Last Sunday I was at Katas Raj, the ancient religious site (Buddhist and Hindu) in the Salt Range. It is useless to lament the destruction of the pristine site with marble flooring and steel pipe banisters to the stairways where none had ever existed in history. Culprit: the department of archaeology.
Behind the recently ‘renovated’ (and therefore utterly destroyed) two 11th century-Hindu Shahya temples, there was a newish building that I had not noticed on my last visit two years ago. This was a public toilet. But, said the employee of the department trailing us, it had been vandalised.
The doors were smashed, every single windowpane broken, the wash basins were gone. There were shards of porcelain from the broken basins strewn all around and the commodes were either broken or filled with rubbish; their cisterns removed. The man from the department said all this had been done by visitors to one of the holiest sites of Hinduism. He said the toilet had been built only about a year ago.
Then we drove through Jhangar Valley to Ara village where I wanted to show my friend the rest house restored from the ruins by Azmat Ranjha, the Deputy Commissioner in 1995. I remember at that time seeing a lovely place to get away to. I am witness, too, to its destruction, very much in line with what was done at Katas.
Here, too, the doors were smashed, windowpanes broken, the interior strewn with all sorts of rubbish. Two doors that had been bolted shut with locks on the bolts were also open: the thugs simply kicked them in. No one was around to tell me what happened to the furniture in the rest house. Much of it was surely stolen.
Back in 1974, the hilltop monastery of Tilla Jogian (1st century BCE, Jhelum) had a beautiful late 19th century rest house. The only existing image (black and white) of it is in my possession. In March 1986, I saw it being pulled down. Two years later when I returned again, it had been replaced by a new building with modern fittings. Two more years later, only its shell remained. The Vandals of old could hardly have done any worse.
Drive along the new road from Lahore to Kasur and you see bus shelters on the sides. Look closely and you’ll find the seating destroyed. All that remains are bits of steel fittings that the Vandals could not remove. These shelters were constructed during the winter of 2011-12. You find the same at most bus stops in Lahore.
Travel along any highway in the country and you’ll find milestones vandalised, place names and distances chipped away by assiduous hard work. I once imagined this to be the work of young boys who knew no better. But near Haripur, I saw a grown man performing this patriotic duty. I stopped my car to have a word with him and he said: “Everyone else is doing the same, so what’s wrong if I do it too?” He also advised me to become the president of this sorry land if I had to pretend to be so patriotic!
And now we have a very pertinent editorial (“Fear overhead”, April 24) in this paper. It notes how people have destroyed the cement concrete wall or cut away the steel grill to make way to cross the road instead of using the pedestrian overhead bridge. This vandalism is not the work of a few moments; it takes hours. It is done in broad daylight within sight of everyone. But nobody bothers. I have seen this happening at Ichhra, a hundred metres from the police station.
It seems we live in an enemy country where everything belongs to an enemy state, which we must undermine. This is not our land. Certainly not the country for which millions lost their homes, loved ones and even their lives. Damn the national pride we pretend to flaunt. We are a mob of hooligans set upon destroying the country. Nine times out of ten, when I confront miscreants, I am told that if those in power can do what they do, the Vandals will do their duty to match.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2012.