interview
Building on tradition
By Farah Zia
Renowned architect Kamil Khan Mumtaz has been trying to shape and build the city in his own way. He may have succeeded only partially but the fact is that it was a considered, well thought out plan. While he thought in terms of urban strategic planning and policy, the authorities looked around for master plans instead.

MOOD STREET
Memory motel
By Ali Sultan
Late one night, going through the assortment of books that I own, I come across one that I haven't read for a long time. On the first page, scribbled in fountain pen ink, is written "Will you remember this?" I stare at it for a moment; it's the handwriting of one of my closest friends, it's his typical script, large and evenly spaced, looking like a small child's hand. But I do not remember what he wants me to.

Town Talk
Iqbal Geoffery's Solo Exhibition
open till October 16 Oct at Zahoor ul Akhlaq: National College of Arts

Female entrepreneurs' products and handicrafts
Exhibition opens at 11am every day till September 30 at Women Business Incubation Centre Peco Road

exhibition
Perspectives on the past
Muhammad Shafique sees historical sites from new angles which present rare views
By Salma Omar
Chauburji stands bathed in vermilion and lime besides a thorny leaf-bare tree -- its knotted branches reaching out like bony arthritic finger. Taj Mahal's cool ivory marble catches the chequered layers of light and shade that accompany a cloudy sky on rainy days. The arches of Wazir Khan's Mosque, even if seen from a side, are resplendent with faded colours much like a bejewelled bride in a faded photograph. Words struggle to keep pace with the plethora of perspectives within each painting by Mohammad Shafique at display at Hamail Gallery, off M.M. Alam Road, Lahore.


Further out of reach No strategy to control food prices
By Sadia Shoaib
The government claim of reducing the prices of food products in Ramzan seems no less than a farce, as this year the prices have almost touched the sky. It seems more of a trend that the prices of eatables increase rather than decrease in Ramzan.


RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK'S
QUESTION TOP 10 Excuses for leave
These places are:-
1. Dil Mohammad Road
2. Cooper Road
3. Nabha Road

 

interview

Building on tradition

 

By Farah Zia

Renowned architect Kamil Khan Mumtaz has been trying to shape and build the city in his own way. He may have succeeded only partially but the fact is that it was a considered, well thought out plan. While he thought in terms of urban strategic planning and policy, the authorities looked around for master plans instead.

Moving about 180 degrees from his position as a modernist to a traditionalist in the last three or four decades, Kamil Khan still holds a brief for policy as opposed to project.

As expected he is leading the Lahore Bachao group of concerned citizens to save the city and is highly critical of the internationally funded sustainable development project for the walled city.

Excerpts of interview follow:

TNS: Going back to the plan that you gave in the 1970s, a blue print for development of Lahore. How much of it has been realised?

Kamil Khan Mumtaz: We did a study for LDA on urban development, traffic and labourhood upgrading within a larger structure plan. I'm afraid very little of it has been implemented and even less of it understood.

There were a number of very important proposals. Had they been taken seriously at the time, we would not be facing the kind of problems we have today. These proposals had implications for urban development strategies which primarily have an impact on housing, transportation, urban traffic and infrastructure. Instead of understanding what we had given them, as a policy document to guide future action plans, the LDA merely took our proposals as yet another master plan which would tell them where to build road network etc.

The most important aspect of our proposals was to create a series of smaller, urban centres, call them mohallahs, instead of continuing to focus on a single centred business district. After all these 25 years, I'm amazed that people are still talking of a mega city which is precisely what we had suggested they should avoid. You cannot keep on loading a single centre indefinitely; you cannot continue expanding into the green countryside with dormitory towns. With the one centre remaining within that one square mile, you're bound to have the traffic commuter crisis you're facing today.

TNS: And what did you suggest about the walled city?

KKM: One of our main recommendations, very early into the study, was to consider the whole of the walled city as a historic centre and to devise a conservation plan for it. This was resisted at the time both by our own bureaucracy and the World Bank which was funding the project. But by the end of the project they finally reluctantly accepted the necessity to conserve the assets of the walled city including its cultural assets and its infrastructure. Among other things, we had suggested that we should restrict vehicular traffic altogether to the walled city. None of those things have happened.

Instead, today, the World Bank is back. We were told, with much fanfare a few years ago if you recall, that we have broken the kashkol, the begging bowl, we have paid all the debts and lo and behold within a few years, all the game of borrowings is back with us. All of these IMFs and World Banks and international financing agencies are back and it's very simple. The walled city is now one of the remaining potential places for making money. And the whole project has been sold and lapped up by our bureaucracy as a poverty alleviation project, under the catch label of sustainable development.

The argument goes that the walled city has great assets which have only to be capitalised, exploited and they will generate lots of income. What are these assets; its history, its culture and its traditions. So now our culture has become suddenly something very precious; because it can generate money and not because it represents what we believe and live by.

This is a very sad commentary not only on our own attitudes towards so-called development and culture but I'm afraid this reflects a global tendency. Everything is commercial, even culture that is literally nothing less than your set of values, beliefs and practices which you live by. The only value they have is their profitability; if it can be marketed and converted into money then it's a value.

TNS: But why is there one whole department set up for the walled city alone when there's LDA, archaeology department and many others. Why isn't the city treated in its entirety?

KKM: Because the World Bank comes along. It really is another bank finding an opportunity to invest with profit. Arif Hasan the great planner and architect from Karachi wrote recently that we no longer have any such thing as planning strategies, it's all about 'projects'. So any aid, money bags, comes with a project and we start drooling at the mouth. Doors are opened, red carpets laid out, everything facilitated for these capital investors to come and exploit us.

TNS: Are you happy with the department of architecture that you set up at National College of Arts. How has it progressed?

KKM: I am happy to the extent that we did re-establish the course at NCA in 1966, 67. My own ideas have changed and if I were to do it all over again, it will be a different department from the one I set up then.

When we designed the architecture department, it was based on the modern European models, my own school Architectural Association in London and other such Western institutions based on Eurocentric modernity paradigms. Today I've moved a long way from that position. If then I was a modernist, I'm now a traditionalist. I have different expectations.

I think there's a lot of advantage in the traditional pedagogic model based on master and his apprentice (Ustad Shagird), a hands-on model rather than that of an ivory tower academician.

TNS: Is Anjuman-e-Memaran doing anything at all?

KKM: Anjuman-e-Memaran was set up precisely to establish a school of building arts based on traditional methods, theories and principles. It's not doing much work. Of late it has almost wound up its activities, entirely because of resource limitation.

TNS: Coming back to Lahore, what are the planning drawbacks? Can you list a few areas that can and should be improved?

KKM: The first thing is an urban development strategy. In our proposals thirty years ago, we had suggested a polycentric structure rather than a single mega city -- Lahore should be a conurbation of small self contained towns. The idea was that each town should provide as many jobs as the workforce that lives there. It should have the social infrastructure, health, education and recreation facilities as well as industry.

Towns should be limited in size and population -- not bigger than 1-2 kilometres across -- and they can be entirely pedestrian.

The other very important recommendation was to increase the densities in these towns. Walled city has a density of 1000 persons per hectare while Johar Town has seven persons per hectare.

Instead of implementing those recommendations, the government came up with a mother plan called 2020. This plan did more of the same; there was urban expansion outwards, higher income people spreading further to low density areas, while low income people continued to live in worse conditions in the city centre and in between, in the intermediate zone, was the middle income.

This is what is being followed and is the cause of most problems. If we continue to follow this model -- the defence model, you could say -- by 2020 there would be no green land left in the city and we would have created social and political bombs in the city.

To the contrary our recommendation was 300-500 persons per hectare in each town or mohallah and we could contain the entire urban population within the existing area with more integration of income groups.

TNS: Can a forum like Lahore Bachao save Lahore?

KKM: I don't think we can save Lahore by forums like Lahore Bachao alone. Hopefully it might represent a trend, a movement. Maybe the citizens' awareness and activism grows to a point where people can take control of their own destinies.

TNS: What about the mass transit, elevated rails and flyovers. How do you propose to save Lahore if all this talk materialises?

KKM: These are not the solution to the problems. Why do people need to go from here to there; if they have their jobs and schools and markets close to home, they can walk. To begin with, the government can have a law that no child would go to school in another area, just like it's done all over the world. Here people move from one end of the town to the other to drop children to school while ideally the children should either walk to school or be picked up by the school bus.

Things like mono rails and mass transits appeal to the megalomania of politicians and bureaucrats who ought to know that this expensive and high technology cannot be built by our own financial and technical resources.

You've got a road network and we've all seen how things were changed when a few decent buses came on the roads. Why can't we discourage motor cars and have more buses instead?

TNS: But we've heard severe criticism on this particular point. People, or the new middle class if you like, say that Kamil Khan drove a motor car all his life and "now that it's our chance to drive motor cars he and others of his group tell us not to." Isn't that a legitimate complaint? Shouldn't people be given more choices?

KKM: At the moment we are exercising the choice to commit mass suicide. We all love our motor cars and there are 2-3 motor car families. Result is what we know. Lahore is one of the highest polluted cities of the world with 20 times more fumes and gases than there ought to be. We want to kill ourselves by passive smoking and still want to exercise that choice. But those of us who don't want to suffer these results suffer anyway.

We also smoked cigarettes a generation but we gave up when we knew it's harmful. Now the poor people have access to cigarettes but we want them to give up.

TNS: Are you willing to give up your motor car?

KKM: Why do I need a car if there are decent alternatives available. You talk of elite but the same elite goes to New York and Paris and London and walks there. It's the same argument that America in its time built a nuclear bomb. So will we, now that we can. The point is that they've destroyed the planet, do we want to do that too.

TNS: You're also a part of the Commission set up by the High Court on high rise buildings?

KKM: I would not like to speak much on that for obvious reasons. It's a tough task, long overdue, we're doing the best we can.


MOOD STREET

Memory motel

By Ali Sultan

Late one night, going through the assortment of books that I own, I come across one that I haven't read for a long time. On the first page, scribbled in fountain pen ink, is written "Will you remember this?" I stare at it for a moment; it's the handwriting of one of my closest friends, it's his typical script, large and evenly spaced, looking like a small child's hand. But I do not remember what he wants me to.

My drawer is crammed with items -- expensive lighters that don't work, a broken motor-cycle handle, a small Hindu-idol made out of bronze -- with no name-tags, with hazy memories of how I ended up with them and what do they signify.

That's why, the moment I saw Guy Pearce in 'Memento', I knew finally someone was telling my story. Here was a movie about the predominant art form of our time:

Note taking.

One of my friends has a diary. Every day after getting up, while water bubbles in the kettle for his first tea, my friend will jot down every little thing his mother wants done and what he wants to achieve on that particular day.

All my friends with e-mail accounts and cell phones, they're always calling themselves and leaving reminders to themselves about what's about to happen. We leave Post-It notes for ourselves. We get Ramzan reminders and Eid reminders and Independence reminders. Reminders for every special event -- that life goes by too fast for us to remember. We videotape everything, and now with digital cameras we can all e-mail around our photos or post them on Face book -- this century's equivalent of the boring vacation slide show. We organise and reorganise. We record and archive.

My bookcase is my fetish. After a couple of days, when my books are all over the house, I close the binds and put on a CD disc filled with sad songs, I put the books back on the bookcase. I enjoy it, I will organise books by genre one time, another time I feel like stacking them up by author or if I am in a rather euphoric state and have time on my hands I organise them or try to organise them chronologically -- from the first book I bought to the last one -- it's a wonderful excuse for trying to remember, to observe if the memory, of buying that particular book is still there.

Right now, I'm looking at a copy of 'Phaedrus', a fictional conversation between Socrates and a young Athenian named Phaedrus.

Socrates is trying to convince the young man that speech is better than written communication, or any recorded communication including film. According to Socrates, the god Theuth in ancient Egypt invented numbers and calculation and gambling and geometry and astronomy -- and Theuth invented writing. Then he presented his inventions to the great god-king Thamus, asking which of them should be presented to the Egyptian people.

Thamus ruled that writing was a 'pharmakon'. Like the word 'drug', it could be used for good or bad. It could cure or poison.

According to Thamus, writing would allow humans to extend their memories and share information. But more importantly, writing would allow humans to rely too much on these external means of recording. Our own memories would wither and fail. Our notes and records would replace our minds.

Worse than that, written information can't teach, according to Thamus. You can't question it, and it can't defend itself when people misunderstand it and misrepresent it. Written communication gives people what Thamus called 'the false conceit of knowledge', a fake certainty that they understand something.

So, all those photographs and video tapes of your childhood, all the items that cram up my drawers or the diary of my friend, will they really give us a better understanding of ourselves? Or will they just enhance up whatever faulty memories we have? Can they replace our ability to sit down and ask our family questions? To learn from our grandparents?

If Thamus were here, I'd tell him that memory itself is a 'pharmakon'.


Town Talk

Iqbal Geoffery's Solo Exhibition

open till October 16 Oct at Zahoor ul Akhlaq: National College of Arts

 

Female entrepreneurs' products and handicrafts

Exhibition opens at 11am every day till September 30 at Women Business Incubation Centre Peco Road

 

Paintings exhibition by Mohammad Shafique

at Hamail Gallery, off M.M. Alam Road, Lahore till September 30

 

Mansoor Aye at Croweaters Gallery

Abstract figurative works open till September 30. Gallery timings: 10:30am to 7:30pm daily. Sundays closed.

 

Art Exhibition by Lahore College for Women University

at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall from 10:30am to 4pm. Today is the last day of exhibition

 

A competition of national league club champions

of Asia's emerging football countries from September 20-30 at Gaddafi Stadium's Punjab Stadium

 

Role of Leadership in HR

on September 19 at Superior University 4-6pm for free. Speaker: Syed Hussain Haider

 

exhibition

Perspectives on the past

Muhammad Shafique sees historical sites from new angles which present rare views

By Salma Omar

Chauburji stands bathed in vermilion and lime besides a thorny leaf-bare tree -- its knotted branches reaching out like bony arthritic finger. Taj Mahal's cool ivory marble catches the chequered layers of light and shade that accompany a cloudy sky on rainy days. The arches of Wazir Khan's Mosque, even if seen from a side, are resplendent with faded colours much like a bejewelled bride in a faded photograph. Words struggle to keep pace with the plethora of perspectives within each painting by Mohammad Shafique at display at Hamail Gallery, off M.M. Alam Road, Lahore.

Some fifty water colour paintings on display are devoted entirely to the old buildings of Pakistan and India. The loving re-creation of their beauty is not entirely unlike Ajaz Anwar's series of paintings of old Lahore that have come to epitomise this genre. Yet, the vital ingredient within Shafique's compositions is the artist's perspective that leaves the viewer not just enthralled by the majesty of the aged edifices but by the standpoint of the painter.

The most memorable perspectives are ones that present a chance view of a mosque or monument -- such as one might see in a turn of one's head for a fleeting instant. Yet these chance perspectives are ones that are often preserved in the mind's eye for a lifetime. The name Taj Mahal conjures a full frontal image of the majestic tomb reflecting its white marbled glory in the sunlight -- the image that has sold countless picture postcards across the globe and marketed a dream of love to millions of tourists. Yet, standing at the entrance gates of the great monument who would lift their heads and see its flawless beauty peep above the peripheral wall -- a wall that despite its unending extension seems inadequate in guarding its fragile white form. Another perspective of a minaret of Masjid Wazir Khan mirrors the same sentiment -- a view of the minaret's top glistening against the autumn afternoon sky. Such views are rare in life. They are mostly caught by chance as one glances upwards during a jostling walk through the crowded quarters of inner Lahore and quickly forgets them in the anticipation of seeing the monument itself. Yet, Shafique's paintings preserve such rare and chance moments which we dismiss all too soon in our enthusiasm to experience the star attraction in its frontal glory. Such rare glimpses are frozen on canvass just like the beauty of the minaret and its intricate depiction. Other perspectives are equally refreshing -- elaborate lattice work of old houses in Lahore and Peshawar seen either from a street or from an adjacent rooftop, a side view of Islamia College, Peshawar, the painted arches of Badshahi mosque reminiscent of intricate embroidery on ivory silk, an upward zoomed in view of carved red sandstone in Lahore Fort.

The perspective wraps the beauty of architecture. At no point is Shafique attempting to distract his viewers from the majesty of these monuments. The detailed depiction of architecture is a testament to the trained architectural eye of the painter. Yet, Shafique does more than paint the architecture as a true representation -- he blends the monument with its natural surroundings to create a unified picture of the building at rest with its surroundings. Seasonal shades of colours and lights link the natural surroundings with the patterns and paint of murals. The unique quality of architecture is often reflected in equal novelty of nature -- two entwined palms arch over the view of a minaret of Jahangir's tomb. Shades of a cold late winter afternoon are evident in the scrawny bare tree etched against a dim sky as it stretches upwards near a pavilion of Lal Qila, Delhi. An autumnal morning catches the golden and tawny sky colours in the imposing wall of Lahore Fort. The clarity of the summer sky is reflected in the chequered marble floor of Rani Mahal, Agra Fort. The perspective on the buildings changes considerably in some paintings where it is nature that occupies centre stage with the monument taking an unobtrusive second place.

Yet, each painting creates a little more than just presenting a visual treat of architectural glory that we ignore at our cultural peril. It lovingly documents the fading beauty of our heritage in the language of colours. Perspectives and hues draw out the latent grandeur, delicate structure and intricate paintwork making them stand on canvas as imposing bedecked structures not, sadly, as they do in reality -- as faded emblems of the past located within the imposing grime and smog of our ever-swelling cities. This is how our heritage should be -- not on canvas but in life. In preserving them on canvas, Shafique's brush not just provides a visual treat but a record of the monuments before the rush of urbanisation gnaws at their walls and turns the structures to dust.

 

Further out of reach

No strategy to control food prices

 

By Sadia Shoaib

The government claim of reducing the prices of food products in Ramzan seems no less than a farce, as this year the prices have almost touched the sky. It seems more of a trend that the prices of eatables increase rather than decrease in Ramzan.

Basic food items like sugar, ghee, rice and daals have become extremely expensive for the middle class and the lower strata who remain hand to mouth all year through.

Latif, a security guard, says, "I have four children and am the only source of income for my family. It is hard for me to fulfil the requirements of my household and the further increase in prices before Ramzan has made things even more complicated."

Imran, a vegetable shop-owner, who has been running his shop for more than 12 years, says: "The prices of vegetables and fruits have doubled this year and are so high that the poor can't afford to buy them. Potatoes which were selling between Rs10-12 last week are now for Rs14-16."

Salma, a housekeeper says, "I can either pay my utility bills or buy expensive vegetables for one day and sit hungry for the next week."

The food items are being sold at high rates in the black market. The rates at the mandi are different from what the magistrate allots. As a result the retailers earn no profit, rather face loss at times.

Yasir, a fruit vendor from Saddar, says, "We buy potatoes from the mandi at Rs19 per kg and sell it for Rs19-20 at our shop. The market union committee or the area nazim on his rounds fines us for this as the market committee list states that potatoes should be sold at Rs16. We suffer a loss because of this and the magistrate fines us Rs6,000-10,000 for breaking the law even if we show them that we have purchased it for Rs19." Some of these vendors pay fines, while others bribe the deputies with cash to avoid further trouble.

The lower class is helpless to the extent that they are buying stale vegetables, daals, and fruits, whatever they can find at low costs.

Chicken which was Rs90-100 per kg is around Rs140 per kg at present. Shops selling chicken say that the supply is short so it is being brought in small amounts and sold at high prices.

The major part of the population is dependant on the mandi, where the government seems to have no control over the price of daily use food items. As the rates do not meet any specific limit mostly due to the demand and supply of products, no price mechanism is followed.

Kashif, a utility store owner, reiterates the increase in food prices. "Basic items for survival include wheat, ghee, rice and lentils whose prices have gone up significantly in the last one month. No one can say how further the prices will go in the month of Ramzan." The price control committee does subsidise the rates in Ramzan package but it is so minimal that it hardly makes any difference to the consumer. Poor people are affected the most with this market instability. Ayesha, a ladies' tailor, says, "If I don't have enough money, I can't buy anything at all."

Amongst the very rich there are some who help the needy by arranging for Iftaris or by helping the poor within their vicinity by supplying a whole month's ration to them.

The President Retail Kariana Association Dharampura Mahfoozur Rehman says, "The problem needs to be treated at the grassroots level. To meet international standard the companies increase prices of their products, and even if they work on decreasing the prices there are such high government taxes including the sales tax on each item that the prices remain on the higher side. The government has no control the open market; they fix their prices for the markets, unaware of what price the retailers pay. There is no strategy to control the prices."

He further implores: "The MNAs and political activists play smart -- they stock the entire harvests way in advance. The new harvest is at low price, hence buying it at low prices and gradually selling it at high rates gives them immense profit." The government should work out a solution for the entire nation, keeping in view the state of poverty in Pakistan.

 

RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK'S

QUESTION

TOP 10

Excuses for leave

These places are:-

 

1. Dil Mohammad Road

 

2. Cooper Road

 

3. Nabha Road

 

4. Garhi Shahu Chowk

 

5. Zahoor Elahi Road

 

6. M.M. Alam Road

 

7. Walton Road ( Near Packages)

 

8. G.T.Road ( Behind Railway Station)

 

9. Nisbet Road ( Near D.S.College )

 

10. Rajgarh Road Chauburji

To enlist by popular vote the 'top ten' for next week, send in your emails on

'Next week's question: Top ten 'places for iftari items'.

Please email at [email protected]

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