STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Nai reesan shahr Lahore diyan” is part of Lahori folklore. It translates “Lahore has no comparison”. A bold statement repeated over generations. Diehards insist on adhering to it even though the city has exploded beyond recognition. It is over five decades since I adopted Lahore,even though I belong to Lyallpur. The metropolis has expanded 5 to 10 times its original size and population. It is no longer possible to keep an appointment without a cushion of a few hours and there is no end in sight for this urban crawl.

In a recent get together with mates that I have grown up with, we went down the memory lane. We fondly recalledthe animated discussions revolving around dreams for our futures and that of our nation. What brought tears to our eyes were those who were no longer amongst us and venues we would frequent that have changed beyond recognition. Next to the Old Campus, Punjab University was Tollinton Market, frequented by students from adjoining campuses. That was pre-Zia era when social freedom prevailed. Female students could turnout smartly and move around freely without fear of being accosted. Ice creams cones had made a debut in this market relished by all of us. It was also the goto place for hunter beef sandwiches.

Just down the street were two iconic restaurants, Pak Tea House and Cheney’s Lunch Home. Pak Tea was the gathering space for intellectuals, artists, writers and poets; established and budding. The standard order was a “half-set chai” that gave a teapot and two cups for around a rupee. We would find ways of eking out a 3rd cup; living off shoe-string budgets and spend a few hours without getting thrown out. Cheney’s food was delicious, plentiful and management permitted known customers to open a tab payable when able. Depending on our pocket-money inflow, we would walk to Beadon Road for a plate of “murgh palao” at Carry Home. In the evenings we would hang-out at cafes around Charing Cross for a cup of coffee or sandwich. Lahore was far less crowded, much cleaner and seeing familiar faces was the norm and not an exception.

Further down the Mall Road were the lungs of Lahore; Lawrence Gardens subsequently called Bagh-e-Jinnah. It was a magnet for all cultural activities due to Alhamra Arts Council and the theaters attached to it. There was a canteen within the premises which I recollect was operated by my late friend Rashid Butt’s elder brother. Bhai Ijaz would permit us some chai and at times a complementary egg omelette. Sitting in the lush green settings, we would enjoy the ambiance and intermingle with the artsy crowd. Some of them went onto become super stars like Sultan Rahi.

Free-spirited Lahoris would crowd cinemas around Lakshmi Chowk, relishing Urdu and Punjabi films produced by a vibrant movie industry in studios studded around Lahore. I remember watching classic English movies like Guns of Navarone, Cleopatra and Lawrence of Arabia in Regal and Alfalah cinemas.

Then there was the New Campus, Punjab University. We had a canteen on the canal bank nestled in the shady trees and the sprawling cafeteria of STC center. Fond memories abound from the times spent there. At that time there was genuine co-education where girls and boys could interact without censure. We had dramas and concerts that permitted cultural warmth. Nostalgic memories at time choke you when you compare then and now. Five decades on, the norms have entirely changed. Punjab University is no longer surrounded by green fields; it is in the midst of an urban jungle. The medieval turn of events in Pakistan is evident when you find femalestudents walk around in packs, fully clad in burqas,shunning any interaction with the opposite sex.

My political christening bloomed in this institution. That bug still lives on however I have been able to transform it into written expression. I enjoy it more than the rough and tumble of real politics. Years of honing does enable me to perceive events clearly. Watching the ever-changing political scenarios these days, it is evident that our country is moving down a disastrously slippery slope. Mini-budget inflationary bomb has been detonated onto the hapless masses. Price hikes are sucking the oxygen to suffocate the common man. People are rushing out not to protest but to gas stations to fill tanks.

The present rulers have failed miserably; yet they seek to prolong their stay by hook or crook. Super inflation is the order of the day. Their spin doctors are hard at work to cause distractions and somehow muzzle the only thorn on their side – Imran Khan. Every effort is being made to discredit him through false cases, running away from elections, tosha khana, and fascist techniques. It has not broken the spirit of Lahoris who have seen through the lies and deceit of Sharifs. Zaman Park has virtually been converted into a fortress of human shields.

The best way to counter this unprincipled lying lot is to stand firm. They are bursting at their seams. PTI needs to publish a price list of petrol, diesel, gas, atta, poultry, daals and other essential items during their tenure and prevalent prices. This glaring comparison will be a deadly blow to PDM. PTI needs to shine a light on the disastrous failings of this corrupt regime that impacts all voters except the corrupt elite. In this game of nerves only the steadfast will prevail.      



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