I have to hand it to them, the Sharif brothers have succeeded in doing what nothing and nobody else could: making me feel like I don’t belong in my beloved Lahore any more. My helplessness is augmented by the fact that I didn’t vote for them either, and so have no reason at all to even remotely support any of their dubious, ill-planned agendas. Least of all this blasted signal-free corridor. Trees are being bulldozed in Shadman and Shah Jamal as I type, and cranes and heavy machinery have reappeared overnight on Jail Road, under the cement blocks and smug little ‘Lahore Banao’ banners that some cheeky little blighter no doubt earned some guffaw-points for.

About a month ago, I went to the public hearing for the Orange Train, another of of the Sharifs’ projects that rank amongst the most expensive in the world- 160 billion rupees. Our Chinese brothers are paying for it— why, as a well-known architect at the hearing pointed out, we don’t ask them for money for hospitals and schools is a mystery. The price of this generous loan is also another mystery— probably dominion over Gawadar, or access to our coal or copper or some similarly huge betrayal, no doubt. The Orange Train will also cost Chauburji and the Shalimar Gardens their UNESCO Heritage Site privilege, because in other parts of the world and amidst sane, intelligent governments they realize that you cannot have a train station 100 yards from a historically important structure that is almost four hundred years old. You also cannot have a train passing over, under or beside the Gardens either, but nobody seems to care about that at all.

The hearing, as it were, was a nauseating pantomime of sycophancy and complete, utter blarney. Baseless, unexplained statistics were being solemnly displayed on slides: for example, according to heaven-knows-who, in data collected who knows when and by whom, when the Orange Train is up and running, G.T Road traffic will decrease sharply. There are 100 wagons plying the ancient trade path at the moment, and that number will fall to 36, similarly the 97 city buses will drop to 8. I promise I am not making these rather specific and indisputably ridiculous figures up. Similarly, various surveys were conducted in which no local flora or fauna were found in the areas under survey. 3029 trees will be destroyed, of which 620 will be uprooted and the rest replanted. For every uprooted tree, the panel of men on stage promised, there will be 10 news trees planted. 1% of the budget has already been set aside for this most noble task of sticking yet more date palms and ornamental trees into our environmental chaos—after all, you plant ornamental trees in your own backyard so it makes perfect sense to do it in a city where thousands of people commute on foot, bicycle and motorcycle and might appreciate some shade when it’s forty degrees on the concrete.

The hall the hearing was held in was full of all kinds of strange people who would arrive in waves, looking vague and would be shepherded towards the back seats by the organizers, who also encouraged the crowd to clap at opportune moments as if this were Nelaam Ghar and not a presentation of an Environmental Impact Assessment. People stood up, grabbed the mic and waxed lyrical about how excellent they thought this project was, how amazing it was to be brought into the modern era by the most honourable and far-sighted Sharifs, long may they live and prosper (I am only roughly paraphrasing; they were really into their five minutes at the mic). Then all the bussed-in men would clap energetically. It was all generally annoying and predictable and infuriating, but then one young man got up and waxed lyrical about how the Most Glorious Sharifs were turning Lahore into Dubai, praise be!

Lahore. Turned. Into. Dubai.

Lahore, this grand and ancient city, written about as early as the second century AD by Ptolemy, praised in the 982 document ‘Hudud e Alam’ as being a magnificent city with huge orchards and impressive buildings. Lahore, the city that has given birth to men and women who changed the cultural, religious, political and intellectual landscapes of their times. Lahore, with its gardens and trees, its pirs and bibis, the food, the gates, the million little idiosyncratic quirks that make it the fascinating city it is. One cretin, roundly applauded, comparing this city to Dubai. Dubai, that wasteland. Dubai, the city that comprises of an endless road flanked by high rise buildings and shopping malls on the one side and artificial residential golf clubs on the other. Dubai, the city that was probably some tiny little watering hole for stray camels when Lahore was a bustling, clever city full of art and trade and vats of delicious things. Dubai is what this government and its chamchas want our beautiful city to be? An expanse of road and ugly glass and chrome buildings?

They do. It’s the somber truth, and it is happening in spite of the highest court in the land. And why wouldn’t it happen? It’s our fault, because small groups of people trying to chip away at the behemoth of jahalat of that our government is an impossible task. Environmental and architectural activists are no Davids vanquishing Goliath, they are a small band of dedicated and stubborn people trying to rescue our heritage for people who don’t want it. You can judge the Sharifs and their sycophants all you like, but the truth is that none of us really care as long as we’re happy in our little bubbles. We don’t care that vultures have been wiped out of the city because the trees that were their homes have been cut down, or that our children have never seen a firefly. We don’t think it’s important that the Shalimar Gardens will eventually be a train station, because what’s a few hundred years of civilization to us? History and its riches are wasted on us, and we don’t deserve any of it. What we do seem to deserve is that our government make a mockery of our heritage, earn their kickbacks and continue to let us die in our under-serviced hospitals of diseases caused by the pipes they won’t replace and the immunizations they didn’t provide to the children they did nothing to control the proliferation of. It’s all because of us parhay-likhay log, who knew and still didn’t step up. Goodbye, my beloved Lahore. I’m sorry my children will never know you as you were. I am heartsick that I took so much from you and didn’t give anything back when it was needed the most, and this is my moment of silence.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com