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Mother of all cities

Updated April 20, 2018

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IF my mother had been around I would have broken the news to her with a chuckle and a boast. There’s finally word that it is possible to turn Karachi into Lahore — long after she declared that my beloved Lahore could never become Karachi. Now it is not only possible that Karachi could be propped up to the level of the largest village on the face of the earth, but that, given the feats Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has performed in his hurried-scurried lifetime, it is very probable.

Indeed, there is a version of events which says that just as Shahbaz Sahib announces the promotion for the country’s commercial capital and its largest city, the work for transformation is already under way.

Karachi has been facing severe energy shortages, a problem that many parts of the city had managed to evade in recent years.

This is more a Lahore problem. The electricity shutdowns over the last decade or so have held Lahoris hostage for long hours. There’s been quite a lot of outpouring of emotion in public — for instance, when a few years ago, CM Shahbaz led an angry protest against power shutdowns in Lahore. That was before big brother Nawaz Sharif took power in Islamabad.

Lahore is getting more ‘bijli’ than it is used to, which is a pleasant change even though fears are that it is going to get gloomier, messier and darker on the electricity front.

Shahbaz Sahib would be unhappy to note that the task of leading such protests in Karachi have fallen on motley souls not quite his match by many ranks.

Also read: Lahore — a city of gardens, now a city of concrete

Back in the model city, there’s been change since then, to give the Sharif mills of power due credit. There’s been some load-shedding in Lahore in the all important year 2018 but not yet on the scale we have seen in past years.

You can say that, in the context of the comparatively briefer periods of load-shedding, Lahore does appear to behave cool like Karachi during certain hours these days.

Read: Shahbaz vows to make Karachi 'like Lahore'

Lahore is getting more bijli than it is used to, which is a pleasant change even though fears are that it is going to get gloomier, messier and darker on the electricity front in the coming days.

There’s no doubt that any fall in the supply of electricity will lead to a corresponding decline in the vote appeal of the PML-N if and when we go to the polls later in the summer. That’s if there’s still a PML-N worth the name at that time.

Politicians have their own inspirations behind their brilliant ideas about people’s emancipation. Like we had our own sources. Mother would be a little upset every time she returned to Lahore from a visit to her parents in Karachi. Back on our tonga ride home from the Lahore railway station she would invariably remark on how she had been married into a village.

She made the statement after 20 years of marriage. Then after 30 and 40. Then she would recover soon to discover the charms that Lahore like all cities had to offer. She was too used to this living to ever think about living outside of here, except for the duration of our brief tonga journey after a rejuvenating summer trip to her first home in Karachi.

We were madly in love with Lahore, where we had been born and raised. We would be very upset with any remarks about our city that we perceived were negative — just like the reactions we see from so many people, young and grownup, these days. We realised with time more often than not it was more in the form of banter than a serious attempt at provoking or ridiculing.

Mother, our inspiration, taught us how to be tolerant. She told us how we must respect others, as elders at least if we couldn’t respect them as rulers or teachers etc. She taught us that everyone strives to be of use and help to others and that all people in responsible positions did try to provide the best possible deal to us. She could like and love and respect two apparent rivals at the same time and be at peace with two contrasting themes — political or social. And she realised how futile it was to impose grandiose borrowed identities on people and places.

I miss the times, no matter where I am — which is not to say that I or anyone else can dismiss the edifice of development that Shahbaz Sahib has built over time with a terse quip or a shrug of the shoulders. He has a legacy which has made him popular. He is a role model that others would want to follow, whereas at home, some of his consistent critics would warn him against ever again excluding public aspiration and consultation from his brisk operations.

Friends in Karachi would be best placed to come up with an update on situation there, but hopefully no one would grudge those living and loving Lahore their yearning for the diverse culture we have long left behind.

There’s a certain kind of monotony in Lahore that is sometimes killing. Not sure about Karachi, but I experienced a kind of political diversity during a visit to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: a group of people, representing no less than a whole range of political colours from the right to, well, whatever is construed as the left in Pakistan.

That kind of diversity has been missing in Lahore, buried deep beneath the brick and concrete model imposed on the city amid deafening chants of ‘this is what you deserve and this is what you get’. There’s PML-N and then there’s PTI. Great. But where’s the difference?

Of course, the chief minister of Punjab is talking about his roads, buses and trains to impress the value of his rule.

That’s his right and we have been the ‘beneficiaries’ of his schemes. But we were taught early that there were many sides and facets to a city — institutions, culture, pluralism. Before anyone adopts the Lahore blueprint sold by Shahbaz Sahib he might want to ask where have the old institutions gone and which new ones have been built.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2018