I’m sitting under the Eiffel Tower. And it’s so breathtakingly lit up that I almost can’t believe I’m here…in Paris. There are people holding hands around me and looking deep into each other’s eyes, as the night engulfs them yet the tower stands brighter and sparkler. Amidst the crowds, I imagine that I’ll also run into someone and maybe be as dazzled from them as I am from this monument.
But I’m not in Paris. I’m a resident of Bahria Town in Rawalpindi, and a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower, which is visible from my house, makes me romanticise about one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Perhaps the probing question is why can I see a model of the Eiffel Tower from the window of my home in Rawalpindi, Pakistan?
After living in Bahria Town for a year, it is apparent that the town is a gated community for the Pakistani bourgeoisie. The social, entertainment, and food scenes that has sprung up within the walls of this town are all catered towards a middle class that can afford this lifestyle and the benefits it brings. Residents can watch movies in fancy cinemas, eat overpriced food in neighborhood restaurants, experience no load shedding in their homes, and live miles away, both literally and metaphorically, from the Pakistani majority.
Perhaps the probing question is why can I see a model of the Eiffel Tower from the window of my home in Rawalpindi, Pakistan?
Once you cross the checkpoint, you’re no longer in Pakistan, but instead could be in any city in the western world. You can catch views of Bahria Town from the area that surrounds ‘The Statue of Liberty’, or sip a coffee in a Gloria Jeans overlooking ‘Trafalgar Square’, or listen to parisian jazz under the ‘Eiffel Tower’.
Newsweek referred to Bahria Town as Pakistan’s Gateway to Paradise, and like any paradise, it is reserved for a few. You have to be from a certain social class to live the Bahria Town dream in Pakistan, just like it is significant to live your idealized versions of the European and American dreams. Whether you want to walk the streets of Paris covered in Gucci or have your ambitions turned to reality in New York or London, it is important to remember that these fantasies are not for anyone to have. You have to be rich to dream this dream.
The proletariat fraction of the population has no role in the market for the Bahria Town dream, but is instead involved in its manufacture. The laborers, almost invisibly, carry out their daily construction jobs. The workers ensure that the rich continue to dream within the gated community of Bahria Town, while compromising themselves in the production. After all, like in any capitalistic society, one social class constructs the fantasy for the other, while its own reality becomes a nightmare. What does the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, and Trafalgar Square mean to the poor?
Once you cross the checkpoint, you’re no longer in Pakistan, but instead could be in any city in the western world.
But the better question is: what does the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, and Trafalgar Square mean to the rich? The replicas of western architectural monuments in Bahria Town stir certain utopian fantasies to the bourgeoisie. Statue of Liberty, for instance, is a reminder of a better life in New York, of bright Broadway lights and glittering high-rises, where dreams will come true and anyone can become anything, if they work hard enough. This is the utopian idealism that so many of us buy into. The replicas signify aspirations for the rich’s idealized versions of the American and European dreams. But their existence mainly highlights the lack of an authentic Pakistani dream.
The Bahria Town dream rests on commodification of living experiences, and the replicas of western architectural monuments are significant symbols that sell and reinforce this notion. They market how lives of Bahria’s residents are comparable to their utopian fantasies in Paris, New York, and London. And maybe that’s the thing with dreams and fantasies, they can be manufactured, engineered, marketed, and sold. While the poor remain involved in the exploitation that occurs in the manufacture of this la la land.