I was recently in Lahore for a few days. The Punjab Capital is the city of my birth, the place where I received my education and later ‘tied the proverbial knot’ before settling down for compelling reasons in the Federal Capital. My attachment with what was once the ‘City of Gardens’ is underlined by a chaotic state of mind and every successive trip makes it more so. My condition is a reflection of my love for this vibrant metropolis and its painfully evident decline.

The first shock that hits a newcomer, is the utter lack of discipline on the roads. The government is so busy showcasing its mega mass transportation projects, flyovers and underpasses that it is giving little thought to the most critical part of the equation – enforcement of laws. Take traffic for example. Wardens stand by helplessly as motorcycle riders break every rule in the book (including the one about wearing helmets). On more than one occasion, I saw these ‘morons’ in grey assume the role of violators.

Pedestrians ignore zebra crossings a few meters away and put life and limb in jeopardy to cross busy roads, with entire families in tow. Car drivers perhaps assume that all lanes on roads are their personal property and change them at will without making use of indicators.

Traffic lights are violated with impunity and if some law abiding citizen does stop at a red light on a deserted road, the person in the vehicle following him uses the horn, urging him to ‘damn the red signal’ and carry on. Cell phones are everywhere in use while driving, as is the ‘fashion’ not to wear seat belts, creating a hazard to everyone in the vehicle.

There are signposts everywhere ‘advising’ people to wear helmets and ‘avoid’ the use of mobile phones. The messages these boards carry are soft instead of being imperative, as one often sees on roads in the civilised world.

The Punjab Government recently passed a law that lays down stringent penalties for manufacturing and sale of spurious medicines. This was a long overdue legislation, but the ‘drug store’ mafia went on strike, shutting down stores without a thought that non-availability of medicines could put lives in peril. Even Monday’s suicide attack failed to remedy their conscience. I can only hope that the authorities do not succumb to this pressure and do away with a law designed to save precious lives. If it does, it will be counted as an accessory to, what in my opinion is a crime worse than homicide.

My love of books took me on a trip to Urdu Bazaar. This is one place that inspires me so much that I carry a folding chair with me. I can then sit and spend quality time, while selecting books for my library. The access to this bazaar is however beset with perils because of unruly traffic forcing me to park the car near my alma mater i.e. Government College and taking the latest travelling fad – the Uber Rickshaw. In doing so, I made a grave error for what I underwent was a nightmarish ride in and out of vehicles forcing me to recite all the prayers that I could remember as my ‘sawari’ careened around precariously tilted on two wheels. I ultimately abandoned the transport close to my destination, when the rickshaw in front of me lost control and went headlong into a trash container by the side of the road.

It is however not only these three wheelers, but every kind of vehicle on the roads appears to be in one ‘hell of a hurry’ – which could well turn out to be a ‘well deserved hurry to meet their maker’. This urgency to get someplace is not confined to Lahore alone, but is visible all over the country. It is said that ‘traffic’ or how people drive is one amongst many indicators that determine the collective psyche of a nation. If this be true, then there is something seriously wrong with ours.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.