Ayeda Naqvi (courtesy Daily Times)
Lahore has been ruled by any number of any would-be emperors. Lahore has survived. The emperors have faded. Those who are remembered are remembered for their deeds, not their billboards
Driving down the streets of Lahore, a few days ago, I was struck by an unusual sight. On the wall of a canal underpass, in red, somebody had scribbled “I love you”. There was a heart around the words. So struck was I by this sight that I nearly crashed my car.
You see the past few months I have become accustomed to a very different type of graffiti — vandalism in the name of electioneering. From mammoth-sized billboards with candidates’ faces to political slogans painted on walls, Lahore was “sprayed” by the PMLQ in much the same way that animals mark their territory.
No corner of our city was spared. Everywhere we turned, we were assaulted by these large and vulgar displays. Lahore took on an eerie feel as even beggars’ wheelchairs sported logos. Everywhere you looked, Big Brother was watching you back.
Some people were so disgusted they simply refused to vote. Others were more pragmatic. As a Canal Park shop-keeper said, “We will take their cheques and eat their food but we will not vote for them.” The response was loud and clear: our loyalties are not for sale. No amount of money spent on television advertisements or street campaigns can buy our votes.
PMLQ still claims that it has done more for Punjab than anybody else. Even if this is true, and it may very well be, they are still not justified in shoving themselves down people’s throats. Sometimes less is more.
Now that the offensive posters are finally being taken off, glimpses of old Lahore are becoming visible again. Old trees, old buildings, even our old skyline. Going back to the little “I love you” on the wall, I realise what it was about this little scribble that touched me: the innocence. It was the simplicity and spontaneity of this message, probably from some heart-broken fool, that came to me that morning like a breath of fresh air. It was refreshing to see this message of love because everything else that we have seen on the streets the last few months, slapping us across our faces, has been a message of hate.
It is hatred for the common man that makes a group of people spend more money promoting themselves than several villages will see over an entire generation. When so many people are suffering from lack of gas, electricity and wheat, when entire villages are without water, when the condition of the country’s roads is as dismal as it is, crores spent on enlarging your own photographs can only be viewed as contempt for the problems of the masses.
It is a lack of regard for the common man that makes a group of people vandalise the private property of citizens of the country they claim to serve. Who will whitewash all the walls now? Who will pay to clean up the mess that has been left behind? Certainly not the Disaster Relief Fund. According to a New York Times report, it has already been dipped into for the Q’s electioneering.
And it is nothing but disdain for the common man that allows a group of people to use state resources to promote themselves. A pre-election Human Rights Watch report documents our ruling party doing exactly that. There is, after all, no code of conduct or ethics that ever applies to anyone in power. There is no question about the infringement on the rights of citizens. Intrusive, aggressive expressions are the order of the day.
Going back in time, one can see how Lahore has been ruled by any number of any would-be emperors. Lahore has survived. The emperors have faded. Those who are remembered are remembered for their deeds, not their billboards.
I think of all the great men and women who have walked the streets of Lahore. From the Mughals to the great Sufi saints, they have all left their marks — not stains.
As we begin to clean up the stains from our recent election, Lahore is like a reticent survivor. Once more, this great city has survived the “whips and scorns of time, the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely”. A political entity has been born, another one has died. Lahore has seen it all before.
My days, too, continue. Every day when I drive to work I look for that little red heart which says “I love you” and say a little prayer for the person who wrote it. May their love and compassion filter down into the hearts of those who need it most.
Ayeda Naqvi has been a journalist for 16 years and a teacher of literature for three.