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Lahore rings in a subdued New Year

world Updated: Jan 02, 2008 03:29 IST
Vinod Sharma

The New Year dawned unannounced on this city that is another name for celebration. Cell phones went mute. There was no exchange of greetings. Restaurants and food courts reported low business. Bootleggers in demand round the year couldn't for once move their stocks of imported scotch.

The city's elite continuing to mourn Benazir Bhutto, farmhouses that should have had liquor flowing and nautch girls prancing wore a forlorn look. The tree-lined Mall seemed wider and lonelier — young men and women staying indoors rather than racing astride shining motorbikes.

A house keeper at an apartment complex used for private, non-family parties had his own take on seemingly comatose Lahore: "Sirjee, raath koyi jashan nahin hoya. Lagda se sabnu sap sung gaya" (There was no festivity; the city was in a snakebite induced sleep)."

In death, Lahore belonged to Benazir, the Punjab capital's most illustrious son and her political rival Nawaz Sharif admitting that Pakistan wouldn't be the same without the doughty PPP leader. "We had been talking a lot and working together lately. But no more as she isn't around, gone forever," he said.

Even where people did get together over a drink, a mujra evening or a poetry session, the conversation revolved around Benazir, the political implications of her murder, the fate of President Pervez Musharraf and the pro-establishment faction, Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid).

For the PML (Q), denounced as the Qatil (murderer) League by Asif Ali Zardari, the election result is already out — its top leaders Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain and Pervez Illahi have locked themselves inside their heavily guarded mansions since Benazir's assassination. "Benazir's departure means the Chaudharys' political demise," remarked local journalists at a press conference.

Some of Lahore's best known residents chose a solemn way of ushering in the New Year — reciting Faiz's poetry and that of Najam Sayed and Habib Jalib, who often sang from the PPP stage, explaining its vision of Pakistan through such immortal lines as: Roti kapda aur dawa, ghar rahney ko chhota sa, muft mujhe taleem dila….Pakistan ka matlab kya?"

Led by such firebrand Lahoris as writer-journalist Jugnu Mohsin, women's rights activist Nighat Saeed Khan, singer Sara Zaman, scribes, writers and members of the Supreme Court Bar condoled Benazir's death, sought revival of the Constitution her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, gave to Pakistan in 1973 and demanded restoration of the dismissed judges.

This morning, well-known urdu journalist Khalid Chaudhary, who spent long years in Zia's jails, summed up it all up by SMSing a poem Benazir sang at her meetings: mere haath me haq ka jhanda hai, mere sar par zulm ka phanda hai. Main marne se kab darti hon. Main maut ki khatir zinda hun (As I fight for the rights of my people, a noose of oppression hangs over my head. But I aren't scared of death. I live for I am prepared to die).