“OASIS” OF FREEDOM IN LAHORE COLLEGE IN PAKISTAN…SMOKING, KISSING-STATUE ET AL …..
…AS SEEN BY AN INDIAN
NATIONAL COLLEGE OF ARTS LAHORE WHERE GIRL STUDENTS WEAR JEANS, SMOKE FREELY AND INTERACT IN LIGHT HEARTED SHAIRI WITH OPPOSITE SEX WHILE A STATUE OF A KISSING COUPLE WELCOMES THE VISITOR , FIND MORE WITH RASHMI TALWAR ……..
Even as nearly 10,000 people watch the popular ‘Beating Retreat Ceremony’ at the Attari-Wagah Indo-Pak joint check post, someone shouts-” look at the Pakistan side”! They turn to see– separate enclosures for Men and Women at the Wagah Side of Pakistan.
For the motley crowd of Indians and foreigners present, the scene is a true confirmation of widespread reports of discrimination among sexes. Although onlookers return with the excitement of the thrilling ceremony they also carry a vivid impression of ancient prejudices still prevalent in Pakistan.
But set afoot just 25 Kms of the dividing Radcliff line into Lahore, Pakistan and the views may change. With scores of private schools and institutes in Lahore having co-education, the mixing of sexes is as ordinary as in India.
Of course the lines may still be drawn among sexes in government institutions of Lahore but in the private institutions the atmosphere is far from constrictive.
That religion plays a significant role cannot be denied in a theological state like Pakistan corresponding to which, all educational institutes have a Islamic prayer room and mats for the purpose.
However “National College of Arts Lahore” truly seems to be an ‘Oasis of Freedom’ in more ways than one. At the entrance itself this institute can stump you over ! Beyond the beautifully carved marble fountain from mughal era in the centre of the well manicured lawn, sits a statue of a human like couple on a swing.
The metallic brownish statue of the couple is shown in a “kissing posture”.
One looks and looks closer but the boy and girl lip- locked in metal forever in wild abandon, continue eternally– unmindful of the stares they may attract– not so much as in their existence but the fact that they are housed in a country that boasts of decrying all matters of sexual or so called western behavior in public.
Where the lifeless arts too hold no special privileges. Rather time and again the artist and their art attracts the ire of the religious zealots, admits an Asistant Professor NCA. But this statue has been the stamp of the institute for years and even country heads like President Parvez Musharaff during his visit here laid no objection to it, is the proud contention of registrar of the college Prof Nadeem Hasan Khan.
Khan says the statue was created by Artist Khursheed Gohar and has never encountered any adverse comments.
It is also surprising that just outside the premises of the college a statue of Englishman Alfred Woolner 1878-1936 – Prof of Sanskrit and Vice Chancellor of Punjab University from 1928 to 1936 -is the lone surviving human sculptor in whole of Lahore or even Pakistan after locals vandalized and destroyed all statues belonging to English era or when Pakistan was created as a pure Islamic state . All sculptors either found their way into the Lahore museum or were waylaid by private collectors.
The students of this college not only contribute to the liveliness of Lahore with a annual huge displays of colored lighted paper floats on the waters of the canal proudly called “Lahore di nehar “–a must watch for any tourist but the whole pathway trees along the canal are aesthetically lighted adding to the glow of the city by night . Huge butterflies, Shikara , lotus flower, peacocks stand anchored in the waters glowing subtly with gossamer lights.
Although one may not describe the freedom prevalent here from merely one aspect another sight at the college completely zaps you.
Sample this scene between a girl student and a Male professor in the college premises….
… “Prof Do you have one last fag left? Saima (name Changed), there is only one cigarette and you never spare me any from your own pack, he pouts. Come on Prof I will give you a whole pack but just spare me this one.” Saima gaily takes the new cigarette brings the last glowing butt of a near dead one close to one end , expertly sucks and lights up the new one, throwing the smoldering butt smartly twisting her sandal heel over it . ….
When asked to pose for a picture for an article Saima feels elated, has no qualms about its publication and happily models with the fag, showing off her black painted finger and toe nails .
A woman sub editor with newspaper The Nation says many of these institutes have late night mixed parties with drinks et al and smoking amongst women is all too common. She is not far from the truth as the Basant Festival In Lahore has nightlong soirees of barbecue parties on terraces that may cost one upwards of Rs 10,000 on prime locations for flying kites for a single night.
A further stroll in the premises of the college brings more striking things that completely negates some preset ideas of the country with its gutsy struggling readily defying new generation.
A whole portion of a nearly 20 feet high wall of the college has Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous Monalisa in beautiful mosaic art.
While the Registrar of the college exclaims that “nudity in explicit form is out of bounds for students or teachers” but that hardly deters a student who paints a mono coloured sketch of man in subtle nudity.
He is not far from a veil clad girl in another room whose bold black strokes adorn a canvas or a group of students enjoying a chat in the prayer room even as boy offers namaz .
A visit to the canteen surprises one with American style graffiti on the walls with famous American cartoon characters. The atmosphere here is lively amongst students and teachers with the jean clad girls and shayrana mahaul that is the inborn culture and character of Lahore– a boy being pressured by classmates to attend his lecture leaves them laughing with a tease —“thokrey maar ke apni mehfil sey uthatey bhi ho , aur ek pau sey daman bhi daba rakha hai ” or a reply –”woh, ke har ehdeh mohabbat sey mukarta jaye , dil woh zalim ke usi shqs par marta jai ”