Arrival of spring in Pakistan always reminds me of my visit in 2004 to the city of flowers to celebrate Basant. I travelled to Lahore from Hyderabad by train and remember vividly that it was only due to the courtesy of a friend in Pakistan Railways that I managed to get a seat on the Lahore bound Night Coach. Lahore was brimming with festivities and multi-collared flowers made the air pregnant with Basant fervour. It was an unforgettable experience. Lahore parks were full of the youth flying kites and some were running after the cut ones, a feeling only a kite-flyer knows. When you are young that kite feels like a treasure and I am sure many people understand the feeling.

I noticed that the rooftops were all packed without any distinction of age or gender. Some people had all their musical paraphernalia with them on top of their roofs and whenever a kite was cut there would be so much noise with people dancing with joy; they played music and beat drums. People from all over Pakistan and abroad would travel to Lahore and they certainly had the experience of their lives. I captured all that on my video camera and replay it often to catch the illusive feeling of joy of dear homeland in a very unique way. Like in all facets of our national life, narrow-minded religious zealots, coupled with failure of the state to check them, have deprived the city and its people of a great and distinctive cultural activity.

Basant was the only festival which did not have any religious connotations; hence, it had a great spirit of inclusivity in its essence. All Pakistanis irrespective of their caste, culture and faith danced to the tunes of Basant. The festival had another great aspect of boosting local economy and bringing in lot of foreign exchange as people from around the world travelled and planned their holidays during Basant.

The media boom in Pakistan in early years of the last decade was internationalising the event, consequently promoting a very soft image of the country abroad. The Punjab rulers make tall claims about their governance, yet they could not check these party poopers and, instead, banned such a colourful cultural event.

I hope that the newly-elected government in Punjab would act sagaciously and revive the festival of Basant.


Australia, March 16.