‘Basant’ and ‘luteras’ were an integral part of life in Lahore. Growing up in the city in 60s and 70s, one had to fly kites to remain in circulation. While serious flying was done on roof tops, ‘luteras’ were everywhere with their well prepared armaments. The thrill of ‘looting’ (catching a stray kite) is indescribable. There were lutera causalities on every festival mostly by falling from heights or being run over by vehicles. Despite the hazards of the job, the luteras never gave up. However, there were three major issues to be tackled: Running with the danga’s (long bamboo sticks with thorny bushes on top), the tussle for looted kites on the road, and thirdly, the loot of thread (dor or manja) could not be made undetectable.

The major tormentor of my kite flying days was ‘Chadda’ the champion lutera of the Mall/Anarkali area. He lived just behind Coffee House on Naqi Road. He was a master strategist who was able to resolve the three major issues faced by the luteras! In pursuit of his kite/prey he would park his ‘Danga’ at Chacha Amin’s ice shop, then he called a convention of luteras and got an SOP agreed to save the looted kite from tearing but the third solution was his master stroke which he only revealed years later. He used scissors to snap the manja which made the loot undetectable. His area of operation was between the Mall/Maclagan Road (YMCA) intersection and Anarkali/Mall intersection (old Tollington Market). I tried everything to contain ‘Chadda’ but in vain. His lutera instincts were un-controllable. In the end I reached the conclusion that once a lutera always a lutera.

After finishing school and failing to contain ‘Chadda Lutera’, my kite flying days got numbered. I was admitted to government college GC for my F. Sc. pursuit. GC of the sixties was an interesting institution where students excelled both in academics and sports but then there were a few who belonged to neither group and were found mostly at the Malik Sahibs fruit shop or college Cafeteria. On inquiry I was told that these students were not serious in their studies and came to college only for networking and socializing with Nawaz Sharif being one of them. He had an old Vespa Scooter and was found sitting at the fruit shop.

One day I bumped into him. His only interest in life seemed to be in wrestling or ‘Kushti’ as it was called. He used the Punjabi word ‘Ghulna’. Till seventies Lahore had a number of wrestling rings called ‘Akharas’. The nearest one was on Mohni Road, owned by the Bholu brothers (Gamma Pehalwan family). Nawaz was always on the look out for a wrestling partner with whom he would ride on his scooter to go to the ‘Akhara’. Perhaps it was his love for wrestling that he ended up marrying in that family.

I left GC to join the engineering programme and lost contact with the luminaries of the college. Years later I heard that he was elevated first as finance minister and then Chief Minister of Punjab under the governorship of Lt. Gen  Ghulam Jilani Khan. Jill as he was known amongst his friends was a very smart man. He then founded the Chand Bagh School in Muridke outside Lahore. During one of the board meetings I had the opportunity of asking him direct questions about Nawaz Sharif who was then the Prime Minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Can he write one paragraph in any language? Can he read one page in any language and understand it? Can he speak extempore for a minute in any language? The answer to all the above questions, were plain no.

From Malik Sahib’s fruit shop at GC to the premiership, the rise of a man who could neither read, nor write or speak was un-believable. I then asked Jill another question, why was he picked up? The answer was inter-personal skills or in other words “Muk-Muka”.

Pakistan went through a great transformation in the 1970 elections. Unknown individuals got elected on PPP tickets. Dr. Mubashir Hasan got the highest number of votes in Lahore. Sheikh Rashid Baba-e-Socialism also made it. Till today Dr. Sahib lives in the same house in Gulberg and drives the same old car. Minister ship made no difference in his life or his bank accounts. Compared to the modern day political “Luteras’ or ‘Chaddas’, they stand out as saints.

Every Basant that I celebrated faced the loot of ‘Chadda’. By todays standards of ‘Luteras’ it was a breeze. He went after stray kites or ‘Kati Pattang’ after the contest or ‘Paicha’ as it is called. Even ‘Chadda Lutera’ followed some rules. He respected the rights of the kit fliers who had invested in their favorite sport of “Guddi Baazi”.

Basant has been banned by the politicians but the luteras are still here. In the absence of ‘Patangs’ and ‘Manja’ their focus has shifted to the nations assets. Our lands have been grabbed, schools turned into barns, hospitals are without doctors and un-employment is rampant. As a nation where are we heading? We now have to borrow to steal leaving un-payable debt for our coming generations. Our future has been mortgaged. Perhaps celebrating Basant was not a bad idea after all as the luteras followed some norms. Growing up on the Mall and flying kites was indeed fun till the wrestler at the Malik Sahib’s fruit shop decided to change his course from the ‘Akhara’ to the Assembly Hall both located on the Mall. As the first generation of Pakistan we have been witness to both the rise and fall of our own nation. Basants have gone leaving behind luteras, perhaps my old friend Chadda Lutera, can help us in coming out of this mess as it takes a lutera to catch a lutera.

The writer is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation