City of Gardens it was called. Cultural heart of Pakistan it was proclaimed to be. Centre of literary and educational activity in Pakistan it was thought to be. But now it has attained the mark of being a metropolis. It is a piece of land with a transport fabric comprising intricate and much tangled network of roads. The sight of green trees and flowers of all colours has been savagely replaced with that of grey cement, concrete and metal. Lahore is now the city of roads and iron. Furthermore, just as icing is to cake, we, the Lahoris, have done more harm than good to our beloved city by compromising our cultural values, traditions and heritage to modernity, which should be highly unacceptable to a sensitive nation.

As legend narrates, two sons of the King Rama, named Lava and Kusha, founded two neighbouring cities and called them Lohawar and Kasur, respectively. History indicates no discrimination between the twins yet, somehow, Lohawar received more attention of geographers like Ptolemy, primarily because of being on the route of trade that connected Central to South Asia and Far East. Be that as it may, Lohawar underwent transformation into Lahore, from a crossroad with huge markets and large orchards to the capital of Punjab under the rule of Anandapala.

Ranjit Singh's empire

There are hundreds of books that tell the historic tales of Lahore’s invasion by Mongols, Timur, Sultan Mahmud of Ghaznavi and Babur, but it is the mark that each one of them left on Lahore’s culture which is of paramount significance. Malik Ayaz, the governor of Lahore during Ghaznavid rule, gave this city its identity of a cultural and academic hub of the empire. These activities received further encouragement during the Delhi Sultanate and Lahore hosted the poets of Persian language more than any other city during the rule of Qutb al-Din Aibak.

It was this legacy which could be seen in 50s, 60s and even 70s on The Mall, where people used to stroll in winter in their formal wear. How can we forget Pak Tea House, an intellectual tea-café, where renowned intellectuals, public opinion formulators, critics and writers used to sit and contribute to enrich the already fertile minds of commoners? The intellectual seeds sown by them became huge trees later in the 80s and 90s, and provided shadows to the restless souls by quenching the thirst of knowledge of many. However, unfortunately we brutally chopped them off the ground in the name of modernity. Today, great minds do not have a table to share a new piece of writing with their pals; they simple post it on Facebook and Twitter while sitting right next to those from whom appreciation is expected. What hurts the most is the fact that even the strong literary culture of Lahore could not prove to be a strong barrier in the way of invasion by social media.

Mall Road

Horse and Cattle Show at Fortress Stadium

Do we remember the Horse and Cattle Show at Fortress Stadium which used to be held in every spring and was a permanent feature of Lahore’s cultural life? Even foreign tourists used to come and get to know about our culture through it. Do we remember such a Lahore whose valiant and brave citizens went all the way to Wahgah with sticks in their hands to fight the enemy in 1965? They were tolerant people who guarded the purity and simplicity of this city. The only touchstone to measure the other person was moral character, education and family lineage. But today, festivals and fairs are arranged according to different sects and interests of people. The manipulators have changed the entire picture of the city. The upstarts have broken the basic fabric of the society as for them the fundamental yardstick to measure someone’s success is wealth. A city, which used to carry a cultural blend of centuries with pride and honour, has now been misshaped by the huge exodus from interior Punjab.

There actually existed a Lahore Municipal Corporation which used to clean the streets of the city twice a day, with a common sight of sprinkling water on walkways in summers. It has now changed into Lahore Metropolitan Corporation at tehsil levels with zero output. Cleanliness is long forgotten idea and people are not even being provided with safe water for drinking and domestic use. The major cause of this chaos is population explosion which automatically increases the pressure on supply and drainage lines that were initially laid for a city with given number of people.

Another beautiful aspect of Lahore was its architecture which was given to it during Mughal and Sikh reigns. It is this very feature of a city that narrates stories that lie in its heart. In the words of Julia Morgan:

“My buildings will be my legacy… they will speak for me long after I’m gone.”

Walled City

As of today, Lahore comprises an old city and the rest of the areas which present an excellent example of the city’s heritage, which is its ethnic mosaic. It is now the capital of the most populous province of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where even the martial-law administrators have proclaimed to form a government of, by and for the people. If this is the case then why was I, a citizen of this republic, not asked about my opinion and verdict before the construction of the Orange Line? Why was I, a taxpayer of Pakistan, not asked for the permission to construct elevated roads and tracks? Why was I, a denizen of Lahore, not asked for approving of the effects these mega-projects would have on my health and lifestyle?

Since no more space was left on ground for metalling roads after all these years of construction, the major focus of the government is now on erecting overhead roads, which provide a continuous shade to those travelling on ground level.The unplanned expansion of the city has made it look like Leviathan, a huge dragon whose tentacles spread all over the city.

I am not against the Ring Road or any other road, but this overdosing of development at the cost of providing basic infrastructural facilities to other cities is unjustified. Wheeling on these fine-looking, levelled roads does not help me in forgetting the broken and bumpy roads of Jhelum. These flyovers, that are now spread everywhere like spider web, remind me of unpaved dirt and gravel roads that still serve as the main routes for transportation to and from several small cities and villages across the province. When legend did not show any partiality between the establishment of two cities then why is Kasur a backward city even after approximately seven decades of independence? For how long will one faction of this country enjoy a luxurious living by depriving the rest from their fundamental rights?

Kalma Chowk Underpass construction

My eyes shed tears when all my efforts to seek pleasure from crimson-blue sky go in vain as all I can see and purview is azure concealed by dust. My heart bleeds when I see my beloved Lahore being turned into a Loha-war. The original voice has been strangled and my Lahore is dead.

Iron, iron, every where; Nor any flower to be seen… People, people, every where; Nor any Lahori to be seen…