My eyes scroll over a news piece in the Pakistani paper Dawn. Lahore has been lashed by a dust storm. Not too far from Pakistan Punjab, north Indian cities like Amritsar and Delhi faced a similar squall.
As I muse, I am forced to wonder about how geography is probably all that is left in terms of similarity between our two countries which were once bound seamlessly by culture, tradition, language, ethos and government.
Lahore was the jewel of the undivided Punjab, rivalling Mumbai in terms of modernity and progressive outlook.
It was an epitome of what Punjab had achieved; it was a celebration and a cherished possession. In folk songs during the Punjabi festival of Lohri, we still sing songs around the holy fire – about a young girl whose brother is settled in Lahore, which provides ample opportunity for recreation for sports like tennis, and thus pleases the girl’s heart.
Popular sayings like <i>Jinaay Lahore nahi wakhiya o jamiya hi nae</i> (he who has not visited Lahore has not even been born) have never been out of circulation.
There were tales which my grandparents would relate. About years they spent in getting a lively education in the city. At Government College of Lahore, which was among the premier institutions of undivided India. About how it used to be once a co-educational set up. How stellar guest lectures were delivered by the likes Tagore and Iqbal.
How they would travel by horse driven <i>tongas</i> and motor cars. That there was Western dancing, and clubs that taught Fox Trot to young couples.
When partition came, Lahore was rightfully to come to India, as its combined Hindu and Sikh population was more than that of Muslims. But given the strategic location of the Muslim dominant Gurdaspur – it connected mainland India to Kashmir - India agreed to part with Lahore and take Gurdaspur instead.
Those days are now a far cry from the Pakistan of today. Lahore is still a vibrant city and Pakistan’s cultural capital. But the secular thinking and openness have corroded over the years. Now, the Governor of Punjab is assassinated if he speaks out against the blasphemy law. And the cleric backs off from offering prayers at his funeral. It is also where a terrorist like Hafiz Saeed can roam freely and make inflammatory speeches and recruit youth to attack India.
Where once men and women would turn up in fashionable western clothes, most people are draped in traditional attires. There is nothing wrong with traditional outfits one would aver, but it is indicative of conservatism settling in.
Lahore being Lahore, the people who inhabit the city will continue to undoubtedly fight for its modern flavour – and there is still a fairly large constituency there which believes in living it up. What I am afraid of is that constituency is shrinking or too scared, and worse still, helpless.
The way events have panned out in the political history of the Pakistan, the state is on a path of no return. Governments can be elected democratically but have no real power. The Army, which rules the roost, has been radicalized to a very substantial extent. It is fed on paranoia of India and provoked to avenge past wounds like 1971. And the economy is completely off-kilter.
Bloodstreams had flown through the roads of Lahore during communal clashes of partition. Today, besides exporting terror, Muslims are turning on each other. The radical elements of Pakistan which were once on the margins are assuming centrestage making the country a nucleus of terror. Islamists from countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and of course Afghanistan can enter and exit without being stopped or questioned.
The feral northern and western areas were unruly from the start, but now terrorists are being arrested from city centres like Karachi and Lahore. And the world’s 'Most Wanted' man could live in Abbottabad, near a military academy, with impunity for years. The Frankenstein that Pakistan had created is now feeding on it.
People in Pakistan often complain that there is more a perception of the problem than the real problem. And that the magnitude of their troubles has been amplified. I say, assess how the condition was 15 years and further back and compare it with today. The country has travelled far on the course of self destruction. And in all probability, it is too late to turn back. How will Pakistan be three years from now? Even without being a semiotician, I could lay a wager it would be worse.
These are the cruel machinations of destiny… Punjab was torn apart during the birth of two nations, and Lahore by quirk of fate ended up on the other side of the border.
A land to which my ancestors travelled for education and livelihood is one which I would possibly no longer wish to visit.
Such has been the spirit of the city, Lahoris no doubt will try and keep the flame of hope alive – but it would be like a candle in the wind. From being the hub of modernity and fashion, Lahore is fast becoming the node of intolerance and terror, a natural reflection of what is happening to the entire country.
So estranged are we, that India can only see a pewter tempest building inside the neighbouring country, but do little except to watch.
Pakistani psyche revels in its Moghul heritage. To Lahore - the city which is bound to be lost in the quicksilver of time, I narrate its story of decay in the words of the Last Moghul Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar:
Na Kisi Ki Aankh Ka Noor Hoon
Na Kisi Ke Dil Ka Qarar Hoon
Jo Kisi Ke Kaam Na Aa Sake
Main Woh Ek Mushth-e-Ghubaar Hoon
Mera Rang Roop Bigad Gaya
Mera Yaar Muhjse Bichad Gaya
Jo Chaman Khizaan Mein Ujad Gaya
Main Usi Ki Fasl-e-Bahar Hoon
Jo Bigad Chala Gaya Woh Naseeb Hoon
Jo Ujad Gaya Woh Dayaar Hoon
(I am the light of no one’s eyes
Nor the solace of anyone’s heart
That which is of no use to anyone
I am such a handful of dust
My colour and beauty have been ravaged
My friend has been separated from me
That garden that was ruined in autumn
I am the spring of that crop
I am that fate which has been continually ruined
I am that land which has been destroyed)