The advent of steam-driven machines and engines forced inventors to devise a way to release immense pressures that built up inside boilers and pipes in order to avoid terrible explosion related accidents. The human body is also a machine, but with unlimited intelligence, emotive power and creativity. It is this capability that generates stresses related to work, family and personal relationships. Nature has however created safety valves to let off this pressure in the form of recreation and sport. Societies which do not have recourse to ‘letting off steam’ end up by developing traits such as violence, anger and crime.

The Subcontinent has always been known as a vibrant kaleidoscope of cultural and religious traditions. With typical oriental adaptability, these traditions were fused with the culture that the British colonial rule imported into pre-independence India. In most cases, this fusion was done in a sensible manner that enabled home grown traditions to flourish side by side with alien ones. Books depicting life in the Subcontinent during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century indicate that both locals and the colonials lived extremely full lives dominated by a wonderful mix of recreation and work.

I am witness to the first fifteen years of our existence as a sovereign state and have always looked upon this as a golden era, marked by tolerance and a disciplined, but happily resonant society. Then something catastrophic happened and we became radicalised, narrow-minded and intolerant. It was perhaps the near-sightedness of successive governments which ignored the necessity of creating opportunities, where people could enjoy themselves in a civilised manner. With far and fewer safety valves, we became a short tempered nation – a fact made amply evident, when people converging on the few existing recreational venues found themselves in traffic gridlocks, made worse by delinquent drivers, and resultant arguments – even brawls.

Psychologists attribute this behaviour to frustration and one doesn’t need mathematics to tell us where it is taking us. What the situation warrants is corrective strategy that aims at reviving the mental health of the people. One simple medicine towards this end, is the creation of more recreational opportunities and spots, where people can go and relax in an affordable environment. For the time being, the authorities appear hell bent on laying out parks that become an insult to the name within a year of their inauguration. A stark example of one such facility can be seen in the Federal Capital. The facility is dedicated to a friendly South American nation, but has of late become a hospital car park.

A very popular traditional event with low attendant cost was our traditional ‘mela’. This festive occasion spanned a wide landscape from the small village event to the Great Industrial Fair in what was once Minto Park, Lahore. Gone are other festivals such as the one celebrating the onset of spring and known to Lahoris as ‘basant’. The day was characterised by a riot of colour as paper kites filled the air, but the provincial authorities in their ‘inexplicable wisdom’, found it convenient to altogether ban the event rather than find a better solution so that injuries to motor cyclists from the glass coated thread could be mitigated. Then there is the woeful tale of our hill stations – environmentally exploited and overcrowded. These recreational destinations are legacies from our colonial past and draw a huge mass of people, wishing to outrun the heat of the plains during summer. Regretfully enough, the only worthwhile addition to the lot in the seven decades of our existence is Ayubia, while numerous other unknown sites with wonderful potential await development in vain.

There can be no argument that an essential element of good national morale is sound collective ‘mental health’. This state is achieved through credibility of decision making, justice, social wellbeing, security and a strong economy. Perhaps someone with power and the means, will read this piece and take steps to begin the healing process.