On April 4 2012, a group of final year students from the NCA Rawalpindi Fine Art Department, performed the “Living Newspaper” at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi. This is on a day when Murree Road was blocked for a strike protesting the rising petrol and gas prices. In a way, it made sense for them to perform the agony (and ecstacy) of the news in public. Unfortunately, not many people were lying about at the Liaquat Bagh. I have often stared vacantly into Liaquat Bagh, to and from work since late 2007. Usually I see many people sprawling or sleeping on the grass as if the park was their personal space. In my head, I see it as a public bedroom. It has many romantic connotations – a bed of grass and a ceiling of sky. Considering the history of the park, one has to stop and wonder at how this space becomes a bedroom for so many people.
The Public Bedroom
Liaquat National Bagh (Park), usually just referred to as Liaquat Bagh (Urdu: لیاقت باغ), is a famous park on Murree Road in the city of Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan.
Two Prime Minsters of Pakistan have been assassinated in this park.
The park was formerly known as Municipal Park, but was renamed “Liaquat National Bagh (Park)” after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951. It is known as a place for political gatherings and for speeches. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December 2007 while leaving an election rally at the park.
One would think that this park was relevant to the Living Newspaper performance. However, it was used because it was most convenient on the day of the strike. Responding to convenience is usually the next best thing.
Following are some pictures from the performance in the public bedroom:
What I observed was a general apathy – a sleeping nation. I have no right to make sweeping statements, really. Some people roused themselves when the students seemed to be making a commotion (one performance involved loud shouting which gained some attention). I read the entire experience like an experiment of sorts. I have been accused of apathy time and again. It was interesting to see that everyone was apathetic. They didn’t really give a shit. These are the masses (well, a small fraction of the masses) that are referenced in everything – conversation, as expected (or unexpected) audience and in the news. It was hot and they were tired. They wanted some entertainment. Humor was gladly accepted. They were also confused about what we were doing there. One individual thought we were silly “not involving the media” in our cause. Did we have a cause? Did it seem like we did? I had a marvelous time.
He wanted to get his picture taken.
Ha! The work of an aspiring smart-ass
I might get your heart racing
In my skin-tight jeans
Be your teenage dream tonight
Conformity: 1. Correspondence in form or appearance 2. Acting according to certain accepted standards.
The space called art-school is an interesting construct. You can find all kinds of sub-cultures within this space. Justinian the Bieber illustrates such a reality. The dream of Success, or Love can also be found within this space. Individuals that bring with them the burden of various languages and cultures come together in this space to create the dream of the art-school.
Now all that might sound like a bunch of bull to most but I’ve been watching and learning. This particular art-school construct is far more interesting since it is a spin-off of a much older parent in a much more culturally laden city. This art-school exists in a city known for its military past and within a space where (important) people were assassinated. It’s a bubble inside a bigger bubble of fear and terror and everyday urban happenings. This art-school is an idea within many other ideas, guarded by barbed wire and barriers and bored security. This art-school is an anomaly yet it fits the idea too well sometimes.
Here the boys and girls from far-flung “remote areas” wear their skin-tight jeans and their bandannas and paint their faces and build dreams. Frankly, it overwhelms me sometimes. Another interesting take on this is here. Very interesting.
In trying to connect pop-culture with sub-culture and further with the idea of the art-school I’ve managed to draw no hard conclusions. The best I can do is observe and state what I see. This is a phenomenon that deserves further study as far as I am concerned. Also, it is very late at night and I am heavily medicated as usual. Hence, the random musing.
In Rawalpindi (or Pindi) I see many exciting things besides the profound car-stickers and burning tires. The following is my latest discovery:
What is that?
I was born and raised in Karachi and I’ve always lived in cities. I’m not very familiar with animals that have aunty-like asses stuck to their tails. I watched this animal closely – it looked like a cross between a dog, a goat and an aunty. But it had testicles so it must be an uncle instead. One couldn’t be sure. Maybe it was as uncle on his way to becoming an aunty.
Anyway, since I write commentaries on aunties often, this image seemed very relevant to my research on Pakistani Aunties (and now Uncles).
As always, amongst all the treasures on Murree Road, Rawalpindi, I found this:
No Rulz. This profundity brings to mind all kinds of possibilities:
- The word NO rules. Say NO to everything. Say NO to reason and sense. Say NO to education that would build a nation. Say NO to basic human rights. Say NO to decency and morality. Just say NO.
- Ignore RULES. They are for morons who want to be boring. On the road especially, ignore all the RULES of the road. Never indicate when you’re about to turn into a lane. Never brake at a red light. That’s just a dumb RULE for the safety of the countless morons on the road. Get rid of all your mirrors and ride into the sunset. RULES are for no-good losers who want to live or want their children to live. Life is for losers and so are RULES.
- There are NO RULZ (NO RULES). No fucking way. Deny everything. It’s great to have NO RULZ. It’s great to be here - in this time and place with NO RULZ.
For over three years now, I take Murree Road to work and then back to Islamabad. It sounds like a great road – it’s name inspiring thoughts of pretty hills (now not so pretty but even so) and cool breezes. In reality, this road is a traffic-infested hell that I have to endure atleast twice a day – every working day and sometimes even on the weekends. And it’s almost always noisy and sweltering most of the year.
Today, it got exceptionally hot when protesters decided to – well, protest in rush hour (which on Murree Road, is every hour) and held up a whole lot of traffic which was already threatening to push my little (and hopelessly useless) vehicle on to a kerb or into large menacing “wagons” (that’s what they call the dangerously swerving Toyota Hiaces which serve as buses and are overflowing with sweating people) or even larger menacing SUVs with tinted windows and important looking number plates.
Tires were burning everywhere and the smell was making things worse. People (mostly young boys with school bags) were standing around grinning. Some people were holding banners. Near the Benazir Bhutto Hospital, things got more serious. There was a huge fire and people were shouting. I think I spent about 2 hours stuck in all of that and I never did get to work. However work did manage to come to me but that is another story for another time.
I got two lame pictures from my phone that I’m posting here. The huge fire was too impressive for me to remember to click. I guess I’m just getting slow in my old age.
The smaller fires
I spent about 45 minutes watching at this point as the protesters got bored and left to protest somewhere else. In retrospect, I should have gotten more pictures.
Notice how some people (including some policemen) are just standing around and watching
Soon, more people collected and random beggars appeared on the scene. This also reminds me – there were policemen everywhere and they were standing around and some were yawning. Others were more watchful but they kept a safe distance. It was very hot and everyone was sweating. A begging woman with a very drugged-looking baby kept telling me that I should give her a thousand rupees and when I rolled up the window, she kept knocking. She was very serious about her job.
Eventually, I had to turn around and it took me a while to come back home. On my way back, the same drugged-looking child was being carried around by another begging woman while the previous one sat on the kerb eating something.
I wonder what these protests will achieve. On a brighter note, my kids managed to get to Islamabad and we had excellent discussions in random places. We went to Bari Imam (a shrine for a saint) and documented/recorded rituals. We also spoke to exotic looking old people who were very happy about being photographed. In the shrine, life went on as always. The protests seemed very far away and dream-like.
(Yes, I stole the title from Ursula LeGuin)
I’m thinking about going home from work and I get an sms – Murree Road is blocked due to protests. Yesterday, when Shahbaz Bhatti (the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs) was shot and killed, there were burning tires on Murree Road. Today, the road is completely blocked. And my reaction was “oh well, now what?” And then, I thought what the hell? What is happening to me? What do I feel? The truth is, I don’t know what to feel.
Dispossessed: Physically or spiritually homeless or deprived of security.
I don’t know where my soul lives anymore. Sometimes, I feel tired. Sometimes, I feel afraid. And sometimes, I feel NOTHING. And even that tires me.
Every working day (and sometimes, the weekend too), I spend around 2 hours commuting to work on Murree Road, Rawalpindi. This is a road of many mysteries and while I struggle with anxiety and claustrophobia and the mortal fear of being hit by everything thats moving all at once (cars, taxis, donkey carts, rickshaws, crazy jay-walkers and helmet-free motorcyclists – sometimes three to four on one motorcyle – the list can go on for pages), I contemplate these wonderful mysteries. Today I saw something that really boggled my mind (not that there is much of that left these days):
Now I’m sure we’ve all seen (those of us living in these here parts anyway) the “no fear” stickers on cars and taxis (beside “no tension” and those weird hoodies with no faces that attempt some kind of ghetto symbolism) but this one caught my eye (after my friend pointed it out – she was driving) and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So, I had to theorize; the most relevant possibilities are:
No Afair: The taxi-wala has no affairs with anyone. Not even his taxi. Now most people here have huge affairs with their cabs, buses and trucks. So, it is a pessimistic declaration. This taxi-wala is one sad person. He could be contemplating suicide. It could be a cry for help!
No Afair: The taxi-wala has no fear and just couldn’t spell. His sticker guy couldn’t spell either. Now that’s perfectly ok because nobody here can spell much. Besides, they got AFFAIR wrong too so it’s alright. He has no fear and will hit my car or anybody’s car without really giving a shit. His taxi is SuperTaxi and he has No Afair.
No Afair: Last, but not least, the taxi-wala thinks life is not fair. So he declares No Afair with great confidence. Everyone knows life isn’t fair. It just isn’t, has never been and never will be. This taxi-wala is a realist with a pragmatic view on life that he likes to share with everyone. He can’t spell but thats ok too because life isn’t afair. No Afair!
I’m sure it could mean many other things. That’s the wondrous, magical thing about these cryptic stickers! Life isn’t fair but it can be mysterious. Now we can all die happy.