When May rolled around this year, the mildest of all anxieties crept up on me. The cause was time — I had not spent a full year in Lahore since before going to college. And lovely though this city is, an extended stay here has the power to breed discontent.
No sooner had this dawned on me that my bags were packed and off I went on a self-prescribed vacation.
After a quick stop over in England to reacquaint myself with fresher air, and a week back at my alma mater to experience once more the wanton days of college, I drove into New York City from Boston. Even from a distance, when you first see the skyline from miles away, the city’s majesty impresses itself upon you. The concretised development of the last two centuries renders unimaginable what it must have looked like in prior, simpler times.
Staying in Manhattan in early summer, rather any place with agreeable weather, means one gets to revel in the joys of walking. No sticky layer of dirt and sweat pasted on your face by the turgid humidity a la Lahore. Only the sweet neck ache, otherwise reserved for bookstores and museums, to accompany you on the city streets as you crane your head up and down to fully take in the architectural richness of the city.
It’s only when you stop walking do you truly feel the dizziness that is New York. First it tests your perceptions. Look down any avenue and in the distance it seems that the straight road falls in on itself, the buildings having conspired with the straight lines of the city streets to cause this optical trick. Buildings that appear to be right next to each other turn out to be miles apart. The city is made to deceive your sense of depth and distance, triggering a Cartesian bout of self-doubt from time to time.
The foundations of steel and gridiron run deep into the surface of the earth, and ‘yet it moves’. From dawn till dusk, and then dusk till dawn, it is peopled by a most diverse collection of nations, tribes, and kinds. Such is the aura of the city that you want to be a part of it, and it to be a part of you.
And yet there was something amiss. Granted in my friends was represented a small sub-set of professions, almost entirely corporate. And perhaps over the week spent there I viewed the city from an envious eye. Or simply a year in Lahore meant that it now flowed in my veins, like a jealous lover. It was almost as if I begrudged my friends their city, but not their lives.
They worked tirelessly and endlessly leaving only a short weekend for repose, which would be spent letting off steam, or catching up on sleep. It is no wonder that this city is the most efficient and gargantuan working machine this world has ever known, but I wonder if it leaves any time to reflect.
It’s a city that offers all types of acquaintances but few friends, all kinds of cuisine but lacks maybe the taste of home. There in that city reside the most beautiful men and women in the world, and it’s almost as if they are in too much of a hurry to stop and marvel at each other. I saw little space to develop a relationship, or rather little time. Or maybe this city and its inhabitants punish vulnerability, and so shun the means to develop it.
But as I write sitting here in my father’s office in Lahore, surrounded on all sides by trees, and a beautiful white church spire with a gleaming golden cross atop as the view from the window, I wonder if Lahore really is that jealous a lover. Its delights and comforts have coddled me so this last year that the realities of life seem harsh in comparison. Maybe it was not New York that was strange and harsh, but I, lazed by the Lahori afternoon, a stranger to the harsh and often lonely pace of life.