These days much debate is going on breaking walls of the Governor House, Lahore. It has been called frivolous, a pseudo attempt to divert attention from real problems of life. This remark by Mr. Ayaz Mir, a senior journalist, has astounded me, and I am wondering what the real problem is: the life or living this life? Someone else remarked, would they now demand for demolishing walls around Punjab University and other educational institutions as well? And I was flabbergasted at this question. Should the universities be walled? Frankly speaking I never liked the walls around PU or GC or KE or UET for that matter; it kills the openness, the accessibility to these seats of higher learning. Higher education was no more elitist; it had to be egalitarian in 21st century. Why ivory towers then? Why these walls then? Break these walls; otherwise, shrouded in a coffin, beauty gets hidden from the public eye.
In my childhood for years I wished that I could be in GC or KE whenever passing by them. I loved the gardens, and Al Hamdulilah I got into GC. I used to get on the 1st floor of Psychology Department and used to look at the trees of Nasir Bagh. It gave me a sense of freedom and opened my heart and soul. I could look far in the sky searching for my own dreams. This openness and freedom was killed by extremists’ and terrorists’ attacks. All educational institutions became protected fortresses. They are dutifully and mercilessly guarded. You cannot enter without a pass to your own alma mater. I remember that few years back on my husband’s retirement, I chose to celebrate it by visiting those places, where all had begun. Of course GC was the first land mark, but the gatekeeper won’t let us in because it was late in the evening and we had no appointment with anyone. At last the gatekeeper was gracious enough to honor our request, and let us enter in the front ground only to get some pictures in backdrop of GC Tower. Any old Ravian can sense my joy.
But many alumni can feel the pain when they enter into their institutions as strangers. Even if a student’s card is expired or he/she loses the card, entry into the institution becomes difficult. The people who enter you daily will blatantly refuse to admit you. How then the students will ever learn to own the place, brand the place according to market economy? Whether emotions of true belongingness can be sold or bought? What about entering into an organization to which you have dedicated a significant portion of your life? Is it easy to bid it farewell? What if a retired worker of governor house wants to show his/her grandchild the place where he/she had worked? How would any worker share moments of joy and pride with their grandchildren, whose life has become meaningless and empty without that job title? I have watched the retired officers of US consulate to undergo rigorous security protocols to receive their pensions and get visa refusals, once, who very proudly used to get many stamped their visas.
Although, the modern diction of teaching and learning proudly claims that learning is not restricted to any time and space. Why then entry into educational institutions is so difficult? And when you enter one, you are trapped inside losing contact with the outside world. It is not good for body, mind or soul. We have become caged birds. In some institutions the punishment is so severe that one feel like jailed in a cell without a window, where no fresh air and no natural light peeps in. Depression is the natural outcome of this deprivation. No doubt by 2050 people will die more of depression than by any other disease. Science and technology had promised us happiness and quality of life but this Treasure Island seems light years away. Alas! There was no enlightenment to brighten our smiles, to shower bounties of health and wealth upon us.
We have forgotten what our basic needs to live a sustainable life are? We need to remind ourselves that food comes much after; our prime needs are fresh air and fresh water to survive as living beings on this earth. Do we get it outside our homes? We travel in an air-conditioned car to get into air-conditioned but suffocated offices to cut ourselves with the natural atmosphere and again get back to lock ourselves in our air-conditioned bedrooms. We cannot exist unconditionally. We cannot bear changes in natural environment, increasing heat or cold, and quickly revert back to our conditioned settings.
Has anybody ever thought: what is the outcome of this conditioned environment on human soul who yearns for freedom? In the conditioned environment of workplace performance is demanded. And people work like pigeons and keep pecking to get incentives. We salivate whenever new project is announced as if it will eternally free us from the prison. Instead, in any other conditioned environment the new incentive is put into place before you end your previous project and one thinks, let me go through another run ...aik gunah aur sahi ...!
It is indeed a sin to keep yourself locked in unnatural and unhealthy environments which are blocking you away from the natural environment, which are prohibiting you to look at rising and setting sun and contemplate on it, and which are refusing you to count the birds who visit your living place for food and shelter.
Yesterday, when I visited a park near my home, I sensed for the first time that sparrows and other small birds are missing from our environment. Perhaps after watching Robot 2.0 I have become more conscious. I tried to remember when I had seen a sparrow around me, but I could not remember. Yes five years ago when I lived in Johar Town, Lahore, a huge number of sparrows lived on the Asoka trees in the backyard of our neighbors. I had loved their flying away in the morning and then returning home in the evening.
I had shifted to Bahria Town, Lahore deceived by the impression of its pseudo natural environment. I did not allow a big keekar tree in front of my house to be cut; I thought that sparrows will build their nest in this tree; but after 5 years not a single sparrow has visited my house. I see crows and I see cuckoos, but no tota (parrot) and maina (she-parrot) and no doves and other colorful small birds. Although the real Trafalgar Square is always crowded by pigeons, the replica in Bahria Town is all clear of the noise and beets of pigeons. Ah! I don’t know whether it is a good or bad sign? I see fexes and palms and other ever green trees grown all around me. I miss neem, peepal, amaltas, kasni, toot, jamun and the tall sheesham? Where have you gone?
I have grown up with the habit of sweet smelling Amaltas (casia fistula) and roses around. I always feel myself watching intently on the Rose Garden of Lahore College for Women and the dense trees of Nasir Bagh, where the green shade of every tree was different from the other, and I am so poor in knowledge that I don’t know even the names of those trees. I asked my daughter in law MPhil in Botany from GC, but she also could not tell me the names of many trees.
It means that our new generation will not know the names of trees and birds, the true inhabitants of this soil. The names of those birds and trees will be in story books if the digital economy would allow entering these names and brands in their conditioned environment.
With sorrowful heart I bid farewell to my freedom and take oath to live in this conditioned environment regulated by a time bind, acknowledging that this pact will snatch everything natural from my life, my health and my happiness. So you are free to criticize breaking of walls, raising poultry, fish and cattle. I am sorry that I still breathe in your unnatural polluted air and still yearn for drop of fresh water.