VIEW: Syed Mansoor Hussain (Daily Times)
Every culture has some form of a Spring Festival. To suppress such activities is to suppress the cultural aspirations of those that enjoy them. No, I am not in favour of bacchanalian excess, but some fun, please
The incarcerated CJ of Pakistan might be a great man but for me he will always be the person who put the kibosh on Basant. I have said it before and I will say it again, in my book he is a conservative jurist more in line with Islamist thinking. I do not, for instance, remember his court ever taking any suo moto action to help women incarcerated under the infamous Hudood laws or non-Muslims jailed under the blasphemy laws.
But such quibbles aside, my immediate concern is Basant. The reason ostensibly given to ban kite flying is the use of metal strings that can be hazardous to ordinary people. I entirely accept this premise but I cannot help but wonder why the famous Punjab Police that can, in a matter of minutes, arrest every known opposition member or recalcitrant lawyer in the entire province is unable to find and arrest those that manufacture the illegal metal strings.
Illegality can only flourish if law enforcement is involved in it at some level. The lower-level police force in Pakistan is known to be extremely corrupt. I am convinced that metal string use could be prevented if there was determination to do so. But more than the metal string, the real problem is that Basant has become an issue that pits the killjoy Islamist types against the fun-loving people of Lahore.
I don’t know what stand the expected government in the Punjab is going to take on this issue. I do know that based on his past reputation, if Mr Shahbaz Sharif does come back as CM, and if he decides to take this matter in hand, metal strings for kite flying will not be sold in Lahore or anywhere in Punjab. Sadly, Basant season will have passed by the time that happens.
The reason why Basant and kite flying is such a big deal for me is that it represents one of those ‘soft’ issues that are used by Islamists to beat up on all those they hate for daring to have fun. After all, many more people die in a single day from vehicular accidents than many a Basant and yet there is no hue and cry to ban vehicular traffic or even to improve it!
The reason why I bring up traffic is that most of the so-called public transport vehicles that I have seen around probably have never been inspected for roadworthiness. Many if not most accidents happen because of poor vehicular maintenance, improper enforcement of traffic laws and, of course, inappropriately awarded driving licenses. Here again I will reiterate my contention that such rampant lawlessness can only exist in collaboration with those that purportedly enforce the law.
Now back to those beautiful soaring pieces of paper that epitomise the Lahori spirit. For me, there is no sight prettier and, in its own way, uplifting than the site of a sky full of kites, almost each one of a different colour and shape. As I have also confessed in these pages in the past, I am like Charlie Brown, unable to keep a kite in the air and gave up trying a long time ago.
For me, Basant in particular and kite flying generally are two activities that like many others are a unique part of the Lahore scene and make the city what it is. Over the last few years, killjoys and ascetic-minded Islamist types have had it for the poor kites. I realise that the cutting string, especially of the metal variety, can be hazardous to people and I am sure that if the government puts its mind to making such string unavailable, it can do so.
During the nineties when I visited Pakistan, I tried to make sure that my visits coincided with Basant. Interestingly the best Basant visits I had were when Mr Shahbaz Sharif was the CM of Punjab. Even though I only spent a few weeks at best in Lahore, it was truly a magnificent sight to see all those kites up in the air every day culminating in the frenzy of kite flying on Basant. Yet I do not remember any talk of steel strings killing people. Is it because I do not care to remember or is it because the government made sure that such string was not being used?
Either way, I do hope that the new SC, whatever its bona fides, decides to lift the ban on kite flying and instructs the government of Punjab (do we have a government of Punjab these days?) to ensure that the dangerous string is not sold or used. Punjab Police has clearly demonstrated its ability to maintain law and order and terrorise the general population into submission. Therefore terrorising a few errant string manufacturers should be child’s play for it.
It is entirely true that over the last few years, Basant festivities have become an excessive demonstration of pomp and splendour and much money is spent during Basant parties. That may be so, but the fact remains that it is still the ordinary people that have the most fun. The rich can have fun anytime and anywhere. But why must we force the poor to give up one of the few chances they have to have some fun too?
And this perhaps is the populist argument in favour of Basant. Every culture has some form of a Spring Festival. To suppress such activities is to suppress the cultural aspirations of those that enjoy them. As it is, our melas have been neutered and are now a pale representation of what they once were. No, I am not in favour of bacchanalian excess, but some fun, please.
So, I beseech the powers that are and are to be, please give us our kites and our Basant back. Spring without kites is like a spring that never happened.
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org