There has always been a void in my heart since I moved out of Lahore, my hometown
My love for Lahore creeps up in unpredictable ways. A few weekends ago, on a picnic to Daman-i-Koh, in Islamabad, basking in the golden sun and nibbling on moong phalli (peanuts) transported me to my childhood days. A wave of nostalgia took me deep down the memory lane where I was sitting gleefully among my favourite people and enjoying tangerines, peanuts and endless chatting.
Model Town Park was where we spent our Sundays in the winters during the daylight hours.
I live in arguably the most beautiful city, the capital, with its lush greenery and beautiful hills. The air is cleaner here. The traffic isn’t as maddening. But there has always been a void in my heart since I moved. Lahore is my hometown. “Lahore Lahore ae,” “Jinnay Lahore nayin vekhya o jamya nayin” are no longer the corny and clichéd descriptions that I struggled to relate to as a child. It is as if upon moving away I have really realised that I am a true Lahori.
Initially, upon moving I felt I was missing family and friends. Later, it widened to availability of services and brands that I was used to. After almost a decade I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a lot more than just familiar faces and persevering ties. And Islamabad is a cosmopolitan city just the same.
Every city has an identity and people dwelling there have specific traits irrespective of status, gender and religion. It does become a constitutive part of one’s quirks and mannerisms, often in a very subtle way.
Of course, I would naturally have an emotional bond with the city I was born and raised in. There have been several occasions where my friends and family were around me but there was always something missing.
I could try to convince people that the aura of Lahore is different. Perhaps an easier and heartbreaking argument that I have a better chance with is that the air is decidedly different. As soon as we enter Lahore, by road or by air, we are bound to be struck down with smog-created gloom. Further, despite an extended road network Lahore remains a busy and jammed city when it comes to commuting. Arriving from a relatively ‘peaceful’ and ‘quiet’ city, political protests and long marches notwithstanding, the busy streets of Lahore in my view represent life and the chaos that comes with it.
Food is the first thing on my mind when I arrive here. Sure, those who prefer Karachi might have a thing or two to say. The best outlets like Sardar Machhli Farosh, Phajjay Kay Paye, Bundu Khan and Chaman Ice-cream that make up Lahore’s culinary web are things I dearly miss when I am away.
Islamabad’s fancy malls are no match for the experience of shopping at Liberty Market, MM Alam Road and Fortress - a perfect blend of one-stop shop and street food. And of course, Ichhra and Anarkali Bazaar, if you’re looking for extremely economical and unique finds with a side of the perfect channa pathura. Even if you are just window shopping, the raunaq in the streets rekindles the spirit.
From a social point of view, if you are already a Lahori you might know the amiability and humour of the locals. If you are a guest or have recently moved, you will get extreme warmth from neighbours, colleagues - even someone you barely know. The hospitality and kindness, which can be too much for some, are characteristics that I dearly miss. I have never known a time when I was turned down in time of need, be it a friend or a stranger. It is about temperament to some degree but there are many people I’ve come across who settled in Lahore and blended so well in the city that they found it hard to adjust back in their hometowns.
Yet, my heart bleeds to see how my beloved city has become one of the top polluted cities across the globe. Commercialisation and estate development in recent years have taken over the cityscape. The shrinking of green spaces imperils the bona fide ethos. It’s disheartening to see how residential areas are taken down to build high-rise buildings. Even so, the city has been around, reportedly, for millennia. It has lived through so much history.
There is hope that it shall remain buoyant even if its citizens wish to move to ‘greener pastures’. Lahore is something you can’t shake out of your system so easily.
Nothing can sum up my sentiments better than these lines:
Us shehr-i-bay-misaal ko chhor kar mein udaas hi raha
Mein kaheen bhi gaya, mein Lahore hi raha!
The writer is a pharmacist