Having recently moved from the great metropolitan city of New York, my siblings and I did not know what to expect when it came to living in Lahore. Even the mere thought of it was an anomaly; anything we could have recalled of the place that was supposedly our home was buried deep in childhood memories too infrequently thought of to visualise.
My mother and father promised that although it was going to be a drastic change, we would eventually “learn to live with it.” They insisted that there was always a time where you had to return to your roots, to an integral part of your identity, and this was it. Lahore was their home, and soon it would be ours in the physical sense as well.
Since I had no choice but to agree with the whole ordeal I decided not to make a fuss out of it. The entire idea had always taken a rather kafkaesque approach in my mind: here I was, a young girl, returning to my home country, one that had always been pulverised in the Western media day and night. News channels displayed nothing but horrific bomb blasts, parents weeping over the loss of their children in the most recent terrorist attack, religious extremism and the like.
Only after the passing of a few months in Lahore did I realise that I had an embarrassingly narrow view of it and have the yearning to correct this notion that hundreds of millions outside the nation were still subject to.
The Lahore that I found was nothing like the Lahore I had been told of. It was far from it: there was not death and disaster. Instead I found a true home not only physically but emotionally.
Visiting modern cafes and shopping plazas (places that were rapidly expanding in number) was all well and good, and I appreciated this increasingly ‘modern’ Lahore.
It certainly helped to bridge the seemingly infinite gap between where I came from and where I had arrived. However, this was not the Lahore that attracted me to it. I found myself walking down the street markets at the sweltering time of dusk, eating local food entirely too spicy to be enjoyed by those of any other city and conversing with people possessing diversity I had never imagined — beggars, rickshaws, donkey carts in profusion. There was beauty in its simplicity, and I realised it lay with the people.
This wasn’t the experience of someone wearing rose-tinted glasses: there were the unpleasant parts of living in Lahore for sure. There was the “load shedding,” the heat that one could never fully escape from (try as you might!), other endless predicaments that everyone seemed so focused on. Like any other Lahori, I had on occasion wished that I had lived elsewhere.
However, over the period of five years that have passed since then, I have come to realise one thing: you must accept Lahore for what it is. The good and the bad. The clean and the unclean. The commercial hub, the cultural heart, the life of Pakistan.
A thousand definitions could have been derived for what it is to the millions of souls residing here but for most of us, it’s just home.