It is springtime and though the colourful festival of Basant is sadly no more, Lahore has recently been host to a number of other cultural activities.
There is something that is conspicuous by its absence at all such events. Namely, the public. That vast mass of people who compose the population of Lahore but who are being increasingly shuffled to the margins by the elitist nature of high-profile cultural events. Take, for example, the food festival Lahore Eat. Imported from Karachi, the idea was marketed here as a celebration of the foodie culture of the city. A well-organised event that was neither representative of the diversity of Lahore’s culinary offerings nor geared towards the general public.
There was a variety of food, no doubt, but that variety was culled from some of the city’s most expensive eateries. Where was the street food of Lahore? Where were the stalls for the best locally made desserts? Magnum, sorry to say, just does not scream cultural food festival.
The food prices aside, most families who are regular visitors to Jillani Park would not have been able to afford the Rs250-per-person entrance ticket. There were a large number of attendees at the three daylong festival, and they were all conveniently separated from the common masses at the public park by the organisers. A walk between the gate leading to Lahore Eat and the one leading to the area open to the ‘public’ was a brief lesson in the stark divisions amongst Lahore’s economically stratified society.
Before restaurants are blamed for promoting a culture of exclusivity, let us take a moment to reflect upon events like the annual Lahore Literary Festival or the Daachi Exhibition.
The LLF is not a literary festival for the dishevelled artist enticed by the opportunity to hear and debate the multiple messages in a piece of literature. There are unfortunately no new faces, and even the discussion sessions have begun to sound stale. The well-heeled come to see and be seen, much like a grad school applicant pads up his resume with extra-curricular activities to present a ‘well-rounded’ personality.
Likewise, the handicraft market at the Daachi exhibition is fast turning into a showcase for high priced local goods. While it is commendable that the organisation is promoting indigenous handicrafts, the prices ensure that only the city’s moneyed elite has access to the beautifully crafted products.
Read also: Unflinchingly elitest
The bi-weekly farmer’s markets are no different. Hosted at either some grand wedding hall or in the grounds of private clubs at upscale localities, these one-day markets carry steeply priced local produce. The common man, again, is nowhere to be seen.
The relentless bulldozing of historic landmarks being undertaken in the city in the name of the Orange Line Metro Train has sparked a debate on reclaiming the city and its heritage. Perhaps, it is time we extended the debate on reclaiming Lahore’s physical treasures to protecting its generous and inclusive spirit from being crushed by the onslaught of capitalist greed.