Sunday, February 27, 2011
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Basant is a festival that brings people together like no other, I have vivid memories of seeing just about everyone caught up in the spirit of the season and the festivities of basant. Maybe it's because all you really need is a long enough string and a kite. And if you still couldn't afford that, you could snatch one that's drifting away aimlessly in the sky. There is a feeling of joy in seeing the sky strewn with different colours of kites. There is a pleasure in the challenge of cutting someone else's string with yours. Everyone, rich and poor are equal and play in the same free skies, there is no discrimination. Reality on ground though, is somewhat tainted by problems preventing this beautiful festival from taking place . Just recently I was part of a fierce tweet debate that encouraged me write this entry. There is an outrage amongst the people who believe basant should not be banned. The festival which once attracted tourists from far and wide to come to Lahore and see the colorful festivities is now a thing of the past. The pro-basant activists believe the onus is on the government to provide safety and security for the citizens and to ban this historical festival is a form of cultural depravity. One tweeter blames it on the ghost of Zia regime that has nailed the only true festival of the soil. Erm, yes - well, some of these people just needed to attend a Surgical ER of any hospital in Lahore on the last Basant day to understand the real reasons for this festivals demise. The reality is that far too many lives have been lost to this festival. While I personally enjoyed every basant festival, I can not advocate its continuation. And here's why:
Far too many potentially avoidable unnatural deaths
How can anyone possibly control the immense toll of unnatural death around Basant time. Can we really allow this festival to continue if we can not regulate the demanding safety requirements?
There is a cry for banning fishnets and metallic/glass laced strings which are the prime culprit. But to be fair, they did try to regulate this before, and failed. In Lahore, where the crime rate is on a steep incline, it's unreasonable to pin our hopes on the impotent police to put in the hard yards of effort required to stop this illegal trade of banned strings. Fishnets and metallic wires are not the only problem.
There are thousands of houses in inner-city Lahore that do not have guard railings on their rooftops. And everyone knows, that on basant everyone is going to be up there. As a child, I felt left out because mom never allowed us on the rooftop. Luckily there was never a huge turnout of kites in the my neighbourhood in Cantt, so I was never tempted to break moms rules. But after seeing the real basant in inner-city Lahore as I got older, I can totally understand the feelings of a kid who lives in, say, Iqbal Town or Ichra; seeing the sky littered with kites, while struggling to get your kite to take off from the backyard with all the obstacles in the way, manoeuvring it to avoid the houses and trees, taping and retaping the kite as it rips after every failed attempt.
There's just never enough wind on the ground level! The temptation to climb the roof is far too powerful. What can you do when the open skies, the breezy February wind and the neighbourhood boys call you out? I guess that's why hundreds of children and adults fall off rooftops every basant. Many break limbs, others are left paralyzed or dead. What can the government do to sort that problem out?
Another issue is of banning people riding bicycles and motorcycles on Bassant Day. Now, what kind of a sick law is that? It makes my blood boil to see this law enforced because it only applies to the people of low socio-economic class. It's like saying, "If you don't own a car - too bad, you can't go out grocery shopping on Basant". That's not a solution, infact that's just drawing a line between the rich and poor. The only way this could work is if cars were banned too! Forcing the entire city to use public transport or rickshaws would be ideal - making it the first eco-friendly Bassant. But then again, how will all the folks who blame Zia for all our misfortunes get to their lavish basant parties?
Another issue is of strings getting tangled up in electricity polls and resulting in interruptions in service. Somehow, I doubt anyone except the great folks at WAPDA have any issues with that.
And last, there is a problem of people accidentally getting shot by gunfire, I recall stories of people firing rounds up in the air and the bullets eventually returning back from the sky with a speed of 9.8 m/s2 and piercing right through an innocent bystanders skull. Basant just isn't the same in Lahore without the celebratory gunshots now, is it? Which begs the question, did Lahori's take a festival which in its primordial stages and for decades was relatively safe and forced it into a banned entity. We really have no one to blame except for ourselves for this ban. It is the collective failure of the entire city to crack down on the basant Grinches and force authorities to take action against them. Perhaps it's a fitting punishment for losing the real essence of a festival that once used to bring people together in celebration.
All these are serious issues that need to be firmly addressed before we can even begin contemplating the return of basant back to the city of Lahore.
A trimmed version of this blogpost was originally posted on Express Tribune Blogs