No one has ever thought of constructing a flyover for ambulances or even of widening the road that leads to Mayo Hospital’s emergency
Public places can present a fairly genuine picture of society. Liberty Market Lahore is one such place. At Liberty, you will find people who regularly frequent the market for shopping, boys who come to ogle at women, those who own fancy expensive shops, those who encroach upon the pavement to sell their wares, and those who exhibit their penury to solicit alms from visitors. In certain ways, Liberty offers a miniature of what Pakistan is, and what it aspires to be.
Liberty Market is located in Gulberg III, which happens to be one of the most uptown areas of the city. Gulberg has the widest thoroughfares, the tallest shopping malls and the greatest number of company outlets. Most of the city’s restaurants with unpronounceable foreign names are located in Gulberg. Liberty Market is hence elitist, but it is also frequented by people from the lower-income bracket. There are plenty of Italian fashion labels, Swiss watch retailers, and fancy burger joints. The billboards that dazzle with these labels are interspersed with desi (local) names. They belong to tailors, to old shops that sell fruit juices, and to those who offer locally made garments.
People who visit Liberty are a mixed lot. The ‘in’ labels and the multi-storied departmental stores cater to the DHA-, Gulberg-, Model Town-dwelling elite. To target this lot, there are ample mendicants of all hues, but since it is Liberty, it brings the best and worst of what everyone has to offer. The beggars fall in three categories: the senile, the disabled, and the deformed. Senility and disability elicit sympathy; it’s somehow ‘right’ to help them, occasionally though. Helping them might ward off bad luck, or keep the house safe from burglars. Deformity usually evokes repulsion. Super rich folks attempt to shield their children from such visually upsetting sights. The unfortunate deformed beggar thus tries to grab a visible spot to exhibit what appears most grotesque to this lot. Apparently, the super rich will throw something his way just to prevent him from getting close. It seems to work fine.
At Liberty, you can also spot social welfare kiosks set up by different outfits. These stands are also found in most public places in major cities. These NGOs collect donations for earthquake, famine and drought victims in the outposts of the country. It would seem that faith-based welfare would fare better in the downtown that houses the conservative lower middle class. But suffering, when emphasised in visual terms, seems to strike the right cord.
The greatest number of desi spots belongs to tailors. These are tailors who work independently and not with renowned labels. There are rows specific to tailors who stich for ladies. In a reflection of society’s gender norms, all stitcheries are invariably run by men. It should be ironic for a culture that celebrates outward manifestations of masculinity. We sometimes make fun of male bridal designers, metrosexual celebrities, cross-dressers and transvestites (even though some TV personalities might take it too far). The situation begs the question, why aren’t there any female tailors around?
In a patriarchal culture, since women depend upon men, it makes sense that it is men who must drape them. Having rows of female tailors would in some way constitute an independent sphere for exclusive female activity. Arguably, an issue as delicate as what women should wear cannot be completely left to them. The male tailor’s presence is perhaps mandatory in this scenario. The equation is also paradoxical in the sense that the male tailor is apparently in a passive role. The lady gives most of the instructions, but the contours of the dress, the fundamentals of what can and cannot be stitched are already given. These sartorial laws are inviolable. The situation offers itself for an interesting interpretation. The male tailor is passively active; he must obey the lady client since she is the one who will make the payment. At the same time, the fundamentals that the sewing will abide by cannot be tampered with. The lady client, while seemingly in a position of authority, is in fact subservient to male rules of garb.
Liberty also reflects the state of the country’s major cities. There are plenty of state-of-the-art shopping malls, magnificently lit top-floor restaurants and marble-floored pavements. In the same marketplace, there also littered dark alleys with shops permanently shuttered down. There is plenty of filth and refuse here. Some of the adjoining streets have potholes and poor lighting and sewerage. It is just like Lahore and Pakistan. There are serene gated communities like DHA, Faziaia and EME. Then there is the dirty, deprived, dilapidated rest of Lahore. Some of the oldest parts of the city, those that have the imprint of different historical periods and ancient cultures, are the worst kept. The trend of cementing this upscale/downscale divide in Lahore is replicated elsewhere in the country.
For decades there has been no major infrastructure development at the Shah Alam Market, Hall Road, Do Moria Pull, Gari Shahu, Landa Bazar, etc. These remain the most choked and derelict parts of the city. For example, you can spot many an ambulance clogged in traffic, bleating its siren with passengers waiting helplessly on Katcheri Road leading to Mayo Hospital. No one has ever thought of constructing a flyover for ambulances or even of widening the road that leads to Mayo Hospital’s emergency. In sharp contrast, troves of cash have been spent on widening uptown thoroughfares in Gulberg, Cantonment, and the elitist suburban housing schemes that keep cropping up regularly. In many ways, Liberty is like Lahore and so is Pakistan.