What is the matter with us?

Published: April 28, 2012
The writer is author, most recently of, The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society 

The writer is author, most recently of, The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

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 Two years later when I returned again, it had been replaced by a new building with modern fittings.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.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Apr 28, 2012 - 11:53PM

    Damn the nation who is responsible for all this.


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Apr 29, 2012 - 12:04AM

    Well said, salute you for showing our true face.


  • BlackJack
    Apr 29, 2012 - 12:05AM

    There are two separate issues here; one is the non-existent role of the govt in protecting landmarks of historical signicance; this is clearly not a priority in a country which has imported its heroes as well as its history – anything that remains is theroefore a reminder of who you actually are. The second is vandalism of public property; this is an issue related to education and culture – and is as much an issue in India as Pakistan. People somehow take perverse delight in defacing a blemishless surface – this lack of ownership and public responsibility is a serious problem in India as well.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 29, 2012 - 12:08AM

    Can Dear writer go to indian site too and do some research on the lost History of muslim buildings in east punjab and U.P, Mp, Bhopal, Bihar, Gujrath, Hyderabad, Mesure, can u sir??
    and leave us alone for little while from your cricticism…..


  • Babloo
    Apr 29, 2012 - 12:19AM

    Sir, Hindus and Sikhs owned 60-70 % of property in lahore and karachi in 1947.
    Thats a conservative estimate.
    That which is obtained without hard work is not valued.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 29, 2012 - 12:48AM

    Muslims were Nawabs and lands owner in East punjab and U.P give it back to us talking ….


  • Chulbul Pandey
    Apr 29, 2012 - 6:42AM


    Sir, I understand your concern for neglected Hindu holy sites in your country. But I am more concerned about the Hindus currently living in Pakistan. Not just Hindus, all the minorities in Pakistan live under constant fear.
    The country that does not value the life of its people, what else can one expect vis-a-vis buildings of religious importance. Please see the article about forced conversions, published on ViewPointOnline site:



  • C. Nandkishore
    Apr 29, 2012 - 6:49AM

    Cannibalism takes place when people lose hope. Each one for himself.


  • Nitin
    Apr 29, 2012 - 7:44AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    That’s not a particularly intelligent point. Your argument is something like this ‘ because Muslim buildings may have been vadandized in some other country, it is ok if we do the same for hindu or Buddhist buildings in Pakistan’. Typical in denial, reactive thinking


  • AA
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:50AM

    Here in the Capital, Islamabad, all (and I mean all) the steel grate covers of the manholes of the rain water drains have been stolen, and the CDA does nothing about it.


  • Syed Hussein El-Edroos
    Apr 29, 2012 - 9:42AM

    Talking about pride, ownership and cleanliness I once used a public toilet at railway station in Japan. It was as clean or even cleaner than a 4 star hotel bathroom in Pakistan. I am sure there were people to clean it twice or thrice a day. However, the main thing was the people using it took care to leave it as clean as they found it. They was even an extra roll of toilet paper. In Pakistan this would have vanished. Nine times out of ten using a public toilet is horrifying experience to say the least.


    Apr 29, 2012 - 10:16AM

    @ Ali Tanoli: So what you are saying is if India is negligent to its national heritage its ok for Pakistan too. Its thanks to imbeciles like you that Pakistan only lives to outdo India rather than progress to its true potential… there is a world beyond India as well that is civilized, mature and progressive that we should aim to emulate… keep matching yourself with India which at the end of the day is a third world country and you’ll find you’ll only remain a pale shadow of it…


    Apr 29, 2012 - 10:18AM

    Brilliantly written article…. kudos to the writer for raising this issue…


  • Uza Syed
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:27AM

    “What is the matter with us?” —– we have gone crazy, completely banana!Recommend

  • Apr 29, 2012 - 11:29AM

    PWD is responsible for the construction of buildings for the departments that get funds from the government. The departments make feasibility and PC1 for such constructions. The departments are handed over the constructed building and are charged with their use, upkeep and posting of necessary staff.
    Nothing of the sort happens. The departments in connivance with PWD and the contractors consume the available funds and start preparing for securing more funds. It is easy to replicate or repeat the old projects (tested and tried) than thinking of new ones. The old ones are willfully allowed to go to ruin so that funds for the new ones are consumed.
    It is not hard to pin point the culprits, but we live in country where the PM is a convict and the President is known corrupt and their ilk rule the roost in all government departments where easy money can be made with full protection of the rulers.
    We do not want to find solutions; just make noise and crib. This is what the media has done to the nation.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 29, 2012 - 5:47PM

    Yes sir i agreed.


  • sk
    May 13, 2012 - 12:21PM

    Completely agree. I am Indian – and the situation is no different here when it comes to vandalism and blatant disrespect to civic sense. As the author puts it bluntly, “we seem to be a bunch of hooligans”, perhaps still living with the delusion that the British still rule us and therefore we have to go about destroying public property. The tragedy is that I don’t see this changing too soon, at least not in my lifetime.


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