Smooth roads with voluptuous curves; the dashingly ascending and descending over-bridges traversing through tall houses around; the luminous billboards exhibiting comely models; the bazaars fizzing with verve, and the slimly striding Metro are some of the glamours which incarnate the city of Lahore — new and different from the one it used to be exactly five years back. If any of its inhabitants, having been out of the country for last some years, touches back now, he will be lost if made to stand in the midst of the city.
So much has changed — the bridges, underpasses, the newly carved gardens, parks and roads have given it an altogether new and modern look. But as you leave the land of roads and bridges and just cross the River Ravi, you start feeling big bumps under your vehicle and receive heavy horizontal and vertices jerks that can sometimes cause serious harm.
This uneven, bumpy and cast-away region is called Shahdara. Yes, the same Shahdara where the son of the famous Mughal-e-Azam, Prince Jahangir, and his wife Nur Jahan lie in their graves under the stately tombs. Though the last northern part of Lahore, it lacks the lustre and attention which the rest of Lahore proudly claims to have.
There are four Shahdaras on the globe: the first one is a territory of Delhi in India situated on the bank of Yamuna River, the second Shahdara is a lush green hilly resort in the suburbs of Islamabad, thethird one is in Bahawalpur, and thefourth one is an area of Lahore, which is being discussed.
Despite being neglected for decades by the rulers of the city, the people of Shahdara have always been diehard loyal to the PML-N, and they rarely felt disgruntled over the poor state of negligence. This area, in a way, bears quite a semblance to that of rural Sindh which the PPP government has always exploited to secure votes and left to its dilapidated condition. The people of rural Sindh have never felt cloyed with raising the slogans of Bhutto for the last forty years; in the same way, the naïve people of Shahdara never let a furrow pucker their brows when it comes to their endeared Sharifs. Anybody, albeit unknown, can come down through a parachute in Shahdara and contest the election and eventually win if patted by the Sharifs of Jati Umra. Such is the regard as exists in the bosoms of the locals of this marooned region.
In the general elections of 2013, the parachuted candidate from the provincial seat was Khawaja Imran Nazir. He came, won, and went away, never to be traced back by the commonfolks. His runner-up, Yasir Gilani, has devoted all his life for the locals. Though not a member of provincial assembly, he keeps waking, walking and working for the inhabitants. But as for votes, the people turn their faces from him, for he does not hail from the horde of lions. However, he crossed his fingers when I met him. “Change will one day creep into the lives of the locals” he resolved. If talked about the most significant thing Shahdara feels elated on; it will be its education. It is the hub of private coaching centres, colleges and academies. As you start moving along the G.T. Road, you are wonder-struck at the multifarious banners and boards carrying conspicuous messages as to the provision of education.
The academics here contend that Lahore has the best quality education in Punjab, and the area which excels in Lahore in education is Shahdara. “The area manages to bag top positions in every exam of boards and universities, especially the top positions of B.A. are snatched mostly by the students of Shahdara every year,” puts Adil Khaleaque, a renowned academic figure in the area. Dr Muhammad Anwar Jamal, a former CSSofficer,running an education foundation in the vicinity, told me with a panache of self-worth in his vein, “the heedless attitude shown by the rulers to this area holds a dime’s worth for us, we take our strength from the quality education system which we are committed to giving to the children of the area.”
There are also many other things which grace Shahdara. Rustam Sohran Cycle factory, Millat Tractors Limited, and then Lajpat Road named after Lala Lajpat Rai are a few marked things to be named.
A worth-mentioning part of Shahdara, which is hidden from the folks of distant regions, is Yousaf Park. The crucial fact of this locality is that our Afghan brothers are not only in the majority here but also in authority. “We are not Afghans now, we are Pakistanis and hold Pakistani nationality,” one of them told me. They now contest elections at local body levels and secure seats, too.
One thing I have known during my research on Shahdara is that the dwellers and settlers of this region least bother about being ignored; they have developed their own sources from where they derive their strength. “If good and paved roads, skyscrapers, elegant buildings, bridges and underpasses are made as touchstone to development and progress of a society, then many of the societies — having clayed houses and unpaved streets, but oozing with profusion of knowledge — will cease to be progressive,” articulated a known academic of the area.
The writer is a lecturer of English and can be reached at email@example.com