When this week’s piece is printed, the year 2016 would have been ‘rung in’. The term ‘ringing in’ the new year has become part of the English language and dates back to the tradition of ringing church bells at midnight to welcome one year and bid farewell to the other. Since those were the days, when places of worship were focal point of communities, it was customary for announcements of the profound sort to be made from these platforms using bells, drums and horns – the sound of which carried to the length and breadth of villages, towns and even cities. The advent of the technological age and the manifestation of science fiction into reality has pushed ‘ringing’ into near obscurity, replacing it with massive celebrations, dropping crystal balls (in one case a ‘shoe’), fireworks and laser displays.

The two post-independence decades can be classified as golden because of great interfaith harmony in Pakistan. New Year was once celebrated mostly by the Christian and ‘Anglo-Indian’ community and members of other faiths participated in these festivities without reservation. The Lahore Civil Lines police station was perhaps one of the largest (if not the largest) pre independence law enforcement complexes in what was then West Pakistan. The superstars of this establishment were the Anglo-Indian Traffic Sergeants, whose departure from the covered main archway heralded doom for traffic violators (which once included the sitting Governor). These sergeants lived in double storied flats inside the complex, which became a venue of New Year festivity.

Another well-known ‘party spot’ was the Burt Institute (actually a meeting place for the Anglo-Indian Railway Community, some of which had continued serving the North Western Railway even after the creation of Pakistan). It was here that the annual New Year Ball was held and people from other faiths were invited to attend. I do not remember reading or hearing about even a single incident of public inebriation, rowdiness or undignified behaviour either here or at the Sergeant’s residences on New Year’s night. I can vouch for the latter part of my statement because our home was in close proximity of the aforementioned Police Complex.

Murree too, was the scene of midnight festivity in spite of the freezing weather and the white blanket of snow that covered this popular hill station. Sam’s with its polished wooden floored ballroom was one of the main venues of the annual ball with Ambassador and Cecil coming a close second. It was perhaps the presence of snow and log fires that provided added attraction for people from as far away as Lahore.

It was however Karachi that ushered in the New Year with great pomp. With its cosmopolitan social structure, the city boasted many well-known spots, where the rich and the famous congregated to welcome the first sunrise of January every year.

For the majority of Lahoris, the midnight change of date held little social significance or even if it did, it was celebrated in a conservative manner in line with our cultural norms. In my own context, a dinner was arranged at the house for all family members, where my grandfather thanked the Almighty for what He had bestowed upon us and sought His favor for the incoming Year. We normally lay awake in our beds expectantly until the clock struck midnight and we heard the musical sound of the multiple bells from the Church on Lawrence Road.

It was in the late seventies that we saw a change in public behaviour - especially in the teenage section of our society. Eve teasing, harassment and a tendency to become a nuisance, gradually became commonplace at recreation spots and public festivals. Inexplicably enough, this change emerged after implementation of strict prohibition and curbs on some other activities. Social scientists often attribute this anomaly to a lack of opportunity for people to have fun and let off steam and an overall decay in family values. As far as my generation is concerned we consider ourselves lucky to have experienced how one festival – the New Year was celebrated in diverse ways with correct social responsibility.