Everyday, the dawn of a new sun is accompanied by large groups of people flocking to the Lahore canal. During the summer, one can see them jumping and splashing around in the water at all times of the day. These people are what one might refer to as the underprivileged class — young children, teenagers and even the elderly men and women who come to the canal to beat the heat.
They usually fill almost all areas of the 82-kilometer long canal. Once when I was crossing the Mughalpura underpass, it became almost impossible for me to distinguish between skin and water. Mostly teenagers, they usually bathe from 11am onwards till late in the evening.
Upon approaching a group of young boys, I found that they were residents of the nearby ‘kachi abaadi’ and mostly sons of rickshaw drivers, gardeners or household servants. Given the current economic and power shortage situation of the country, it was not surprising to see families enjoying a dip in the water.
Most of these people came from areas where loadshedding of up to 14 hours is a daily routine.
Seeing this as a business opportunity, many tyre tube vendors have set up mini stalls on the banks of the canal. They rent out tyre tubes of cars, trucks and tractors at cheap rates to young children or non swimmers. Swimming costumes are also up for sale and they can be seen hanging along the branches of the trees. The prices of these items range from Rs50-80 per hour. For some people, even these prices are hard to meet and hence they swim in their casual clothes.
Muhammad Osama, 17, the eldest son of a local van driver, has been visiting the canal everyday for the past two weeks now. He usually spends a couple of hours bathing in the 16-foot deep water. He says he has witnessed at least two separate incidents where the young boys were injured while trying to swim.
According to Osama, the newly implemented Section 144 under which swimming in the canal at certain points is prohibited is unjustified as he believes that this is the only cost-effective method for the poor population to enjoy themselves in the summer.
He also says it would be better if the government sets up swimming pools or tube-wells for the public at low costs, so that the people could have an alternative to the canal.
Apart from the traditional swimmers, there are families for whom it is picnic time on the canal bank. They also bring with them their domestic animals for bathing purposes.