Falling in love is easy, staying loyal is not. I fell in love twice. First got me my wife and the second an eternal fear. Fear of leaving my beloved Lahore. Of the two, I have been more loyal to Lahore. It maybe a mere name on the milestone to many and I sulk at the misfortune of those who descend on Lahore every morning for their livelihood but leave in the setting sun utterly unaffected. What can be more condescending to the city of saints and souls of fire? I shudder at the sacrilege and thank God in the same breath. I thank because I am still around to imbibe the Lahore air, drive on the canal and soak up the unrelenting sun. Lahore, to me, embodies mirth and sorrow, heat and dust, the sun kissed mornings and aromatic evenings, a future wedded to the past and a gloriously resilient spirit.
What makes up a city? Some would say roads, houses, markets, gardens and people. Some would get more philosophical and with eyes forlorn say that memories of the loved ones, of those who flew away and of those who still stay define a city. I would say Lahore offers even more. It protects and embraces the loyal. Even rescues the deserters when they come back abandoned looking for solace. When I drive around Lahore, I don’t see structures. I see memories woven around those structures. Memories woven in pleasure and pain, in joy and grief. Lahore has that magic. It prods you to brew memories, sweetens them through time and then puts them at your beck and call. What a wine we brew in our beating cellars and what a pleasure to quaff this lovely wine when in the company of loneliness.
Perhaps I need to put a leash on my wandering mind. Lahore so unleashes. My English teacher at college would often ask us in a faintly quivering voice about the most romantic place in Lahore. Excited by the word romance, we would rattle out names of gardens, cafes only to be dismissed by his glazed eyes. New Campus, he would declare to be the most beautiful and romantic part of Lahore. Back then his verdict begged explanation which though was never forthcoming. Time reveals at its own pace and we learnt soon what he meant and why. New Campus was and still is an island in a sea of turmoil. The sprawling green fields, the water puddles here and there laden with green moss, the rickety canteens in the shades and men scurrying to serve the students, the proud old trees standing tall having seen it all and the evening silhouettes of people wallowing in the fragrant air, the campus setting works magic on the fertile mind.
I can endlessly ramble on the sights and sounds of Lahore. Some sights have the poignancy to scar the mind for life. One has to see Government College from the top of the New Hostel at the break of dawn or when the sun is bidding farewell. What a glorious sight. The majestic red building, the dazzlingly green sprawl kneeling at its feet and the tower rising above the mundane, affectionately watching over Lahore from the heavens. Then there is Shezan of Fortress Stadium serving the same old by the same old. I can write a whole piece on the menu that pretty much refuses to give in to the demands of the modern palate. The crease lined faces of the old warriors serving the guests have memories buried in the furrows of their foreheads. The twinkle in their eyes says it all when they see an old timer. Wearing contentment and courtesy, they greet, serve and bid farewell. The veranda at Lahore Gymkhana overlooking the golf course with its worn out cane sofas is another window to a spectacular sight. Sipping coffee on a winter afternoon when the warm and cold jostle to embrace the body, the green expanse seems to stretch into infinity.
Born and raised in Lahore, I have had the pleasure of partaking Lahore in the best and worst of moods. It wears red in summers and is intimidating to both friends and foes. Winters strip it naked and it seduces both loyalists and the unsuspecting into a state of sublime peace by serving ice cream on a warm plate. Monsoon rains wash it to pristine green releasing an intoxicating aroma, a heave of relief as water splashes love on to the parched earth. Spring is a riot of colors and Autumn like a saffron bride. I love you Lahore.