Liberty Market, Lahore’s Hub
By Nagwa Malik
Pakistan is a country of historic and cultural importance. Lahore, the heart of this throbbing culture and history, was referred by Max Robinson as the “Pearl of the Punjab” in his article “Rebranding Lahore”. So what is Lahore to the common foreigner? Unfortunately nobody knows because we have an out-dated website of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation which does nothing to attract tourists. Lahore is claimed to have existed 4,000 years ago and history has established records of its existence go back at least 2,000 years. This city of vibrant culture, with its outlandish monuments and its commercial centers has changed over the years whilst still keeping the essence of the city itself. This change is reflected in the changes brought about in Liberty Market, the commercial hub of Lahore, set in the center area of Gulberg (originally the Gul-Bagh).
How does a commercial center signify the importance of any city, or its cultural out-look? Relatively! Any shopping center is designed according to the social and cultural needs of its citizens. Lahore is a modern city steeped in a history of thousands of years. It is the crown of Pakistan, originally the crown of Northern India. This is reflected in the architecture of its bazaars, and its modern shopping centers and malls. Liberty Market fits the bill of reflecting Lahore’s modern society. It is a half-souq/bazaar half mall in structure, where you have a huge plaza dominating the area, and then you have rabbit paths very much like those in Anarkali, those that twine from within the closed structure and out to the back where a bazaar like scenery hits you with food stalls, the embroiders, the tailors, walk back inside and you’re inside a branded shop. Liberty Market is the middle-class chic center, where you can find anything and everything, from clothes and accessories to shoes and restaurants. You can go there in the middle of the night and still find a place to sit and relax with a cup of chai and a shwarma. You can enjoy your shopping, breaking it with cool slushes from anyone of the cafes. You think of any type of food, from the traditional to the westernised or Arabian snacks and you have them, all in one area.
The facelift planned has come in handy. The parking space planned and worked on is made more secure, and with parking meters set rather quaintly, coupled with assistants to put in the “quarter” for you (only in this case it’s not a quarter). You have less bombardment of traffic-well; actually there is still the tiresome bombardment, but more controlled. This has helped induce discipline in our public which was lacking miserably these past years.
The commotion with the Sri-Lankan team also added to the, albeit negative, fame of Liberty Market. The worst part was best described by Max Robinson in the very article, when he said, “when the news broke about the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, my heart sank. There was Liberty Chowk, a place full of memories of fun, joyful evenings and feeling ever so slightly too full after gorging on chicken handi at Salt ‘n’ Pepper. If only the people watching that horror knew of the feelings and experiences that I and so many others associate with Liberty, the incident would have felt more like an anomaly or a tragedy. But, alas, the good name of Lahore was to be dragged through the mud and added to the list of dangerous terrorist-ridden holes to be avoided at all costs.”
This calls for an emergency upgrading of Liberty Market and of Lahore. This chic market which is one of the most delightful areas in Lahore is now known to the world as an area unsafe for Lahoris, let alone the tourists. Why? Liberty does not need a physical uplift. It does not need alarming blaring announcements over the speakers as each shop announces its sales, it does not need new plazas- it needs marketing. Yes, our market needs marketing and that even to the outer world. A reflection of its citizens, it should be used in overhauling the image of Lahore in particular and of Pakistan in general.
I mean if the few tourists that come to Lahore feel they have entered the “safest” city in the world, and move around Liberty as the “safest and most colourful” modern epic of Lahore, why shouldn’t it be trumpeted? Apart from those classic monuments of the walled city, what have we for the man of average social tastes? We have Liberty Market, more so due to the negative fame it achieved during the rare terrorist incident. Now people hear of Lahore and they associate it with Liberty Market. That can be propagated positively now, to promote tourism, to promote Lahore’s old name of “one of the most peaceful cities in the world”, to promote the Lahore of today, a modern city with its eons of culture and tradition.
If to one Max Robinson, “Cultural differences mean that a holiday in Pakistan will never be exactly like a vacation to India or Thailand. No boozy full moon dance parties or seedy cruises up and down the beaches here. But there is a market out there for cultural tourism. People who want to enjoy all the sights, sounds and smells of a place totally different to home.” What would it mean to many others once we invite them to come over, to pour in? And once they realize they do not have to go all the way to the walled city to see, in their own words, “wonder after wonder” that “thrills them”, but can enjoy the mundane act of shopping in a center like Liberty and still have a unique experience. Heck, it is a unique experience for our own Pakistanis who come to Lahore just to shop here…imagine what it would be to the foreigners who would greet an up-to-date mall-cum-bazaar well within reach, with products that are also well within reach.