A sad homecoming
Hello Lahore! Let me commence with a note of appreciation for Hassan and Co. for welcoming me to the LMB team. It’s great to join the fold :)
Whilst I don’t live in Lahore per se, I do have a very strong bond with my birth place. Since leaving the great city over 8 years ago, I have made every effort to return and explore its past and present. Needless to say, my family and friends provide a constant urge (and reason) for me to return to Lahore. So for my first ever LMB post, I think its apt that I choose one of my overriding memories from my most recent visit in Dec/ Jan 2007-08. Here goes…
Having arrived days following the shocking assasination of Benazir Bhutto, I was struck by the low mood of the nation and indeed how it had negatively impacted the generally boisterous city of Lahore. The whole episode had somehow crept into the very conscience of the people and sucked out their usual optimism.
Having booked my tickets well in advance, I had been looking forward to my Pakistani adventure with ambitions to visit sights and sounds of inner Lahore and meet and greet the ‘real’ Lahoris who crossed my path…gawwalas, drivers, cooks, pan wallas, you name it. On the contrary, I found myself increasingly restricted by constant advice not to drive at night or visit public places. To top it off, the sense-defying ‘loadshedding’ crippled the city and most of my plans to be productive. It was funny how a few days of being in Lahore, my London pragmatism turned initially to frustration and later into helplessness.
Behind the glittery facade of glass offices and neon lights, there was an evident lack of the spirit of Lahore. It was as if the city had decided to disassociate itself from its inhabitants by falling into a deep slumber. Most of my ill-tempered thoughts were directed to the social and educational deprivation of the society. Having an upbringing in a household where a core focus was on high moral values and education, I was a bit disappointed that the so called educated in our society had done nothing but better themselves and line their own and friends pockets. All this at the cost of a crumbling nation whose financial and natural resources cannot sustain the rising needs of the burgeoning population. But some will argue this can be the case with most of the country so how does it relate to Lahore?
Well to answer that question, I think we need to search for the soul of Lahore. If we chart the course of the city and its majority Muslim population through history, it’s little more than a fraction of the centuries when the city stood as a melting pot of culture, religion, education and commerce. Ask any visitor to Lahore about their lasting memories of the city and chances are they would say it was its Mughal architecture, the Royal Gardens or the cross section of religious shrines. In all my life, no one has ever truly praised a post-1947 symbol. So I believe there is a message in all of this. We need to rekindle the soul of the city and transform it back to its rightful place: to be a seat of great learning, architecture, culture and religious and social tolerance. With the right focus, maybe us Lahoris can all act as a beacon of change for the rest of the country to follow.