Clear skies in Spring

Published: February 17, 2013

The writer is the Vice President of the Pakistan Environmental Law Association

Someone remarked day before yesterday that “in the good old days, today would have been Basant. How far and quickly have we fallen.”

I thought it would be amusing to point out that, since then, the city of Lahore has been gifted three more golf courses, but the thought seemed on a tangent of its own. What is truly surreal is how we live in a part of the world where telling someone to “Go fly a kite” may result in a criminal offence.

In the late 12th and early 13th century, it is said that Amir Khusro, the spiritual disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, sought to relieve his mentor’s grief over the death of a near relative. Khusro is said to have come across villagers dressed in bright yellow — the colour of the mustard in full bloom — and was told they were celebrating the coming of the spring by dressing colourfully and wearing yellow. Khusro decided to do the same to cheer up his ustaad. And to this date, the festival of Basant — celebrated vociferously at the shrine of Nizaumuddin Auliya every year — is a celebration of spring and happiness. Flying kites to ring in the new season is not limited to Delhi: Ali Hajvery — Data Ganj Baksh — the patron saint of Lahore, brought the festival to Lahore after observing it in Delhi.

Decades ago, when Lahore was still a sleepy little city, Basant was a private affair, celebrated with great passion by the residents of the Walled City. With the support of a handful of high profile residents of the Walled City, Basant’s profile gradually grew until, in the mid-1990s, it was a city-wide party heralding the coming of spring.

It was about this time, and a little bit earlier, that Basant was questioned by some as being anti-religion. All sorts of religious and historical arguments were brought to bear. It was also argued that kite wires tangled in high-tension electricity wires caused power outages.  These arguments were dismissed by the Lahore High Court, which said that Basant “is cultural in nature and wedded to the soil” of Lahore (Ramzan Welfare Trust vs. WAPDA PLD 1997 Lahore 235, per Aqil Mirza, J).

Next came the metalled kite string, the senseless and easily preventable loss of life, TV journalism and a proactive Supreme Court and, within the first decade of this new millennium, Basant was suo-motu’d, legislated, banned and binned. A cultural festival of hundreds of years was snuffed.

It’s the beginning of spring and it’s raining while I write this. Might as well.

Yesterday, my wife tweeted: “My seven-year-old daughter, born and brought up in Lahore, asks “What is Basant? #thehearsobs”.  I have, below, reproduced only a few of the dozens of responses.

“aweeee, that’s sad”; “That’s really a shame”; “kindly tell her it was the festival of colours and light until it became a day of [sic] Aerial Firing, Throat Slitting and pain”; “Pakistan has killed the one goo[d] festival they used to enjoy. Both government and criminal mafia are responsible”; “oh so sweet of her, inshallah will bring back basant one day”; “tell her: this is something — infuses new life — that people all over world celebrate…but we can’t’; “Tell her, baita it’s a waste of time and money, time & lives. Leisure time or enjoyment should be only such where we don’t risk [sic] other’s lives”; “Wish long life n health 4 yr daughter. Wid ban on this killer festival many others daughters/sons hv been saved fm cut throat”; “I miss celebrating basant, grew up with yellow preparation, basant night harmless parties #yellow #basant”; “tell her [sic] its killer game”; “Tell Her, Its something tht takes life of innocent ppl, because of some idiots”; “My Lahori husband has no many great stories to share about Basant. Indigenous cultures are under attack everywhere”; “tell her, its just a color that nobody likes to wear anymore”; “You should bring her to Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin in Delhi, where everything is yellow since yesterday.  Qawwalis and Flowers rule”; “I spent the most awesome Basant night in Lahore several yrs ago watching thousands of kits pierce the black sky”; and “Do convey love to her from her Indian brothers and sisters, we’ll celebrate Basant together sometime in the future.”

To those self-styled defenders of our faith and traditions; to the zealous guardians of children lost only to kite-string: what of your cornflakes, toast and tea for breakfast — there’s no religion or local culture in that; what of the others? By defenestrating Basant from Lahore, you have only taken the colour from your own life.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2013.

Reader Comments (16)

  • John B
    Feb 17, 2013 - 1:11AM

    “By defenestrating Basant from Lahore, you have only taken the colour from your own life.”

    Need I say more.

    I wish to quote what the Jews used to say when they were a diaspora:Next Year in Jerusalem

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  • faraz
    Feb 17, 2013 - 1:33AM

    There is nothing wrong with throat slitting kite strings? Are you sane

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  • Nadir
    Feb 17, 2013 - 3:22AM

    A public celebration is outlawed, while Lahore has 3 golf courses that excludes the masses. Progress!

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  • RAW is WAR
    Feb 17, 2013 - 3:25AM

    nice article.

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  • jugnoo
    Feb 17, 2013 - 4:59AM

    I fail to understand to ban a whole festival just because few people were using metal wires. They should have caught those people and put them in jail. Thousands of people were earning from this activity and money from rich people was tranferred to poor people in the field of kite making, food preparation etc. Using the same logic why not ban bus transport, because more people are killed in road accidents by using faulty buses and rash driving. In fact many other daily activities can be banned such as air travel.

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  • Feb 17, 2013 - 11:02AM

    “Lahore High Court, which said that Basant “is cultural in nature and wedded to the soil” of Lahore “

    If you go by that account even Yoga is of Pakistani soil. But, i don’t see many Pakistanis vouching for it. Yoga is undeniable, 100% Hinduism, with Hindu symbols. That makes it non-Pakistani.

    Basant suits the bill, it can be argued well its “wedded to the soil”. It also arose from the womb of Hinduism too but its origins are distorted and used to propagate that its a Pakistani Festival. Nothing of the sort.

    I want Pakistanis to celebrate Basant, but not after twisting History and its Origins to suit their means. They should be OK with celebrating a “Hindu/Sikh” festival.

    Or, don’t celebrate it, but please don’t deny its Hindu origins.

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  • kamal
    Feb 17, 2013 - 11:23AM

    @faraz: Bro, Alam just want to say that Basant is a festival of joy & harmony & we should preserve our heritage. Although safety is also an important issue but not as a cunning tool or trick by religious bigots or fasadi / jihadi to spoil wonderful festival of love & harmony “Basant”.

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  • jugnoo
    Feb 17, 2013 - 2:51PM

    @BruteForce:
    you are wrong. Its celebrated to welcome spring and wheat harvest.

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  • Feb 17, 2013 - 5:44PM

    @jugnoo:

    Yes, of course. Its celebrated all over India, in different forms and names. It has Hindu origins. Hence, its a Hindu festival, a pagan one. Recommend

  • MallRoadIcedTea
    Feb 17, 2013 - 8:25PM

    @BruteForce:
    And that annual practice of ritual sacrifice and bloodletting – Bakra Eid – that’s not Pagan. No, it’s Halal.

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  • pnpuri
    Feb 17, 2013 - 8:42PM

    lohri, basant and baisakhi are fesitvals of season based on solar calendar. to call them hindu festival is misnomer. though we hindu while celebrating these festivals perform hindu form of worship, but it can not take away their secular character. certainly string (dor) should be safe. kite flying is popular in india, but i have not come across any unfortunate incident for which kite flying be banned. kite flying is certainly secular

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  • Homa
    Feb 17, 2013 - 9:13PM

    Hindus of USA also celebrated basant panchami by Having crlebrations which included wearing yellow clothes, feasting and doing poojas this week.

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  • sabi
    Feb 18, 2013 - 2:45AM

    “By defenestrating Basant from Lahore, you have only taken the colour from your own life.”
    But they have,as an alternative, given red colour throughout the year! and everywhere in Pakistan.

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  • kamal
    Feb 18, 2013 - 9:49AM

    @jugnoo: u r right jugnoo, in fact this is a cunning trick or excuse by religious bigot, fundoo , narrow & sick minded administration or political class to deny equality, real democracy, justice & free life to its citizen.

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  • kamal
    Feb 18, 2013 - 10:01AM

    @jugnoo:
    u r right in saying that “Its celebrated to welcome spring and wheat harvest.” This festival is secular ! although majority of hindus are celebrating it for centuries, along with their prayer or thanks to their deity or GOD but even pakis or muslim may also celebrate basant festival along with thanks or prayer to their GOD (Allah). Therefore hindu lineage of this festival can’t be denied.
    True festival is the one which bring harmony & love among people irrespective of faith. Only due to narrow thinking of some people, Britishers were able to divide & rule this region.

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  • A Pakistani
    Feb 18, 2013 - 8:23PM

    Yeah go celebrate it with your indian brothers and sisters and take your daughter along. Before you do that, do take the pain of visiting any of the families who lost their loved ones due to aerial firing, metalled kites etc. If you are really frustrated and looking for a festive celebration, come up with something that doesn’t cost somebody his life.

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