No run­ning away from the past

The Pak Banker - - EDITORIAL - Asha'ar Rehman

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.

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