By Sonya Rehman
The terrorist attack last week on Easter, at Lahore’s popular Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, which left scores dead and hundreds injured, was nothing short of horrific.
Since the attack, the stories of loss and devastation have begun emerging across social media platforms; one in particular was the that of a little girl, now an orphan, whose entire family perished on the night of the suicide bombing. The devastation and trauma runs deep.
Yet, amidst the individual suffering and the collective anguish, there have been slivers of joy taking root at the hospitals where the victims are being currently treated: empathetic residents of Lahore have been consistently visiting the wards, providing hot meals, toys, love, care and compassion as families and children slowly begin piecing together the remnants of a life now drastically, cruelly altered.
Recently, a group of youngsters got together to paint a ‘Wall Of Tolerance’ on one of the walls of the park, in a bid to inculcate tolerance, foster love and instill coexistence in a city still lurching from the after-affects of hate and fanaticism.
Shehzil Malik, a designer and illustrator who teaches at a university in Lahore, teamed up with her sister after a local student organization, the Democratic Students’ Alliance, suggested the painting of a mural at the park. Rounding up their friends and well-wishers, the team of concerned citizens set out to paint a beautiful, vibrant wall which (translated from Urdu) reads: Extremism No More.
“[The idea] behind the mural’s design was to paint something beautiful for families visiting the park to stop and look at,” stated Malik, “I felt it was important to send a message of love and empathy, and not channel the anger we all feel at the horrific events that occurred.”
However, the day the group landed up at the park to paint, they realized they hadn’t sought permission for their project first. Since the attack, policemen had been deployed at the location and were strictly forbidding people from entering the site.
Luckily, Ali Mehdi Zaidi, a member of the team, amicably convinced the police to let them go ahead with the mural. “[Zaidi] brought the supervising officer to the wall and we explained that we wanted to paint something beautiful for the people,” Malik said, “I showed them my design and even got some constructive criticism out of the exchange! In the end, we were all smiling and [the police officers] gave us their blessings, checking up on us as the painting took shape.”
“The design is meant to be a message of love, new beginnings and flowering hope. The patterns at the back are those I see in our buildings, our places of worship, our cultural landmarks, and our houses across the country,” Malik stated, “We are capable of such love and beauty, and I hope this mural helps us remember that.”