A revival that suffocates

–Independence Cup has completely stalled life in Lahore

–How long will we suffer the brunt of Shehbaz Sharif’s bravado?

Two games were played in Lahore on Tuesday: one was a cricket match played in Gaddafi Stadium, in which Pakistan beat World XI by 20 runs. The other was a Snakes and Ladders game played outside on the roads, involving millions of commuters of the city, who, perhaps after a toss of coin, a guess, or any luck-based decision, I’m not sure, would pick a route towards their destination, without any real knowledge whether some kind of hindrance awaits them on their way or not.

The plan to secure the arrival and stay of World XI in Lahore has stalled life completely—and for that, it is an utter failure. If you tell a disgruntled man or woman who has been through the insufferable experience these past few days, of trying to navigate the present landscape of Lahore, which looks like a maze and nothing resembling a functional city, that this is about the return of great things to Pakistan, they will smack you in the face. Major avenues were blocked yesterday and the day before to accommodate the movement of World XI and the match itself, jamming traffic in several parts of the city, including Jail Road, Mall Road, Ferozepur Road, Main Boulevard Gulberg, Garden Town, and other areas; it was a far departure from the organised picture that the CTO had presented as the intended outcome of its ‘comprehensive plan’. What we really had is office workers and businessman, jostling for the smallest of space to maneuver through the clogged routes and perhaps save some time.

Cricket revival? No thank you.

What good is a cricket match that suffocates life itself? And who, if anyone, is prepared to account for the costs to all those who find zero enjoyment in a couple of T20 matches, while having to face the worst of the disruption caused by the entire exercise? There are obvious economic costs to inhibiting the commute of working people or preventing them from conducting their affairs. But what of the stress of being stuck in endless jams, the anxiety of being diverted from one barricade and onto another one and trying to obtain some real information from clueless wardens? Rarely have we, in the ever-transforming cosmopolitan environment of Lahore, stopped to wonder about the psychological impact of constantly altering, and without inspection, the contours of what people live in and see on a daily basis.

The indictment isn’t of the unsurprising incompetence shown by the administration of the city to secure the return of international cricket to Pakistan, without bringing utter misery to everybody else. But it is of the narrative that is built around a few matches: “It is about showing the good side of Pakistan…show that cricket has prevailed and terrorism has lost”, etc. It reeks of desperation, to repeatedly announce a sport as the savior of an entire nation. Please tell that to a victim of any recent terrorist activity in the provincial capital, that cricket is here to rescue us all. And if there is a lot to gain from international players gracing our playgrounds, showing their trust in our security arrangements, and proving the success of PCB’s diplomatic efforts, while helping it make some money, it’s all undone when day-to-day life is stifled by it; as far as I’m concerned, that’s two steps back.

If you were to take this with Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, he would probably tell you that this is a small sacrifice that the Lahoris will have to play for a greater cause. As they have been for the past several years, while the CM has turned the city into his own personal project, perhaps a painting, on which he draws a Turkish bus here, a Parisian beautification there. To come to terms with his infantile obsession with concretising the city has not only meant dealing with unrelenting construction of one flyover after another, but also on an abstract level, having to perceive the transformed ethos of Lahore which is now about ‘modernisation’. However, what the CM has perhaps missed in his entire ‘vision’ for Lahore, in which he wants to turn it into an Istanbul or something, that modern systems are based on linkages—the more interconnected things are, the more you run the risk of collapsing the entire system through a minor interruption. It’s exactly what happens when a transnational cable somewhere encounters an issue and brings down internet in an entire country. Similarly, the ripple effects of cordoning off an area around Qaddafi Stadium and Pearl Continental Hotel on Mall Road were suffered all over Lahore. In this scenario, nothing that you would consider ‘modern’ is any good. Your Ubers and Careems are no good, and neither is a Metro bus.

It is unmistakable for me, that the holding of Independence Cup in Lahore and subsequent malaise experienced by many, is an extension of Shehbaz Sharif’s long term policies for Lahore, which are incompetent and stubborn. They are about projecting a bravado about getting things done despite whatever; a feeling that I suspect people of the city cannot match or cope with, because either they don’t want to, or, that they simply can’t, because there is only one most powerful man with a totalitarian influence on Lahore, who overlooks everything with pretensions of being a servant of the people.

The cricket itself was harmless. There is a real joy that many have obtained, from seeing a young side that won the ICC Champions Trophy back in June, duke it out against world-class players on their home soil. It is a promise of a brighter future of cricket in Pakistan and a distraction from our collective griefs. But to expect a sport to reach farther than its social function and resolve structural issues is juvenile, which is what holding one match in a stadium, while letting everything else break down suggests. At one given time, a cricket match is not all that matters to everybody.

For future planning in the city, it is vital that the administration does not have a selective focus and consults the public about what they want and how. Otherwise, let’s not call someone a downer who fails to share the enthusiasm for a flawed approach to something that’s going to be enjoyed by about 20,000 people at best, in a stadium named after some delusional dictator, who was toppled by his own people.

The writer is a LUMS graduate and a member of the staff.



Related posts

Top