Parks and Recreation

Originally published in Us Magazine, The News. March 4, 2016.

“Lahore. If I toss up the world and close my eyes, it conjures up gardens and fragrances. Not only the formal Mughal gardens, with their obedient rows of fountains and cypresses, or the acreage of Lawrence Gardens, but the splendour of thousands of private houses with their riot of spring flowers. The winter and spring air are heady. They make the blood hum.”
– Bapsi Sidhwa.

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4.20 P.M: Ahmed Khan checked in to Nasir Baagh, Lahore.

4.22 P.M: Alizeh Munir likes the status.

4.23 P.M: Ehtisham Butt commented on the status: “A great place for heroin addicts!”

4.35 P.M: Fazal Khan, Noora and 5 other people like the status.

4.38 P.M: Shahbaz Afridi commented on the status: “Also known as Gol Bagh, this is located just opposite to Government College Lahore and District Courts. Has been a site for many a political protests!”

4.39 P.M: Ehtisham Butt replied to Shahbaz Afridi’s comment: “Thank you, Wikipedia!”Parks and recreation

4.45 P.M: Princess Zahrah commented on the status: “Awwwesum place. Moi fraands and familys luvs spending tymm there!”

4.50 P.M: Farhan Ali, Hasham Hazir and 3 other people like Princess Zahrah’s comment.

4.55 P.M: Hasham Hazir commented on the status: “Check-in tou aise maara hai jaise Central Park gaya ho bacha!”

5:00 P.M: Mahnoor commented on the status: “Acha hai, but could do with improvements. I like the bridges and the building of the Writers’ Club (closed). Paani bhi hota tou behtar tha!”

5.07 P.M: Ehtisham Butt replied to Mahnoor’s comment: “#ThankYouRaheelSharif!”

5.15 P.M: Sibtain Guevara commented on the status: “In memory of the great Hassan Nasir. Search for his story on the web. Lessons on changing things for the good and making it a better country. Will give you goosebumps!”

5.20 P.M: Majid Jee replied to Sibtain Guevara’s comment: “Are you an Insafian?”

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As Maharaja Ranjit Singh draws closer to the destination, Faqir Azizuddin almost holds his breath. After winning the Koh-i-Noor, the maharaja had ordered him to make him a garden based on Mughal lay-out at this enclosure between the Fort and masjid, where Akbari Sarai once stood. Today is the day when the maharaja gets to see it. Lahore, “the ancient whore, the handmaiden of dimly remembered Hindu kings, the courtesan of Mughal emperors’, the ‘Paris of the East’” has been Maharaja’s for more than a decade now, but he knows more will come for the city after him, just as so many had come before. As the Maharaja glances upon the garden for the first time, Azizuddin forces his eyes shut, just as he hears someone say, “Huzoor, this is your Hazuri Baagh!” Maharaja lets the sight of the baagh sink in at length, his blind eye fluttering ecstatically to keep pace with the good one. And then he smiles, the moustache laden corners of his lips quivering upwards. It was good enough, but not enough. Fortune favours the brave. History favours the strong. And no matter what Ranjit Singh does, Lahore wouldn’t lend him the same zeal in retrospection which it would reserve for others. To get his baara-dari built in the baagh might then go a long way to remind people of his mark on the city. With marble plundered and stone uprooted from various Mughal monuments, this would be where his court was going to be held. “Remember me, O City of Gardens, for giving you this Huzuri Baagh!” – something between thoughts and words transpires from the Maharaja’s side. And Lahore, always the one to pay debts, has remembered well. It has given Maharaja Ranjit Singh his samaadhi just opposite the Huzuri Baagh!

Parks and recreation
*********************

Message on a board in one of Lahore’s parks:

“Take nothing but photographs.Leave nothing but footprints.”

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Milan Kundera once said that the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. The Shalimar Baagh, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lahore along with the Fort, is about the best known Mughal haunt in the city. Built under the supervision of Shah Jahan in 1641 A.D, its completion was brought about in under an year. With its three terraces named Farah Baksh, Faiz Baksh and Hayat Baksh, it is an ode befitting royalty. However, there’s a lot more to this garden than stories spurned across its architectural history. The Mela Chiraghaan is held every year at Lahore to commemorate the urs of Syed Shah Hussain. Located near the said garden, people throng in millions at his grave to pay tribute to this great Sufi saint. Nights ignite with the burning of hash, the lull of the place is speared by sounds of dhol and supplication. However, it wasn’t always like this. The Mela Chiraghaan used to be traditionally held inside the Shalimar Gardens, the place lighting up like dry-wood with the shimmering lights of diyaas. Partitions are tricky business. After the creation of Pakistan, it was decided that Shah Hussain, popular known as Madho Lal Hussain (adopting the name of his Hindu disciple to immortalize the relationship), was no example for a people so avidly fed on the politics of difference. And then Delhi and Ajmer had been left on the other side, and Lahore had to fill in the purpose. And rescue, like at so many other junctures, was sought in the form of Daata Darbaar. Conscious efforts and deliberate upheaval went in the way of escalating the last resting place of Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh as opposed to that of Shah Hussain, so much so that the darbaar would erupt in a complex of gaunt dimensions in the years to come, and Madho Lal would cease to exist in Lahore’s political consciousness. And so, in 1958, holding the mela inside the Shalimar Gardens was officially banned by the Government of Pakistan. Now, every year, as the urs commences in the city, an old figure is seen to enter the Shalimar. Senile and fragile, the memories of the past are silted in Abdullah Shah’s mind. His world ceased to make sense when even dead saints weren’t spared the ignominy of worldly pettiness. He walks across the garden, and deftly choosing a silent corner, ignites a diya! In the light of the diya, reflected from the wrinkles on his face, you can see there’s content. Joy, even. This is his Mela Chiraghaan! This is his journey of remembering!

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“The Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) will develop seven new public parks and revamp existing ones in Lahore.”

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“Seriously, Pumpee? You had me all hushed-up in my special Delhi saari for this God-forsaken event?”

“Oh-ho, come on, Natty. Don’t pretend you aren’t happy like a desperate housewife after seeing your face in Sunday mag’s events shevents page!”

“Acha, bus. Do you two know this new driver we’ve hired? So dumb. I say take me to Race Course Park and he says Jillani? What Jillani Villani, yaar?”

“Pam, Pam, your tragedies are never-ending. Non-stop, baba! And the biggest among those is your husband!”

“Shut up, Pumps! Khair, I did some reading waghera and comes out it really has been renamed Jillani. Years ago. Such a paindoo Lahore they are leaving for those to come!”

“Hear, Natty? Pam is doing reading now. She’s taking all that litfest crap a bit too seriously!”

“Nahen baba, nothing serious. Just googled. And the page talked fondly of Race Course Park’s waterfall, tracks, gym and skating rinks…”

“Bhaiye, stop it! Don’t act like those small town kay log who pretend to be in a South African Safari when they’re in Changa Manga or Jallo Park. Or those who go on dates and all that mush wush in Model Town Park. Okay, tell na, Pumpee, what now? The flower show here is a lot better than this deathly Polio event.”

“Except that you don’t know the name of a single flower and keep ogling men?”

“Haye, mean! Age is getting to you guys. Khair, I’m taking a small walk to the lake there. It’s really good for the skin. Also, might as well show my saari around when I’m wearing it!”

“You mean your shoulders?”

“Bus na, you two. Waise it’s true. The park is beautiful. Haven’t seen this many colours since what, Bintoo’s wedding?”

“Walk se jaldi return kerna. I have to collect my new backless blouse from this tauba, tauba, very expensive designer from M.M. Alam Road!”

*********************

Seven-year-old Sarmad was really happy that day. He had sold well at Gulshan Iqbal Park, partly because it was a weekend and partly because two buses full of foreigners had come to the park that day. While they were busy in choosing their electric rides, Sarmad had succeeded in selling them over-priced plates of gol gappay. Including six times the real price to eight people! He got a little carried away by the end of the day, and bought tickets of Discovery and Dodging Cars for himself. The ticket wallah would let the cajoling work for other rides, but not these. So when he got home, his father gave him a thorough beating and his mother cursed and abused. But while he was crying, he was still happy deep inside on having been on the Discovery. He would surely tell his friends tomorrow!

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“Lahore. The Punjab Government has signed an agreement with Chinese Company for the construction of a state-of-the-art Theme Park and Aquarium in Lahore with the recreational facilities like Disneyland. The project is worth Rs 36 billion.”

Parks and recreation
*********************

There are a few things in life as overwhelmingly enjoyable as jogs in the Lawrence Gardens. Beads of sweat appear on my forehead, spanning in rivulets across my brow – these lanes and alleys of the Walled City – and drip off the contours of my chin; the cracking of a Colonial building on the Mall. I run besides the Weeping Willows, their branches stooping with the load of Lahore’s immense legacy, and the veins in my forearms protrude – metro buses rushing smoothly across these sleek tracks. I continue jogging, and the Quaid-e-Azam library, my sole sense of direction in this park of various gates and twisted lanes, greets me past. I gulp some water down my throat, or have the orderly roads of Cantonment and Defence braved another unwonted spell of Monsoon? Squirrels dart playfully across the jamun trees, my gaze following them in the advancing facade of the city through the centuries. I pass the shrine of Baba Turat Murad Shah, eagerly frequented by those hoping to get married, and stop just there to catch my breath. I inhale, just in time for unison with hundreds catching their first glimpse of the city. I exhale, visibly exasperated at the unyielding attempts at haggling of those at Anarkali and Fortress Square. The sun is about to set, and the hills of the garden erupt in a fiery hue of orange, the same rays silhouetting these palms are saying their goodbye to Noor Jehan’s underground tomb right now. Following the activity, my heart beats fast, like the upscale work on the Orange Line at Chauburji Chowk, to cater to the body’s augmented oxygen demands; to fulfill the demands of this unquenchable city. The heart, the defiant soul of Lahore, slows down between bouts of over-activity; allowing love and literature to flow across the body of the city. And then I think I miss a beat. Are they cutting the trees along the Canal again?

There are a few things in life as overwhelmingly enjoyable as jogs in the Lawrence Gardens. For when I’m striding through the gardens, every step becomes a responsibility – every hop a liberty! I get to be the guest of the city’s interwoven complexities, a host to its subtle intricacies. And then I’m more. I’m an extension of Lahore, an appendage attached firmly to its core of sin and splendour!

Parks and recreation

 

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