I have been meaning to add to the ATP discussion on the architecture of the 7 (or is it 5?) -star hotel (here, here and here). Pakistan’s recent financial-isation and commercialization of its aesthetics is saddening. I am reminded of this beautiful verse in urdu:
Ek ham hain liya apni hi soorat ko bigaar
Ek woh hain junhay tasveer bana aati hai
Loosely translated (for the non-Urdu readers)
Here are we who have distorted their own countenance
And there are those who know how to create newer images
The inspiration for this post comes from an image of the Lahore Railway Station sent to me by my J. Brommel. Once a regal specimen of the Raj architecture and a landmark of Lahore it is losing its grandeur. The sad part is that these are not-so-old Raj structures. Forget the Mughals and the eras before. What has happened to the Lahore Railway Station is a metaphor for transnational control and the rise of marketing gods.
The photos below from Harappa.com show the Lahore’s majestic Station in 1895 and 1995. As the top image shows that in a little over ten years, it looks so different. Unregulated commercialization!
I am not against modernity nor naive enough to ignore the fact that population pressures and globalization are pressing issues. However, losing the character of our cities and historical landmarks is just depressing.
My friend S. Mumtaz writing in the Friday Times (September 1-7, 2006) noted:
Driving through Defence [Lahore], you cannot ignore that it is not only trees ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ like Jacaranda and Bottle Brush ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ that are imported, but even the architecture of houses that reflects an ‘imported’ look. You see all these residences with tiled, sloping roofs and huge glass windows, both of which are completely inappropriate in a place where it does not snow, and the sun is so harsh, that the extensive use of glass traps hot air in the buildings, necessitating the use of air-conditioners. Can’t help wondering where we see ourselves headed.
Commenting on the trend to expand constructed area, she further remarks:
I realise that both our urgency to urbanise and our reluctance to grow local trees, have the same root cause. The value of the design of our house, office, neighbourhood and city, as well as the … What does matter, is that this design and this plant should look ‘imported.’ The further away it comes from, the more we esteem it.
The only reason that comes to mind is that we must be ashamed of ourselves. We have internalised a cultural inferiority that embarrasses us of any association that reminds us of our roots, of our own indigenous selves….
Having lost confidence in what our own culture and local wisdom had to offer, we have lost knowledge of it too. We are now desperate to fill ourselves and our surroundings with indicators of the cultural, racial and economic superiority of the ‘foreign.’
Ironically, we embrace our own wisdom when it comes back to us, neatly packaged via the West…
Using the lens of the ‘foreigner,’ we see ourselves categorised as ‘crude,’ ‘boorish,’ ‘uncultured’ and ‘uncivilised.’ We then make every effort to prove our distance from all those practices that typify these traits.
And what happens when we follow this route?
I guess we really become ridiculous caricatures of what we are not.
And now the emerging elites (read estate dons, powerful brokers, commodities’ dealers and other groups that wield enormous power in Pakistan) want to replicate a hideous version of the Burj in Islamabad in the form of The Centaurus–the hotel with the indeterminate number of stars!. Good luck to them and good-bye to our centuries’ old traditions of art, architecture and public aesthetics.
As I was concluding this post, another shocking image hit me courtesy the Daily Times (17 September, 2006). The caption to Abid Nawaz’s photograph reads:
The tomb of Bahadur Zafar Jang on the canal is decorated for a wedding, in violation of all conservation laws.
What else is there left to say.
Raza Rumi is an international development professional. More can be found at Raza RumiÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s blog: Jahane Rumi.