Don’t doubt Lahore’s love of food

Published: March 1, 2012

Sheikh Alauddin is a PML-Q turncoat who has been rewarded duly by the chief minister when he named him chairman of the Punjab Land Development Company, which handles the CM’s signature Aashiyana housing project.

The automobile trader from Lahore’s periphery is a favourite target of PML-Q’s ladies brigade, which never tires of calling him a lota when he tries to speak on the floor. But the Sheikh loves the limelight. He has a habit of speaking in the chamber as if he is addressing a crowd of illiterates. His usual rhetorical opening – “Janab, mein batata hoon asal baat kya hai” – always perks up the galleries.

On Wednesday, he caught the attention of the galleries when moving an adjournment motion for the newly inaugurated food street at Fort Road to be dismantled because it was “increasing economic disparity and ruining the food habits of Lahoris”. The MPA was also of the view that food streets were not a part of the city’s culture, since they were a tradition from the era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Alauddin did not elaborate when and where Maharaja Ranjit Singh built his food streets. Perhaps he confused the rows of roadside eateries with Lahore’s famous red light district, which came into existence during Singh’s rule as a centre for singing and dancing girls. Nor did he explain why Singh, who founded the greatest ever Sikh empire and placed Lahore at its capital, didn’t qualify as a part of Lahore’s culture.

The politician clearly needs to read up on his history. The city and people of Lahore are famous for their eateries and eating habits. The Lahori love for culinary delights is an intrinsic part of the culture. There are restaurants for all tastes and roadside dhabas across the length and breadth of the city.

The food streets built under former chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi at Gowalmandi and Old Anarkali were a manifestation of Lahore’s love for food. After Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif decided to abandon the food street in Gowalmandi (for reasons best known to him), the Fort Road food street has been welcomed by long-term residents.

It will also help attract badly needed tourism to the city. After the ban on kite-flying at Basant, which had become a city trademark in a short span of time, the food street is a welcome embrace of Lahori culture. Not too long ago, tourists would fly down from places like Canada and New Zealand to enjoy Lahore’s food alongside night kite-flying. The cool Sufi Nights in February at Diwan-i-Khas in the Lahore Fort alone were worth travelling thousands of miles for.

And then the suicide bombers came and the tourists vanished. Now as Lahore tries to revive itself, opposition to the food street seems completely out of sync. Perhaps the chief minister does not realise that amongst his own allies are people who can’t tolerate expressions of joy.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2012.


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