Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

What is the matter with us?

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Dawn today (06 April 2018) carries a news item on the back page about air quality inside courtroom number 1 of the Supreme Court in Islamabad being below acceptable level. This was in response to a petition filed by one Venu Advani of Karachi. This citizen is concerned about what we are breathing.

Going by his name, Mr Advani seems not to be a Muslim.

Nor too was Ardeshir Cowasjee. But as Venu Advani is now grieving over the air we are breathing, the venerable Mr Cowasjee fretted about everything wrong that the captains of Pakistan’s destiny were committing. Despite his years of lambasting the corrupt, the venal mafia of this country could not be leashed. In the end the grand old curmudgeon of Karachi said, ‘You cannot teach shame to the shameless’.

In Mithi (Tharparkar) I met Lajpat Sharma, a Brahmin and a practicing Hindu. As an official of the Wildlife Department, this man fearlessly confronted the rich and powerful in his drive against poaching. The last three years of his service before retirement about ten years ago he was posted at Mithi. It was his single-minded stubbornness and courage that today the once dwindling population of chinkara (ravine) deer has made a great comeback.

Rewind to 2002. In my neighbourhood which was then only about six houses, I saw that the nearest neighbour did not have an overhead water tank. In those days our locality did not have water supply and everyone used their own bores and pumps.

One day I was at his place when I saw the electric motor running and a pipe discharging good clean water into the sewer. I asked why and the man said they followed this practice when dishes were being done or when someone was bathing because if they turned the tap off, the pump was likely to be damaged. I said the answer was an overhead tank. The man smiled stupidly and said tanks were too expensive.

I lectured him on the steadily dwindling water table of Lahore and that Pakistan was a water-stressed country. I also told him that if we keep going this way, by 2025 Lahore will run out of clean subsoil water. His response floored me: ‘Water is God’s gift to us, how can it ever run out!’ (Ae tay Allah dee cheez a, a nahi khatam honi.)

On my early morning cycle tour I see dozens of people washing the road outside their homes. From Model Town to Johar Town to Wapda Town wherever I go, the five o’clock servant is washing the road. If some drive is washing the car, he has the hose running at full pressure as he scrubs the treads of the tyres. The treads! Washing the sidewall is understandable, but whoever on earth wants to wash the tread.

No one uses a bucket to wash the car. And I can tell you it takes one bucket of about twenty-five litres to clean even a very dirty car. The pipe at full pressure wastes several hundred litres for each wash.

Three days ago, very near my home I saw in the pre-dawn darkness a man washing the road outside his home. I stopped and addressing him as bhai jee I spoke in Punjabi.
‘Lahore da pani khatam hone vala a.’
‘Hone deo,’ (Let it.) was his response with so much as letting me finish.

I quietly cycled away.

This is not the second time I have met a fool of this sort. My campaign to remove conocarpus and ulta asoka from the local park and plant indigenous species was met with furious opposition. If I tried to tell the morons how harmful conocarpus is for us and how useless asoka for our birds, they got that glazed abstracted look in their eyes telling me that whatever I was saying was flying way above their limited intellects. I stood my ground and now we have local trees.

Without further comment, I will only say that I fail to understand why Muslims suffer such a disconnect from the earth and its environment.


posted by Salman Rashid @ 3:01 PM,


At April 18, 2018 at 5:43 PM, Blogger Asim Khan said...

First of all i would like to say that Im 100% with you on saving water especially in Lahore but isnt "ulta ashoke" indigenous to India correct me if I understood you incorrectly.

At April 19, 2018 at 12:02 PM, Blogger Salman Rashid said...

Asim, ulta asoka is indeed native to south India.. what I have against it is its lack of shade. It's a bloody kulfi tree. We are a very hot country, getting hotter by the day. We need shade, shade, shade. We need neem, pipal, banyan, pilkhen, barna, shreen and other such species that grow in this blessed country that idiots are bent on turning into the Arabian desert.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days