
cannot afford to stop or challan them at that time. This worsens the
situation as vehicles come face to face in same lanes are stranded there
for long. The situation, he says, may change soon as a plan to introduce
an Intelligence Transport System (ITS) is under consideration. If
introduced by the provincial government, ITS will comprise intelligence
cameras which will take snaps of the number plates of vehicles violating
traffic rules. This system may prove to be a strong deterrent against