Every year instead of being happy as the people of this land automatically become once spring comes, we place bans of the festival of colour, of kites painting up the sky, of music and of good seasonal food. The saffron of the fields reflect our inner feelings. It surely does occur to every true Lahori just why do our religious ‘experts’, whom the establishment remains scared of, want Basant banned.
Punjab notes: Basant: yellow fields and Lahore’s colourless sky
First they said it was a Hindu festival, which scholars proved as an incorrect assertion because every place on mother earth, all with varying religions, has its Spring Festival. The Spaniards fling tomatoes at each other. The English feast and do the Morris Dance. The French celebrate with cheese and lubricants and wear ancient costumes. The Chinese and the Russian all have this festival. It is truly a festival of the people of the world, or a new hope in the future.
But ‘NO’, we are different, we do not want to continue with traditions of the past. For crying out loud even Mahmud of Ghazni enjoyed his time in Lahore for there is a miniature painting in the British Museum with kites in the sky and his beautiful Georgian slave by his side. I will not mention the glasses in front of him lest the pious get offended.
But let us be rational for a change and reason and question the sticking points in this debate, which is basically between happiness and piety, which the ‘pious’ have converted to a ‘life-threatening’ excuse.
For thousands of years on the fifth of Magha of the lunar calendar, which in 2019 falls on the 10th of February, people all over the sub-continent, more so in Punjab, celebrate Basant, or Basant Panchami. On this day the people pray for a healthy crop, and they celebrate the yellow flowering of the fields by wearing yellow clothes, enjoying fresh ‘saag’ with ‘makai ke roti’ (with butter on it), and then there is the ‘dhool’ and traditional dancing and folk songs and to top it all colourful kites are flown and in the competition there is jest and playful taunts. What an amazing transformation comes over the people. It is truly amazing.
In the days of Maharajah Ranjit Singh he declared a 10-day holiday and his soldiers wore bright yellow costumes to compete at dancing and kite-flying, not to speak of other delightful pastimes. The British encouraged it for as one report states, “it provides a very positive outlet for a hard-pressed people”. In Mughal days the rulers and their subjects all celebrated. There has never been a problem.
But let us not close our eyes to why the government wanted to ban this festival. There is two main reasons why this ban was put in place. Firstly, there were a few fatalities of speeding motorcyclists after kite string cut their throats. Secondly, the police found it impossible to impose restrictions for want of manpower. Yes, let us accept these and try to explain its context.
In the pre-motorcycle era, which basically starts from the 1990s onwards, there were a few deaths but because of youngsters falling off rooftops. Mind you Lahore has the world’s most dense household to motorcycle ratio with 1.7 machines for every household of seven persons. Yes Sir, we have 4.3 million motorcycles. It is because of the utter lack of public transportation that this situation has come about. Why blame the people just because the State has failed in their responsibility.
Now what exactly happens? If a youngster is speeding his motorcycle and a kite string moves across his line of direction, he is going to get hurt. It is simple common sense. But then even children get hurt playing cricket with a few fatalities being reported. These mind you are less than kite-flying. To take the argument to an extreme, the number of deaths from people crossing the road are higher than kite-flying deaths. That is why zebra-crossings and pavements are made and people disciplined to follow the law.
This was never a problem in days gone by because people never used motorcycles like they do now. So to accommodate them what should be done? We are out to suggest solutions. Firstly specific areas must be marked out for kite-flying within a given time frame. In Lahore it should be the Walled City which should include the old Minto Park, the areas around the tomb of Madho Lal Hussain, in the Allama Iqbal ground and in the Racecourse Park. Just for one day the roads around them should not allow motorcyclists and riders without a crash helmet. Also these motorcyclists must operate within a speed limit of only 15 mph. That will surely eliminate any fatality. This is a very reasonable restriction and all for the good of the motorcyclists themselves.
About the police not having the manpower there could be a public-police co-operation to ensure a happy Basant. Police should simply patrol on foot in twos with a smile on their faces. If there is celebratory gunfire then the owner of the house should be locked up for six months. A set of rules can be framed and every household owner informed of his or her responsibility. It is best to take the people along rather than treat them as criminals.
Why is Basant important in this age of commercialism? It provides considerable livelihood to a lot of people. It promotes a positive image about Pakistan, which is a much-needed breathing space in a country with an ugly image of terrorism. It also provides the people with an excuse to be happy. What could be better for our cities and our people? One hopes the learned court pondering on this matter will keep our suggestions in mind. Happiness matters. Image matters. Our values and traditions matter.