There is something about Lahore. There’s something in the streets of this city that is a secret. But just when you think you have it figured out, there is something missing again. We often try to figure it out, what is it about Lahore that keeps us so intrigued?
The Lahore I’ve deciphered in the past 6 years is one that has everything to offer. From tolerance and beauty of its people, to all its imperfections. I made it a point to explore the city in and out and often subjected to all forms of transport available. There is something mischievously funny about pulling outside Cafe Zouk in a rickshaw, or being harassed by the guards at Avari despite being a gold member. Afterall, who could imagine a group of foreign medical students muttering away in their English accents with each other and then bargaining in Punjabi with the rickshaw drivers for overcharging us Rs.50, all the while talking about how we need to stop eating at Fujiyama because it’s getting too damn expensive.
There is a comfort of being at ease no matter which corner of the city you’re in. 9 out of 10 people you meet will look angry to you, but if you smile at them they will always smile back. Zinda Dil enough for you? I’ve walked through Landa Bazaar twice – no problems at all. People will say, why on earth would you ever want to go there!? Well, why wouldn’t you want to go there!? Why wouldn’t you want to see what the fuss is all about? It’s an amazing place. Surprisingly clean and endless mazes of inner streets with thousands of small shops all selling clothing. A market free of name brands and devoid of bastardization from corporate giants. You can almost taste the freedom.
I’ve walked the famous Heera Mandi. I’ve seen the dancing girls and the pimps and their lucrative offers. I’ve imagined Mick Jagger and Salman Ahmad walking about the same streets after 1996 Cricket World Cup Final. I’ve seen the walls that guard the city of Lahore, the history that repels from their stature never stops intriguing me. I’ve seen the Gurdwara and the Badshahi Mosque side by side, and I’ve often stood ontop of Cucoo’s Den overlooking the view and wondered how beautiful the religious harmony must have been in the 17th century, when the Sikhs and Muslims never dreamed of a separate homeland for each other.
I’ve seen the beauty of the seasons that Lahore offers. The winters are normally mild, but it does get cold enough for sweaters and jackets in the mornings and nights – nothing can equate to the feeling of the warm sun and a hot cup of chai after morning lectures at Allama Iqbal Medical College. Sitting in the lawn and soaking the sun never felt any better than this time of year, also equally satisfying is huddling around a gas heater early in the morning. Winter also brings with it certain foods that Lahori’s prefer seasonally. Fish is a big winner here and while Bashir may still be the best place to eat fish in Lahore, healthy competition is brewing elsewhere too. My personal favourites of the season are gajar halwa, petha halwa and the best of all saag. The beautiful spring always brings out the bloom in Lahore; more so in my neighbourhood of Cantt. Polo matches with a 5:1 ratio of girls:guys in attendance is always a spring special. The intense heat of the summer from May to July is often unbearable, but a thandi lassi refreshes you like nothing else, and also puts you to sleep like a baby. Afternoon naps are a tradition in Lahori summers. End of July and onwards, the heat is coupled with the boisterous thunderstorms of monsoon season, the relief from heat is blatantly obvious when rain comes pouring down, it is visible on everyones faces as their mood is elated and the traffic also increases accordingly. Everyone wants to enjoy the good weather by being outdoors. But the minute it rains too much, everyone will gal-galoch WASA for their laziness after all the water refuses to drain. Funny how it works.
All the little towns inside Lahore and their offerings, Iqbal Town, Faisal Town, Garden Town, Johar Town, Wapda Town, Gulberg, Defence, Shah Jamal, Gawal Mandi and any other prominent place are all imprinted in the back of my mind like a map. Heck, I even went to Tollington Market in Ichra once.
Has any other city in India or Pakistan combined produced more talented and diverse individuals that have shot to fame in their respected field of work? Feiz Ahmad Feiz, Allama Iqbal, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Atif Aslam, Ali Zafar, Salman Ahmad (Junoon), Aitezaz Ahsan, these are just some of the prominent name that come to mind. There is a bustling energy and fusion of a culture that Lahore creates in itself. Its this unabated energy which gives rise to such free thinking and innovative artists and scholars. The sufi poet Bulleh Shah roamed these streets trying to search for a meaning of life. Shah Hussein expressed his love in poetry whilst wandering the same Lahore. Shah Jamal spread the spirit of Islam from Lahore, and his deciples still sing and dance to remember him, his most prominent followers is Pappu Saeen – a folk artist like no other who showcases his amazing talent of dhol-playing while high on bhang on Thursday nights. A show you won’t find anywhere in the world. To see the deciples in a state of fanaa is a sight to behold. Lahore is and has always been a focal point in the history of South Asia, a secret that’s only known to those who have dared to enter the city and explored. Its intensity is palpable in the creativity of the people it has produced, and the proud institutions that produced them.
From the ancient walls of Government College and King Edward Medical College, to the recently built green and quiet campus of LUMS, a pioneer of excellence in business education. From the immensely talented art students at NCA to the newly built liberal arts university, Beaconhouse, from the crafty UET to the worldclass presenters in fashion design from PSFD (i.e HSY, Maria B, Munib Nawaz etc). From the fine grooming received at Aitchison College to the distasteful Lahore American School. From eating various types of potentially unhygienic food from a street vendors to the fine dining and drinks at the luxurious restaurants, from the corner shop barbers to the reknowned hair designers, there is something brilliant being offered if you search for it at just about every corner of Lahore. From the smug looking faces of corrupt officials and the socialites to the genuine joy on the faces of street children playing together – there is a secret in Lahore that keeps the equilibrium in steady state. There’s a love that calls for it’s people to rise, there’s a scream that awaits for it’s people to evolve, yet Lahore remains a mystery that may never be solved. A love that will never die.
Original Photos available at link
Photos in this post by Sahrish Jamali