Basant ends in style
By Khawaja Naseer
LAHORE: The city’s government-sponsored basant gala that began on February 8 and attracted over one million people concluded here on Sunday evening.
President Pervez Musharraf also celebrated the colourful festival that included high-ranking government officials, the Sindh chief minister, the Punjab governor and foreign diplomats from the United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States, in particular.
An international hotel - situated on the Mall that houses one of Gulberg’s famous business tycoons, Aqueel Ahmad - especially attracted most of the country’s top personalities who had also crowded the hotel for a musical function.
The festival that marks the beginning of spring was officially held at various parts of the city – thanks to the local government, which successfully managed to organize it in collaboration with the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) and the Punjab Tourism Department.
Although the Lahore Fort saw the biggest crowd magnet – a mega function that was a combined effort by the Fast Food Company and the PHA - it turned out to be the biggest flop in the end due to the organisers’ mismanagement. And many of the distinguished guests who thought were left cold decided to quit earlier than expected.
Ali Muhammad Mehr, the Sindh Chief Minister, and other government officials such as Ali Raze Gillian, Mian Islam Iqbal Minister for Tourism, IG Punjab Masod Shah, former IG Mali Asif Hayat, Former chief secretary Imtiaz Masroor and diplomats were present amid the large crowd that was literally more hypnotized by a musical show than by kite-flying.
Shahi Hamam and the Mall’s Sadiq Plaza also joined the list of crowd pullers as thousands of people, including government and tourism officials, gathered to witness a much bigger extravaganza that was arranged by the Tourism Development Corporation.
Surprisingly, the country’s leading politicians too decided to leave politics behind for a while and enjoy the basant as a galaxy of them gathered at the havali of Mian Yousaf Salah-ud-Din on Sunday. The third biggest event, organized by Pakistan Television, took place at the Government Girls College in Chuna Mandi where leading TV and cinema artistes.
Historically, this ancient festival – which is expected to continue for another two days – marks the beginning of the crop harvest when mustards bloom and farmers begin celebrating the festival with traditional foods and dance, do Bhangras (a Punjabi dance).
Also the basant worked the crowds at the Mochi Gate, Lohari, the Bhati Gate and Heeramandi, up into a state of frenzy. The busiest crowd, however, was the city police that had ordered as many as 500 police officers and some more cars to make sure days and nights passed without any untoward occurrences. A heavy police presence was automatically felt almost everywhere – from public places to the “no-man’s areas”.
The law enforcement agencies and bomb disposal squads were also put on red alert as part of a string of tight security measures in the province. The Lahore Police rounded up around 500 people who were charged with selling and buying metal wires and strings. Despite few minor incidents, basant lovers, especially youngsters, got up in the wee hours of the morning to prepare their kites for the big day. The girls wore yellow dresses that matched with the basant spirit and made special meals for their families and guests. In the Walled City, in particular, saw the greatest activity throughout Saturday morning.
To Lahorites, basant does not mean flying a kite in a park or listening to music in a historical place filled with dignitaries and celebrities. To them it is a rooftop festival of blaring horns and playing loud music, taunting and challenging their neighbours, dancing in joy over cutting someone else’s kite.