Where the Heart is…

Published Us Magazine, The News International. March 26, 2010.


Dedicated to the beloved city, Lahore; and all those associated with it positively.      


     As the sky transformed into a dreary hue of gray, the desperate locals hoped it was a normal fire, though all forecasted the potent smoke implemented a greater, darker veracity. By the evening, the whole of Lahore knew the cause of this discolouration. An entire train carrying immigrating Muslims had been torched to a crisp, allegedly by some mongering Sikhs. Though it was primarily feared that none on the train had escaped the blaze, but some, inexplicably, did. Among these blessed, rather cursed ones was Iqbal. When the streets of his hometown ofAmritsar had started gushing with innocent Muslims’ hot blood, he was forced into the only option of fleeing to Pakistan; a place he held no esteem or fondness for. Near Lahore, the commuters were struck by a fearsome commotion. The incident claimed the lives of many, inclusive of Iqbal’s mother, wife, three children and two sisters. Even in that harsh August of 1947, when the fetid air smelled of flesh and blood, Lahore lived up to its reputation of welcoming all. When the city had been benevolent to its savage conquerors through all the ages, it was only natural that it was too elated to receive those who meant no harm. The city received about five million refugees genially. Thirty years later, in the last days before succumbing to death, Lahore had become the only place on Earth that Iqbal could call, candidly, his home.


     Lahore offered an infinite array of options when it came to eating; the outsiders often exclaimed the city to have only two ambitions: food and women. The restaurant culture thrived in the city with hotels at every turn. Anwar’s favourite, however, was Cuckoo’s Den. Although it was its ambience that was generally admired, Anwar’s choice was shaped by the location. Nestled cozily inside the famed Hira Mandi, the den rested under the azure skies. The Mandi, a remnant of Moghul times, did not just allure many, but had also endowed, interestingly, the film industry with many a singers and actresses. While the girls of those streets practiced the world’s oldest profession for a living, the faithful would be kneeling before God in the fifth largest mosque of the world, Badshahi Masjid, at a stone throw’s. Before the mosque was buried Iqbal since 1938, the national poet of the country, and along with him was buried the iconic image of the Pakistan Iqbal wanted his dream to realize into. To the east of Iqbal, across the striking Huzoori bagh with its bara-dari, lay the magnificent fort of Akbar with its shimmering Sheesh Mehal, Naulakha pavilion and Jehangir’s bedroom. To the north stood the Gurdwara and Samadhi of Ranjit Singh, where no non-Sikh was allowed to lay a foot. It was an incredible spectacle the Cuckoo’s presented. Sin, faith and splendour blended artistically with each other in the locale. An implausible bonding of piety and blaspheme to be witnessed nowhere butLahore.


     When Adnan Malik arrived in Lahore for the first time, he couldn’t help reviving the customary rivalry between the two cities; the comparison came naturally. His city, Karachi, seemed to be emerging victorious on every battleground. For one, the roads of Lahore paled miserably in comparison to Karachi, or even to Islamabad in that matter. The traffic here was absolutely inhuman, a lot worse than Sindh’s capital, although the city was half in size to Karachi. Then Lahore didn’t have the credibility of becoming a world class city that Karachi, splendidly boasted of; Lahore appeared more like an overgrown modern village. The locals of the city gave the excruciating aura of illiteracy; they spoke Urdu with a thick Punjabi accent, many wore dhotis. Scuffles in the city were a typical sight. This, and more, assured Adnan that his sophisticated, upright Karachi was the sure shot winner. However, in the days that followed, Lahoreunveiled another of its images. While Karachi was a busy, minding-own-business type place, Lahore was sensitive. When Adnan was glum, the statue of Queen Victoria in the Museum shed tears with him; when he was happy, he would be joined in the merry-making by the gay posters of Lollywood hung throughout the city. When he felt nostalgic, the Old City charmed him with fables. It seemed to share a bit of every emotion the person had. Still, the fact was way too meager to win over the materialistic follies Lahore contained. While flying back, Adnan vowed not to come back to Lahore. The next year, however, and each following that, he again came.   


     Rehana was exceedingly doting of her city. The cultural capital of Pakistan had too many positive vibes, and emblematic of these was the old tea house that sat in the Old Anarkali. In the 1970s when Rehana was a student in King Edwards, struggling her way through pathology and forensic medicine texts, she would drop before the tea house and walk the rest of the way to the college. In the afternoons, she, along with her cronies would often peek through the dusty glass at the literary giants of Lahore, discussing literature while sipping tea and smoking cigarettes. The cheap tea house boasted to be the hub of Lahore’s cultural activity, with the likes of Manto, Kamal Rizvi, Mira Ji, Habib Jalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz paying regular visits. Financial problems could never overwhelm these avid Lahoris. It made her proud, to share a city with visionaries and revolutionaries. In the 80s, she commenced her practice inLahore. But Lahore, she sensed, was altering, it was losing much of its original, independent flavour. She could never tell how, or why. In 2004, the Pak Tea House, being financially unviable, was shut down. Its closure, according to Rehana, marked the end of an era: of a culturally booming Lahore. In 2006, Rehana left for the United States.       


      Living in Mughalpura near the dilapidated tomb of Zaib-un-Nissa, and growing up with the notion of being a Mughal descendant, Noor-un-Nisa had started feeling like a Mughal princess as she knocked at adolescence. She would often go to the Miana Mahal in the Shalimar Gardens and look at the flickering water on the marble jaali, sporting a semblance like pure diamonds. Her vessels dilated on recalling the fact that in the Sikh era, many of the Mughal artifacts had been embezzled and transported to the Golden Temple. Mughals were her forefathers, she was their heir. She never understood how her family property had gone in the hands of Punjab Government. She intuitively felt she owned the Mughal relics. In the Fort, she twice indulged in a brawl with the guards preventing her entrance in the locked upper stories. When she remarked that being a Mughal she had the right to, the guards took her to be a mental case. When her Mughal blood ambitioned to the extent that she set off to live in her family home, the Fort, the doctors felt the same; she was suffering, and the far she was sent from Lahore, the better. So, on a quintessential basant in Lahore, when the sky was alight with a thousand colours, her life turned sepia. She was married off to Rahim Yar Khan, for the good. The city owed too much to Noor’s blood; the Fort, the Mosque, the Garden, the Tombs, the Fiction, the Grandeur; yet not to mention rule, she wasn’t even allowed to live in it.    



     It had been sixty years, yet the sweet memories of Lahore were still fresh in Andrew Wallace’s mind. When, in 2009, after years of longing and missing, Wallace returned to visit Lahore, he was struck by the advancement the city had undergone; it now had a new airport to start with. But then, such evolution could be aptly expected from a city whose citizens had once erected an impelling mosque in Shalimi Chowk in a mere night. The city held many surprises in store for Wallace: in contrast to his days when the Mall, now the Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam, was the only dual carriageway, now every road was. The Lawrence was now called Bagh-e-Jinnah; Race Course renamed Jillani. The number of restaurants had risen from a timid three (Inter-continental, Faletti’s and Chinese) to infinite. Multi-storied buildings, a rare sight in his days, had now become a regular spectacle. Sumptuous shopping malls dotted the city. The epicenter of the city had drastically changed, with many suburbs like Raiwind and Shahdara now registered areas of the city. His school, Aithison, had also been affected by this wave of change: it now boasted of an amphitheater, a large library, laboratories, riding club, squash and basketball courts. The Data Darbar had emerged into a concrete complex. His home atTemple Road, an oriental haveli, had been replaced by shops selling garments and meat. Lahore had developed so much, yet somewhere along the transfiguration, this foundation of the modern Lahore had been laid on the rubble of the Lahore that once was; Wallace’s Lahore. Time had changed so much, yet one thing that had survived this ferocity of time was Andrew’s love for the city. It couldn’t be undone; neither changed.


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