Gasless in Lahore!

Published January 19, 2014

Having recently moved back to Lahore, after a rather prolonged gap, from Karachi, one was really looking forward to winter season. In Karachi all one gets is a couple of weeks of true winters, courtesy Quetta’s winds.

During the day it is entirely your prerogative if you want to don some woollies. Not much as far as winters go. In contrast one had great expectation with the winter mystique of Lahore; thick fogs and biting cold.

Admittedly, something which in itself does not sound too tempting, yet sitting by the fire (gas heaters these days) at night and eating nuts; the opportunity to wear warm clothes and other simple charms add much luster to this festive season heralding the New Year.

Prior to continuing, a little philosophical interlude; one of life’s strange yet true facts: that expectations and reality having a strange aversion to convergence. Winter in Lahore came as cold shock! Something akin to being dunked in frozen water, a thing which some might find invigorating, yet something which one does not entirely subscribe to.

If memory serves, our state post 9/11 was threatened to be “bombed back to the stone age.” That fortunately did not materialise.

Being a nation of fiercely independent, self-reliant people we require no assistance from any external quarters. We have managed things quite nicely on our own.

With the coming of a cold wave last week all veneer of civilization were put on ice. Things usually taken for granted; the right to hot home cooked food, a refreshing shower, and being warm was suddenly abrogated – a constitutional crisis in the making!

On a particular day last week, breakfast became an absolute nightmare. Boiling water for an early morning cup of tea, took 25 minutes. Some people like their eggs runny, a runny omelet was quit novel and a first for us.

Next came - trial by water! Contemplating a shower one with great expectations turned towards the geyser. Forget the flame, even the pilot was missing. Apparently not much hope of this flight taking off. An emergency was declared; our gardener and his family, who live with us, sprang into action.

A hasty stacking of bricks to form a small hearth and gathering of wood was initiated. Luckily, the gardener’s family keeps a large stock for the winter season. A large cauldron was placed over the hastily lit fire.

As the sun set and evening loomed the temperature dipped drastically. Attempted lighting of the heaters, to warm ourselves, was made.

The usual reassuring hiss of gas before being lit met with a strange silence and not even a flicker of flame seen. This left us with no choice but to take out the heater from the old fireplace and sealing of the gas connection. Numerous solutions were floated, to forestall the exciting happening of the day being repeated.

The final decision entailed favouring installation of an electric geyser and electric heaters. Not an option which everyone can easily resort to due to financial considerations. Additionally, the electrical option as a backup is highly dubious due to the parallel absence of electricity over prolonged periods and an erratic timetable.

Setting all levity aside and in all fairness the day’s events did have a romantic element to them in reminding one of simpler times and a bygone era.

Personally, I would take a fireplace over a heater any day; but in reality there is a great disparity in terms of the age we are living in and its demands in comparison to the resources we are provided with. For the elderly, the sick and very young these basic conveniences are a necessity.

Winters can be a season of fun, but without basic utilities it can truly be forlorn. And here we have not addressed the majority which lives with the bare minimum. Where are they to find or afford alternate resources to cope with an absence of basic amenities of life? If the case was that we did not possess any resources, things would be different.

Our tragedy is the gift of abundant resources yet an absolute failure of planning and policy. Tragically, in Pakistan the more things change the more they remain the same. The present sacrificed at the altar of a problematic past and allusive promised future.

Ask any politician and he or she will tell you ‘we are trying to rectify the previous government’s fallacies’ and what glorious future lies ahead. However glorious I hope it is not a cold and dark as things now stand. — AM….cold!

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