One word, one place, one name. But it’s so much more.
If someone asks me what Pakistan is for me, I would say Lahore. And only a true Lahori can tell you what that means. Lahore is life, Lahore is noise, Lahore is color, and Lahore is love. Lahore is everything in one. It is the way people live, as if Lahore is a part of them. Lahore lives in its people and they keep Lahore alive. The hustle bustle of daily life, as people rush past on their scooters, the multicolored rickshaws, the bicycles, and the cars, all twisting turning trying to get ahead. It is the noise – the honking, the sirens, and the hum of everyone talking, which becomes such sweet music you long to hear again.
Text & Photos by Muqaddisa Javad
It is the colors of the bazaars, the colors of the rows of chooriyan lined up on high shelves. It is the color of the golden sky. It is the color of the high mounds of cloth and the thousands of sparkling multifaceted earrings. It is the color of mehndi dark, rich, and red. It is the color of the sky filled with kites during basant, it is the color yellow, green, and red.
Lahore is the smell of Aloo ke Paranthe in the early hours of the morning; it’s the smell of tandoori naan and chicken tikka in the cold winter nights and it’s the smell of chanay cooked in sand on the side of the road in the afternoons. Lahore is everything. And then, Lahore is love. It is the love we felt when we were growing up. It’s the love we feel resting our heads on our nano ami’s lap. It’s the love and solace we find on our nana abu’s shoulders.
The love we felt running up the stairs as the light would peak through the holes in the concrete as that same light would dance around us. It is the love that brings us together. It is the love that turns tears into laughter by nightfall. It is the love that surrounds us as we sit around the heater with no light. It is the love that pulsates through the stories told. It is the love of our childhood. The love of the ties that bind us and keep us rooted. I don’t even know when Lahore became synonymous with love for me. It just did, slowly but suddenly.
Growing up in the US I was always fascinated with this city that everybody loved so dearly. Even though I had spent little time in Lahore, I still considered myself to be Lahori for some odd reason. But when I first stepped foot in Lahore after ten years the city took me in with open arms, it swept me up and held me close. The cold winter air felt warm and the earth smelled of home. I finally knew why everyone had always reminisced about Lahore with such fondness.
Being back overwhelmed me at first; the culture shock set in and disappeared within a few days. It was obvious it would take just a little while to fit in; just how little time it took was what surprised me. Lahore grew on me and started to live in me. I breathed its colorful air and took in its noisy life.
I will never forget that moment when it first rained. The pounding of heavy raindrops vibrated throughout the house as I ran outside onto the balcony. The wind, the rain, the clouds were just perfect. I let the rain engulf me, drown me, kiss me. I let it soak me. You might find it funny, that a girl who has lived in Seattle for most of her life got so fascinated by rain, but let me tell you this; I can never forget the feel of the Lahori rain as it touched my skin, and I will never forget that day.
I will never forget turning around and seeing my grandparents look at me like I was slightly crazy, or how my grandmother fretted over me saying I’d get sick. I will never forget the love I got from them. See Lahore also signifies home for me because of them. Lahore is my lifeline, as the two most important people in my life call it home.
I have always heard it’s the people that make the city; you only enjoy living somewhere if you have good company. I didn’t know anyone when I reached Lahore, but by the time I came back I made some lifelong friendships and discovered even more lifelong ties from my childhood. Even though the few weeks I spent with people I had not met in years felt very little. It never felt like we had met after so long. Then there were the people I met for the first time in my life – two of my best friends, some of the siblings of friends from here, along with the people I had known since I was little, who truly made me feel like I belonged.
The after dinner drives, getting weird frozen yogurt, the deserted bowling alley with the creepy staff, the coffee and French fries and brownie desserts, the photo trips, even the accidents…in short all the memories that I crave to relive once more.
Lahore brought me back to who I used to be. I found a hidden me inside that had been hibernating for too long. Lahore picked me up and turned me around; I’m not the same anymore, nor will I ever be. That’s the power Lahore has over me, to change me as a person. To take me in its arms and tell me it’s safe there. The blurred faces, the lights, the colors, the love, the friends, the family, the smells, the noise, it’s all my own. I’m a part of it and it’s a part of me now.
I ache to go back; I try to find that comfort of your soil again. I feel like a stranger in the city I grew up in. Pick me up again, take me in your arms, and engulf me with your air, My Lahore.
My Lahore, the city I fell in love with.