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Underneath a town

January 12, 2018


AND then the tragedy happened. The long wedding rituals were put on hold as the big-town media —and Dr Tahirul Qadri — made a dash to Lahore’s poor twin, Kasur, which has been unable to use a good reason to be in the news and must always find notice in the morbid and grisly. Which is a little strange given all that the city proudly showcases.

It is all so serene. If you haven’t passed through this border town in the last few years you will be impressed by the clean look it now sports. So great has been the change in the road structure that old-timers returning to the town after a while might need the signboards to reach their destination.

Some of the old stuff has been shifted out of the city, like the bus stand, and a lot of it has been discarded in favour of modern life. There’s a real neatness to the layout and the people appear to be prosperous and willing to indulge themselves in a favourite Pakistani pastime: eating.

By the sight of it, and going by the sheer numbers, the city is some kind of a media hub. Some day as you go to pay your respects to Baba Bulleh Shah, you will realise that the saint and his city have more journalists than a city of this size would actually need — and those who are not journalists, it appears, are aspiring to display their talent on any channel they can find space on. There are groups upon groups of them, peering over you from posters that congratulate the office holders of a journalist union — more likely a faction of some union.

Time and again, journalists have been frustrated in their effort to highlight the terrors that lurk beneath Kasur’s neat exterior. They are looked upon suspiciously as if they were indulging in some fishy activity.

You may run into one such advertisement of the city’s media flat on the tall building a few yards away from the banished Bulleh’s last abode. You will have men selling fake Kasuri methi at the place, as if setting the tone for some of the false attitudes that are a norm in the city, as they are a norm in Lahore, which is a stone’s hurl away from where experts and media and leaders now swoop on Kasur after the tragic exit of little Z.

Let their numbers not act against them. To be honest to them, these journalists have been trying their level best to convey the message, without too much success. They have been time and again frustrated in their effort to highlight the terrors that lurk beneath Kasur’s neat exterior. They are looked upon suspiciously as if they were indulging in some fishy activity in a city which has a hefty law-enforcement personnel presence courtesy its proximity to the Indian border.

Not least horrific of them, the journalists and probing filmmakers were booed as they went about revealing a child abuse scandal in a village in Kasur district. This, everyone agrees, brought the country international shame. What is more regrettable, by hiding from probing allegations of rampant child sexual abuse in the Hussain Khanwala village, Pakistan lost an opportunity to debate just how rampant child abuse is across the country.

This was an opportunity for Kasur to lead a campaign. The reluctant posture adopted by some of its more visible sons suggested that they were more interested in proving their home district’s innocence in the matter, thereby working to suppress and smother its potential to act as a catalyst for a change, in thinking if nothing else.

The new look of Kasur is credited to a few able bureaucrats and, of course, that ultimate remedy of a man Shahbaz Sharif. But the same bunch are at a loss as to how to proceed in the present instance. There are so many other politicians who belong here and, at those occasional public meetings, are hailed for having given the city its identity. In the world of grownups, they are not to be seen on occasions exclusively reserved for children and the naïve. The politicians are not to be seen when the city needs a moral boost — not together, not in their individual capacities.

Many of these politicians are very resourceful. For instance, there is this gent whose family runs a lucrative school system. When he felt the need to have a jalsa in town, his staff thought it prudent to buy a few thousand chairs to seat those in attendance.

Renting them from the local shamiana wallah was perhaps just too pedestrian a thought for the politician who, on evidence, likes to do it with a flash and a bit of swagger.

The party also has his challenger for the post of foreign minister. Aristocratic even if a little here and there with his political affiliations, this second aspirant paints when he can. Having said that his sensitive soul isn’t stirred up by cases where God’s motley are abducted or abused for the conscientious conspirators to hide their anguish behind a tight-lipped façade.

The ruling party MNA from the Kasur city doesn’t appear to be too much of socialite either — unless I have missed his public moments. Actually, as they said the last prayers for little Z on Wednesday spotted was the Kasur representative of a party that is otherwise not easily visible nowadays.

As the question was asked about the missing politicians someone pointed out that there he was a famous, diehard ally of Asif Ali Zardari. Until 10 years ago, as a PPP MNA, he was celebrated as the only socialist lawmaker of the Assembly. As a search was carried out on Wednesday, an observer reported he was there saying funeral prayers for Z, “right behind Tahirul Qadri” who of course was leading the congregation. Not even by the side of the powerful cleric but behind him in a true reflection of the times.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018