I went to Budapest in May. For those not familiar, it is a city worth visiting. There are narrow, cobbled streets everywhere, surrounded by petite and colourful brick buildings. Scattered around this city are small street food stores and bustling hostels.
This city is truly a mixture of young, wide-eyed tourists and unfriendly locals. On the one hand, you can hear Americans being loud and obnoxious and, on the other, a stream of long, furious words in Hungarian. Not often do these languages stream together but when they do it’s almost like a visit to our very own Lahore’s Liberty Market: chaos, confusion and a hint of abuse.
There is a smell to Budapest that I can’t ever forget. During the day, when the quaint coffee and tea shops are open, and there is one on every corner, the smell of coffee beans and wakefulness permeates the air. Then there is the hint of spice that comes from their famous goulash — a dish that looks suspiciously like our desi qeema (minced meat dish).
To top it off, there is a constant whiff of urine, whether from the drunkard or the common stray dog, plenty of which are around. I will maintain that the only smell that rivals this is of Food Street. At night, when the hot dog stands are open and the nightclubs are buzzing, the aroma of spice and drink is joined by the sound of a city that loves to party. There is never a moment of quiet. Those living in interior Lahore can empathise with me here.
As I set foot in the city, I am eager to meet the natives and try the local cuisine. I am sitting at a coffee shop, enjoying an iced latte when a built Hungarian man walks in and orders what I felt sounded like a concoction you would find in the Harry Potter series. The server hands him a tea which he grips in his massive hands and grabs a seat close to me. He has a pleasant smile on his face as he sips it; I catch a whiff of rose flavour. Assuming it is safe to make contact, I change my seat and sit down next to him. We share names and start making small talk, with him pausing every so often to sip on his rose tea.
I ask Bulcsu (as he’s called) about Hungary and his ties to his nation. Immediately, the smile vanishes and his brows furrow. He speaks of how “we deserved to retain the lands we lost” and how the “Romanian and Austrian mongrels are just (*censored*) who wish they were Hungarians.”
As he continues his rant, his cheeks swell up and his veins show. I say, “Yes, yes, I agree. Long live Hungary,” excuse myself, and scurry away, latte in hand.
Needless to say, I didn’t speak with another Hungarian. The last time I had found myself in such a position, someone passionate about a certain Pakistani political party had raved about a certain person’s impeachment for being wrongfully accused of something. I would be specific but much like my friend Bulcsu, I escaped the outburst before it went out of hand.
I enjoyed Budapest. It is one of those cities where one can’t go in with preconceived notions. Much of the experience is affected by the people around you and the places you find yourself in. Going in I had no expectations but I left with countless experiences and several Bulscu’s telling me stories I can tell others.
As a stubborn Lahori, I find it impossible not to compare my surroundings with those of my home city. Fun and jokes aside, there is so much out there in the world that most of us have never seen. In the grand scheme of things, people and places will always remind one of home but only because humans and civilisations are inherently the same. We all have issues, aspirations and fears which incidentally connect us and give us that individuality. I invite us to look at different perspectives and to protect them and accept them.