On new year’s Eve 2015, I was driving through some streets of Lahore and saw hoards of policemen stopping random motorcycles and cars, and apparently harassing the would-be revellers. A bit later television channels were also showing how the new year was being ‘celebrated’ in Pakistan, though the news items were mainly focused on how the police were blockading the seafront in Karachi and how the administration had told shopkeepers and restaurant owners in Sukkur to shut down by 10pm. While I took these measures to be a result of the precarious security situation in Pakistan, a colleague of mine, Dr Khurram Bhatti, when chatting with me this morning, linked these incidents to the lack of any avenues for entertainment in Pakistan, and the resultant unhappiness, tension and restlessness in our society. That hit the nail.
Today in Pakistan most people have no avenues of entertainment. While the rich and powerful revel in their private parties, the middle class and working class have barely any avenues for entertainment. That is why food has become the primary mode of having a good time in the country, which obviously is neither healthy nor is it a sufficient avenue for entertainment.
Entertainment, just like sleep or exercise, is an essential part of a human beings life. The lack of it can lead to dramatic results ranging from melancholy and rage to despair and depression. Lack of entertainment avenues can also lead to an agitated society, with short-tempered people leading to unnecessary quarrels and even violence. One need not qualify it further in Pakistan where even the most trivial of incidents can lead to a fight and the most mundane of things can lead to a murder.
Every year there is a debate in Pakistan whether this or that date should be celebrated or not. Is ‘Valentine’s Day’ proper in Pakistan? Or is celebrating new years day appropriate? — and the most ridiculous — is observing Christmas haram for Muslims and makes them into a Christian?!
We as a society are obsessed with controlling movements, controlling thoughts, and controlling lives. We somehow think that the mere observance of a single day in the whole year will break the fabric of our society and transform us into some kind of a hedonistic cabal. Obviously this is not the case, and if it were to be true then perhaps a society which is so paper thin should not be propped up in this way in any case.
In Pakistan, we need to reclaim public spaces as sites of entertainment. After all, how much can one eat?! I remember that when I was a child the local park in front of my house was the space where people from the locality would come for a walk and a chat every evening. Now there is a car park there instead, and I don’t even know who lives two doors down the road from me. The erection of the concrete car park in front of my house practically destroyed one avenue of not only local entertainment, but public interaction, in my locality. The destruction of the park of course led kids to play cricket on the streets leading to annoyed passers-by and residents.
At a time when the government [both provincial and federal] is thinking of making Pakistan ‘modern’ they must not forget careful urban planning. Urban transport networks are essential no doubt, but we also need to have urban centres which are liveable, which give people the strength and joy to live in a metropolis. Without public spaces, without avenues of entertainment, we will castigate ourselves to living in urban jungles like robots. China has largely done so, and so in our eagerness to emulate our neighbour, let us not destroy what makes us human beings with feelings and emotions.
Each ‘day’ whether local or imported, celebrates something, and leads people to feel joyous and elated. Hence, there is nothing intrinsically wrong in celebrating any day, as long as we feel better in the end — that in essence is the ‘good life’ Aristotle wanted us to live. Even the first line of our national anthem — Pak Sar Zameen Shad bad — wants our country to be ‘happy,’ so why take avenues of that happiness away from its people? Let us enjoy each and every day of this new year, and create avenues and opportunities for others to do the same. Happy new year!