La Tomatina festival in Lahore: Can we afford to do this?

Published: September 14, 2013
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With our country's being below the poverty line, having events like 'La Tomatina Lahore’ is a gross inconsideration by the elites of our society. PHOTO: REUTERS

With our country being below the poverty line, having events like 'La Tomatina Lahore’ is a gross inconsideration by the elites of our society. PHOTO: HK EVENTS FACEBOOK PAGE With our country's being below the poverty line, having events like 'La Tomatina Lahore’ is a gross inconsideration by the elites of our society.
PHOTO: REUTERS

It seems as if the time has come for the Pakistani youth to be reminded of the simple yet appropriate pleasure offered by the water balloons. It just so happens that we’ve found a rather unorthodox substitute in the form of the tomato. But we can’t take all the credit for this, or any credit for that matter, as the idea has been copied from Spain’s annual tomato fight festival, La Tomatina’. 

For a country such as Spain, with its own traditions and culture and a far superior economic situation than ours, we might let such frivolities slide. 

Millions of Tomatoes are wasted in the ‘La Tomatina’ every year in Spain. PHOTO: REUTERS

However, when I came to know that the same festival was going to be simulated in Lahore this Saturday as ‘La Tomatina Lahore’, I felt that this has to be where we as a society draw a line on how much we are willing to try and imitate cultures other than our own. The fact of the matter is that in a country such as ours which is mired in poverty, we have to realise that we have to prioritise. When 60% of the population is living below the poverty line, we simply cannot afford such whims as deriving entertainment from pelting each other with a food commodity.

If this event actually does take place, it would not just be the wastage of a valuable food resource. The very fact that tomatoes, which are currently among the priciest of goods in the average sabzi mandi (vegetable market), this event is going to be a slap in the face of any underprivileged onlooker. You would be telling him/her that you have the power of not just affording but also wasting an item that costs more than half of their daily wage.

Although today we have become immune to the feelings and suffering of the poor, we would only have to take one look out of our air conditioned cars to realise that this is not the place to be wasting resources, let alone one as essential as food. There are people who spend their days working hard for their mere survival under the blistering sun, homeless families desperate to find nourishment and children alienated of their right to an education for having to work for their families’ subsistence. In this scenario, there is just no room for a rambunctious crowd of elite class youth spending Rs1,000 for six hours in which they will mindlessly pelt each other with tomatoes, apathetic towards the multitude of their own countrymen who will be spending that night on an empty stomach.

Flood victims in Pakistan begging for food. Photo: AFP

An event that is taking place on such a large scale, attracting the attention of more than 3,000 people on Facebook, would warrant an extremely large consignment of tomatoes. Just this week, it has been stated that there has been an extreme hike in the price of tomatoes all over Pakistan. Some people in our country, the third world country that we belong to, are below poverty line and probably cannot even afford to have a meal inclusive of tomatoes.

On the other hand, I had a brief conversation with one of the organisers of the event, in which he assured me that tomatoes will be given in excess and at no point during the event will there be any lack of tomatoes. At the end of the day we simply have to ask ourselves that is there a huge dearth of entertainment for us, that we can justify such extravagance, and justify the extent to which we are imitating foreign cultures rather than promoting our own?

Celebration of the La Tomatina in Spain. PHOTO: REUTERS

Although it was culturally unwarranted, but the case was different when a simulation of Halloween took place in Lahore last year. A Halloween party would not have raised the same direct questions in the mind of the poor that will be raised if an event like ‘La Tomatina Lahore’ is allowed to take place. The thoughts and emotions that such an event will trigger in the general populace will be enough to widen the disparity that already exists in our society between the elite and the less privileged. Such disparity is detrimental to national unity.

Growing up as part of the current generation has forced me to realise that if we don’t act fast, we as a nation will lose our cultural identity. Our English medium education conveyor belt is producing a brand new line of Pakistanis who are inept at reading the national language fluently. National spirit peaks exclusively on national holidays, only to fade away for the remainder of the year; and after extensively negating our culture we strive to emulate completely foreign cultures.

This latest example of La Tomatina takes this issue to an entirely new level, one which implies a further broadening of the gaps in our society while simultaneously undermining our cultural integrity.

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Ali Zafar

Ali Zafar

A freshman at LUMS who is passionate about writing, theater and linguistics.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.