It isn’t difficult to see why Pakistan hungers for entertainment. We are perpetually swamped with social, economic and security crises and get little respite. Even the highly anticipated international cricketing events have been taken away from us.
On the other hand, Pakistani television is the victim of a savage ratings game, where producers are unwilling to experiment with fresh programming ideas. In the morning, ridiculous talk shows are broadcast where both hosts and guests lack the skill and charisma required to create content worth watching.
The evenings are even more depressing. News channels offer the most mind-numbing programmes that quickly disintegrate into shouting contests, and our dramas recycle each other's material so relentlessly they should probably be given a Greenpeace award.
As a result, gardens, shopping malls and fast food joints are swarming with people during the weekends.
Like many others, I was a little stunned to learn that the Punjab government has signed a contract with a Chinese company named the ‘Golden Bean Industry Group’ to build a world-class theme park and aquarium in Lahore for a whopping private investment of 36 billion rupees. It is said that this park will boast rides as spectacular as those at Disneyland.
Certainly, such an agreement will create jobs and attract future businesses, all of which speaks well of the Punjab government’s vision of turning Lahore into a modern city.
Yet, there are some who question if a soulless theme park is really necessary in a country deprived of power, food, education and one that is also fast losing its heritage sites?
Others ask if it’s not more important to consider investing in the promotion of tourism in our northern areas which are breathtaking to behold.
Let’s be realistic. These attractions are created to serve the public, not to draw in tourists. Yes, modernising our northern areas will make them more attractive for visitors from overseas, but foreigners at the moment are keeping away, mainly because of security issues.
Moreover, modernising our northern areas will not affect the life of young city dwellers in Islamabad, Lahore, and Rawalpindi looking for immediate gratification that a theme park would provide.
The most vocal complaints over the Lahore park are coming from affluent Pakistanis who can visit Dubai, Sri Lanka, Thailand or travel to Europe or the United States frequently. Well, this theme park is probably not being built for them anyway.
Pakistan comfortably boasts its share of private country clubs, theme parks and sports clubs, but the majority of these are too expensive for the average Pakistani to afford. Someone with a membership to a theme park told me he was glad it was expensive as it kept the ‘riffraff out’. The memberships here cost several thousand a month, while the initial fee stands on average at over Rs500,000.
This sort of elitism has started to affect our malls as well. Centaurus Mall in Islamabad introduced an entrance fee to shield itself from ‘Pindi boys’.
Also read: Islamabad's phobia of Pindi boys
On the other hand, public theme parks in Pakistan — affordable to middle class citizens — are disorganised, unhygienic, lack security and offer facilities that pale in comparison to private theme parks.
Judging by its record of the Metrobus project, we can only hope that the Punjab government is going to ensure that this private theme park is accessible to everyone.
Does the average citizen not deserve the same degree of entertainment as the affluent?
However, I am admittedly concerned about the company putting this together. Details on the Golden Bean Industry Group are difficult to find on the Internet. The other theme parks they have built in China, such as the Fantasy Park of Changchun city and Jiangnan Park of Jilin City, have little presence online, which is rare in this day and age. The project will apparently be completed in less than two years.
At this point, safety is my biggest concern. And with a track record of poor maintenance in projects across the country, we should stand firm, make sure our safety is taken into account and refuse to accept any more preventable deaths.