Awareness of what life is in the walled city dawns upon you when you walk in its streets
By Sarah Sikandar
“I can’t believe this is the Lahore we live in,” I said to my friend. We were in Sheranwala Darwaza (the gate of lions) of the interior Lahore, trying to locate a Mughal mosque for our assignment. “But this is the real Pakistan,” she replied. I was walking through the dingy dark streets of interior Lahore for the first time. “Can you believe it?” I asked myself. I grew up in this city I claim I can’t live without and I have never seen its real face. I wouldn’t even claim I never imagined interior city to be like this.
You enter the Sheranwala Gate and a surrealistic vision of an ideal small town life hits you, ignore the stench. It’s almost noon and the daily business has started. The day is like any other day. Most of the shops in this area have unstitched cloth for men and women. Nothing, according to the shopkeepers, is local. It is either japani, cheeni (Chinese) or Italian, yes Italian.
The most interesting part of the trip were the noisy shopkeepers. Although I did not stop at any of the shops, I thoroughly enjoyed their tactics to attract the attention of the passer-by. I couldn’t help laughing at their hilarious claims and propositions.
1. “Qayamat aa jaye agar mein jhoot boloon.” (If I am lying let the dooms day come).
2. “Agar is se sasta pore Pakistan mein mile tau mein ap ko apni dukaan muft mein de dun ga.” (If you get it cheaper from anywhere in Pakistan I’ll gift you my shop for free).
3. “Is se khoobsurat cheez agar mile tau please mujhe bhi la dena.” (If you get anything more beautiful than this please don’t forget to bring one for me).
4. “Yeh special rate sirf aap keliye. Aj tak kisi ko is rate per nahin diya.” (This is a special rate for you. I have never given it to anyone on this price before. Ever).
5. “Hamare customer tau puri dunya se ate hain, ap kahan se aein hain?” (Our customers come from the whole world. Where are you from?)
What they say to lure women into the shop can probably pass for harassment in the west. You hear these while trying to walk without falling into the open sewage and trying to ignore their offers: “Where are you going, sale tau yahan hai?” (sale is in this shop) or “aap ne dekha nai bhai ne sale laga di hai” (didn’t you see you brother has put the whole shop on sale)or “look at this zakhmi print, it will look beautiful on you.” No matter what, they will tempt you to look at them at least once. Entering the shop is your choice.
How can you talk about Lahore without mentioning the food. These desi food shops are just everywhere. You don’t actually see people eating but buyers at these shops are plenty. Chances are you will come witness the making of mithai, jalebi or samosa, Lahore’s favourite dessert.
In short, life is at its fullest in these dingy alleys. Screaming kids, swearing old men and catch-me-if-you-can women, the life here is busier than ever. I understood what one of my friends who lives near Shah Alam said. “There is no concept of the individual in these areas.” Once you enter the interior Lahore, you understand why. The ‘I’ fuses into the collective ‘we’ because in a place where one house shares its walls with the other two houses, where you can hear your neighbour’s conversations and quarrels, the concepts of family also changes. And here people are living like this for years and years.
First published in the NEWS on Sunday