Palm Culture

What is this loony fixation we display more and more where palm/date trees are concerned? We can’t seem to get our fill of plonking them wherever we can. We are a funny lot indeed. First we pull down whatever we can and then we bulldoze whatever we can’t pull down.
We build then yet another monstrosity of steel and cement and replicate it. Then we uproot everything around the new ugly one and throw in more steel and cement. When we are done, that is if we are ever done, having gotten rid of thousands of trees that stood for years, we next haul in (God knows from where), the flavour of the decade – date palms without dates.
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IMPLANTING DESERT CULTURE IN THE STREETS OF LAHORE

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by Masood Hasan

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What is this loony fixation we display more and more where palm/date trees are concerned? We can’t seem to get our fill of plonking them wherever we can. We are a funny lot indeed. First we pull down whatever we can and then we bulldoze whatever we can’t pull down.

We build then yet another monstrosity of steel and cement and replicate it. Then we uproot everything around the new ugly one and throw in more steel and cement. When we are done, that is if we are ever done, having gotten rid of thousands of trees that stood for years, we next haul in (God knows from where), the flavour of the decade – date palms without dates.
These are then burrowed into the soil where they stand for weeks – dry, dusty, ugly and apologetic. Some don’t make it; some do, after a straggly start to life, but what comes up is a tree that has nothing going for it.

It is not a particularly beautiful tree. In fact it is as good looking as say the actor Ernest Borgnine was if compared to Clark Gable. It is a spindly, spiky tree with all kinds of warts and protuberances sticking out. Not the kind of tree you can lean against and sing a song or two about lost love. Then it also offers no shade whatsoever.

Since it is most often planted near roads, what kind of a tree is it that cannot provide shade to anyone wishing to cool off for a few minutes? Stand under a palm tree and all you will get is what a good working sauna will deliver on any given day. For thousands of years we planted yew trees, built guest rooms and stables for horses complete with ponds where all could rest. What happened to that culture?

What good is the date tree? Even the fruit, the best part of the tree, is simply not present in the variety we have. What it offers as ‘dates’ are anything but. In any event what is the great idea behind planting these trees near roads and intersections, be they in cities or on the highways? These places are not exactly orchards, are they? And even if the variety we are planting like crazy does bear fruit, what are the authorities thinking of?

Will people rushing from one city to another suddenly see a date tree and slam on their brakes, shimmy up the nearest tree like brainless monkeys and stuff the fruit into their mouths? Hardly.

Perhaps the only few things going for this pimply tree are that it does not require much water. Neither, it seems, would most remote parts of Pakistan and the entire province of Balochistan. So what are we going to do about that? Plant the Baloch into the rocky, unfriendly and sandy soil and watch them boil? Who knows what Herr Malik is thinking these days? When he doesn’t utter a goofy one for 24 hours, I start to get edgy. What’s The Brain thinking? Banning buffaloes and ice lollies? The other reason – and this is stretching things as far as they would go – is that it would please their exalted highnesses from the sandy lands of yon, who will see a warped and sullen looking date tree and go cuckoo. But they have these by the zillions in their backyards so why in heaven’s name would they come here and faint with excitement seeing the dumb tree? It is like bringing an Eskimo from Greenland to show him three inches of a snow pile and expect him to collapse with heaving chest and cries of pleasure.

The thing is that, if I am not wrong, these trees started their social life in Lahore when Gulberg’s Main Boulevard got a face lift and up came the dateless trees. In those days, and later when Islamabad got the ‘date-tree infection,’ it was rumoured that these had been imported from Brunei, had cost an arm and a leg – ours that is, not the tree’s – and in the process had made many people very happy and very rich. The ‘leaders’, blind as bats can be, beamed at their latest folly and smacked their lips with delight. If they did a little jig around the ruddy tree, I at least have no way of knowing unless I can get Herr Malik to share a few inside details but then what chance is there to pounce on a man who is so busy saving the world that he hasn’t had a decent shampoo in weeks for his spectacular afro cut. Eat your heart out Lionel Richie. You are a poor second to Herr Malik.

As for the expensive import of these trees, Lord Lashari, is the one who springs to mind. Held in great esteem as some modern day prophet of landscaping, it was widely believed that he was the one who inflicted the uninspiring date trees on us.

The thing is that Arabs may swoon at the sight of these creatures from outer space, but we are not Arabs and in spite of our best effort, still don’t have enough sand. However, if the holding on to the knot of Allah’s rope via the Bedouin Brothers is the going thing, then the date trees are our bestest friends and need to be hugged at all hours of the day.

Seeing that the idea of modern art in public places comprises largely of ‘kulfi’ ice cream cones in various flavours – go to any smog-infested city of the republic and sooner than later, up pops the ‘kulfi’, a sight for sore eyes. If it is not that, we have hopelessly made replicas in fibreglass (I ask you!) of that great explosion in Balochistan where we blew into smithereens a miserable-looking dry-as-dust hill and proclaimed to a waiting world that we had indeed arrived on the nuclear stage. This monument of our five seconds of glory is visible to anyone who is not suffering from advanced cataract. Maybe fibreglass date trees are the next art forms that will shake the globe.


Lashari decorated the La
hore Main Boulevard and, because you can never keep a good man down, he next rose in the once-pristine valley of Islamabad replete with leafy plants and natural springs. And hey presto, we had date trees. As it turned out, Islamabad was never the same again.

The arrival of the date trees was also a kind of opening salvo of unfettered construction.

Tree cutting being a national pastime – the Punjab government has struck down thousands of trees in full bloom – the same philosophy soon found its way into Islamabad. The springs died, green open areas turned to garbage dumps, the burger syndrome stuck the people in the midriff section and Islamabad was raped. Average temperatures between the two cities are now marginally different and smog hangs over the capital like a Supreme Court edict.

The irony is that, while it might rain in Lahore, Islamabad has little luck. How things change!

And while this won’t cut any ice, large-scale deforestation and degradation of natural forests have put our country’s forestation area somewhere at about three percent as opposed to the global standard of 25 percent. Maybe the date palms are the forerunners of the desert culture that will overtake Pakistan sooner than we all think.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com
Related articles:
1. Trees and Us 2. Lahoris don’t care about their trees 3. Trees and Us

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  1. [...] 1. Palm Culture 2. Cruel corruption [...]

  2. [...] 1. Palm Culture 2. Cruel corruption [...]


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