LAHORE LAHORE AYE: Some early Lahore memories
By A Hamid
Lahore ó the very name is magic to me. There is something inscrutable
about this name. It is like a spell that casts itself even on those
who do not believe in spells. I do not see Lahore as just a city: it
is more like a feeling. As you walk through its dimly lit streets and
its ancient gardens, this mysterious feeling that is Lahore grips your
heart. You feel that your relationship with this city and its spirit
has been there forever, and nothing will ever break it.
I recall once sipping a cup of coffee with a European diplomat on the
lawns of a five-star Lahore hotel. It was late March or early April,
the time of the year when flowers begin to bloom in the cityís parks.
My friend raised his eyes, looked at the magnificent trees of The Mall
and began to talk. He said he had begun his career in an African
country where he was lonely most of the time. He began to make efforts
to get transferred to Paris so that he could enjoy the fabled
pleasures of life in that great city. Then one day, while leafing
through a magazine, he saw pictures of old Lahore streets and he
immediately felt drawn to them. They reminded him of the streets where
he had spent his childhood. When he shared this with his friends, they
laughed at him. Soon afterwards he was told that he had been
transferred to Paris. His friends, who were congratulating him on his
good fortune, were taken aback when he told them that he did not want
to go to Paris: he wanted to go to Lahore. And that was where, he
said, he had finally come, and never for a moment had he regretted his
I do know that if Lahore takes hold of you, it is a relationship that
would know no separation, even if you were to leave. Lahore, be it the
new or the old Lahore, is Lahore, in every way, in each one of its
facets. This is Data Gunj Buksh country and the gentle presence of the
saint is like a canopy that keeps the city in its care.
The fragrance of the red roses and the incense that perfumes the
saintís mausoleum also touch this cityís soul. There is much praying
in Lahore. It has numerous places of worship. I have seen people at
prayer in mosques in the middle of cold winter nights, reading the
Quran and supplicating themselves before their Maker. The city has a
poignant soul because of the men of God who once lived here and the
pious ones who now live here.
I remember the Lahore of my childhood and the Lahore of my boyhood. I
also remember Lahore of the day when Pakistanís green flag first
fluttered in its breeze, a time when thousands of Muslims from East
Punjab had begun to pour into it. The people of Lahore had taken them
to their bosom. Lahore, they say, has a long history, and its present
modernity notwithstanding, that old history still lives in its
streets. Sometimes, while walking through its cool, half-lit back
alleys, I feel as if I would come face to face with Sultan Mahmud
Ghaznavi at the next corner. My first memory of Lahore is detailed and
distinct. I find myself on a vast ground, in the middle of which there
is a man beating a drum, next to a green flag. I am being carried in
the lap of someone. Then I hear a whisper: this is the last resting
place of Ghazi Ilm Din Shaheed.
My next memory of Lahore is a little boy in shorts running along a
railway track. I am that boy and this is Farooq Ganj. Another boy is
with me. There is a train approaching from the direction of Badami
Bagh, its enormous engine emitting steam and sparks. I feel the earth
shaking under my feet. The engine is pulling a long, red train. We run
down a slope and sit on a rock.
We hear the wheels clattering rhythmically, as they rush past us on
the metallic track. And then it is gone. My next memory of Lahore is
sitting at a saintís mausoleum with my mother. There are red rose
petals all over the floor and I can hear the sacred voices of devotees
I run out and go stand in the courtyard of a mosque next door. There,
people are praying; others are busy with their ablutions. The sky is
bright and blue. I go stand in the mosque door when I see an old man
in green walking up, followed by many people, I run back to my mother.
The scene changes and there I am walking with Lala Ghulam Hussain. We
have just come out through Masti Gate and are now in front of a police
station, which faces a huge banyan tree. A police constable sits with
his back to the wall, smoking a huqqa. We are on our way to the Ravi
River. Lala Ghulam Hussain is our close relative and he is crazy about
angling. He holds a bag in one hand and a fishing rod in the other. It
is a lovely day. On way to the Badami Bagh railway station, we pass in
front of Hakim Nayyar Wastiís clinic.
We go past the station, walk along the railway tracks towards the
river. I love those railway tracks and the trains that move over them.
When one passes, I stand and keep looking at it till it disappears
into the distance. We are now at the river. I put a foot forward over
a muddy spot and I feel that I am being dragged in. I go into what are
quicksands up to my knee. I scream. Lala Ghulam Hussain turns back,
moves in close, and lays himself flat on the ground. He is not
nervous. He asks me to try to do the same. Then he begins to move his
arms as if he were swimming. He grabs hold of one of my arms and
gradually pulls me out.
We turn back. We have caught no fish. We are now in our Masti Gate
house and Lala Ghulam Hussainís wife is browning onions in a pot in
the kitchen, while he prepares minced meat. When he is done, he takes
a drag on his huqqa and says to her, ďMumtaz, add a little saffron to
the spices. I want the entire neighbourhood to smell the fragrance of
So distinct and evocative are these memories that I can return to my
childhood whenever I want.
A Hamid, the distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer,
will be contributing a column based on his memories every week.
Translated from Urdu by Khalid Hasan