DAWN - Features; 22 August, 2004

Published August 22, 2004

Stampede for free cell phones

By Nusrat Nasarullah

The stampede and rowdyism for free mobile connections for four days, including the Independence Day holidays, have currently resulted in a situation where it seems that scary mobile theft and snatching has grown, in a city where this kind of violence and crime is truly nothing new.

As someone remarked with a mixture of cynicism and censure that now that 400,000 free connections have been given by a particular cell phone company, there are people looking around for 'free phone sets'! In a way that reflects the ethical attitudes in this society, whose frenzy for sales and discounts is something that doesn't surprise.

Anything on discounted sale draws crowds, and to such an extent that it assumes the status of disorder, and law-enforcement agencies have to be called in, and the regular private armed security guards turn into baffled, blinking and nodding strangers. Spectators really.

Not surprisingly, and in fact very disappointingly, there have surfaced news reports which indicate that three persons died when they resisted the men who tried to snatch their mobile phones. There are several other reported instances of cell phone snatching and one can imagine the trauma that the vulnerable victims must have undergone. One learns that most people who do not report this kind of loss via crime have lost their phones, (snatched or neatly stolen) have opted for silence, and obviously, suffering.

I have heard from someone that in Islamabad, people, especially female drivers, have lost their cell phones kept on dash boards, with daring young men simply putting their hands through open windows and walking off with the sets, to the shock of helpless car drivers. I have mentioned Islamabad to indicate that this 'madness' for free connections was countrywide, reflecting the similarity of attitudes and trends in the country. A free connection was as if anyone's dream. For the cell phone company, too, this was a dream come true? A trend setter?

While one contemplates on the subject of this rush and race for free prepaid (those who use cards) cell phone connections, there is some thought that goes out to the huge expansion that is taking place in the world of phones in particular and telecommunications in general, some other thought goes out to questions that relate to the priorities that this society has.

Is this one of our priorities to give to Pakistani society all the phones that its citizens want? Cell phones being one example. Phone cards are becoming cheaper, and so are telephone lines from the PTCL and NTC, and so are line rents, installation charges, actual call charges between cities, and towns. Even overseas calls costs have been brought down. And local phone call charges have been completely dropped from midnight to 6:00 in the morning. Other concessions and facilities are also in the pipeline. So wait. See how relationships will change.

There is one other view that I heard on the Independence Day as reports came in of the way in which people were queuing for free cell phone connections, and that the staff on duty in the phone company's offices was having such a problem that they had to call in the law-enforcement agencies, including the Rangers, to manage the challenge. That there were reports of how some offices were damaged by people when they felt that they could not get the free connections they had come for.

Anyway all that has come and gone. Some 400,000 people have got the sims for those prepaid free connections. But it raises the issue whether the management of that organization had enough infrastructure to ensure that its older subscribers, and the new ones put together will have a trouble-free connectivity. And when this connectivity is established, it will be sustained, and quality assured. As a society, we have a poor to very poor track record, when it comes to delivering on promises, and our experiences with some other cell phone companies has been vexing and irritating to say the least.

This zest and this impatience for mobile phones, if one were to look deeper into the phenomenon is in a way reflective of the public disappointment with PTCL phones and their phone men. Linemen in particular. One mentions this and memories of harassment and humiliation of subscribers, and their families and so on at the hands of, what once upon a time was, the 'telephone department' stream in. It was easier to build a house rather than get a telephone connection. And even when everything was achieved on paper, the lineman prevailed with his elusive work style, attributed to the exchange staff from where the 'unethical' functions were initiated.

In fact. even now the PTCL is a much avoided and dreaded operation, and the procedures, official and off the record, too, are well known. PTCL has made its efforts, but it cannot change a mindset. It is like karo-kari, a tribal mind, laughed my friend who now depends only on his cell phones to communicate, and considers the PTCL phones a nuisance, and a liability. His personal life and his business work well with cell phones taking on the burden of responsibility.

Of course with the way in which technology has grown, and has finally begun to make its presence felt in this country too, its impact is felt on a daily basis in our lives. And one place where it is visible is the cell phone, to return to the theme with which we began. It is almost a statement of the obvious that now the most unlikely person is also going to have the mobile phone, even if it means that he or she will keep it for only receiving incoming calls. That is the way to make it affordable! So many people now keep a mobile, that not having one is in fact a status symbol, remarked a colleague cynically.

Cynicism is relevant but put it aside for a while, and overlook the fact that in reality the PTCL phones are still not as trouble-free as they should be, and look at the reality of the scenario that lies ahead in the near future in the context of mobile phones. Two new mobile operators are going to be available with their technology, facilities and price packages that are going to give to the existing four operators a very tough time.

These operators have already brought down their tariffs, and which makes one realize as a subscriber of the kind of money they were making. And how with the poorest of services at times, they got away with it in a context where consumer protection is almost a matter of fiction.

It will be very interesting to see the way the mobile phone sets will increase in the immediate future and how they will compete with the PTCL lines, or the phone cards that exist in the market. Of course tariffs will see a downward trend, and the cellular phone customer base is anticipated to rise by 15-20 million in the next two to five years from the current over four million subscribers. What will be the impact of the cell phone on society, on the culture at the work place, and the ethos and culture at home.

Evidently, Pakistani society is changing and a new kind of freedom and a value pattern are emerging which is evident not only from the way in which all age groups want cell phones (at least for the games they have) but also all walks of life. Carpenters, butchers, masons, ordinary workers, the kind of people who would not be able to afford a PTCL phone in the past now regard the cell phone as a necessity, like having a TV set or a radio set, or a refrigerator or a washing machine, said one advertising professional.

Returning to the free prepaid cell phone connections that were offered by one particular company, and the way in which PTCL is promoting and advertising other facilities and discounted tariffs, inland and overseas, one sees not only a sort of quantum leap in the use of phone in this society, but also some frustrating connectivity problems. This is what needs to be ensured, that the subscribers get what they pay for. Otherwise what will happen will be akin to the way in which new expensive cars,but our towns and cities do not have the roads for all these vehicles.

Look at the enormous traffic jams that Karachi has now almost on a daily basis, and neither the roads nor the traffic police have the capacity and capability to deal with them. One reason is that the number of vehicles is growing, and there is no hope that our roads will have the sanity and the discipline they need to. Added to this is the dimension of VVIP security, as well as routine security measures all of which have created a kind of 'hell' on our roads, making citizens wonder whether there will ever be relief on this count.

The 'shroud' over Lahore's antiquity

By Majid Sheikh

We all know that Lahore's history is shrouded in antiquity. But then which were the very first dwellings that came to be known as Lahore? A search for an answer to this question can be an endless pursuit. There are some definite clues that need much more research, especially archaeological research.

In 1959, the department of archaeology carried out an "archaeological strata analysis" of a site inside the Lahore Fort. A 52-foot deep sample was taken and every foot carbon-dated. The findings were dramatic to say the least. In this sample, scientists found three specific layers of definite proof of dwellings, each one almost 700 to 800 years older than the one above.

The lowest, found at almost 45 feet, had "fine brick earlier occupation compacted soil". The estimate was that this was a 3,000-year old dwelling. Experts had then suggested that a much deeper sample needed to be taken, and, also, from other sites, especially from mounds that were higher than the one that came to be known as the Lahore Fort.

There is a generally accepted theory that the very first dwellings that we know as Lahore started from where the citadel of the city stands. The existence of the Temple of Lahu inside the fort, and the fact that he was the son of Rama and Sita, do support this theory. But then this does not have any support from any written text from the pre-Islamic era. The very first mention of this "fact" was made by the famous Hindu historian, Sujan Rai Bhandari, in 1695-96 in his famous discourse 'Khulasat-at-Tawarikh'. Though he quotes from folklore and other sources, the timeframe of the existence of the legendary Raja Ram Chandra is difficult to pinpoint. One source puts it at 5300 BC, another in 2200 BC. Thus antiquity, in this case, has become a matter of perception. Our interest lies solely in scientific proof.

A second 'archaeological strata study' was undertaken in the Haveli of Raja Dhayan Singh. The reason for this was that its site is slightly higher than the mound of the Lahore Fort. This carbon-dating study showed even more clearly the antiquity of Lahore, with human dwellings being found at four levels. But then such a research was not carried forward.

This research was followed by a study carried out by PEPAC in 1988, in which a considerable number of Pakistani and foreign experts participated. A topographical survey of the walled city showed that the two highest points in Lahore were the Paniwala Talaab at Choona Mandi, and the Mohallah Maulian, just north of the Papar Mandi.

These findings coincide perfectly with another historical document, which happens to be the oldest written authentic document, of the pre-Islamic era, about Lahore. Written by an anonymous writer in AD 982 and called Hudud-i-Alam, this rare document lies in the British Museum. It was translated by V. Minorsky into English and published in Lahore in 1927.

In this rare book, Lahore is referred to as a small 'shahr' - town - with "impressive temples, large markets and huge orchards". It points out to "two major markets around which dwellings exist", and it also points out to "the mud walls that enclose these two dwellings to make it one". Thus, it seems, the walled city of Lahore could be much older than the citadel itself.

That is why there is need for archaeological research at different points inside the walled city, and outside, and to take samples from much deeper depths. The scientific record could then piece together an impressive scientific history of Lahore. This could prove to be the building blocks of a truly authentic history of the city.

It is important that we have an idea of what Lahore looked liked before the Muslim invaders came to this city. The writings in Hudud-i-Alam clearly demarcate the outer walls of the city. On one side is the western wall that runs along where today we have the Bazaar Hakeeman. If you have been to the old walled city, you will notice that all streets that turn off eastwards are all on an incline.

This is where, logic seems to suggest and a research by Mufti Ghulam Sarwar Lahori in the 19th century also mentions this, is where the original western wall was. So Bazaar Hakeeman today runs outside where the ancient walls existed.

On the southern side the old mud wall ran very much inside where the present wall exists. On the northern side the wall starts from the top of the 'tibba' that is today known as Tibbi Chowk. The word Tibbi is derived from the word 'tibba', meaning a mound. The wall then ran along this high mound and turned southwards at where today we have the Rang Mahal Chowk at Gumti Bazaar. The word 'gumti' means a curved mound. The eastern wall ran, as evidence shows us, just to the west of the main Shahalami road right up to Said Mitha Bazaar.

If you walk along the road starting from Shahalam Gate, you will notice that all the streets to the west are inclined. On this incline was the old mud wall. In this way the ancient walled city of Lahore existed within this area. The River Arvada (Ravi) flowed around this city as mentioned in Sujan Rai Bhandari's book. It might interest readers to know that in Hudud-i-Alam, the Shahalami area is referred to as 'rarra maidan' - barren ground. This ancient Lahore was only one-third of the old walled city of Lahore that we know today.

Just as proof of this, it might also strike the reader that the graves of the early Muslims are all outside this area that we call ancient Lahore. The Muslims always buried their dead outside cities. For example, the graves of Malik Ayaz, Syed Ali Hajveri, Syed Zanjani, Sadr Dewan, etc., are all outside the areas we have mentioned. Thus Bhati, Lahori and Mori gates are the oldest of the 13 gates we have today. The rest came later. Also that Mori Gate was specifically made by the Hindu population to take their dead outside to cremate on the river that flowed outside.

So we have a faint outline of where the oldest dwellings of Lahore sprung up some time in the midst of antiquity. There is need for genuine archaeological research inside the walled city to determine just what our past was. As man goes into space to learn about our past in terms of millions of years, surely it makes sense for us to learn something about our past just a few thousand years down the road to antiquity.



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