By Shoaib Hashmi

Where is our knight in shining armour? It was always my friend Zim who had his flashing sword perpetually unsheathed, and the fire of righteousness burning bright in his eyes, ever ready to defend the honour and chastity of Model Town. And we haven’t heard from him. Or maybe it is just that with half a dozen newspapers to plough through each day, I have missed out. There is nothing to do but take up his banner and wave it.
In case you hadn’t noticed, us Model Town Wallahs are rather proud of our little community, and rather possessive. It was the very first of Lahore’s ‘planned’ suburbs, and it is still a pretty sight from the air, a perfect square, a mile on each side, with an intricate and symmetrical arabesque of blocks and streets, which are still old style shady bowers on the ground.
After a first flurry in which the place was about one third built up Independence came and it stayed frozen in time for another thirty years, populated mostly by retired old fogies left over from the old world. But the other left over was the tradition of lots of fruit trees in the extensive gardens; and the urchins had a ball pilfering all the seasonal fruits. Now they are all grown up men, and they can still rattle off long lists of which house in which block had the best loquats and lychees and jamans.
Till forty years ago, the place still had the mindset of a small and close-knit neighbourhood. When we moved here, the dry-cleaning establishment didn’t bother to give us a slip for the garments we left. They knew we were the new people in G-Block and that was it -- besides he’d had his share of grapefruit from the garden in his childhood, and that was a bond. Being only partly occupied, it was also a very quiet place. I remember standing at the gate for half an hour, with an infant in arms to show him something moving -- and nothing moving came by!
Then suddenly Lahore expanded twenty miles beyond, and the place was full of smoke and traffic and oodles of noisy rickshaws. We muttered for a bit, then protested and the resilient ‘Society’ promptly banned the entry, or passage of rickshaws through the place. They lined the outer streets and revved their engines all day. Also we’d forgotten that half the people work in town, and they couldn’t get home! The rickshaws have sneakily slid back in, and just to divert out attention the Society came up with a new one.
Some time back Kamran Lashari and his DHA had got on to a good thing. They gave over all the green strips in the thoroughfares and the squares and traffic islands to banks, phone companies and makers of sherbets hungry for publicity. They were allowed to put up discreet little signs, and in return they planted lovely gardens and flowerbeds and Lahore grew lush and pretty.
The original planners of Model Town were wise men, and they left a hugh empty tract right in the center, which Governor Jillani managed to extract from the clutches of local vultures and turned it into the nice park it is. They also left large empty tracts between the blocks, which were communal playgrounds, and places for the locals to play their hockey and cricket matches.
The news is that the Society too handed over two of the grounds to a phone company. They mowed the lawns, replanted the flowerbeds and installed bright yellow plastic chairs, and that was all right with us. Then -- the rumour is -- they lost their marbles. It seems they decided that as they were paying good money and mowing and installing yellow chairs, they had squatter’s rights, and they would turn the places into private clubs, restricting the use to members -- selected by them. That is the talk, and Zim is not shifting his butt and keeping us informed! So the place is up in arms, and we are polishing up our protest placards screaming ‘Commercialization’ and girding up our loins to do battle. So stay tuned for the next breathless installment!

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.