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Saviour on a bike

October 13, 2017

FOR some time now, PML-N ministers in Lahore have been telling everyone how important the metro bus and the ever burgeoning roads have been in providing relief — even of the medical kind — to those who needed it. In times of emergency, people could reach hospitals by taking these sleek roads and these fast buses. How else? Well, they have just been provided an answer by the ultimate authority: The motorcycle ambulance ridden by a personage no less than Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif with his usual pomp and fury.

The motorcycle ambulance is promoted, with much reason, as the remedy for a city with narrow lanes. It is a befitting response to the emerging situation in a sprawling city whose roads have been increasingly cluttered by urban development carried out at a speed that separates Lahore from other parts of the country.

The ‘invention’ is going to be tied to the existing rescue system which has survived despite having its origins in the Pervaiz Elahi era which is often dismissed by latter-day Sharif loyalists as an aberration. It took the Shahbaz government quite a lot of effort to recognise the importance of the groundbreaking work done by the Pervaiz Elahi set-up in the area. As a compliment to continuation and perseverance, that has paid dividends in subsequent years, this motorcycle ambulance, unprecedented in the country for its scale and for government patronage, is the latest addition.

The motorcycle ambulance is yet another example of how Shahbaz Sharif takes the lead in bringing concepts home.

Mr Shahbaz Sharif, of course, has every right to have his own take about the origins of this saviour on motorbike. He says the incident of a Kasur woman who couldn’t be transferred to a hospital quickly enough for medical aid was his inspiration for the ‘novel’ idea. Maybe some of us would point out that, if we are talking about the same case, the innocent woman from Kasur died because of lack of proper first-aid facilities at the hospitals she was taken to. She needed a helicopter, perhaps, said those who probably didn’t have a fair idea of the paucity of funds that projects which fail to catch the fancy of the rulers perpetually suffer from.

But let’s not look for a dispute, nor grudge any credit here. So great are our expectations of the motorcycle ambulance that we would be best advised to not raise objections over minor details. Instead, we may limit ourselves to a prayer that Shahbaz Sahib will eventually take up hospital reforms in a big way, and dread the time when God forbid, he is not in charge of operations in Lahore for good reason or bad.

We in the city know of only one person who takes the initiative without even a semblance of negativity. He does it at some speed, which is not unwelcome always — in less than a year if memory serves one right. Didn’t he announce the scheme in November last year?

The motorcycle ambulance is yet another example of how Shahbaz Sharif takes the lead in bringing concepts home. He has the honour to introduce here what others in the business of governance in the country could not have been totally unaware of — unless they have their minds closed to all new ideas. The motorcycle ambulance has been seen on the roads of many countries all over the world — in a throwback to the First World War days when similar vehicles were employed to ferry injured soldiers to treatment points.

In recent years — say the last three decades or so — the pressure on the roads has forced some of the more resourceful countries to opt for the motorcycle for a prompt rescue response. Closer to home, and from where we get so many of our modern-day solutions, the system is in place in parts of India. It is running in Chhattisgarh, in Bangalore and there’s this gentleman in West Bengal who won an Indian civil honour for his innovative motorcycle ambulance that he has been operating in service of the people around him.

Lahore, more with its old image of tight serpentine alleys rather than its modern expanding metropolis of highways and fast-moving transport, does appear to be a city fit for such a service. Already the walled city boasts of so many stories laced with typical and often imaginative details of the sturdy and efficient motorcycle being used for impossible rescue missions. It can now act as a model for others in one more area.

Also there is real scope for expansion of the scheme in the rural areas where the two-wheeler is already being considered by some as worthy of some kind of an ode.

The motorcycle has a kind of liberating, progressive role in lives here — it is a comparatively cheap option made more affordable by the arrival of less expensive models of the vehicle in recent years. At around Rs40,000, a household can have a new two-wheeler used for everything from running errands and going to the local shops or fields to delivering milk, fetching the fodder and helping the family (in some cases consisting of up to six people) commute to various destinations from school and offices to any place that you can think of.

In the village, many of the tasks previously assigned to humans and beasts have since been silently transferred to the rather slim but still noticeable existence of the motorcycle. It is simply amazing how much the two-legged creature is expected to do during an ordinary day. Among other things, it is routinely used as a means to shift patients and the injured to hospital — a fact that can be best illustrated by spending a few hours at a district headquarter hospital in rural Pakistan. 

It’s not bad at all that the act has some royal approval now. It is good to see that the one who still can has chosen to recognise its efficacy and adopt it as his own.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2017