The first time I realized I had fallen in love with Lahore was when a woman I didn’t know gave me salt in a mosque.
I was 7 and I had strayed away from my parents. Just another speck in the crowd of tourists trying to distract themselves from the bills, the nine-to-fives, and the persistent nagging sense of spiritual emptiness. Too young to be scared of getting lost, I explored the world before me. I wandered with my eyes fixated on the intricate, overlapping swirls and flawless geometry.
As I climbed up an old shaky staircase, I drew near an old woman perched at the top. Olive skin, grey hair, dressed in a bright bright red gharara of ye old days. I remember the stack of bangles that nearly reached her elbow. And how they jingled as she reached her hand out to me, dropping a bit of salt into my opening palm. Utterly disinterested in why the woman was there, I popped the salt into my mouth and wandered back downstairs.
It wasn’t the offering of salt (at least I hope that was salt) that made me adore Lahore. It was that fixed moment in time, the vignette of a 7 year old accepting salt from an old lady (after all, parents only tell you not to accept sweets from strangers).
The eager bustle of the tourists and the burnouts, the students and the degenerates. Drunk in the beauty of the grand temple. Regaling the tale of Anarkali, Prince Salim’s beloved Pomegranate Blossom, buried alive in a brick wall. The harmony of the archaic and the contemporary, where the kings once walked.
Lahore. The second largest city of our beautiful, broken, resilient nation.
No number of pseudo intellectuals romanticizing the remaining glories of a patriarchal empire fallen from grace, and no number of cynics calling out the same pseudo intellectuals, can dismiss the dreams, wonders and incredible history that runs through the streets and in the blood of its people. People who live and breathe art. Whose bittersweet, nostalgic culture of past glories keeps them together. Draws them to the same place again and again, like hell in high heels.
Lahore: Art to Concrete Jungle
Meanwhile, the ministers are busy playing CityVille. Obsessed with steel and concrete, they create colossal, faceless structures (ref: The Metro), while the poignant beauty of the great city disintegrates. Soon enough, these wonders will cease to inspire the millions that it has before us. The new generations, possessed by their bistros and their coffeehouses, will disregard the blood and sweat worked into the walls over the ages, the poets and writers and actors this city has stabbed and brought back to life with its heart-wringing beauty.
Change is good. As a Post-Millennial , I am a big advocate for change when it translates to progress. But stomping on the past to run forward is impolite, rude, arrogant. In spite of vandalizing the city that has endured so much, the issues that these projects set out to resolve haven’t made enough improvement.
As a student notes on a Facebook group, there is a big disconnect between our fondness of Lahore’s cultural sites and their maintenance:
“There can really be no downside to preserving cultural heritage and instructing staff in tourist friendly policies. It has economic benefits and it preserves a culture that most people are very keen on holding on to…”- Student
Now read this with an open mind:
Expecting people to conform to the dress code of a place of worship is reasonable.
However, demanding a woman to cover her head to the point of having a shouting match, in a holy place, is problematic. Especially because, as the student mentioned in the comment section, boys wearing short shorts were allowed entrance. The system of guarding the sanctity of a sacred place works according to some vague criteria that most of us haven’t been able to discern. What phenomena explains this selective policing of attire?
“There are better ways of dealing with the problem. They could set up a shop to sell dupattas. Also, there should be specific area of the mosque that should have these rules, for example the prayer area for men and women. As I said, I was just there to look at the architecture. There was no reason I required a dupatta for that.”- Student
After all, the time when women could be buried alive into brick walls is long past.
Cover image via: wikipedia.org