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THE H-BOMB: Urban Jungles

Updated Apr 09, 2017 11:31am

I like grass, and not just the smoking kind.

Walking barefoot on a lush green turf is a truly sensual experience, until your foot comes down on the aluminium lid of some carelessly thrown can of soft drink. Grass is green, grass is soft, grass is nature’s shag carpet. Euphemism intended.

Concrete is not green. Concrete is hard, concrete is thick, just like the brains of the Sindh government apparently, who are handing over Clifton’s Bagh Ibne-Qasim to Malik Riaz. The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation is just as apparently taking the case to the Sindh High Court. Nobody’s a stranger to Malik Riaz’s modus operandi, which is to pour enough cement on disputed land until reclaiming it is useless so you might as well give it back to the contractors.

I am convinced that one day Malik Riaz will be the Donald Trump of Pakistan, and I don’t mean he’ll paint himself orange and put a bathroom rug over his head. I mean he’ll become the Prime Minister, simply because he’ll end up owning the Parliament House and most of Constitution Avenue. There’s currently a race between Malik Riaz and the People’s Republic of China to see who can claim more land in Pakistan, and Malik Riaz is winning.


Our solution to urbanisation is to pour more concrete into it


I have never been to Bagh Ibne-Qasim, but I have been to South City Hospital next door so many times that I’ve had a good look at it, from a distance. It looks quite grand, parks in Karachi are a sight for sore eyes, so I hope it retains most of its lustre during the legal struggle and afterwards.

Somehow I doubt it. Since the Bahria Icon Tower nearby was planted down as a frontier post, everything around it has transformed into this winding, whirling kingdom of concrete, with street lights that look like they used to be shower faucets in a previous life. The Icon Tower and its condiments have successfully put out of sight the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, the saint who stopped an entire sea with a few harsh words but was helpless against Malik Riaz.

Speaking of helplessness, Kamran Lashari, the retired bureaucrat and hopefully retired actor, has left the chairmanship of the Lahore Arts Council — undoubtedly, the best thing that’s happened to the Lahore Arts Council this year. He quit complaining of too much red tape, which leads one to ask why he bought so much of it in the first place?


“I am convinced that one day Malik Riaz will be the Donald Trump of Pakistan, and I don’t mean he’ll paint himself orange and put a bathroom rug over his head. I mean he’ll become the Prime Minister, simply because he’ll end up owning the Parliament House and most of Constitution Avenue. There’s currently a race between Malik Riaz and the People’s Republic of China to see who can claim more land in Pakistan, and Malik Riaz is winning. I have never been to Bagh Ibne-Qasim, but I have been to South City Hospital next door so many times that I’ve had a good look at it, from a distance. It looks quite grand, parks in Karachi are a sight for sore eyes, so I hope it retains most of its lustre during the legal struggle and afterwards.


As Malik Riaz meddles with Karachi’s heritage, Kamran Lashari is the man largely responsible for turning Old Lahore into banal suburban amusement. The old terraces of dance and music are now lined with tables and menus full of overpriced food.

Now I am not opposed to modernity. High rise buildings and exorbitantly expensive restaurants are hallmarks of urbanisation the world over. But most cities manage to do in a way that the old coexists with the new in an aesthetically consistent manner.

Bizarrely enough, it’s the custodians of Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine who are now attempting to bridge that aesthetic gap between old and new, by renovating the shrine with a modernist architectural flavour.

It’s getting a facelift in the form of a double storey extension, and it’s getting garish lights to match the luminescence of Malik Riaz’s creations.

As places like Multan and Faisalabad are now getting their share of flyovers, underpasses and shiny new gated communities from Shahbaz Sharif’s annual quota, one can only wonder if dead saints will have to move into a 10-marla house in the Royal Orchard housing scheme just to escape the ignominy of being buried under the rubble of urbanisation.

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 9th, 2017