When you drive down that final sequestered stretch of MM Alam Road at the end of which emerges the fluorescence of Firdous Market, your eyes might not see what I see.
While you see a citizenry that consumes in the delights of the marketplace, I see decline. While you might see the chained row of men’s hair salons that caters to the young desperados who whizz along on their motor-bikes with their freshly bleached hair tips (ever increasingly a motif on our tree-lined avenues), I see an industry that has been out-competed, outmaneuvered, and outshined. And it is all due to the emergence on the market of Tony. Confused? Let me explain.
See, Tony is not any one person. But go to any college-age millennial in this city and odds are they have a bootlegger on the proverbial speed-dial, and almost invariably they go by the name of Tony.
These Tonys are not the foot soldiers of a conspiracy hatched in Rawalpindi — the GHQ of Murree Brewery — far from it; they are a gang of unconnected entrepreneurs that bring the market to your doorstep.
You see, gone are the days when a group of boisterous teens would all cram into the same car and meander around the back streets of Firdous Market tremulously waiting for a young boy with a look of indigence on his face to slip them a bottle of vodka from inside his drain-pipe jeans and into their car. No longer is there a need for them to slowly drive on the beggar-laden streets under ‘Honey Bridge’ towards Lahore Cantonment, so that those on the backseat can use their imaginations to find ever-creative ways of hiding their illicit purchase. For trickery is at times needed to divert the inquisitive glares that the MPs would soon give them as they cross the check-point into the Military Residential Complex (another ever-increasing motif in our burgeoning urban centres).
The Tonys of Lahore have made sure these boys can attend their parties in the nouveau riche settlements beyond Phase V and leave them to worry only about their failed, albeit brave attempts to invite girls. The struggles of avoiding the finely tuned disdain of civil, military and parental authorities of this city of Lahore are lost on this new generation of teens.
The martyrs of yesteryear, who bribed, lied and blackmailed their way to disappointingly sweaty late night occasions, have perhaps made those efforts in vain. For today a number is dialed from a cell phone, the nearest base station is located instantaneously to locate the strongest signal, a channel assignment message is sent to another cell phone neatly positioned in the small compartment under the car-radio, and the call is answered by Tony.
Yet another order is placed, a price is half-heartedly negotiated, a key is hurriedly jostled in the ignition and Tony is on his way. In the boot of his car resides the confident case of lukewarm beer you have just ordered; in the back seat his wife is cautioning his three daughters to be quiet while his newborn son is being lulled to an uncomfortable and short-lived slumber. Unassuming MPs and Muhafiz alike wave him through the crisscrossing checkpoint, the familial shield working its charm once more.
He has three other orders to fulfill all in close vicinity to you, but gets to you and your friends in time for the second half of the Manchester derby, which is now to be the sole source of diversion this evening apart from your potation, because the party you were hoping to attend has been cancelled. And just like that Tony and his family are on their way, to yet another sleepless night, for they may be summoned at any hour of the night to fulfill the besotted wishes of both parvenu and the newly poor of this city alike.
The comforts of having a Tony at your behest are far too great to risk the excitement that was once a cause for a silent muted attraction to Firdous Market. But even today, if you look closely and drive slower yet, you will see on the faces of the dhol-wallas and their numerous compatriots that laze around on the various footpaths and chowks of Gulberg an inebriated joy courtesy liquids bought in the shady niches in the backstreets of the fluorescent Firdous Market.
So, next time if you happen to drive slowly and look closely, you too may be able to share the joys of the streets of Lahore.