If you have lived in Lahore long enough, you may agree with me when I say that there is something very uniquely evocative about Gulberg. Even people who have resided there for periods as short as a year, and spent much of their lives moving from one city to another, sometimes remain for years after endeared to the locality – on occasion to a degree sufficient to probe others who no longer live there, ‘Waisay, don’t you miss Gulberg?’

Now, if you feel as slighted as I do when people suggest that residential areas are merely collective entities of houses, often alongside the proclamation that it carries no weight where one chooses to reside altogether, read on, because this column just might absolutely delight you.

Allow me to bring to the rescue of our sentimentalities, the most famous work of one of the founding figures of the Chicago School of Sociology, Robert E. Park. Park’s masterpiece, The City (1915), which drew on his and his colleagues’ study of the urban landscape of 20th century Chicago, posits the theory of neighborhood subcultures: the phenomenon that large metropolitan cities will, across generations of continued inhabitance, and through reciprocity between the institutions present in each locale and its residents, develop residential areas with distinct cultural themes, or ‘subcultures.’

“In the course of time every section..of the city takes on something of the character and qualities of its inhabitants.. is inevitably stained with the peculiar sentiments of its population. The effect of this is to convert what was at first a mere geographical expression into a neighbourhood.. a locality with sentiments, traditions and a history of its own.” (Park, p.579)

But that still doesn’t nearly explain: why Gulberg?

Now, since I’m trying to appeal to the sentimental reader here, I’m going to depart from my usual mechanical-rational route of analysis and take a more happy detour – that of reflection and reverie. Thus, to elicit from you the acknowledgement that human beings are drawn most powerfully, after only connection with God and each other, to the institution known as the market, I shan’t ask you to contemplate on the process with which the division of labour and the interdependence it fosters in us causes man to acquire a deeply-set affinity for the aforementioned (the market.)

I will, instead, simply ask you to reminisce on the collage of all the wonderful memories that you have of your life, as well as the anticipations that were attached with them, and consider how often they were furthered or owed altogether to the marketplace (think: shopping during Ramadan for Eid).

The feature of Gulberg I’m highlighting here is that, unlike many other posh districts (Cantonement, DHA, Model Town) where there are governmental regulations on commercial ventures and the informal economy (think: sugar-cane juice vendors, challi walas), the entire neighborhood of Gulberg functions as a marketplace.

“..in the vast unconscious co-operation of city life, the opportunity to choose his own vocation and develop his peculiar talents. The city offers a market for the special talents of individual men.” (Park, p.583-4)

In Gulberg, with every twist and turn of a street, anytime you can discover a new restaurant, a new bookshop, a new boutique – even a new niche screened from the casual spectator (read: the new rich!) altogether. Other residential areas may match or exceed our beloved Gulberg’s expanse, but they can’t match its depth; and that depth comes from letting the inhabitants free to nurture the genius of the human mind - their talents, creativities and imaginations unobstructed. Driving around Gulberg - it’s quite literally like being on a treasure hunt. Even more so if you have the dexterity to use the treasures of the human imagination to further an even greater treasure hunt of life – of making connections with gifted people, whose gifts the goods and services that their respective enterprises offer now embody.

But that’s just the half of it!

If you have lived in Gulberg, you have forever left your imprint on it – your school, your office, your home-run organic food bakery, even your chants of ‘falsaay!’- an imprint that then becomes integrated into the life history of a fellow human being, with whom you will now always share a connection. Isn’t that beautiful? Together, the residents of Gulberg – of today and of past - themselves have been the authors of the neighborhood subculture of this colourful locality. By virtue of the ‘economic freedoms’ we have all enjoyed in Gulberg, we are related, inseparable. Indeed, as the psychotherapist-novelist Samuel Shem would say, we are, just a little bit, more human. What makes people sick, he contends, is “the isolation of one human being from another.” (Shem, Mount Misery)

Gulberg, once you examine it, is not merely a neighborhood, it is an expression of the beautiful human beings who have lived in it.

“Neighborhood sentiment, deeply rooted..in local custom, exercises a decisive selective influence..and shows itself ultimately in a marked way in the characteristics of the inhabitants.” (Park, p.583)

..Of the human beings who have been made beautiful by it.

For all the talk about the inherent ‘inhumanity’ of the free-market ethic, I think we’re looking at a pretty heartwarming picture.

(Keep this one in mind the next time you cross Sherpao Bridge (or ‘Berlin Wall’ as I like to call it) and nose-dive into the sudden panorama of blockades, uniforms and guns.)

How unfortunate are the philistines who spurn the thought of how incredibly far-reaching the (ostensibly mundane) decision of choosing to keep the family home can be for the sights and sounds that dominate their lives, and indeed become mirrored in their own selves, as well as that of the generations that will be raised within. How much they have lost.

The author runs Scholars by Profession, a local research-initiative 


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