by Sher Ali Khan and Aoun Sahi
The News on Sunday: How can we make basant safe?
Yousuf Salahuddin: To start with, you have to ban motorcycles from Saturday night to Sunday evening because a majority of accidental deaths have been of motorcyclists.
Secondly, there are two companies manufacturing these dangerous strings. The issue is not kite-flying or celebrating the festival; it’s about the deadly string. Children are buying these strings regardless of the danger these put their lives in. So, the manufacturers should be held accountable.
Thirdly, aerial firing has to be stopped. This was done during Shabhaz Sharif’s last term. If he gives the stick to the police, this can be regulated.
TNS: What does basant mean for Pakistan and Lahore?
YS: For Lahore, basant means an amazing boost to the economy and the placing of Lahore onto the cultural map of the world. India has been trying to copy basant for years. The truth is that basant is in the blood of every Lahori. This is one festival where the rich and the poor interact. They do not interact even on eid. The elite class offers eid prayers at FC College or Aitchison College mosque while the general population goes to other mosques. Basant is the only festival which the rich and poor celebrate together.
This is a festival of the poor. Look at how much misery we are going through; drugs are common; children are being picked up from streets; law and order is non-existent. In this scenario, mothers feel safe when their children stay at home. Flying kites at least keeps them in the house. Most of all basant does not cost anyone anything. Even if you don’t fly kites, the enjoyment in just being part of the fun on the rooftops is simply amazing. It is this beauty that we can sell to the world.
TNS: How can basant benefit the economy of Lahore and Pakistan?
YS: It’s actually costing the government nothing and the government can make money. The Punjab government should be announcing basant a year in advance so that people all over the world can make plans. The ban on basant is a great cultural loss for Lahore and Pakistan. Basant is the best event to show to the world the real face of Pakistan. The Punjab government, the federal government and the inept Tourism Department need to stop wasting public money and invest in preparations for a proper basant.
The Punjab government would have to, in its first year, invite hundred journalists from different parts of the world. They should organise a basant for them. If we plan it carefully it will become the Mardi Gras of Pakistan. If the government helps plan it, I can easily get people like Madonna and all the top stars. Imagine Madonna coming to Pakistan for basant. This will attract major media coverage around the world.
The things we can sell from Pakistan are basant and Sufi music. Any foreigner that will visit Pakistan during these two days will go back saluting Pakistan.
TNS: Where did you get the idea of promoting basant?
YS: For me the idea of a properly organised basant festival came when the Duke of Somerset and his wife came for basant at my place once. Prior to that, I would never have a big basant; it was a day usually enjoyed with my family. I started celebrating it on a relatively larger scale and started inviting friends from Pakistan and abroad after their visit.
TNS: Basant is also termed as an anti-Islamic or Hindu event. How do you respond to this criticism
YS: Let us admit the fact that we were all Hindus several generations ago and that the people became Muslims through the ways of the Sufis and that’s how Islam came to the subcontinent. When our ancestors converted to Islam, the things that were not clashing with the basic principles of Islam were retained. If anyone insists that the wahabi practices which are practiced in Saudi Arabia should be implemented then that’s not going to happen. Allama Iqbal used to celebrate basant.
Published in the News on Sunday: Shehr Section