LAHORE: A celebration of ‘Basant’ is expected to fill the Taxali Gate area with colours and festivities on Saturday (Feb 13). Even though there will be no kite flying as per law, there will be food and music from 6pm to 11pm.

The organisers are a small group of 13 people comprising artists, academician and social activists, including Farida Batool, Assistant Professor Cultural Studies, Haider Ali Jan, Mohsin Shafi, all from the NCA, and social activist Raza Khan.

“We came to Taxali Gate with another project in mind,” says Raheemul Haq, a public policy expert from the FC College, who is also part of the group. “But as we began work here, discussions with local residents revealed that the Basant tradition which was stopped in 2007, has brought up severe repercussions in their lives. Now we have begun to look at things in a larger perspective and we want to revive a discussion on restarting Basant.”

A local resident says the problem was that the Taxali Gate area had its own culture and music and entertainment was part of it. “Now that it has become a gated community, many routes that used to be open to us are now closed. The residents do not have direct access to the Badshahi Mosque. “The (new) food street has spoilt our economy and culture. Tourists and visitors do not come through Taxali anymore, and cannot see what else the area has to offer. It is in fact a wonderful place.”

For this very reason, Raheem says, Taxali is the place they chose for Basant celebration.

“It has always been a hub of culture and because Basant is now fast becoming a forgotten festival, for its revival, and for any kind of cultural renaissance in this city, Taxali is the place to begin. Here there are still ‘germs’ of true Lahori society.”

Spring which used to be a time for Basant festivities has now become a time of its remembrance. While it always held its allure especially for foreigners and those who lived away from the city, today for the newer Lahori generation it seems more like a distant historical past.

Prof Salima Hashmi compares the banning of Basant to a loss of cultural identity. “It was the only unifying, secular festival, where people from all ages, all sects and religions, and all socioeconomic classes became equal. Kite making itself is an ancient art, and women were very involved in it. Today the ban has cost people their livelihood, and the economy of the inner city has been affected very badly,” she laments.

“There used to be rooftops filled with people, the sky was full of colourful kites, food typical of the festival including ‘qeemay walay naan’, and ‘gaajar ka halwa’ would be consumed. There would be music, and excited shouts of ‘Bo Kata!’

Hashmi says it was a celebration of the advent of Spring which is in itself a rejuvenation of life and today it is an especially important thing to believe in, and to celebrate when we do not seem to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

“I do hope that its not dead yet and that it’s biding its time until people realise how important it is for the Lahori identity and how positive an occasion it is,” she says. “This was the only time when everyone united only to enjoy themselves.”

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2016

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