Impact Of Lahore's Culture On Its Environment

Qasim Khan Lahore

Lahore is touted as the cultural hub of Punjab and the heart of Pakistan. There is a famous saying here in Pakistan “jinnay Lahore nahi vekhea o jamya nai” which roughly translates into (anyone who hasn’t seen Lahore, hasn’t been born yet) and many believe that the main attraction of Lahore is its diverse and ever so colorful culture and its majestic heritage. Lahoris know how to celebrate life and that is shown by the variety of festivals held in the city, ranging from basant to the MELA (Celebration) of DATA DARBAR. Lahoris love their food and this is evident from the fact that there are 1000 of restaurants in Lahore offering cuisines from every corner of the world. Especially the renowned Food Street located near the famous Badshahi mosque depicts the true Lahori culture and their love of food. Apart from these celebrations, Lahore has always been an integral part of the Pakistani politics, and hence this diverse culture has given birth to a unique social, political and natural environment.

Impact on social environment

Lahore's food loving culture has made food a vital part of Lahore’s environment. With restaurants selling traditional Punjabi food in every corner, people have easy access to food. According to a quote, Lahore is known as the “Foodistan of Pakistan”. Because of so many different restaurants, the competition has increased and hence resulted in cheaper rates for the food lovers. The Food Street in Lahore, such as, is a center of Pakistani traditional food. It is surrounded by buildings that are many centuries old and the beautiful Persian-Kashmiri architecture that is used in the neighboring buildings reflects the richness of the culture as well as proves to be a major attraction for tourists. Visitors are welcomed 24/7 for enjoying the food and the great ambiance that is created by the musicians as well, who are skilled in playing traditional musical instruments such as flute and tabla. Lasi (a traditional drink made by yogurt and milk) is one of the things that Food Street is famous for. In Punjab they say, “Asi tusi tay Lasi” (We You and lasi). Therefore Lasi is a very important ingredient in breakfast of Punjabis and especially Lahoris. But its not just food that’s celebrated here, lahoris tend to celebrate every aspect of life and hence it is no surprise that tons of festivals are held in Lahore. Festivals such as Basant are celebrated with way more enthusiasm in Lahore than in other city of Pakistan because of the fun loving culture. This festival is actually to welcome the spring season and it is celebrated by flying kites. Mela Chiragan (festival of lights) is also an example. It is a three days annual festival which marks the urs (death anniversary) of Shah Hussain, the famous Punjabi Sufi poet and saint. During these festivals, the tourism industry also flourishes as people, from all over the globe fly in to enjoy and celebrate these festivals and dwell in the rich culture and heritage that they have to offer. Hence these festivals plays a great role in up lifting the mood, providing distraction from the other frustrations in life and overall creating a positive atmosphere as a whole. 

But then there are negative impacts of this as well. The over consumption of food leads to obesity in people And because of this, these people tend to get involved in major health issues and problems such as heart diseases, kidney failure etc. etc. and hence the traffic in hospitals increases because of this food loving culture. Festivals like Basant can prove to be extremely dangerous as the string that is used for the kite flying is usually covered in glass powder. This makes it really sharp and has proved to be really dangerous. In the past few years, numerous cases have been reported in which deaths have resulted due this sharp string that have cut through the necks of usually people who use motorcycles as a mean of transportation. While on the other hand melas like data darbar are often considered to be extremely unhygienic places and a hub of diseases. All this leads to an increase in traffic of hospitals.

But Hospitals in Lahore have a major drawback, which is their waste disposal system. We are not aware about the adverse effects of the garbage and the filth that is generated by hospitals on human body and our environment as a whole. Hospital waste include a wide array ranging from general waste to chemical to pharmaceutical to infectious to radioactive waste. The problem is that this waste is not properly disposed of. Instead of the proper treatment of this waste or dumping them in landfills, what hospitals actually prefer is burning it up. This incineration of medical waste has a lot of harmful effects on the wildlife and our environment too as a whole. When burned, this waste emits many air pollutants which can disturb the balance of gases in our atmosphere and some of these include dangerous metals and some are acidic in nature. These pollutants then fall to the ground in form of acid rain and cause the ground water and the water in the rivers and lakes to get polluted and thus causes danger to the aquatic life also. When fishes ingest the mercury (a poisonous metal), instead of breaking down and passing it out of their system, mercury actually starts accumulating in the body tissues of the fishes. This in turn is passed on to higher organisms in the food chain. At each level of the food chain, the amount of mercury ingested increases and thus causes more and more harm. The organisms at the highest level (usually humans) suffer the most because they have the largest amount of mercury in their system.

Lastly, the influx of tourist has its drawbacks also. The government needs a lot of money to accommodate such a number of tourists. The crime rate also increases as a lot of people fly in from other countries and people also move in from the outskirts into the main city and these people then prove to be easy targets for thugs. 

Impact on Natural environment 

But what about the impact of lahori culture on its residents? Well Lahore's culture is slowly changing as people are moving forward and more towards a modern lifestyle. The traditional Tongas have almost completely lost their value and joint family systems are on a decline. This has led to more construction in the city which have resulted in more and more trees being cut and land being cleared. The huge loss in the number of trees have caused the pollution to increase. This is because, in the absence of trees, the amount of carbon dioxide increases and oxygen decreases.  Also pollution is on a rise with the ever increasing automobiles which have replaced the environmental friendly Tongas and Baggi. Where parks were once a place of family picnics, now are being replaced by other forms of entertainment such as cinemas and shopping malls. This has led to a decrease in the number of new parks of the likes of Jhalo Park. All these have a negative impact on the environment and are causing huge pollution problems. However the appreciation of beauty in Lahori culture and the endeavors of the government have kept the hope alive. According to new schemes such as ‘sohna Lahore’ (beautiful Lahore) that are being proposed by the government of Punjab, new plants and trees are planted to beautify the city.

Political impact and cultural background

As regards the political culture of Lahore, Lahore has always been a key player in Pakistani politics. Lahore is the city where the decision for an independent Muslim state was announced by the leaders of the Muslim League in 1940. Lahore’s political culture can be comprehended by this. This has led to a patriotic and politically aware environment in Lahore. At different points in Pakistan's history there have been rumors about one province or another wanting to break away from Pakistan, except Punjab. This highlights the patriotic culture of Lahore and Punjab as a whole. Lahore’s culture is also reflected during the daily presentation at Wagha border in, which creates an environment full of enthusiasm and passion for the country. Also, Lahore is still as politically active as it was in the days before partition. This can be seen by the increasing number of people that turn up for political processions including women and children. The political culture has created an environment which has engulfed people of all races and genders. Election results also highlight another aspect of Lahore's culture. PML-N, the party with a Punjabi base is the most popular party in Lahore, which shows that Lahore follows a culture in which it is more inclined towards support for the people of the same root showing how close the community is.

- Article by Syeda Khadija Tirmizi and Aminah Suhail Qureshi