"Do you think this would have happened to us, if we were still living in Islamabad?" asks my elder son as we remain stuck in a traffic jam. After a heavy rainfall in the morning, the roads are still waterlogged and city traffic is nothing but a mess. "Yes, we used to enjoy there a lot, and we never got stuck in traffic," the younger one joins the rant bandwagon. The mean Lahori inside me wants to remind him of those two hours when we could not move even an inch because of a massive traffic jam in front of Islamabad Zoo on Eid. But then I remind myself that these questions, more so statements, have become a constant in my life ever since we moved to Lahore one and a half years ago. All this time, I have either been forced into drawing comparisons between malls in two the cities, or taking them to places and eateries that bring some element of their favourite city, or requesting them to extend the deadline to go back to Islamabad. But this one time I can’t let their distractions dissuade me from soaking the beauty of Lahore in monsoon, despite all the chaos. Therefore, I remain quiet and let them sulk.
We lived happily in Islamabad for eight years. My younger son was born there; the elder grew up there. These eight years went by quickly. No complaints, no regrets. We made some wonderful friends with whom we created many cherishable memories. We took full advantage of all that a great city like Islamabad has to offer. But, as luck would have it, one fine day we had to move back to Lahore - my beloved hometown.
In all these years, we kept coming back for short trips, but settling here permanently has been a different experience - ‘strange’ would be a more appropriate expression. A friend once equated the experience of moving back to her hometown to being in an episode of the Twilight Zone. At that time, I looked at her confused but now I can relate to what she meant. In all these years, the city has changed a lot. Some features of its landscape have disappeared entirely. There are new places, new buildings, new societies and new people. Dilapidated streets have been replaced with roads buzzing with traffic. Brands, designer lawn, launch events, electronic billboards, hotels, restaurants, cafes, indoor gaming places, lavish weddings with themed mehndis, scandals, politics, arrests, protests - now Lahore has it all, and in abundance.
The neighbourhood, where I lived many years of my life, has also evolved. Some neighbours are no longer there, some have passed away, others have moved in. Many of the neighbourhood kids have grown up and are beginning new chapters in their lives with new jobs and promotions, marriages and newborn babies.
There has been a change in my socialising habits too. In Islamabad, my social life was limited. Being away from my family, I went on many years without seeing my aunts, cousins, grandparents and extended family. Being in Lahore, there is no escape from family events, get-togethers, tea parties, milaads and aqiqaas, engagements and weddings. It’s been great to catch up with my tribe. I feel secure, I feel relaxed and I get to eat a lot of food (my personal favourite bit)
Yet, in many ways, it is exactly the way I left it eight years ago - just like a place caught in time. This is what makes it Twilight Zone-ish. It is still noisy and crowded; the blaring of sirens and horns still pierces through the ears; one still has to wait for an eternity to cross the road just to get to the small shop across the street; street vendors still sell their goods yelling in Punjabi at the top of their lungs; street food is still mouthwatering; the hustle and bustle at night is mesmerising in exactly the same way; guests still come unexpectedly and at odd hours; the ever-inquisitive neighbour is still interested in knowing my salary; my next door uncle’s water tank is always over-flowing; the street guard is as humble as he was years ago. The sense of comfort, warmth and belonging that this city offers every time I return to it remains unchanged.
For me, Lahore is the city that never changes. It is the same. It smells the same, it feels the same. Coming back to my hometown has definitely helped me move forward in my life. But this time, I have to help my boys embrace the city, which earlier for them was only a place where their Nano (grandmother) lives. I am reacquainting with old haunts of mine along with my boys to show them the Lahore I know. At the same time, I am also exploring the city with them in a way I never had, and visiting places I never got a chance to visit earlier. And guess what? The rants and ramblings continue, comparisons between the two cities never end, but slowly and gradually my boys are coming home too.