As the shadows lengthen on Sunday afternoon, a group of nine cyclists stop for juice at Liberty Market. They’re a disparate bunch, of old and young, local and foreign, and male and female (though mostly male).
This is Lahore’s chapter of Critical Mass, a global movement promoting the use of bikes, together on World Environment Day. “I think we had more people last time,” says Rafay Alam, the Critical Mass pioneer in Lahore and a prominent environmental lawyer during the refreshment break. In the midst of temperatures of over 40 degrees, it is not hard to understand why few people choose to get on their bikes in the summer.
They set out around 5pm for a two-hour bike ride to mark the day, whose theme this year is forests. But for this group, the conversation is dominated by a different environmental theme: the sun.
Alam says he is planning to install a solar-powered generator in his house. Another participant asks him whether starting a business selling solar generators in Pakistan could be profitable. Naeem, another participant, says his entire house runs on a solar generator.
Also in the group was Carlos, a Spaniard studying for his PhD in New Delhi who had walked across the border at Wagah earlier in the day.
A few girls usually attend Critical Mass rides on Sundays, but this time there was only Malava, a banker. Alam says he dreams about the day this becomes the norm in the city. “I want to see the Lahore of the 1940s that my grandmother described to me, one where she could go to her college on a bicycle by herself,” he says.
Soon the refreshment break is over, and everyone gets back on their bikes for another hour of cycling. In this heat, it is hard not to admire their commitment to a greener future.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2011.