LAHORE: Basant– the advent of spring, colour, and festivities, is one of the most celebrated and anticipated events in Pakistan…but this year Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore seems to have lost hope for the event
Basant normally takes place in the first week of February, and preparations are in full swing by now … but that just isn’t the case this year. The city that used to bustle in anticipation of spring is now struggling to make even the most basic preparations. The Kite Flying Association has is pessimistic about Basant this year saying that they have lost their staunchest supporter, governor Salmaan Taseer and hence, do not see much hope in the event itself anymore.
Taseer had been a devoted supporter of Basant despite the Punjab Government’s ban on it for the last two years and used to make special arrangements to celebrate the occasion at the Governor House.
District Kite Flying Association (DKFA) General Secretary Shaikh Saleem told The Express Tribune that they were planning to forward an application seeking permission for Basant to take place but this was delayed due to the governor’s assassination. “He has been a great supporter and was in a position to negotiate with high-ups to allow celebrating Basant for two days at least. We will move the application with the Punjab Government in a few days but we aren’t very hopeful about it,” he added.
Saleem said that the Punjab Assembly had passed a bill in the past to allow kite flying for Basant, but then banned it by issuing a special notification by the DCO last year. Earlier on, permission for kite flying was given by the Home Department but since last year the Home Department has delegated these powers to the DCO.
Sheikh said, “Kite flying was a harmless sport but a few people had conspired against it by using metal strings. If people are killed in accidents should the government ban vehicles altogether? This is not the solution. The use of metal strings and chemical strings should be banned and above all aerial firing should not be allowed at any cost. The real kite flyers never get involved in these kinds of activities and they are the ones who have been deprived of their favorite game”.
While the government opposes Basant on the pretext of financial and human losses, many others say Basant symbolises the real culture of the Walled City. Dr Ejaz Anwar, the renowned painter, says, “Basant is sport, colour, kites and jubilation. Kites decorate the sky like flowers do gardens. Basant used to be very peaceful and people were visible on rooftops. It is very much associated with the Walled City”. Anwar, whose many paintings have captured Lahore’s Basant on canvas, does however believe that kite flying at night should not be allowed. “A lot of bad things associated with Basant have their roots in night Basant in fact. Metal string and aerial firing should be strictly controlled and then Basant can be celebrated very peacefully,” he added.
Film writer and producer Rukhsana Noor said that Basant should not be associated with religion and must be taken as a cultural event. She said, “Our people have very few opportunities to cheer up and Basant is one such occasion. We should not deprive people from having some fun. Basant used to create a lot of revenue, as foreigners from across the world came to Lahore for this occasion.”
Arif Rehman Chughtai, son of legendary MA Rehman Chughtai, agrees that that religion has nothing to do with the event itself. “Those who associate it with religion are narrating an incorrect version of history. Basant was the only occasion where foreigners realised that Muslims could also laugh and have a good time,” he added. He said that India couldn’t promote Basant despite repeated efforts and on the other hand, we seem intent on ruining our own festival. “My father used to make and fly kites. Was he a bum or a criminal? The rich enjoyed it their way, associated some bad things with it and then deprived poor kite flyers of their sport,” he maintained.
Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) spokesman told The Express Tribune, “So far there is no update on Basant or Jashn-e-Baharaan. I don’t think we are going to celebrate Basant this year.”
While many repent the loss of lives and find the event a frivolous waste of expenditure, many business ventures that primarily worked for the event all year round-now find themselves lost
Many people associated to the kite and string manufacturing believe that ban on Basant has deprived them of their jobs. Naeem Pol, a former whole sale kite and string dealer, now has a food stall. He says, “The business was destroyed with ban on kite flying. The worst thing was that Basant was also banned otherwise, so we could still do well if the sale of kites were allowed just for two, three days before Basant.”
Iftikhar Ahmad, another kite manufacturer, said, “You could find women making kites in almost every third house in the Walled City. It was a very good industry that we deliberately destroyed. I run a store now but it hardly meets my expenses while I had a very good income when I was in kite manufacturing business”.
Shaikh Saleem said that every shopkeeper in the Walled City sold kites some years ago at the advent of Basant. “People earned their livelihoods and there were hundreds of thousand of people in this business who still haven’t settled at their new jobs,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2011.