For the only male in the house, Chand Raat in Lahore is traditionally quite like a lone-knight-on-a-war-front experience. You have to kneel before the queen (Mom, in this case) and surrender to the wishes of the princesses (sisters) as is worthy of a man.
Much like Tom Cruise (no, not in terms of looks!) in the movie, The Last Samurai, I have no choice but to charge ahead and take my position as the ‘battles’ out there await me, every year around Eidul Fitr. This year was no different.
The Liberty Market with its usual, ‘critical’ mass; the Main Boulevard with a history of skirmishes; the chock-a-block ‘guerilla war’ for parking that was MM Alam Road; the Fortress Stadium infiltration; and, last but not the least, the siege by high-on-hormones alpha-male (well!) teens on motorcycles raging around all these ‘war zones’ were the arenas we were setting foot on. For shopping’s sake, primarily, but also because it’s a joy to see the happy crowds.
Though, sadly, some of those crowds are being more than just happy; they go beserk and wild. Anyway, this story is more about the spots our regular Chand Raat crowds have changed this year. Or, so it seemed.
With the tide of time turning against me between 9pm and 10pm, when the competing troops are usually at their peak at all the said points, I set off with the nerves of steel, equipped with the weapons of upbeat music and energy drinks by the driving seat.
As I approached the Main Boulevard, I was surprised by the scarce number of cars and motorists around. I had seen more troop-movement on an ordinary night on these paths. In utter disbelief, I moved towards what was previously Liberty Roundabout, well known for its nerve-testing gridlocks. Fearing some kind of ambush, I proceeded with caution, with ladies in the car. To my shock, I covered the distance from where I was, up to the mouth of Liberty Market, in less than five minutes and with relative ease.
While such low turnout caused suspicion in my journalistic mind, what I noticed next was the kind of crowds that is known to storm this place on any such occasion — the middle- and upper-middle classes, you know, with or without families. Those with families would be here to pick a pack or two of bangles and mehndi (henna), and do some last-minute accessory-shopping.
All this was something beyond my comprehension. The ladies with me were done with their shopping for mehndi and bangles etc soon enough. On any previous Chand Raat, it would have easily taken them a couple of hours. (No, it wasn’t the doing of Shahbaz Sharif, aka ‘Shahbaz Speed.’)
I was still not ready to see it as some sort of a ‘change’ in the shopping — and, may I add, ‘poondi’ — routine of our masses on a night like this one. So we entered MM Alam Rd, this time even more sure we’d get stuck in a traffic snarlup. Again, the unthinkable happened: I could actually count the number of vehicles that were there on the road.
By now, I was getting curious. I didn’t want to go back home without exploring the Fortress. Thankfully, my mom and sisters understood my ‘plight.’ Thus, we entered the ring of the Stadium — expecting one final duel.
My, my! I must say the place’s reputation for torrents of visitors appeared to be at stake. No, it wasn’t so quiet that we could hear the crickets chirping — there was a fair amount of people, there was hustle and bustle, but it was far, far from what we had seen in the past.
What was going on? Was it some kind of fear of security that had kept the usual crowds away? Was it the weather (it was really humid that night in the city!)? Or, was it both? I could not just sit back anymore. So, I pulled out my phone and started calling my friends.
“Dude, have you noticed the low turnout at the buzz-spots tonight?” I asked one of them.
“Bro, where are you? What are you talking about?” My friend was baffled. “I’m at the Emporium [Mall] and this place is absolutely brimming over with people; they seem to have nothing better to do on Chand Raat,” he said it in one go.
Another friend I spoke to had similar things to say about this freshly opened shopping mall in Lahore. Finally, I was able to put two and two together. The Lahoris, it seemed, had discovered new Chand Raat spots: the myriad shopping malls that have come up over the past decade or so. These malls, the people say, offer everything they want — a cheerful and colourful ambiance, multiple shopping outlets, food courts, play-places for children, and so much more. As a lady at HyperStar put it, “These air-conditioned malls are your one-stop shopping place for almost everything under the sun. Why go anywhere else, then?”
So, whatever became of the one-wheelers and the rowdy ‘manchalas’ that would traditionally storm the roads around, for instance, Liberty and Fortress? To quote the lady, again, “We feel more secure here [inside the malls].” Period.
One interesting aspect to these malls is their presence on social media, which is clearly something that has promoted the trend. And, for this selfie-crazed nation that we are turning into, you don’t take clicks while jostling for space in the narrow and crowded alleys of, say, Ichhra bazaar, do you? But you would waste no time to check-in on Facebook the moment you enter a mega mall.