Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What has happened to the world we live in?

What has happened to the world around us?
There used to be a time when school related worries included unprepared tests, incomplete homework, upcoming sports trials, lost text books and occasional tiff with friends.
Since when did security issues and bomb explosions come into the picture?
But they are in the picture now.
On Monday morning all kids leaving for school arrived back home few minutes later as schools in Cantt and Defense area of Lahore were closed on government directive. All of them have been asked to beef up security. Since then, boundary walls are higher, security cameras scan all entrances and no one is allowed in or out of the campuses with out proper identification and search. If one happens to pass a school these days it resembles a government controlled, high security restricted area rather than an institution of learning. Keeping in view the fact that a fake bomb was planted in one of these schools last year; the steps undertaken are not unreasonable at all. The bomb mercifully turned out to be fake but the panic it created was real enough.
But that was last year.
What ever decency that prevailed in the minds of the terrorist up till last year has expired by now. Yesterday a bomb exploded in a university in Islamabad killing six and injuring several students.
I can not even begin to imagine the anguish of the parents whose children had left in the morning only never to return home again.
The price of education was never so high.
What kind of a crazy world do we live in where even schools and innocent children are not safe from acts of hatred and violence?
I am reminded of a phrase that I heard in Warner Brothers’ “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” that I was watching last week
“These are mad times we live in”
And I agree as Dumbledore had agreed by saying.
“Indeed they are.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A trip down memory lane

Right across the entrance of the underground market on “the mall” there is a road that descends diagonaly downward. It is difficult to miss, especially for those with a strong olfactory sense as most of the poultry and meat shops are located on its steep incline. It is called Memory Lane. Actually it is only the road that leads to what is known as the lower mall of Murree, but I call it memory lane because lots of my childhood memories are associated with it.
For those who are not familiar with Murree’s lower mall region, it is where the real Murree still exists: not the commercially developed, thronging with tourists’ part of Murree but the part where the local population dwells. Unlike the upper mall or the mall road as it is more commonly called, this part consists of an endless crisscross of narrow, dark, unhygienic passages which are filthy yet at the same time absolutely fantastic.
For all those who have the stomach for it I would recommend a trip down this lane. (But be prepared for cramps on the way back. Remember what goes down has to come back up again and on foot. There are no fancy chairlifts around here). The way is simple; keep going down till you hit thana Murree or the Murree police station. Here the road takes a 180 degree turn and enters immediately into a bazzar which is frequented by the local population, unlike the mall which is favored by the tourists and visitors. Take any lane turning right from this bazzar road and loose yourself in a network of alleys that constitute what I consider as the actual Murree.
How do I know all this?
Simple; as a child I spent countless summers in a rented house situated amongst the many depilated houses that exist here.
The houses here were small and badly in need of repair but they fascinated me anyway. The house that you see in the picture was my favorite because it could only be entered by crossing the bridge in front. The lower and upper portions were two separate residences. Weather they were connected to each other from the inside or not, I never got to find out.
My grandparents’ house was much more straightforward and (from a child’s point of view) not as exciting as the house with the bridge entrance, but it was, nonetheless, clean and spacious, which is more than what I can say for most accommodations in that area.
The rent was paid on annual basis so the house was available to us throughout the year but it was in summers that cousins from all over the country collected there during school vacations. It is now hard to believe how we spent so many days over there without Television, Computer or any of the electronic distractions, with out which survival today seems impossible. (Actually TV was there even then but since those were the pre cable days PTV programs alone were not enough to hold the attention of a group of energetic youngsters)
But there were other pleasures that kids today don’t have time to enjoy. I can still vividly recall the anticipated joy of a 7 year old girl who used to leave the window open for clouds to come in as they slowly descended to cover the beautiful hills of Murree, and then her sheer delight as they finally arrived to fill the entire room with their white wet cloudy mist.

My grandparents’ no longer rent that house. They are now too old to plan trips to Murree or anywhere else. Much has changed in Murree since my childhood days. Murree is no longer the summer retreat of the colonial era. It’s proximity to Islamabad and easy accessibility has made it a favorite picnic and vacation spot all year round. I have nothing against people visiting Murree during any season. It boosts local economy and supports the local population. What does pain me however, is the thoughtless construction of shopping plazas all over the place that have not only destroyed the magnificent view of Murree hills from the mall but have also given the once wide and beautiful road a congested and claustrophobic feeling.
In spite of all the transformation it has gone through, good and bad included, the mall is an essential part of Murree. It is what gives this place character and life. Without “the mall” Murree would be just another hill station, very picturesque but at the same time dull and extremely boring

Murree has slowly evolved as a shopper’s paradise but even if one is not much of a shopper, there are other places of interest also, like the Iqbal Municipal Library which used to provide me with endless supply of story books during the long summer days. Admittedly the collection of books in the library is sparse and attendance is even lower. Nestled conveniently above shops full of customers, right in the center of mall, most people are not even aware of its existence.
There also used to be a cinema near GPO for people who enjoyed that kind of entertainment, but it is not there anymore. It was taken down some years ago to make way for yet another plaza.
Still, all is not bad. There still exist some structures that have remained intact and more or less unchanged over the years. One of them is the church of Murree which has been there since the colonial period. I hope it remains the way it is. Any attempts to change or modernize it would destroy the majestic beauty of its structure
Despite all the changes, some that I like some that I don’t, Murree is still my favorite get away. And it is not just because of the fond memories of my early years associated with that place, it is because regardless of all the constructions and obstructions, the hills of Murree are still beautiful, the pines still stand tall and proud on the slopes, the air is still crisp and fresh and life still moves at a leisurely pace around here.
What more could one ask for?