Past present: Citadels of culture
Institutions like universities, libraries, publishing and media houses, art galleries, museums, theaters, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, salons, and stadiums determine the character and individuality of a modern city.
As culture flourishes, these institutions provide values, customs and norms for citizens which gradually become their identity, differentiating them from the rural population.
Because of their charm and cultural richness, cities often attract people from small towns and villages to come and settle down in the favourable environment.
In the words of Oswald Spengler, the German historian, they would prefer to die on the footpath of a city, than go back home to their villages.
Universities encourage students and teachers to discuss academic issues. Being centres of higher learning, the teachers are supposed to produce new ideas and thoughts to enlighten the society. At research facilities, scientists are busy inventing and improving technology which subsequently changes the society.
Social scientists formulate new theories in order to understand problems and complexities of society. The young generation absorbs new ideas while bureaucrats, politicians, and businessmen benefit from modern learning.
For literary figures like intellectuals, scholars and artists, café and salons provide platforms to gather, discuss and disagree with each other. They publish their work in newspapers and magazines. Artists exhibit their paintings in galleries or museums, musicians organise concerts in public halls, while poets present poetry in public gatherings. All these efforts disseminate culture to a city.
Cultural institutions are not only financed by the state but are also sponsored by private organisations and individuals. In more advanced countries, cities have acquired fame because of their cultural institutions. Cities like Paris, London, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Amsterdam and New York are reputed for learning, art and culture. Their libraries provide facility for research, their theatre groups stage thought provoking plays, the films industry produces entertaining as well as meaningful films, their museums display artefacts from ancient to modern times.
One can meet in these cities famous writers, film makers, actors and actresses, artists, and scholars. Because of these institutions, citizens have a deep sense of belonging and pride.
Based on the above analogy, our cities and cultural institutions are disappointing. Most of the cities have three or four such institutions which are in no condition to contribute culturally. For example, most cities have universities which do not produce any research or creative knowledge. There are no museums, art galleries, bookshops, theatre, music and dancing and as a result of this cultural poverty, people from small cities come to Lahore and Karachi to fulfill their desire for learning and knowledge, art and culture.
Lahore was once famous as a city of culture because of its educational institutions, publishing houses and literary circles. After partition, most of its institutions disappeared and film studios became deserted. Its cafes, hotels, and restaurants which were meeting places for writers and artists are no more. Its public libraries are in a bad shape. Its universities are no more centres of learning but a battleground for students groups. However, some literary organisations are struggling to keep the old traditions alive.
Karachi may have emerged as a centre of cultural activity after partition but is now torn with ethnic, linguistic and religious strife. There is hardly any space for writers, artists, and scholars to grow and enrich the society.
One can imagine the dire results of this cultural poverty. It is evident that in absence of cultural institutions, citizens turn to religious extremism and sectarian conflict.
Having no sense of belonging, the citizens do not protest when the cities are disfigured and distorted by construction of new plazas or by cutting trees. With the emergence of chaos and anarchy, culture is headed towards a slow death.