Thursday, February 3, 2011

A walk through Pakistan Park

A neighbourhood park which was at one time informally referred to as the Polo Ground was upgraded to 'Pakistan Park' a couple of years back. An already lush, well-maintained ground was further 'beautified' with miniature versions of Pakistan's significant architecture, your PTV versions of it. Minar-e-Pakistan for Punjab, Quaid's Mausoleum for Sind, and so on. Only Balochistan now has a sexy new addition to the rather bland Ziarat Residence, Chaghi Hill--that sacred symbol of Pakistan's rise in the comity of nations.

The park is on the choicest land right in the middle of Cantt but it is not open to all. Its special club-like atmosphere is assiduously maintained by Military Police, who only allow entry to those with 'membership', I suppose you can't blame them for trying to keep their children from associating with the riff raff. I always wonder where the money for the park's upkeep comes from, for the renovations made inside it are not small scale. Is it funded by the army's budget or the tax payer's money. In either case (and especially in the latter), why can all people not access it?

My parents have valid passes for the park but i don't. I usually get in by studiously avoiding eye contact with the MPs at the gate. My parents have nothing to do with the army, so it means that even non-army people can acquire membership cards if they try, but it is by no means a simple process. At the Cantt Services Club though, built on a huge area just a few metres away from the park, with facilities such as tennis courts, swimming pool, banquet halls etc., it is not possible to acquire membership for a non-army person, regardless of whether you are a professor who managed to do well for himself and put together enough to build a house in Cantt. Of course the very idea of a private club on public grounds is revolting. In the same vein, I would also love to know who owns the sprawling acres that Gymkhana stands on. Does that land belong to the government? If it does, why am I not allowed free access to it, since it certainly doesn't hold classified state secrets.

Coming back to the park, it is a great representation of the kind of resources at the army's disposal, and how they go towards the luxuries of high ranking army officials, for I haven't ever seen any rankers or their families inside the park, though a teeming number of them frequent the RA Bazaar just on the other side of the road.

As my blood often boils over when i go walking inside, i usually amuse myself with the motivational quotes sprinkled all over the place (thankfully I don't have to listen to the assault of the milli naghmas being streamed through the PA system, since I carry my own music). The following quote always tickles my fancy. I am positive it has been put up by someone who does not have the slightest clue to its sarcastic nature. I guess it takes a special kind of intelligence (military intelligence?) to interpret a GB Shaw quote in this deadly serious manner.

I also love the old world fervour of the following. Reminds me of my Taleem-o-Tarbiat and Ishtiaq Ahmed days. 

Today as i walked past the animal cages and the cascading waterfall, the artificial lake and the swans, peacocks, deer and monkeys, I saw a monkey clinging to the side of a cage while a small child repeatedly threw stones at it with full force. I immediately veered off the track and told the child to stop it at once, which he did, him being very young, barely 6 or 7. He was being egged on by a grinning and very obviously army-looking middle aged man, probably his grandfather. I guess that was his idea of teaching his little soldier how to be big and brave, by scaring the defenseless and the meek. Some nice, macho male bonding going on right there. I made sure that as i walked on, i turned back to give them both my best glare, while they watched my retreating figure with muted anger. Pleasant place altogether.


  1. This is such a riveting piece - and a poignant reminder of the rich rewards a keen-eyed writer can offer the world: you can pick a rather quotidian-seeming place, inquire, reflect, and invest it with so much meaning. This plush park thus becomes much more than a place for evening constitutionals - it becomes a symbol of deep rots: tout est politique!

    As a side note, this post revived a fond old memory. The Polo Ground served as something of a watchtower to me: I'd map my journeys around it. I never made it inside - but I am delighted it houses monkeys.

    PS: The Pakistan military has its fingers in virtually everything. Ayesha Siddiqa's detailed study, Military Inc., ought to be required reading. (For all the wealth of information, the prose is mostly pedestrian. Shame.)

  2. if some one said that the part under the lamp is always dark... i can say that he was so right when i see so much poverty around when we are forced to be happy on the achievements like this.

  3. If anybody can see it, this park was featured in the starting episodes of 'Alpha Bravo Charlie'.

    I myself have been there quite a few times, but i prefer more solitude though. Garrison Golf is better in my opinion.

  4. "army's budget or the tax payer's money" Errr. Where the does former come from? Some magical self revenue generation or does South Africa fund that?

    Maybe you wanted to ask whether it was built from the defence budget or the parks budget of the municipality concerned (in this case the Quetta Cantonment Board). Funny thing, cantonment boards come under the Min of Def and they retain all but 15% of their tax revenue (property, water, etc being the tax the municipalities collect). District governments on the other hand only get to keep something in the single digits and return everything else to the provincial kitty, hoping that their projects will be funded too.

    As for the Gymkhanas and elite clubs, they are very much state subsidized. Too lazy to quote a news report here but Islamabad Club occupies is leased a couple of acres of prime land for parking purposes at something like 26,000 per acre. Gymkhana got a donation of 50 million form Punjab government last year. These old colonial clubs are subsidized by the poor from the top to the bottom. We're a colonial society and the army is the most colonial of all institutions. Ever seen a mess or a resort (which they have set up through the breadth of the country), for JCOs, NCOs or plain soldiers? Of course not. The gora sahibs of today.

  5. Very good article. I love the quote and we all know for a fact that these idiots are indeed this clueless.
    Of all the things that are wrong with this country, the army is right up there.

  6. @shahidsaeed: Oh my, that was a real blooper, no idea why i thought the two were different. Maybe I was thinking of US aid or something.

    @Mannan: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie. Garrison Golf and Country Club. You really got the point of this post.

  7. @ShahidSaeed - That's rather glib. Pakistan is a nation with one of the lowest GDP-tax revenue ratios in the world. Yet its defence spending, measured against its meagre GDP, ranks among the world's highest. It's virtually impossible, therefore, that the "army's budget" could come from taxpayer rupees.

    The "or" seems perfectly apt to me.

  8. Good to see you back in action! Depressing that the country's cliched, haphazard and chaotic thinking is reflected in the Pakistan Park microcosm. Brilliantly observed!!

  9. Haha, the quote is classic! I had no idea the park was so 'maintained' inside. It really is a walled garden.

    Glad to see you back :)

  10. I haven't been inside 'Polo Ground' for a while and wasn't aware of all the cosmetic surgery the place has apparently recieved :P The quote about patriotism is the best! You're right though, they probably didn't know it was meant to be sarcastic and not literal ^^
    This park is just another example of the idiocy of the Pakistani way... half the country may be starving or homeless, but God forbid that our elites should lose their private clubs! The horror of such a situation! ;)

  11. Oh nice! this has made me nostalgic! I lived a stones throw away from the park and spent many early days playing there while the parents walked about the circuit. Too many memories. Entry became restricted as the park became more famous and Cantt expanded. I could not receive a pass because Im not married, and in protest i used to jog around the park on the outside. No one cared, but oh well. After Trax opened up though, I had the last laugh!
    None the less, the park is beautiful, but a sanctuary built to divide people on the basis of pay. I dont even think average soldiers fighting and dying for Pakistan are allowed entry into "Pakistan Park". What a shame that is. Its too bad they don't have more polo matches there though, beats going to Race Course.

  12. Wow - that George Bernard Shaw quote will have me wondering whether it *was* someone completely clueless, or someone playing on the ignorance of others. Unfortunately I agree with you, though I do wish it were the latter!

  13. I'm very sorry to disappoint you but... I prefer the polo ground as my stomping ground only and only because it is exclusive! sharp intake of breath... I know it's awful and very prejudiced of me but I can't help but feel very safe in the knowledge that there are no "Lafangas" in the grounds.
    I can walk round, kids can play on their own and it's all relatively safe.
    Compared with my attempts to walk round race view park on jail road and it was a horrifying and scary experience I would never repeat.
    I was followed the whole way round the track by wierdos trying to make frandship... I couldn't leave kids alone to play, there were too many people... and the track was littered with dating games going on in the bushes beside... you can imagine the scene, no? It was not nice, so back to Polo I went, safe in my cantt, clean in cantt and sound in cantt. There is nothing better, more private parks I say :)