Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Who owns Lahore?

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I go cycling very early in the morning and my route takes me from College Road (Township) to Model Town [Lahore]. The two tracks of this road are divided by a brick-lined storm water drain. For the past about eight years I have daily seen groups of women on donkey carts dismantling the bricks from the lining and loading them on their carts. These women are from the Changar, Ode or whatever group of nomads that we are all very familiar with. They seem to be giving up their peripatetic lifestyle in favour of a sedentary one and obviously need these bricks to build their homes – bricks that they cannot afford to purchase.
Every summer as the new financial year begins in July, some government department comes around to repair the lining. They put in new bricks where they have been stolen. But evidently no one ever asks how the bricks disappear. During winters, the women are at work in the dark, but now these days they plunder in daylight. There are worshippers returning from the mosques, strollers, young people, guards sleeping (yes, sleeping) outside the stores they are supposed to guard, petrol and natural gas filling pump attendants, and yet the women go about their destructive business without a care. No one seems to mind the plunder.
Some years ago, I tried to stop the women. It was winter and dark and there were only some guards around. The women attacked me with the bricks they had dismantled and I made myself scarce! After that, I shamelessly continued to use the same route even as the women were at work. Last summer, I stopped a young stroller (who was playing with his cell phone as he went) and I asked him what he thought of the women’s work. ‘Oh, I didn’t notice,’ He was only ten metres from the dismantling work and this young Pakistani had not noticed how these women were slowly taking the country apart brick by brick. Mind, this is how it all begins: we begin at the bottom and work our way up to destroy this sorry country.
I tried the Green Town Police Station first. That was probably sometime in 2005. The staff virtually laughed me out of the premises! The duty officer told me they had better things to do than stop some poor women from destroying the drain.
Thereafter I tried Lahore Development Authority who directed me to Water and Sewage Authority. Everywhere it was a stonewall. This drain which is regularly repaired every July, was no one’s responsibility.
When Najam Sethi took over as Caretaker Chief Minister, I wrote to him considering we know each other quite well. I know this complaint was too insignificant for the Chief Minister, yet I hoped he would order someone to look into the matter. Najam did not respond and he obviously never passed on my complaint to concerned officials.
Today, 8 May 2013, It was 4.50 AM, light enough for visibility to be more than a kilometre when I passed by two teams of women dismantling the bricks from the drain. Once again there were guards both sleeping and awake, and other people. No one bothered. I cycled on. Why should I be the only one concerned about the destruction, I thought to myself. Damn the system and perhaps also damn the country.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:25,


At 8 May 2013 at 12:04, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are not alone in this Salman Rashid. I too feel sorry when I see trees being cut or slow death of so many other things that characterized Lahore in the past. This is, however, a classic example of plundering brick by brick. Who has time or wish or will to listen to this fable when so much is going on?

At 8 May 2013 at 12:14, Blogger Arthur Anab Shams said...

Its a very sorrow state, and I quite agree with your statement that says "Dismantling the country brick by brick" and we are all party to it. I have also noticed the same thing near Kalma Chowk. Although the Nursery owners stopped the women and kids stealing the bricks, but their response was same as you mentioned. I suppose its all because of lack of education and affordability. For the Brick Stealer's perspective, they also give a damn to the country all that know is to build their own shelter.

At 8 May 2013 at 13:37, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

So you too though Najam Sthi will be any different? They are all the same sir. Forget Lahore. Forget Pakistan. Lutto te phutto. Let Pakistan take care of herself.

At 8 May 2013 at 15:33, Anonymous Hakim Muhammad Rafiq said...

I live on College Road near Jannat Marriage Hall.

Why should I be the only one concerned about the destruction? You should be and you are (this article shows your concern clearly). Saying 'damn the system and perhaps also damn the country' can't make you oblivious of your responsibility.

At 8 May 2013 at 15:40, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Hakim Muhammad Rafiq, will you then join me in this struggle? Will you be at the crossing of the wedding place you mention around 4.50 AM tomorrow?

At 8 May 2013 at 17:42, Blogger nisar said...

Salman sb! The same apathy and indifferent behaviour prevails every where in the society.In my village Rukanpura distt Okara, 35 years old Shisham tress on the canal bank were cut by the local timber mafia and no one even raised a finger at it. Nisar Ahmad Phullerwan

At 8 May 2013 at 20:16, Anonymous Hakim Muhammad Rafiq said...

Yes, I will sure catch up with you some day on the route. Thanks.

At 9 May 2013 at 09:33, Anonymous Kausar Bilal said...

Feel really sad to read the post. Actually, many times we overlook such things as we are routine-blind. Such incidents are happening around but we never notice them. There is no justification to destroying the country, but in a system where the poor are not taken care of at all, the poor find these ways and others like them as guards, police officers, etc understand their pain of poverty and join hands with them in fulfilling their basic human needs as building a shelter. We can't stop these evils unless n until we bring economic, social and educational reforms in Pakistan.
Nice to know we have so clear-minded, sensitive, motivted and action-oriented patriots as yourself, who tries to reform the system. Wish we all are like this.

At 9 May 2013 at 11:05, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Kausar, We need to overhaul how we look at things. No one, not even the poor, should have license to dismantle this country. I suppose they have learned it from what they see all around. Everyone is at it and no one bothers.

At 20 January 2014 at 15:27, Anonymous Salman Khattak said...

Thank you Salman Sb for sharing your thoughs.

I say, take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.

At a young age, I learnt to always do the right thing ; wonder what kids learn these days at home and schools ; I have seen countless times rubbish being thrown out of expensive vehicles during school rush. Once, I took the initiative and at a traffic signal near Cavalry Lahore I rolled down my window and protested to the fellow in the car about the child's inappropriate conduct of throwing trash out of the car.

His reply was 'abay chal bay'.

Its the little things that count to create a functioning and rather happy society. No state, government can ensure that 180 million people behave righteously ; though we can at least start teaching our kids a little about Ikhlaqiyaat at school level.

What good is memorizing your way through education if it doesn't teach you basic manners to operate in a civil society.

At 20 January 2014 at 20:16, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have often said and say it again: V don't deserve to b an independant country. They say it takes a 100 years to make a nation but I doubt it. In any case, "Kaun jeeta hai teri zulf k sar honay tuk!" And when v r gone,"Apni bala say baad-e-saba ab kabhi chalay."
Jannat Wedding is owned by a young, sharp retd Col and so is the area around it.He lives in Defence and obviously has no love lost for a storm water channel.And the attitude is well summed up by the Hakim Sahib above:"He'll catch up with u one of these days,"which means anything from now to eternity.

At 8 February 2014 at 15:45, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Salman Khattak, Let us just carry on doing our right thing. Even if no one emulates.

At 8 February 2014 at 15:46, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Hakim sahib never caught up, as you rightly guessed.


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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

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