LAHORE has been rubbing shoulders with the great in the past few days and only some of them have been thrust upon us. Saadat Hasan Manto has returned in a procession to celebrate his 100th birthday. Shabnam and Robin Ghosh have recently been treated to special Governor’s House hospitality. Reema Khan has been appearing to build up her doctor husband’s impending arrival. And the biggest doctor of them all, Dr A. Q. Khan, promises to strike Lahore big time with his announcement that he will be contesting from the city in the next election.
Manto, Shabnam, Dr Khan… How much more pluralistic can it get for a city proud of its culture?
The formality of Dr Khan’s election may take a while, which doesn’t stop him from ordering around the old incumbents he appears all set to replace.
In his first directive after informally taking charge of the proceedings he pronounced a sudden end for Nawaz Sharif, a politician who had allowed Dr Khan to lift the sheet off his bomb and flaunt its potency to the world.
Dr Khan declares Nawaz must go back to the base and concentrate his energies on running the Sharif businesses. The would-be replacement as the representative of the people of Lahore is nevertheless willing to allow space to Shahbaz Sharif to continue contributing his bit to politics.
This experiment in breaking the Sharif atom in Punjab could well turn out to be an explosive event. Dr Khan has the formula and Shahbaz the temper and a long list of grievances that sustains that temper.
Could it be that Dr Khan is planning on playing the elder brother in Punjab? One more time, he is keeping his scheme close to his chest. There is some talk of a tilt towards Imran Khan, just as there are reports the PTI is for now reluctant to have the heavyweight doc as their patron-in-chief.
This needs to be sorted out since it would be extremely disrespectful if some people end up confusing the revered nuclear scientist with an unclear political scientist. On the whole, Lahore should have little reason to be wary, whatever party Dr Khan chooses to grace with his presence. The man is bigger than any party and is ideology personified rather than in need of embracing some so-called genius’s concoction for change.
If Dr Khan signifies a happy new start in ideological politics, Shabnam’s and Ghosh’s visit provided a happy ending to the promise arising out of Bangladesh.
The Pakistani hopes had earlier suffered a setback when a rushed tour by Bangladeshi cricketers failed to materialise. The tour was to comprise a one-day international and T-20 game. The obvious objective was to tell the world that Pakistan was a safe country to play cricket in. The refusal, sadly, indicated that Pakistan was still considered too dangerous to even allow 140 overs of international fare.
This dampened the spirits of cricket enthusiasts here who have been reduced by circumstances to find solace in literally a two-night fling with Bangladeshis.
One opportunity for the local enthusiasts to vent their emotion came last week: a game organised in Gujrat to raise funds for an academy and involving national players came under heavy slogging by spectators who left a trail of destruction behind. Not a good technique to woo cricketers from abroad.
That the PCB did get a commitment of playing a couple of short-version games from the Bangladesh board chief Mustafa Kamal is keeping professional tongues from wagging against Mr Ashraf . This is a relief from Ijaz Butt’s times, both in terms of the crass humour he generated and the controversy he created. The focus is on the Bangladeshi betrayal, typically, at the instance of India which must always belittle Pakistan and then force a large number of Pakistanis to be hooked on the IPL circus. Also, it is some consolation that not everyone in Bangladesh has these vicious doubts about Lahore. Back home, Shabnam should be able to vouch for how peaceful Lahore has turned over time. The city has been rid of even the blood-dripping gandasas and axes that ruled film studios here until not so long ago.
The high jumps by Lollywood’s leading ladies, which, too, often bordered on the violent, have been discarded. A tame attempt at copying persists in city’s many theatres, but that is too confined to threaten the artistic tranquillity we have so diligently created.
But of course it is apt for Shabnam to be delivering this peace message. In her times the longest-reigning queen of Lollywood was an antidote to the fleshy and blood-spilling genre of cinema. She was the last hurdle in the way of the violence and vulgarity that were about to unfold in our cinema houses. Just as she was the epitome of ‘family’ entertainment that increasingly had little room for sensuality.
The trend continued even after the ‘family film’, with all its decent sequences, faded away.
On his way to his Laxmi Mansion home for the 100th anniversary bash, Manto might get a whiff of the stench that has come to permeate the air in his neighbourhood. The Hall Road of fame occasionally turns into the Hall Road of shame. The electronic goods market, now almost encroaching on Manto’s home, has been in recent times the traders’ favourite (and Asia’ biggest!) site for burning CDs containing material considered obscene.
No courts are required to adjudicate on allegedly offensive content, none of the cultural experts or the scholars have to depose for or against an accused. It takes only a threatening letter from a group of moral-minders for a pile of the obscene discs to be reduced to nothing.
At their most vicious, the clean ideologues have been partially successful, though. Manto has survived the onslaught, employing the early-exit technique to preserve his mystique and appeal. Obscenity continues to spread. The number of homes where Manto is flaunted on a shelf rather than concealed under the bed has increased.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.