Lahoris don’t care about their trees

Published: April 2, 2011

The authorities apparently cannot understand why the trees here are so leafy and so rich in shade.

The Horticulture Authority tried to rid the city of all its shady trees and replace them with date palms. Lahoris watched quietly. In the end, it fell to the palms themselves to protest the initiative. The palms planted along the Circular Road, it has been reported, are wilting and dying.

Actually the genius who thought of depriving the city of its own trees and adorning it with desert trees should also have imported a little desert. Trees, after all, grow from soil and are best nurtured in the climates associated with their native lands.

Lahore is Lahore: Not Dubai or Japan

In the lands and climates where it grows naturally, a date palm is lovely. If Lahore’s innovative gardeners are so keen on it they might as well arrange for the right soil. Once the thick shady trees in the city have all been uprooted the place will automatically turn into a veritable desert. But that may take a while.

The authorities apparently cannot understand why the trees here are so leafy and so rich in shade. The straightforward thing to do of course is to cut whatever trees are left standing, but there are still people who object to that. It is to avoid such noises that they have to propose plans that give the impression that the city is just getting new kinds of trees.

One remembers a senior city official who visited Japan some decades ago and on his return thought of uprooting the tall thick trees at Gol Bagh in whose shade Lahoris used to relax in the summer and replace them with some experimental Japanese shrubs. Lahoris, of course, reacted strongly with some activists even taking out a rally and the plan was somehow abandoned.

But activities hostile to the trees continue on one pretext or the other.

Class divide and the search for shade

I am reminded here of an Urdu verse arguing for enterprise and optimism, that promises the traveller thousands of shady trees on the way. The reference is so clearly to lands like our own where summers linger long and the sun is totally unsparing.

Nowadays of course we have railways and aeroplanes but rural folk still rely on camels and bullock carts. Some brave folk even walk. The shade of a tree along their path lets them pause and cool down a bit before resuming their journey. It is only in extreme weather like ours that one may fully appreciate what blessing tree shade is. In fact, where there is abundant tree cover, the summer does not get so hot. Cutting trees causes the climate of a region to change. The environmentalists therefore consider the trees important.

But such arguments are lost on our city officials. If they cannot find another excuse to uproot trees they justify it by citing a need for widening the roads.

Where are our tree-huggers?

The bureaucratic mindset apart, there are business interests to reckon with. Some of the development planning inevitably stems from commercial interests. There needs to be awareness among citizens therefore of the problems such plans cause. Not long ago there was a plan in India  to cut a large number of trees – the logging industry have there interests to watch. The citizens responded with a tree-hugging movement. The tree-huggers vowed to protect the trees or die trying. That was how they saved their trees.

One does hear once in a while that some group in Lahore is taking up the cause. Citizens however are not quite aware of what the trees mean for the city. No such movement therefore is as effective as it needs to be.

*Translated from Urdu

Published in The Express Tribune.


Intezar Hussain

Intezaar Hussain

An eminent Urdu fiction writer who writes short stories and novels, and also columns for newspapers in English.

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

  • Zahra Ali

    Thanks for raising your voice on this issue. It is indeed extremely sad that people just dont care about trees and dont realize the importance of old trees. Its a treasure. One rarely finds an old tree in Karachi. Now Lahore is going to be the same.

    For me, cutting a tree is a brutal murder.Recommend

  • Blithe

    Look at the way we mercilessly uprooted ancient and beautiiful trees to make the souless and ugly suberb of DHA Lahore (compared to Model Town).

    The only place you can see a glimpse of the trees that once were are the gravelyards in DHA.

    We should be ashamed of oursselves! Recommend

  • Umair Waheed Sheikh, Khayban e Hafiz,Karachi

    What they care about more is Food and if they might be able to gulp more resources from Sind!Recommend

  • Raqib Ali

    Its sad to see that discussion of trees bring sarcastic racist comments from Mr. Waheed Sheikh who has not learnt anything by living in mini Pakistan.

    We can all start somewhere if we want to start blame game!!Recommend

  • Said Chaudhry

    Well, I dont know. I recall a couple years ago they wanted to cut down the trees along the canal to make the road wider, but common sense prevailed and they stopped before committing such a crime. The author forgot to mention that in places like Lahore Cantt, you are not allowed (by law) to cut down any trees unless granted permission. Steps are being taken in Lahore to protect the environment and keep the city green, but with the ever expanding metropolis and booming population it becomes difficult. Recommend

  • Raj

    The only reason I can see is that these trees were planted by a Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Pakistan does not love her minorities.Recommend

  • Tamoor Azhar

    I love trees ….Recommend

  • andrea

    @Raj: You really have no understanding of the history of Lahore. The Muslim rulers who reigned over Lahore and the Punjab for many centuries were avid gardeners and lovers of greenery. I suggest you look up historical texts to read yourself about the great love of gardens that Lahore’s Muslim rulers enjoyed. As for cutting down trees, it’s both wrong and a shame but all over the world modernity has little room for the environment.Recommend

  • Laughable

    Articles like these make my day..
    Not because they are informative, but they are just soo detached from reality, that they make me laugh.
    Only a person wo has no worries in life can write about the apathy of ‘Lahories’ towards trees..

    The upper class already has their private farms/gardens/foreign getaways to get the greenery fix they need

    The middle class is too busy trying to reach upper class level

    The lower class is dying from hunger

    I wonder where do Lahori trees fit in in the bigger picture.

    Or let me rephrase it, in a country like Pakistan, no one really gives a damn about trees. Stop wasting time and blog space with these articlesRecommend

  • andrea

    @Laughable: What is even more astounding is that people like you can’t understand that despite whatever challenges developing nations are facing, there is always a group of society who takes a role in the uplift of society. Thank goodness that so many middle class Pakistanis take an active role in working to uplift the nation.Recommend

  • Abdul-Mughis Rana, Lahore.

    I love trees specially fruit trees which kills two birds with one stone i.e. Shade and Fruit both. @Raj: you only want Pakistan but I ‘d love to give you a choice by virtue of which the minimum is equivalent to 10 times the size of the whole world, are you ready! Recommend

  • Laughable

    @Andrea: Let me guess, your house must be located on a posh road in Lahore/Islamabad/Karachi… Like Mr. Someone from Kh-e- Hafeez (where even the road signs are in English.. HILARIOUS!.. and the difference between leaving the non-cantt area and the DHA area is so stark that one might think they have come to a different city altogether)..
    I am sure there must be two or three nationalities in your family, as well as an active number of tea-time NGO members.. if yes, then yeah, I guess this article does make sense to youRecommend

  • Laughable

    Any one wanting to talk about uplift.. do this: Open your eyes.

    If the truth of the grimness and utter chaos surrounding you in the country does not drive you insane, then you are either dead, or have become incapable of opening your eyes.

    Somehow, talking about saving trees when millions of people nationwide are STILL struggling with the flood’s aftermath doesn’t make much sense.. or of doctors striking because of no pay, or of people devouring human flesh due to their utter incapacity to understand society and humanity. In all this, someone talking about trees sounds a bit.. off.. or as psychologists put them: ‘detached from reality’Recommend

  • Khalid Rahim

    Remember those shady trees were planted by Kim the little guy who would fight his battles on the Zamzama. Those trees were not planted by people who did not recite the Kalima.We
    were given this realization by our leadership in 1980.Those trees planted by colonialist were
    trees of kufr and therefore have to be replaced by the Palms from Saudi Arabia? What they
    forgot to import is the Sands of Arabia along with the Palms. Now I hope the Chief Minister
    would import the Saudi sand so that the blessed palms do not wither from the soil of Ravi.Recommend

  • Karim Shah
  • Maria

    @Laughable: I would suggest that someone like you who is so pessimistic should just keep his eyes closed and live in your world of negativism. Thank goodness that there are caring Pakistanis who dare to challenge your passivity and work for a better Pakistan. And yes this better Pakistan will have more trees!!!!Recommend

  • Grace

    @Laughable: I can only laugh at your negativity. I would hate to be living at your home where all you wish for is bad stuff and don’t want to fix anything.Recommend

  • Commenter

    laughable..i think u have read first article in ur life and this is on trees..there r millions of articles on other issues of pak…karim shah..u r a sick person..wats the point of fight with Raj?Recommend