By Shahbaz Gill
Lahore, which was once considered a city of gardens and enjoyed the status of cultural capital of Pakistan, has over the last decade lost its cultural, literary and poetic essence becoming a victim of unsustainable development. The tall, lush green trees that have been there for decades, if not centuries, are no more and have been replaced by structures made up of concrete and steel, thanks to the senseless infrastructure fixation of the previous government.
Construction of bridges, underpasses and other projects on green spaces in the name of development and at the cost of green cover has robbed the city of its beauty, ‘upgrading’ it to the status of a concrete jungle. It also appears as if rulers in the recent past paid no heed to environmental safeguards while launching those mega projects. A number of centuries-old Mughal-era gardens have either perished or turned into ruins, while some heritage sites have been altered ruthlessly. Having survived a number of destructive invasions over the course of its history, Lahore might not recover from the blow it has suffered at the hands of the previous government for the sake of development.
On the other hand, the city’s culture and heritage have also taken a nosedive during the past decade, as the government seemed uninterested in promotion of Punjab’s cultural heritage. The arts, crafts and other cultural activities that used to be the pride of the province have been neglected so badly that the younger generation doesn’t even know if such things actually existed. It’s a shame since the culture of Punjab, with the inspirational Bulleh Shah, the revolutionary Jalib, the unmatchable Noor Jehan and several other such greats, has been forgotten in the light and shine of new age pseudo development models.
However, the new provincial government, under the leadership of Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, is bent upon not only salvaging everything it can but also reclaiming the lost glory of the province in general and Lahore in particular through a number of initiatives. The chief minister’s love for culture and heritage and interest in crafts and music with a strong desire to promote the cultural heritage of this beautiful Punjab has translated into the formation of the Punjab Cultural Advisory Council. Recognising that Punjab is indeed a land of culture, tradition, art and ancient history, the formation of the council was the first step he took to promote arts and cultural activities in the province.
The CM recently chaired the first meeting of the council and listened to the distinguished members in detail; about their problems and their perspective on culture. The council has some of the most prominent names associated with the arts and culture of the province. The council and its constitution ensure that all fields related to arts, culture and policy are well represented and the inclusion of young people ensures that the youth with the right kind of innovative ideas, talent and solutions for cultural promotion as well as preservation are not ignored.
The focus of the Chief Minister’s meeting didn’t remain only on Lahore’s culture but also that of other parts of the province. There was clarity on the fact that the entire province and its culture and related industry need to be promoted effectively and activities should be generated for cultural promotion and economic growth. The commitment to restoring horse and cattle show and cultural and traditional festivals in Punjab was made. There might be a possibility of revival of Basant, but not at the cost of lives and only after effective safety and regulatory measures are put in place. The revival of cultural activities in educational institutions and arts councils will be also made a priority so that the next generation grows up with a clarity about culture and tradition and doesn’t equate it to just brick and mortar. Opportunities will also be provided to artists of remote areas, including southern Punjab, in order to bring them into the mainstream. The Advisory Council members also committed to becoming ambassadors of the Prime Minister’s Clean and Green Campaign.
It’s time to put Punjab back on the map of culture and arts that have been a part of its history and heritage. The true spirit of Punjab’s culture needs to be revived which somehow got lost to the ill-planned, politically motivated development which never paid attention to a homegrown and indigenous approach.