Informal signage, meant to inform Rawalpindi’s residents and those who may be visiting, offer more than just guidance or instructions: they offer us a window into civic life in the garrison city. One can see where the municipality falls short of its targets and where there is a greater underlying civic problem; but only if you read the signs right.
The inscription on the stairs of the Purana Qila Mosque may read ‘Note: Do not put shoes on the stairs’, but the instruction obviously falls on deaf ears.
Similarly, the ignored ‘No Parking’ sign in this photograph shows a blatant disregard for the rules in the Narankari Bazaar area.
But both photos reveal a disturbing trend: public spaces are shrinking. Overcrowding and high population density are leading to situations where there is simply not enough space for everyone.
The tone of this message, painted on a wall in another part Narankari Bazaar, is more imploring than anything else. It reads: “Urinating here is prohibited. Please do not urinate here, otherwise people from the office will taunt you”.
The sight of someone urinating in public, however repulsive, is not an uncommon one in the Pakistani context. Especially in an urban setting, where one would expect there to be more facilities than are available in the more remote parts of the country, a lack of public lavatories and a greater lack of proper health and hygiene measures is quite noticeable.
Public spaces that see hundreds of thousands of people everyday are woefully ill-equipped to deal with the sanitary requirements of a burgeoning populous.
Rawalpindi is littered with private streets and alleys. This elaborate sign placed at entrance to one such thoroughfare outlines the hazards of venturing into this ‘hallowed ground’.
The sign reads: “1. This is a private street leading to a residence. Outsiders are not allowed inside. 2. Do not block the street entrance by parking your vehicles or you will be responsible for any damage incurred. 3. Meter readers may contact the school gate in case the street gate is closed.”
The finality in the tone of the authority that had this sign put up gives the reader an insight into their mindset. Annoyance with repeated violations of decorum and/or invasion of privacy in what people consider ‘their own backyard’ speaks volumes about how congested the city has become. God help the man who dares tresspass here.
Spotted in Bhabra Bazaar, this poster announcing a death in the community, carries an important message.
Ostensibly meant to ensure that no one is left in the dark regarding the tragic demise of a loved one, the poster reads: “Funeral Announcement: Friends are informed that Haji MD has died by the will of God and his funeral will take place…”
The notice continues to name loved ones and is doubtlessly meant to supplement announcements from the local mosque.
The writer is an anthropologist, former Director of National College of Arts, Rawalpindi campus, currently working for the Center for Culture and Development (C2D), Islamabad & Vice President of the Council of Social Sciences.