No running away from the past
THERE is nothing more irritating to the ever-efficient ushers of development in Lahore than a mention of how and what it once had been. They are appalled by all references to nostalgia, obviously a derogatory term in their dictionary, a word that can have some of the most level-headed and tolerant people shaking their heads in disapproval. But it is not easy for everyone to be as aloof from the past when the ratio of what is wilfully discarded is so big in comparison to what is sought to be preserved.
If it is a case of excessive nostalgia the responsibility in this case lies with those trying to bulldoze the past. The stereotype of the indigenous, good-fornothing man who refuses to let go off his pet pigeons, his 'degenerated' poetry, his nawabi pretence - the impression of the useless nostalgia established by film and literature - does not quite apply here.
Out there shouting for their right to their culture evolved over centuries are not your old maligned opium eaters. No amount of government name-calling would be able to paint them as the incurably backward. They could alternately be given back their ' Westernised' status, but this would be a dangerous area since preservation is quite the norm in the so- called wayward Western societies from where we import our trains and shrieking red buses
It would appear then that there's a reason why those trying to thwart the beauticians' attempt at a complete makeover of Lahore have so far escaped the all-encompassing label of being Westernised. They are rarely taunted as 'liberals'; instead, they are entered in official logbooks as a handful of troublemakers. The old scheme has been drastically changed. If accusations and tags can ever help it is the government today which can be asked to explain its blind following of the Western agenda. The other group is only positively nostalgic.
Where heritage is treated as an affliction that needs to be urgently gotten rid of, there are, frequently, reasons to be celebrating that which we created in the past. You may have cause to be a bit upset about the practical anti- nostalgia functionaries if you are dearly missing a spring festival or if you have just lost someone as rare as Intizar Husain.
There are practical issues that discourage you to not be too taken up by Intizar Sahib's work. Within the group which opposes an unbridled, thoughtless construction of the modern world in your neighbourhood, he was a wellknown opponent of the Progressive writers. In the final evaluation of his work and life, he could be criticised for whatever fire he had been directing at the taraqqi pasand in whose cause and resolve so many of the less modest amongst us today find a reflection of their own little struggles.
But those were old categorisations steeped in olden times and terminologies which are difficult to apply to today's events. In today's changed situation - maybe - someone who called himself a progressive should not have too much of an issue with sharing Intizar Husain's concerns about life in general and specifically about how heritage can be so easily trampled upon by forcibly pasting the ignominious 'nostalgia' title on it. The choice is simple, between the thinking and the thoughtless.
It is that time of the year again in Lahore. Unless you are truly and completely won over by the latest fads and have given up on old biases and fetishes, you are quite likely to run into a Basant fan one of these days.
Long hounded by groups on the basis of one reason or another, the kiteflying festival refuses to slip away to the obscure street where are dumped the things discarded by time. That is according to the prediction and indeed many had actually forecast an even bigger uproar at the taking away of the spring mela than we enthusiasts have managed so far.
As it turned out it was too resilient an event. Basant was just too expansive a cultural event to be summarily folded up and disposed of forever. It keeps tentatively raising its head every January, the social media providing the fans with an easy platform to vent their feelings. It is quite like what used to be the case with kite-flying. No one has to go anywhere to make the statement. It is a sentiment that can be expressed from home, in the relative anonymity provided by the crowd.
Slowly, however, emanating from these unknown groups are noises that call for some kind of defiant front against the ban on Basant. This year, there are many voices that have separately called for a joining of the rooftops in demanding a return of the festival.
Apart from individuals as always expressing their anger at the ban, there are signs of a campaign for a common platform sustained by a real popular base. Some of the angry enthusiasts would rather have had this drive for revival in an immediate, emotional reaction to the taking away of the festival all those years back.
The argument may be that the delay in coming up with an organised popular response against the official restrictions has handed so much ground to the government to justify the bar. Which is true and it is not to the advantage of the Basant seekers that now there's a whole new generation of young Lahoris who have little or no idea of what the festival they are being asked to help revive looked like, and more importantly, what it felt like.
This brings us to the mundane, everyday practical fixes those who are asking for preservation and revivals must offer for the people's approval. There has to be an answer, a way back to the rooftops and kite-laden skies on Basant day. Let's hope that this answer will emerge sooner than some of us expect it to.