The weather changed again last night, gusty winds sweeping down the canal, forcing the grinning plastic bunnies floating on the canal like innocuous monsters to bob up and down for all they were worth. Lucy, who has recently discovered the pleasure of chasing flies, mosquitoes, moths and other air-borne creatures (ABCs), did not know what to chase last night as we stood in the garden, near midnight, marvelling at the forces of nature which giveth so much and taketh away as much.

Just this morning I was marvelling at the various shades of purple, my favourite colour, the colour of healing, that have erupted in my garden as if on cue. A week before leaving for London, there were only various shades of verdure, grass carpeting the earth in budding patches, green appearing amidst the brown of the fecund soil. What joy it was to be received by Lucy and the crop of blooms just a week later! Spring had arrived while I slept deeply in a hotel off Trafalgar Square, dreaming of the two cockroaches who accompanied me in the pocket of my business class seat all the way from Karachi, visa-less, ticket-less, but dressed in designer finery and speaking in languages incomprehensible, my Malice-in-Underland moment.

And what primordial frenzy greeted Lucy and I as we walked into the garden to watch the storm which had whipped up dead leaves from the veranda and forced the purple hydrangeas to bow their luscious heads against the powerful wind! Lucy stood still for a long while, unusual for a dog who doesn’t let anything past her. She, too, seemed to be fascinated by the fact that just a minute ago there was nothing, and now this, the storm after the calm. Only when the wind had subsided did Lucy decide to chase a few of the dead leaves that floated down from the majestic trees of my neighbourhood. Only then did I call it a day and lock up doors and windows, shutting off lights, checking on the brood of five new-born kittens delivered by a wild cat in my closet.

It was the end of a long day spent struggling with developing a gap analysis of the various cultural heritage management plans for the Diamer Basha dam, a project which seems to have been a stillbirth, but where midwives of all sorts insist on breathing life into it regardless of the fact that the costs since its conception have doubled and issues multiplied. Various matrixes and international instruments, safeguard guidelines and implementing standards flooded my mind just as the reservoir of the proposed dam would flood 38 villages, displacing over 40,000 people, and submerging 30,000 petroglyphs and possibly extremely significant buried archaeology which is being looted and vandalised as I write these lines. Try as I do, sleep evades me once again, and I am forced to consider that the dam has become a necessity because in less than 10 years we shall be a water-starved country, that before the middle of the century we shall be a water scarce country.

The socio-political climate of the country needs to change and finally address the issues which have crippled the nation for a long, long time

Of course, in the infinite wisdom of government, water resource protection or water storage or conservation does not find a place in the many schemes which dot the landscape of this beloved, blighted homeland like lacerations and unhealed wounds. Instead, we are seeing a mind-numbing agenda of road building unfolding before us from Karachi to the far reaches of the Karakoram where opportunity lies untapped, buried beneath mounds of moraine brought down by glaciers in their measured journeys. Instead of farm-to-market roads to enable small farmers to sell fresh produce before it rots, instead of roads which can ease the journey of women in the last stages of their pregnancies, instead of roads which can carry citizens safely to their various destinations, we are seeing the building of behemoths, increasing the carbon footprint both during construction and then once operational. Do we then wonder at the rapidity with which the climate is changing, wind whipping up the ruddy waters of the Lahore canal where psychedelic displays of some imagined cultural heritage loom out in the darkness like ghosts of what could have been, what should have been?

But what about the other climate which seems to be changing, heralded in by a “new resolve” to address the issues which have crippled the nation over the past several decades? What about the newfound patriotism enshrined in the recent Horse and Cattle Show where the tasteless and morbid re-enactment of the APS Peshawar tragedy was played out for a dumbstruck audience? What about the hiring of a television channel owner with a dubious past to gather together the motely crew which goes by the name of cultural practitioners, parading them through Lahore’s Main Boulevard in the name of patriotic entertainment? What about the frame-by-frame replays of confessions before the tightening of the hangman’s noose? What about the vilification of yesterday’s heroes, the tightening of the proverbial screw around the gargantuan neck of the very man who served a dangerous purpose for those who now orchestrate his undoing? Is this the change which giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other?

The climate is changing under our very noses, the calm before the storm, insidious agendas waiting to be unleashed while we sleep, while sleep evades me, even as the tempest outside abates, even as the hydrangeas in my garden lift their battered heads up and prepare to greet the dawn, another day, full of possibility.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 29th, 2015

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