By Saad Javed
Amidst its layers of histories and cultures, with its contrast of crumbling monuments, bustling food-streets, sprawling gardens, broad avenues with rickshaw trumpets, red sandstone colonial buildings, serene canal-cum-dynamic-public-bathtubs, labyrinthine old quarters, high rise glass and steel towers and ancient city gates, Lahore has so many pleasures to offer, so many virtues to display. And so much to hide. To hide and to nurture, the biblical seven cardinal sins…
He arrived at the famed Salahuddin haveli and saw that the party was in full swing. Familiar to the quarters, he found his way through the dancing, swinging bodies and managed to be served with the right blend of whisky. And he saw her first over the top of an ambassador’s bald head.
‘Who’s she?’ he mumbled. ‘Tania Qamar. Call her TQ – this season’s must-have accessory.” Someone replied from nearby.
It took him another ten minutes to reach her side of the room as he made his way through the mob of flirtatious, attentive men gathered like moths around the flame and Asad Sheikh, his colleague in the Provincial Assembly, finally left a space vacant after being dragged away by his wife.
‘I expect you already have a dinner engagement after the party?’ He asked before the vultures closed in again. ‘No,’ she replied and smiled seductively.
She smiled excitedly. It was hard not to. The buffet-fiend inside her was growling as she got carried away like always and had numerous helpings of the aromatic biryani, spicy qorma and syrupy firni. She wanted this meal to compensate for every paisa of the thousand-rupees-salami she had just presented to the bride on the stage. Really, at weddings, she needed someone to accompany her. She needed someone to dig their nails into her arm, pinch her rear sharply and hiss, ‘Have mercy on your stomach ulcers, go slow!’
So she ate and ate and ate. Knowing that the next morning, she’d have to eat nothing but digestives and anti-diarrhoeals.
Eid morning dawned warm and bright. The Badshahi Masjid was packed with hundreds of worshippers, many of whom had been unable to enter the mosque and were praying on the grass. He sniggered. He was sure the crisply-dressed owners of those sleek cars would not be pleased to know that they had been praying on the ground that had been a regular abode and customary urinal of beggars, gamblers and addicts till the day before. Soon the prayers finish; stiff, starch fabrics embrace each other and prayer mats are being picked. In the ensuing frenzy, he confidently picks up a gleaming leather chappal, a pair of shining Oxford boots and branded, brown moccasins – all good ones, all new ones. Soon the shoes would get him his eidi. Plus, he felt lucky and was sure he could multiply his fortune with a nice game of Rummy. He sniggered as he hurriedly rode his bicycle to another part of the city.
Outside another mosque.
The crowd erupted into a feverish roar: the guard had begun marching – well, he wasn’t just marching. He stomped furiously hard, trying to burrow holes in the earth. A severely built man in immaculate uniform and a towering turban; he also wore an expression of cruel hatred during his brutal performance. Another one, similarly built and equally angry, followed him and reached the Pakistani Gate; the Baab-e-Azadi: an intricate iron work of green and white. A thick white line – the Wagah Border ran five metres or so beyond it and behind that, a similar livid drama was underway. High-stepping, glaring frantically and screaming military jargon, the mustached rogues criss-crossed each other fiercely; the Pakistanis in olive-black, the Indians in khaki. The obscenities thrown at each other by the neighbouring crowds reached a crescendo as a pair of guards from each side finally shook hands and the flags were gently lowered. With immense force and a mind-shattering clamour, the gates were slammed shut together. There was a sudden shocked silence and the metal rang in the ears. The metal and a lot more; muted accusations, silent prejudice and traditional cracks of bitter rivalry.
I feel a slight breeze and notice that the window is cracked open. Outside, winter comes in spite of everything; after nine months of ruthless summer! There are moments when you think nature happens just for us. I smile as the warm winter morning rays fall into my Broome Hostel dormitory. Such a fine morning should never be wasted in the medical college where the ridiculousness of such lazy notions is exposed, I think. I pull the sheets over my head and go back to sleep.
The mood! The aroma! The hedonism! The decadence! All blurring, all blazing. I am looking for nothing, and strangely, finding it. The mood! The aroma. I shake my head and spin – no I revolve around myself, my murshid, my love! I spin – no, I revolve. I, the disciple, and my musrshid; the legendary Pappu Saeen. Ah, another Thursday night and another orgy of bhang and hashish and charas at the tomb of Baba Shah Jamal and both of us are in another assembly of inexhaustible drumming. I hit my dhol faster and spin wildly, shaking my long wet hair as my dhoti turns about my axis and the dense laden smoke reaches my innards. I am in my hands, I am inside my dhol. And now I don’t care what happens to the rhythm or the beat or my murshid. I swing and I sway and I beat.
And suddenly I fall.
When I am back in this world again, someone tells me my murshid ‘mistakenly’ stepped on my flying dhoti. I am happy. I have learnt another lesson today. My guru, like me, is only a human and no selfless angel.
‘Yes, you remember I looked like a real magician with the French-cut beard and it worked with the women, too, you see.’
‘Leg-spin worked wonders, you see. Where the ball is not breaking, the leg-spinner can make it break.’
‘Oh, no, no! No one else could get my leg-spin. My googly was original. My flipper was original. I can bowl the same ball in ten different ways, you see. I did miracles, samajh gaye?’
‘Na ji! No coach. Never had any. And that Shane Warne is all bogus. What’s a top-spinner? It’s a lame term. Spin-bowling is all about extracting maximum out of variation and I told it to Kumble. See, he’s still benefiting from my advice. Even your Mushtaq or Saqlain couldn’t perfect this art.’
‘These PCB-walas have destroyed the game. Dekho, your best bowler is out there shaking his rear with Eesha Deol. Half your team members have become mullahs. This will happen when they don’t involve experienced veterans like us in the board. All my experience is being wasted on doing commentary. Not that I am begging them to appoint me as a coach, you see.’
‘One last message? Well, I am nothing. What can I say to the youngsters! Except that my 30 years of experience as a leg-spinner has taught me that if a person is bowling from dawn to dusk, and he returns home and still has something left in the bag; he and only he, is a leg spinner, you see?’ ‘And kindly put an older photo with the interview. The one with my Frenchie. It works with the women, too, you see!’