of the yellow
Waiting for the kiterunners
Will this spring see the colours of Basant?
By Ali Umair Chaudhry
The waning interest in the movement for restoring Basant has become a distressing issue for a city in the midst of a diverging identity and culture. The brutal assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer, one of the staunchest supporters of the festival, has further quelled the probability of the festival being held, which invokes a melancholic tone considering the belief that Basant is as symbolic of archetypal Lahore as Oktoberfest is of Munich.
Azhar-ud-din, an old kite and string manufacturer in Saddar Bazaar, Cantonment, has seen his once thriving business come to a standstill in the wake of the bans since 2005 -- “A decade ago, we made a good amount of money throughout the season but especially at Basant. Today, the only kites I make are for decorative purposes, or for the occasional private customer. We are not allowed to sell them here.”
Azhar is one of numerous manufacturers throughout the city who have been left on the verge of unemployment due to the dwindling industry. “I have been left with no option but to work on other petty things for my livelihood,” he regrets.
As a foreteller of spring, a jubilant Basant has always epitomised the return of verve to the subcontinent’s most economically progressive province and its agrarian class. The festival is known for its myriad of colours and festivities. From the yellow kurtas signifying spirituality to the burgundy-jade bangles, Basant eventually progressed each passing decade acclimatising to new customs, practises and a growing commercial worth, becoming an industry cumulatively third only to the two Eid holidays in terms of economic value.
The month-long celebration’s speciality has always been the oriental art of kite flying. Groups of men of all ages have toiled hard with their threaded swords, with enough trickery and variety in method and application to be a worthy theme of a crafty Hemingway novel. Unfortunately, due to a drove of reasons, kite flying may well have become Lahore’s Lochness.
Each inhabitant of the walled city has his or her own story on the matter. The first, as with all issues vexatious, is the defiling of sporadic government policies. “The government has made a mockery of this celebration. For the last decade, no one knows if it is going to be celebrated or when it is happening. People have started to act indifferent to it,” claims Asad Ali, a string and kite salesman nestled in the streets adjacent to the Gowalmandi mohalla.
In 2005, kite flying was banned in Pakistan due to safety reasons. The ban was shortly uplifted but due to a penetrative attack from stern religious parties claiming the Hindu origins of the festival, the ban was eventually reinstated.
Glass-coated and metal wires provide a stern advantage to the kite flyers, but have consequently played the guillotine to countless innocent lives. Damage to infrastructure, such as wiring and electric installations is also significant.
Dr Mehdi Hassan, veteran journalist-political analyst, adopts an aggressive stance, “There are many things people die of everyday, such as planes, car accidents, working on the road. More people are killed in those activities daily, so why don’t they ban those as well?”
The lower class has historically practiced the sport trotting through streets, crisscrossing the web of high voltage wires, running over idle tongas, with kites gyrating into overflowing manholes and dancing into the verandas of flanking market plazas and houses. Due to the recent government and police pressure, kite flying has become a far too knotty risk for this class. “There are a lot of entertainment activities for the elite class, but the only thing which the poor had was two days of celebration in Basant,” further adds Hassan.
The emergence of diverse activities and pastimes over the last decade has played a major role in Basant’s flagging popularity. Kite flying, in terms of the middle-upper class, has suffered due to increasing activities and a lifestyle based on goals and time maximisation. A trip to the Lahori Basant of the 1980s would showcase a Trebia of string-tugging gladiators striving for their hand in the war booty. “It was the era of one radio station and of one television channel and the rooftop was an escape from the monotony of daily life,” recalls veteran fashion photographer Abdul Qayum. Imported events such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween have also taken a bite off the significance historically given to Basant.
The last few known practitioners still capable of celebrating the festival, the liberal upper class, are surviving on the repute of their guest list rather than the quality of kite flying. Parties in the legendary Salli Haveli are now less about kites and more about an occasion. Fawad, a socialite and avid party-goer, claims, “Kite flying and celebration of Basant has become secondary to good food and socialising with classes. There are many Basant parties in which kite flying does not even take place, nor would many of these younger people know anything about it.”
There is a great deal of pessimism about the probability of the festival being held this year. Shahbaz Sharif’s decision to set up a Basant committee was scrutinised by Shabab-e-Milli and other hardline religious groups, accusing him of folding back on PML-N’s strict stance. There has been, however, a recent joint consensus between him and Governor Latif Khosa that the festival must be held this year.
It is essential that such bona fide occasions are not rooted-out from the calendar, and importantly, the minds of the new emerging generation. As life continues becoming quick and hectic in this evolving city, Basant brings with it an economically and socially refreshing change and an essential role in raising a positive mural of our nation in lands overseas.
By Ammara Ahmad
Journalism without training is like horse riding without practice. You tend to fall every now and then. And each time the fall hurts more. Keeping all these thoughts in mind, I joined a short course on media in the South Asian Free Media Association last December, which lasted two months.
Our class was quite diverse --a few journalists, students, housewives, one retired officer and one student leader who couldn’t stay away from his female class fellows.
The first few weeks were smooth. We had classes and lectures, sat in the safety of the class, looking attentive and occasionally asking a sharp question. Luminaries of journalism like Khaled Ahmed on current affairs, Arif Nizami on changing trends in journalism, Hassan Askari Rizvi on political reporting, Seemi Raheal on gender bias in journalism and Iftikhar Ahmad among many others came to lecture us.
In the fourth week, an advertising guru who came to teach us technical aspects of the camera work, divided us into three groups and assigned us a 3 minute long film each. We were supposed to have a story, act, direct and record it. The story we coined was about an imaginary fellow student forced to steal mobile phones due to financial constraint, how we discover her stealing and help her out. The thief was played by me, but we forgot to shoot the confession scene on the shooting day. By the time we realised this mistake, the week with the advertising guru was over (along with my hopes for an acting career).
Three weeks before the course ended, Sharmini Boyle, a Sri Lankan producer for the last thirty years, joined from Colombo to train us. On the first day she divided us into four groups and sent us all to get walk pops on a current issue. Punjab was about to get a new governor and we questioned some twenty people if they knew who the new Governor was. Most people did not know the new Governor; those who knew couldn’t name him. I held the mike in the first ten or so vox pop. Afterwards when my turn was over, it was time to relax. I took a stroll, bought some corn, quarreled over the price and even bought some socks from a vendor.
The next day when the video was reviewed, the first half was relatively smooth (if you ignore the two instances I was waving violently at my crew to stay quiet).The second part, in which I didn’t compere, was a disaster. In background, roaming around the street in a space jacket and goggles was none other than me -- first buying the corn and squabbling with a pathan and eventually buying socks. I could hear myself bargain and the whole class in a fit of laughter. There was little doubt left on how aloof and huge my screen presence was, especially when quarrelling with street vendors.
The next assignment with Sharmini was a small, 3 minute documentary. Each group was to pick its own topic and we were silly enough to pick up a broad and difficult theme the “Impact of terrorism on the entertainment industry.”
The shooting day was fun. We got to meet Usman Peerzada, the creator of the website danka.com with his four cats and guitars and finally a stage director. But the post shooting scenario was chaotic. We came back with a seventy minute footage for the 3 minute movie, had deviated from the script and forgotten to write down the shot sequence. After much effort and scolding, the movie was salvaged to some extent.
In the last week, we went to a private news channel, just to get the feel of how things are there. The building was innovative and tech savvy but somehow much smaller than we had anticipated, especially the news room. The sets were sound proof, well-lit and full of energy. In the distance, a newsreader was about to go on air with the bulletin, so they hushed us out.
Zulfiqar Khosa was the chief guest in the concluding ceremony, in which Khaled Ahmed, who was the course director, also spoke. Khosa was in a hurry and didn’t pay much attention to our short films. Mercifully, the vox pops were not screened. But to give us cold feet, the advertising guru was there, giving us meaningful glances. Before he could summon our art pieces, we all vanished through the back door.
*Exhibition: Solo water colour paintings exibition by Dr. F.D.Toor at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall. Today is the last day.
*Group Exhibition by Artists Association of Punjab at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall till Feb 28.
*Lecture on The Worth of Modern & The Wisdom of Traditional Time Management by Dr. Shehzad Aslam Siddiqui at Hast-o-Neest Centre for Traditional Art & Culture today at 4pm.
*Dance/Theatre: Noughts and Crosses by City School Ravi Campus at Alhamra, Gadaffi Stadium from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm. Today is the last day.
*Weekly Puppet Show for children every Sunday at 11am. Children can see fairy and folk tales coming alive on stage. Regular workshops are conducted for those interested in learning this art form.
Protests, rallies and processions at The Mall need to be tackled administratively
By Waqar Gillani
One Monday of last month, Muhammad Asad, 31, who is jobless for the last two years, was refused yet another time as he could not appear in an interview for an administrative post in a private firm in the cantonment area. He was two hours late. He told the officers that the only reason for reaching late was the clerics’ procession at The Mall, the main artery of the traffic of Lahore.
This is just one story from hundreds of commuters who have to cross The Mall and get stuck in traffic because of protests at Charing Cross every other day. Many fail to reach their children’s schools in time to pick them up. Many suffer losses in their businesses and have to miss or postpone their meetings.
“According to law, official permission is required to take out a rally at The Mall or any other road of the city but, unfortunately, these days this practice is not being followed,” says a city district administration’s senior official asking not to be named.
There is no imposition of Section 144 that bars gathering of more than four people in the city at a time. Also, nobody bothers to file an application to seek permission from the government for holding a protest. Ultimately, the administration has to rush to the spot and try to manage the situation.
“We try to tackle them peacefully. We try to control them so that they do not block the road or have a sit-in,” says Inspector Rafiullah, Station Officer of the concerned police station. “To demonstrate is a right of every body and we cannot stop that,” he says, adding, “We don’t even try to stop them forcibly if they want to block the road. What we do is divert the traffic to another road and try to engage the protesters in dialogue and manage to open the road as soon as possible. We cannot baton charge them unless we have permission or order from the higher authorities.”
Routine traffic jams at The Mall and other nearby roads, especially Davis Road connecting The Mall to Lahore Press Club – another park to raise the voice for demands – block the traffic at large scale, affect businesses and trade and create a serious security risk.
“Sometimes we think there is no rule of law in this city. A handful of people come with their placards, banners and block the road, hijacking the whole city traffic, and the administration does not bother,” expresses Inaam Ahmed, a trader at The Mall. He thinks that the government is disrupting the administrative system of the city for political gains as using force would mean losing support of such protestors who are blocking roads illegally. He cited the example of a rally last week taken out by a handful of students. “There were around 200 people who rallied at The Mall against America and police and traffic wardens gave them full ‘protocol.’ There is no respect for civil rights and no urge for rule of law, only giving liberties to people to break the law.”
“We demand of the government to specify a park or a place in the city for such protests and rallies so that traffic flow remains consistent,” demands Tariq Khan, a citizen who commutes through The Mall daily.
The city district administration says that it’s not a matter of handling the protests by the local authorities but a policy issue. “We are not allowed even to touch a rally without permission because of the ultimate political repercussions,” he says, adding, “Sensitivity of the matter requires consultation of Home Department with the provincial government.”
There are fewer taxicabs in the city than commuters who want to take them
By Arshad Shafiq
I think after a personal conveyance the more respectable and comfortable means of transportation among the public transports is taxicab. But we have a rare sight of cabs on the city roads.
A very few yellow cabs or a very few rent-a-car counters and companies like Metro Radio Cab and City Radio Cab for 9 million city population means to let them have a monopoly on the business, forcing the commuters to pay them what they demand. The government too can generate revenue by promoting cabs on a large scale. High taxi fares keep travellers away and let auto and motorcycle-rickshaws mushroom in the city.
We can see a very few taxicabs at public places like Lahore Railway Station, Badshahi Masjid, Minar-i-Pakistan, Lahore Zoo, Racecourse Park, Shalamar Gardens and hospitals. These are the points where we can expect a lot of cabs to hire, but a thin number of taxis at these places give commuters a narrow margin for bargaining fares with the drivers, ultimately leaving them with two options either to hire the taxi on exorbitant fare or to travel on auto-rickshaw or motorcycle-rickshaw, which is generally deemed an uncomfortable and risky conveyance. The absence of appropriate rent-a-car facility not only gives rise to unruly rickshaws on the city roads, it also deprives people of better transport such as cabs.
Ittehad Yellow Cab Taxi Drivers Union President Syed Zahid Shamsi says, “The government is not taking interest in promoting taxicabs. There were 63 taxi stands in the city which now have been reduced to only three – Regal Chowk, Lahore Railway Station and Allama Iqbal International Airport”.
Malik Maqsood Ahmad, Yellow Cab Taxi Drivers Union Chairman says, “A yellow cab driver pays Rs.6,200 for a route permit after every three years and Rs.260 for a fitness certificate after every six months but these cabs are not allowed to stay for a while to pick passengers from stops other than fixed ones. If a traffic warden spots a cab driver waiting for passengers at a place, he challans him immediately. Contrary to this, auto and motorcycle-rickshaws which neither have route permits nor fitness certificates, are free to pick passengers from everywhere. Moreover, these vehicle drivers openly violate laws on overloading and underage driving but no one is there to punish them. This discriminatory attitude of the Regional Transport Authority (RTC) and Lahore Transport Company (LTC) is forcing cab drivers to sell their taxies to drivers of other cities, particularly from Pindi and Peshawar”.
Unfortunately, things go from bad to worse when we see that the city does not have an organised and well-planned system to regulate presently plying taxicabs with regard to fare, travellers’ security, vehicles’ fitness and drivers’ qualifications. Drivers charge fare at their will. Travellers are looted even by the cab drivers, and sometimes the drivers are deprived of their vehicles by robbers posing as travellers. Most of the cabs used for rent are old ones and already have a lot of wear and tear. It is observed that mostly cab drivers are overage and unfit for driving and don’t have enough knowledge of the city areas and ultimately the passengers get to pay the price for their incomplete knowledge. For example, if a passenger insists his cab driver that the area where he is dropping him is not his exact destination, the driver demands more money than the agreed one to drop him on his desired location on the ground that the passenger did not guide him properly.
Lahore Transport Company (LTC) Chairman Khawaja Ahmad Hassan told TNS that the LTC had a plan to introduce a state-of-the-art cab service in the City.
A cab service company will have at least a fleet of 25 taxis. These taxis will charge Rs 60 for first three km and after three km it will start charging Rs 7.5 for per km. These cabs will be fitted with fare meters and mobile data terminal system. These cars will be monitored by the LTC through tracking system, he added.
Talking to TNS, “Airport United Yellow Cab Drivers Union President Syed Aftab alleged that CAA wanted to promote cab companies at the cost of yellow cabs. Yellow cab drivers despite meeting all legal requirements are not allowed to enter the airport concourse to pick passengers whereas the drivers of other company cabs remain there all the time. City Radio Cab and Metro Radio Cab companies are legally bound to ply their cabs in urban areas, but the airport does not fall in urban areas rather it falls in Cantt area”.
Getting parking permit from CAA to pick passengers from the airport is as difficult as to get UK visa. The authority issues stickers to those drivers who bribe the officials or have strong links with top brass. Such discouraging attitude is causing the drivers to switch over to rickshaw driving, a taxi driver alleged.
Talking to TNS, Allama Iqbal International Airport Manager Syed Amir Mahmood says, “The authority strictly follows rules and regulations to issue stickers to the cab drivers. The cab driver associations keep blaming the CAA instead of meeting requirements needed for CAA stickers. CAA scrutinises every yellow cab driver’s record before issuing him airport stickers. If a driver does not meet requirements, he is not issued the sticker”.
Commenting on City Radio Cab, Tourist Rent-a-Car and Metro Radio Cab counters at the airport concourse, the airport chief says, “CAA invites tenders to give contracts to cab companies and the highest bidders are allowed to start service at the terminal. This contract giving method is the same at every airport of the country. With the introduction of cab companies at airports, passengers’ looting incidents have been controlled”.