Islamabad diary – Alone with one’s prejudices

By Ayaz Amir

Ayaz Amir

The beliefs I grew up with lie exhausted if not dead. The world has moved on. We grew up in a different world and this world, the one around us, has altogether different landmarks.

Guys like me, fed on a diet of half-baked and little-understood Bolshevism, pined for some kind of a socialist utopia. ‘The East was Red’ was one of our favourite slogans and we stirred to such symbols as Che Guevara’s cigar-chomping photographs. Imperialism was a term much in vogue in our discussions and images of the Vietnam War moved us greatly – which should give you an idea of how antiquated and long-gone-by that world was.

With those beliefs gone all that people of my type are left with are their prejudices…quirky humours, old-fashioned likes and dislikes. I hate the mayhem on our roads caused by the proliferation of motor cars. And Centaurus shopping – to which my daughter dragged me the other evening because she wanted to get something from the Mango store there – comes close to my vision of hell.

My vision of hell is not of hell-fire. It is of a place choked by motorcars, rickshaws and motorbikes, the air thick with exhaust fumes and of pavements run over by cheap merchandise. Some weeks ago I walked down Shah Alam Market in Lahore. Wrestled through would be the more apt description. Before that I had driven through Brandreth Road where the merchants park their cars three abreast in front of their shops. Imagine what is left of the road. That road and Shah Alam Market in rush hour would be anyone’s idea of hell. All our inner cities are now like that.

Bhabra Bazar in Rawalpindi is where I occasionally go to pick up the odd candlestick, silver serving dishes, brass lamps…things like that. From there I walked to City Saddar Road and back. It was a nightmare, a walk through the suburbia of hell.

Our inner cities, the old quarters of all our cities from Peshawar to Multan, and from there to inner Sindh, could have been so vibrant, so full of colour and life. We have destroyed them, utterly. And given them over to the unchallenged rule of the Qingchi rickshaw and the Chinese-made motorbike, on which three passengers or four or even five is the norm.

Our cities large and small are spreading horizontally, devouring agricultural land. Look at advertising…the biggest ads are of housing colonies and apartment blocks. Looking at them you could be forgiven for thinking that the only happening enterprise in Pakistan is real estate…or the next best thing, shaadi or wedding halls.

Look at Islamabad. The only place in that growing expanse of a capital, its sides now bursting and spreading in all directions, is one tiny market, Kohsaar Market. There you have two or three places where you can have a cup of coffee…and sit outside a la Paris or something similar. No place to sit outside in Super Market, none whatsoever in Jinnah Super Market.

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