society
A tale of two Lahores
The youths in Lahore are living two different lives. The divide is increasing because the majority feels restricted, powerless before 'authorities'
By Ammar Ali Jan
On the peripheries of Lahore, rural populations are attempting to come to terms with the rapid urbanisation that is engulfing them. Even after these villages are officially and geographically integrated into the city, the new urban settings are often a unique blend of a villagesque culture situated in an urban setting.

MOOD STREET
In vain pursuit of travel
Since millennia, people desirous of traveling across the planet had to face months of arduous journeying across land and sea and had to contend with painful illnesses, pirates, sea monsters and the possibility of falling off the edge of the world.

Town Talk
*Wushu (Kung-Fu) Training Camp for
girls till Sun, Jul 25. Venue: Pakistan Wushu
Federation.

service
Bridal secrets
Rent-a-dress offer for a formal occasion like wedding has made things easy for many
By Naila Inayat
Be it Sania Mirza's pink peshwas for mehndi or her 'designer' Hyderabadi churidaar kurta, with a nine-yard draping dupatta or the bride's lehnga in pastel colours with over 1.5 lakh swarovski crystals for her reception in Lahore... the bride failed to impress fashion commentators at home or across the border.

Recycling old dresses
Transforming old dresses into up-to-date, fashionable ones is a greatly sought after skill. Most people recycle their dresses because they don't have enough money and resources to buy new ones. These people go to a boutique which retains the fabric of these dresses while giving them a new look according to new fashion trends. The new look is not very costly.

In the eggshell
The Lahore High Court has given directives against the practice of using rotten eggs and chemical dyes in bakery products
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Ever wondered what comprises the food we consume or what goes into its making? The recent debates about the use of hazardous chemicals to preserve packed milk and the alleged use of rotten eggs in bakery products have made many to think about it seriously.
There is a common perception that many bakeries, especially those working as undocumented business, use rotten eggs as well as those with broken shells to cut their costs. The customer who buys the finished product is not in a position to identify the quality of the inputs.

 

 

society

A tale of two Lahores

The youths in Lahore are living two different lives. The divide is increasing because the majority feels restricted, powerless before 'authorities'

By Ammar Ali Jan

On the peripheries of Lahore, rural populations are attempting to come to terms with the rapid urbanisation that is engulfing them. Even after these villages are officially and geographically integrated into the city, the new urban settings are often a unique blend of a villagesque culture situated in an urban setting.

One such area present in Lahore is around Chungi Amar Saddu where I have been involved as a researcher and activist for the past year and a half. This area is located on Ferozepur Road between Qainchi and Kahna, and is only three kilometers away from Defence. Constant traveling between the two is a dis-orienting experience as both represent entirely different worlds that exist within this city.

A few decades ago, Amar Saddu was one of the largest villages on the outskirts of Lahore. The urban pull factors, including the construction of factories and gated communities in its vicinity, transformed Amar Saddu's landscape as people from all over Punjab moved to the area to find jobs in the industrial zones nearby. The vast fields have given way to narrow lanes filled with workers' quarters, houses and small shops.

Most of the migrant labourers have come from Kasur and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. It is also interesting to note that the caste system is still intact in the Chungi, with members of a particular caste settling in a particular colony. For example, the Bhattis, Jats, Arain and Pushtoons live in neighbourhoods dominated by members of their own castes. This is a major reason why politics continues to revolve around the biradri system since politicians engage with the biradris as a whole in order to secure their vote banks.

The newly urbanised region still holds on traditions that are characteristic of rural settings. For example, there is immense distrust for the police and courts, and there is a great deal of reliance on panchayats as an alternative, but more efficient way of settling disputes. Having witnessed a few of these panchayats, it is striking how much faith people have in this institution, even if the verdict is against them. Or conversely, it also reveals how little trust they have in state institutions whose corruption and decadence is most prominent in such localities.

The police station is viewed as a symbol of repression, especially by the youngsters who live in the area as they are constantly harassed by the policemen.

"Everytime I return late from the factory, the police stops and searches me," says Murtaza Bajwa, a young factory worker who lives in Chungi. "They are always hoping that I have some drugs on me so that they can force me to pay a bribe."

Ahsan Bhatti, an I.Com student from the area asserts that the police stand as the single most feared "gang" in the area. " Whenever there is a terrorist attack, we are not only scared of the terrorists, but more so of the police checkpoints that are erected on the main Ferozepur Road as it gives the policemen a license to stop and harass anyone they like."

Snooker clubs are the epi-centre of social life for these boys in Chungi as they converge here almost every evening. Gambling is common at these clubs while there is also drug culture linked to these sites. Alcohol and hashish are not only common amongst youngsters, but are often acceptable in the area as it is openly sold by the locals, with of course the full backing of certain elements within the police force.

As soon as the call of prayer is heard, however, most people take a minor break to show respect for the religion, before resuming their 'worldly' activities.

This is not to suggest that people in the area are hypocritical or ignorant about the tenets of Islam. On the contrary, what it suggests is that the human value system, as well as our daily practice, is much more fluid to be placed in neatly packaged boxes such as 'Islamic' or 'unIslamic'.

One of the most interesting experiences for me was to interact with members of Shabaab-e-Milli, a cultural front for the Jamaat-e-Islami that targets 'western' cultural events such as Valentine's Day or farmhouse parties. A few of their members expressed their desire to join a progressive group that we had formed in the area. Initially we were apprehensive of them for we made the mistake of placing them into a conservative box. A week later, the only complaint we had against this entire group was that they would remain constantly drunk which would create problems during our meetings.

So why do such youngsters from Chungi, who are not particularly concerned about religion, end up joining fundamentalist organisations? We should keep in mind that during the 1990s, Chungi Amar Saddu was also the centre for Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad as a large Shia population also resides in the area.

Ahsan has an interesting explanation. "Youngsters often feel extremely powerless before their parents, the factory owners, the police, the chaudhries and other powerful players in the locality. These militant organisations are able to exploit such feelings prevalent amongst youngsters by introducing them to weapons and an organised set-up that is feared by even local police stations. Growing up, I think all of us were impressed by these organisations as gaining power was a good enough incentive for all of us."

It is unfortunate that I was unable to gain access to the female gender, except middle-aged women who are active either in the factories or with political initiatives such as the Benazir Income Support Program. Restrictions on the intermingling of sexes does not mean that youngsters are not able to escape such restrictions. They are still able to see each other in factories, bazaars and even from their rooftops. It has always intrigued me how some of my friends have managed to maintain steady relationships with girls they hardly ever get to meet. Mobile phones have made it slightly easier to communicate, but the ever-present danger of being caught, means that it is hardly an easy job. 

In recent years, discontent has risen amongst the youth in the area. Almost all youngsters from the area used to converge to a ground adjacent to Chungi Amar Saddu to play cricket over the weekends. That ground, however, has turned into a housing society where these youngsters are barred from entering. Besides this almost traumatising loss of territory, the rising unemployment due to load shedding and the consequent closure of factories, as well as rising inflation, are all causing frustration amongst the residents of the area. 

Recently, two men in Chungi committed suicides due to unemployment and price hike. Many are now focusing their attention on the thriving drug economy to make some money, while many gangs responsible for robberies and theft in posh localities such as Defence are traced to this area. A few days ago, the youth from the area blocked the Ferozepur road in protest against Wasa for not acting promptly during the monsoons and for letting their neighbourhoods flood.

So Chungi Amar Saddu is only one such area that is coming to terms with urban dynamism as it was thrust into modernity. It has not only led to the urbanisation of rural areas, but at some level, a ruralisation of urban spaces as the inhabitants continue to practice many of their traditional practices in the new setting. As Lahore expands and more and more villages fall under its domain, it will continue to have an effect on Lahore's landscape, culture and most importantly, on its political economy as this expansion not only opens more economic opportunities, it also gives rise to sharp contradictions that will force the authorities to address them sooner or later.

 

 

 

MOOD STREET

In vain pursuit of travel

Since millennia, people desirous of traveling across the planet had to face months of arduous journeying across land and sea and had to contend with painful illnesses, pirates, sea monsters and the possibility of falling off the edge of the world.

In most cases it was not the daunting nature of travel but the freedom to do so that posed the major hurdle. It was only in the 19th century that the age of liberalism set in and passports were formalised to enable people to move freely within and across countries. Millions migrated to the new world in hope of a better life, only to find that the streets were not paved with gold as they had said back home.

Now of course, globetrotting to your heart's content is as easy as pie. You (being one with sufficient means) point to a location on the map, think of a reason to go there (typically fun, frolic and legalised pleasures of the flesh), pack your bags, hop on a plane and jet, set, go. And yes, the task of obtaining a passport is considered but a minor technicality, or so it seems.

I recently happened to be caught up in just such an experience. Thinking myself lucky to be living in the age of interconnectivity and the one-click wonders of information technology, I googled the website of the Directorate General of immigration and passports and carefully noted the steps outlined in the fancy flowchart for acquiring the newfangled computerised passport. I had once undergone the regimen of applying for those old-style passports and assumed relief at going through the revamped version.

Upon a first visit to the passport office, such as the one in New Garden Town in Lahore, one receives a sensory overload with the sheer number of people swamping the place like sundry herds of animals quenching their thirst at a waterhole in the African plains. Yet there is an underlying order to this apparent chaos, albeit only to aid the staff in raking in a sizeable bonus along with their official earnings.

There being a short window of opportunity daily, as the timings are from 9 am to 1.30 pm, I asked around and found out that coming in those timings meant a 4-5 hour wait for your turn. I was also forewarned that contrary to the details on the website, the normal passport would take more than two months to be issued instead of 12 days and hence I would be better off opting for the urgent one by paying almost twice the fee. As somebody hinted that passport hopefuls start gathering two hours before the office opens, I marched up to the venue at 7:15 am to find a queue of 20 odd people already camped outside, trying to stay in the shade as much as possible. During the four hour wait before I was able to advance inside the building and have my mugshot-I mean snapshot taken, I wondered what kind of ramshackle digital equipment they were using that took six minutes to capture one person's face.

The scenario inside was like a little devil's workshop. The agents that tried to lure you inside with claims of getting you a pehlay number per token for Rs 1000 a pop, were sneaking in their clients from the exit and lining them up in front of the token counter. So the office personnel would facilitate 20 odd passport applicants snared by the agents for every 3-4 ones coming in via the official line. And when finally I was bestowed my token, it took another 90 minutes for me to be processed through all the steps that I had initially noted down from the website. So if around 300-400 people are going through the application process, one can do the math and assess the scale of the business that the staff of the passport office and their crony agents are conducting day in and day out.

In Pakistan, it seems that these days the process of obtaining a passport has become as convoluted and cumbersome that it is akin to buying your way out of serfdom in the days of yore. Yet it is from amongst this lot of travelers that our expatriate community is borne which our political masters so ardently refer to when pointing out the source of foreign exchange in our coffers as succor for our financial miseries.

 

Town Talk

*Wushu (Kung-Fu) Training Camp for

girls till Sun, Jul 25. Venue: Pakistan Wushu

Federation.

 

*Training: Neuro Linguistic Program

(NLP) from Fri, July 23 to Sun, July 25 at Sunfort Hotel.

Timings: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

 

*Calligraphy Workshop at Berlitz Language Centre

till Fri, July 30.

 

*Baytunur Summer Saturday sittings at 18-A, Street

C, Upper Mall Scheme, Lah1ore [Off Hotel Crown Plaza lane,

Near Dharampura Bridge] at 5:00 pm.

 

*Summer Conference in Mathematics at LUMS,

Lahore University of Management Sciences

on Mon-Tue, Jul 26-27.

 

Bridal secrets

Rent-a-dress offer for a formal occasion like wedding has made things easy for many

By Naila Inayat

Be it Sania Mirza's pink peshwas for mehndi or her 'designer' Hyderabadi churidaar kurta, with a nine-yard draping dupatta or the bride's lehnga in pastel colours with over 1.5 lakh swarovski crystals for her reception in Lahore... the bride failed to impress fashion commentators at home or across the border.

My point is: Why spend on an expensive wedding dress when you know you will not fit into it ever again, you will not wear it to anyone's wedding and you know soon it will get out of fashion. Perhaps, the least you can expect is: your daughter may want to wear it on her big day.

The chances of that happening are remote. Now will your daughter not want to wear a jora designed by 'HMY' or 'Barma'? But these days, you don't get daughters like Sania Mirza on this side of the border, who borrow their ammi jaan's sari for their wedding day.

Here, trends are changing -- they can get a wedding dress on rent for as low as Rs3000.

On my mission to explore these 'rental bridal secrets' I land in the Christian-dominated residential area of Bahar colony. Interestingly, every second house is in the rent-a-dress business. For Christian weddings, they offer western dresses or gowns in white, offwhite or even beige. "I started this business when my husband lost his job and it became difficult for us to make ends meet," says Blossom Usher.

"I decided to set up this renting business once my relatives from States helped me in getting the best dresses from abroad. There you have gowns made from the finest materials and cloth," she says.

So how does this work? "No one is making a white dress in Lahore. That's a difficult proposition you see. The risk of making a dress in Pakistan is too high," says Samina who also works in the same locality.

Samina explains the pros and cons of the line of work, "It is not only the quality of the foreign product that the customer prefers, it is rather the tag 'not made in Pakistan' that wins over the customer immediately."

Also, designing a white wedding dress is no child's play, you cannot get those cuts and patterns here, let's admit it! You can't trust your designers with a western formal wear. "Things that you get from abroad are unique and our business flourishes on this very trait. You do have the option to get such dresses from the landa bazaar but those ones are often worn out and not of such high quality," says Blossom.

At this point, a bride-to-be enters with her mother. She is young, in her early 20s, may be. She wants a dress exactly like Julia Roberts' in The Runaway Bride. She has a theme in mind... in case you are thinking she plans to runaway that is not the case... fairyland is the theme of the wedding and now she wants everything to coincide with it. Be it her dress, frocks, baskets of the flower girls or the bouquet. And the secret is that she'll get everything under one roof and that too on half the market price.

"Our rates are very reasonable. Actually it depends on which income group the customer belongs to, if they are coming from an affluent background then the rates will vary from the dress they'll choose," says Blossom. So in the case of our fairyland-bride the rental charges will be around Rs20,000, including the accessories and the dress jacket of the groom. But otherwise the costs range from Rs3000 to 20,000 with the return back policy.

Both Blossom and Samina complain that people usually don't use them carefully and they spoil the costumes which usually makes the item useless. Often the bridal dress (once returned) has permanent stains of the colourful snow spray and so cannot be worn again. Sometimes our baskets and accessories like gloves are not returned and we are left helpless because you just can't run around people's houses to collect the things, they say. There is no proper mechanism to stop this exploitation. "Now I make sure to take a copy of the national identity card whenever a customer comes," says Blossom.

When I move on, from Bahar Colony to Azam Market, the scene changes quite dramatically. Here you see rental wholesale bridal wears. And to my fascination it is also offering dulha suits on rent.

"I earn Rs10,000 a month. How do you expect me to buy clothes or even get them designed in this salary. This is reasonable and we just have to give Rs2,000 in advance and the clothes, the lehnga and the sherwani is ours -- only for two days, that is," says Muhammad Jamil.

"I really don't want to waste my parents' money on getting fancy clothes. Already they have done so much for the dowry. I seriously think there is no harm in renting bridal clothes when you know you are going to wear it once," says Shireen Izhar while matching her gold set with the lehnga.

See, it's not just Sania Mirza who 'borrowed' the dress, we have our own women who are coming out of the initial Star Plus shock and are ready to take it easy on their parents. And I say, it's just one day so why not?

 

 

 

Recycling old dresses

Transforming old dresses into up-to-date, fashionable ones is a greatly sought after skill. Most people recycle their dresses because they don't have enough money and resources to buy new ones. These people go to a boutique which retains the fabric of these dresses while giving them a new look according to new fashion trends. The new look is not very costly.

A boutique owner who is in this business says, "Many embellishments like sequins, gemstones, beads and other articles can be used to modify a dress. Putting them on the dress neatly and artistically requires certain skills and we have people who have this expertise."

Kashif, who has been in the boutique business for ten years now, says: "We change the fabric and colour where desired and add complimentary fabric to increase the length of shirts. Sometimes, I maintain the blouse, change the neckline and add some beads, sequins and gemstones, which is all handwork."

For quite some time, short shirts were in vogue but suddenly very long shirts are the talk of the town. "Only 7 percent of our customers demand renewal of old dresses. Most people prefer to buy new ones," says Kashif.

When asked what is in demand at present, he says, "Nowadays, mostly people demand embroidery, swarovski, beads and gemstones on bridal and fancy dresses and laces, ribbons and tassels on formal dresses."

If you wish to have a dress prepared in a week, you may be disappointed. A boutique asked for three weeks to modify a dress which I needed in one week. The boutiques in the business take fifty percent of the charges in advance.

But Aaliya, who has been giving new looks to bridal dresses for eight years, has opened a boutique in her own house. She says, "My effort is to help people who cannot afford new dresses." She has appointed tailors to assist her and embellishes fancy dresses just like the famous boutiques but at lower rates. Lastly, I would say that those who can't afford expensive dresses and branded clothing should contact people like Aaliya who are actually helping people save their money, converting their old dresses into new ones at the same time.

-- Mehrunnisa Hamayun

 

 

In the eggshell

The Lahore High Court has given directives against the practice of using rotten eggs and chemical dyes in bakery products

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

Ever wondered what comprises the food we consume or what goes into its making? The recent debates about the use of hazardous chemicals to preserve packed milk and the alleged use of rotten eggs in bakery products have made many to think about it seriously.

There is a common perception that many bakeries, especially those working as undocumented business, use rotten eggs as well as those with broken shells to cut their costs. The customer who buys the finished product is not in a position to identify the quality of the inputs.

Though the phenomenon of selling unhygienic food is an ongoing one, it caught public attention when the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court (LHC) Khawaja Muhammad Sharif accepted a petition in this regard. A Lahore-based egg supplier-Iftikhar Ali had submitted in his petition that eggs left as waste at hatcheries were being supplied to bakeries for use in their products. His point was that this unhealthy practice goes on unchecked in the presence of a large number of government officials supposed to check it.

The petition says during the hatching process which takes around 21 days to complete, all the eggs placed in the incubator do not give birth to chicken. The eggs which do not produce chicken are sold to bakeries at the end of the hatching period. The bakeries who buy these eggs use them in their products without realizing they are playing havoc with the health of the end consumers, says the petition.

The LHC CJ summoned related government officials to the court and sought their replies the most interesting of which has come from the Director General (DG) Livestock and Dairy Development Department, Punjab, Dr Zafar Jamil Gill. In his reply, he tried to satisfy the court by saying that rotten eggs are not used in bakery products but at the same time mentioned that a greater malpractice was going on in this business. He told the court that bakeries use chemical dyes in different food items which was a big source of cancer and other diseases.

Muhammad Asif, a veterinary doctor based in Lahore, tells The News on Sunday (TNS) that the hatcheries use candling process to identify eggs that are fertile. Under this process eggs are placed in front of light to find out whether the chicken are growing or not, he says, adding that the unfertilised eggs should not be left in the incubator. Removal of infertile eggs which are sometimes even 25 per cent of the lot, improve chances of successful hatching of other eggs, he adds.

Asif says the eggs spotted in the initial phase are not harmful for human consumption. He tells TNS that in foreign countries eggs with a visible blood spot in them are even sold as 'B grade.' He, however, totally disapproves the use of eggs which have completed the 21 days' hatching period without producing a chicken. Such eggs are extremely harmful, contaminated and affected by bacteria, he adds.

The LHC CJ has given directives to the relevant government authorities to ensure that the practice of using rotten eggs and chemical dyes in bakery products should be stopped immediately. The ex-chairman of Pakistan Poultry Association and Managing Director, Big Bird Poultry Breeders (Pvt) Ltd Abdul Basit says he honours the court directive but at the same time contests that there is a misunderstanding among the consumers. He tells TNS that the hatcheries sell off those eggs which do not fit in the slots in the incubators for being over-sized or undersized. Besides, the unfertile eggs identified at an early stage are sold in the market. As far as the eggs that do not hatch at all are concerned, there are no buyers for them. "We spoil and dump them immediately," he adds.

Zeeshan Riaz, Director Shezan Bakers tells TNS that the bakeries operating at smaller scale might be using inferior products whereas the established brands follow a standard procurement process. He says the process they follow is that they sort each and every egg and those not meeting the set standards are returned. For example, he says they select the eggs which weigh around 50 to 55 grams. If the weight of a significant number of eggs in a carton does not match the standard, the eggs are not accepted, he says, adding if their number is negligible procurement is made.

Imran says rotten eggs are smelly. If used in products like sponge, cake, pizza and rusks, they are bound to spoil them altogether. Anyhow, he highly appreciates the directives issued by the LHC saying that any step taken for the betterment of the consumers is worth appreciating. He says bakeries selling products made from cheap inputs and chemical dyes also hurt the business of those who want to maintain their high standards. Once implemented, the decision will also promote fair competition and improve the quality of bakery products, he adds.

 

 

 

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