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Lahore is burning

Raza Rumi

[reportedly] 27 dead and dozens injured – no respite for us.

Once again, in less than a month Lahore has been ravaged by terrorists. Who said that Pakistan was a hub of terrorism – we are now the greatest victim of terror and militancy. The residents of Lahore are scared and the vibrant city seems to be enveloped in a mist of uncertainty and fear.

The Mumbai and later Lahore 3/3 model seems to be in vogue now. Extremely well trained commandos, with sophisticated weapons  and not afraid of death are let loose on the society. The media is hysterical as well and following the Indian media’s cue[s] is now a participant and embedded in the so-called operation. […]

March 30th, 2009|Lahore|10 Comments

The pampered Islamabadites

My piece published by Himal Southasian

Mahboob Ali

Islamabad is a very peculiar urban space. Though no longer a town, it is still struggling to become a city. Arguably, it is the most ‘inhabitable’ place in Pakistan, and ranks far ahead of several other capitals in Asia and Southasia, nearly all of which are plagued by pollution, traffic jams, crime cartels and civil strife. Islamabad, despite the disturbances and security threats that became endemic during 2007, remains largely aloof from this pattern – at least for now.

Located in the foothills of the Margallas, and boasting green spaces and forests intertwined among the folds of the city, Islamabad appears almost surreal against the densely populated rest of Pakistan. Built during the early 1960s by Pakistan’s developmentalist dictator, General Ayub Khan, Islamabad was seen as an antidote to politicised Karachi – which, in any case, was a bit too far from the Punjab and the NWFP, the popular bases for Pakistan’s powerful military. Laid out as a model city with the help of Greek architects, this city of the exclusive was formally born in 1965. Nearby Rawalpindi was already the seat of the army’s headquarters, and its proximity to the new capital was certainly intentional.

The new city’s layout was divided into sectors, numbered streets and broad avenues that are called ramna, using the Bengali term. The civil bureaucracy of federal united Pakistan moved here, and thus the sleepy town suddenly emerged as a new urban settlement in line with the earlier planned emergence of Chandigarh. In Islamabad, roads would empty out after sunset, and the national capital would be oddly deserted on all public holidays. After all, for decades none of the residents actually belonged to this city. […]

October 17th, 2008|Personal, Published in Himal Magazine|5 Comments

Living Lohawarana – a Lahori rambling

My piece for Himal Magazine’s October issue

LahoreThere was a Lahore that I grew up in, and then there is the Lahore that I live in now. Recovering from an exile status for two decades, I find myself today turning into something of a clichéd grump, hanging desperately on to the past. Yet I resist that. Writing about Lahore is a sensation that lies beyond the folklore – Jine Lahore nai wakhaya o janmia nai (The one who has not seen Lahore has never lived). It has to do with an inexplicable bonding and oneness with the past, and yet a contradictory and not-so-glorious interface with the present.

Lahore is now the second largest city in Pakistan, with a population that has crossed the 10 million mark. It is turning into a monstropolis. Had it not been for Lahore’s intimacy with Pakistan’s power base – the Punjab-dominated national establishment – this would be just another massive, unmanageable city, regurgitating all the urban clichés of the Global South. But Lahore retains a definite soul; it is comfortable with modernity and globalisation, and continues to provide inspiration for visitors and residents alike.

Over the last millennium, Lahore has been the traditional capital of Punjab in its various permutations. A cultural centre of North India extending from Peshawar to New Delhi, it has historically been open to visitors, invaders and Sufi saints alike. Several accounts tell how Lahore emerged as a town between the 6th and 16th centuries BC. According to commonly accepted myth, Lahore’s ancient provenance, Lohawarana, was founded by the two sons of Lord Ram some 4000 years ago. One of these sons, Loh (or Luv), gave his name to this timeless city. A deserted temple in Lahore Fort is ostensibly a tribute to Loh, located near the Alamgiri gate, next to the fort’s old jails. Under the regime of Zia ul-Haq, Loh’s divine space was closed and used as a dungeon in which to punish political activists. […]

October 7th, 2008|History, Lahore, Published in Himal Magazine, SouthAsia|4 Comments

Opium City:The Making of Early Victorian Bombay

Courtesy Three Essays Collective, I found this book review on an important yet less known facet of South Asian History:

Opium City
The Making of Early Victorian Bombay

By Amar Farooqui

REVIEW in ‘Mid-Day’

MUMBAI’S OPIUM PAST
by Mahmood Farooqui
December 23, 2005

It sometimes appears, from the nature of current historical debates, as if the British empire in India was purely an orientalising mission whose discourses generated a politics of identity but that it was little more than an ideological apparatus that hegemonised us. It is difficult therefore to connect back to the earliest nationalists who decried the drain of wealth from India, who lamented India’s deindustrialisation and the economic exploitation of our people by foreign occupiers.

It is easy, in the miasma of post-colonialisms emanating from American universities, to forget that the Empire came into being and remained in force as an economic entity, that it was instituted by traders, that there was also something called economic imperialism.

Amar Farooqui’s Opium City — The Making of Colonial Bombay is welcome because it reorients us to the fundamentals of how and why we were colonised by the East India Company. It is a new title by the Three Essays Press, a Delhi-based outfit, which has been publishing tracts in the form, as its name implies, of three essays in slim volumes by renowned and radical academics in a style and on subjects that are of general interest. […]

August 28th, 2008|Arts & Culture, books, History, India|2 Comments

Jal gaya tha ik roshniyon ka shaher

Aggrieved by the recent sinister, senseless violence and brutal murders in Pakistan, this is my feeble attempt at poetic expression. I have also trans-created this Urdu poem below titled Adrift.


Jal gaya […]