Like every child who has grown up in the 80s and 90s in Pakistan, and mostly Punjab, one of my fondest core memories is Basant - a highlight which preceded Eids and birthdays in priority. We used to drive down to Lahore for the weekend from whichever city Abu was posted in. It was a done thing - no compromises. The atmosphere in Lahore was beyond electrifying; the city which was always alive used to outdo itself in hospitality, celebration and festivity. Unfortunate news of accidents and casualties followed every year, which dampened the joy, but it had never occurred to me that my children will grow up not knowing what it’s like to scream yourself hoarse with “Bo kata!!!!” They would not know how the sky looks when it’s shrouded completely by the colourful chatta of guddis. They wouldn’t dance continuously to Dil Huwa Bo Kata after every single paicha decision. They wouldn’t be told off by the more janooni cousins for stepping over the doar or holding the pinna wrong. They wouldn’t be familiar with the tape bandage to cover the disgusting, open wounds which just didn’t hurt the mad kite flying lovers. They will be oblivious to kids blindly running on the roads to catch yet another guddi. The kinnoo with kala namak, the yellow colour everywhere, the barbeques, the deafening music from every rooftop, the constant blasts and power outages when transformers gave way to kundas and glass doars

Oh the glass doars. That’s what went wrong. The rising numbers of causalities and the failure of the Government to regulate the production, distribution and consumption of the doars led to an unfair ban on an activity that has actually played an integral part in bringing friends and family together for years- not to forget the boom of economic activity and tourism in Pakistan for that one week.

The accidents with the glass string were criminal, and of course cruel. The affected parties were absolutely justified to raise objections and demand regulation. But they demanded regulation. We all demand regulation for things like road accidents and gas leakages and electrocution and power outages and emergency services and disaster management and manholes and garbage collection and speed limits. Well, everything. We can’t ban them. Bans are extreme measures on things that cannot be regulated. Mostly when many other solutions have been tried and they haven’t worked.

Remember, when the Sri Lankan team was attacked and the world community stopped sending international players to Pakistan? That wretched day of 2009 is surely one of the gloomiest memories I have; the other half of the core memory section. How hard have we tried to bring back international cricket to Pakistan? I will answer that myself: very. We started PSL for this, didn’t we? This is my personal opinion but I think the only reason why Mr. Sethi holds the position which he does at PCB is because he can make it happen. And he did. The government, the police forces, the Pak Army, The traffic police, they all did. They have brought back international cricket to Pakistan. At least they have got their foot in a door which was tightly shut. The PSL Final happened in Lahore last night, a few days after a new terror wave had gripped the city and had it deserted mid-week, mid-day. Lahoris stopped going to restaurants, and that is saying something!

But they did. And full marks to them!

We watched the match with our 9 year old son, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It was tremendously nostalgic and exhilaratingly exciting. The event was diligently planned and executed. They had taken care of small details like labelling directions, back up check posts, and appointing personnel at every point that needed one. Mr. Zaeem Qadri was seen personally taking care of the shuttle service. The staff on duty was courteous, helpful and well informed. The body language of every person involved showed commitment and a will to make it happen. Which they did, and we are grateful for that.

What does this prove? When we want to, we can. When they wanted to, they did. They brought the entire city to a halt, but they did. Areas near and not so near the stadium were cut off from civilization and people had to stay indoors, but they did. Gas supply was cut, Metro was shut down, half of the city was cordoned off, but they did. 7,000 policemen and women were on duty on a Sunday. Rangers were on call. Helicopters were circling the stadium continuously.

But. They. Did.

And they did it really well.

So why not Basant?

While I was watching the match yesterday, the economist in me couldn’t help but do a mental cost and benefit analysis.

The costs were the money spent on the stadium, the foreign and local players’ travel, stay, security, food etc., the opening ceremony, the performers, the event management companies, the printing and selling of tickets, the free shuttle service, the 500 CCTV cameras, the paid media content messages of our CM for public awareness, the security check points, the helicopters on patrol, the 100s of security cars which had continuous running engines in case of an emergency, the cordoning off of roads, the make shift hospital at the National Hockey Stadium, the ambulances and fire engines stationed at various points, the trucks and containers parked at signals to be mobilized if and when needed and the transport and look after of the thousands of personnel on duty. I am sure the list is longer. Then there are the externalities. There were hardly any food stalls or the regular vendors of drinks, channay, pappar and shami anda, which usually is quite an income generator at such events. The personnel on duty stayed outside and missed the entire fun. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this particular aspect. The gas supply cuts and commuting hazards that people faced because of locked routes, the house siege of surrounding areas, the fact that schools were shut since Friday are surely worth considering.

Revenue: Tickets and sponsorships. Rs. 500 for general stand. The rest ranging from Rs. 4000 to Rs. 12000, (33% to 100% of the entire month’s salary of a common man). All of the tickets were not actually bought. I for one had not paid for my ticket. Externally, it catered to 25,000 people inside the stadium, and of course everyone else who watched it on TV. It made a statement to the world that we want international cricket to return to Pakistan and that we as a nation are a brave resilient one who refuse to live in fear.

It made it very clear that when we want to do something, we do it.

However, is this truly a break even? I doubt it.

I can’t help but think that if an international cricket match can happen in Lahore, despite the red alert and terror threats, why not Basant? Why can’t we regulate an activity which is as integral to this country as cricket is and which actually caters to every common and uncommon household?

I know it is easier said than done. I know it is a constant battle with high risks and practical hazards, but it is possible. We need sincere intent and true commitment. But we also need someone to lead this. Like the PCB and CM sahib led this movement and made this happen. The public followed knowing that the treat exists. It is not one of those things in which every person can do his share and let things flow. This has to be a planned, collected, regular and continuous effort. 

Can’t we use the 500 CCTV cameras to ensure security for Basant? If we can mobilise 7,000 policemen, Army men and air surveillance, provide free shuttle rides for an international statement, why can’t we plan and do the same to regulate the miscreants to cater to our own awaam? It will make the common man, the real Pakistani, the actual working class, the mazdoor, the backbone of our system truly enjoy a festival with his family. All of them did not enjoy the match yesterday. They couldn’t pay so much to take their families. All of them don’t own TVs.

But all of them can buy a guddi and a pinna and chant bo kata! And if they can’t let us all buy them one. But let us make this happen too.

Because we can!