Lahore’s Winter Galore
Those who are visiting Lahore in December for the first time, tell Chachi that the first thing they notice is the smell of a different air. They smell it before they see or hear anything of the city; it delights you but you fail to recognise it. Chachi knows now, it’s the sweet smell of hope mixed with the stuffy stench of mothballs and unventilated jerseys. It’s the smell from the hundreds of tall, regal Eucalyptus trees along the bank of the canal that pierces the heart of the city like a majestic sword. It is the blood-metal smell of rusting machines, mixed with the aroma of piping hot naans, fresh out of blazing tandoors. It also is the mild fragrance of the brave, resilient roses and chrysanthemums bragging off their aloof radiance on foggy, sunless mornings in Race Course Park. Wafts from the walled city bazaars devoted exclusively from spices and herbs and tobacco. Whiffs from the waste of 20 million animals (humans and buffalos and cats!). Exhaust diesel fumes from pickup-vans, hoarding sleepy, reluctant kids off to school. Scent of success. Reek of failure. The smell of struggle. To live another cold day. With hearts clenched open. And eyes wide shut.
After the long, silent nights, and after the muezzins have announced Assalaat-o-Khair-umminun-Noum, it’s a ruckus that the sparrows and crows generate. Like they are screaming to the world ‘it’s bloody cold out there and we don’t want to leave our nests to catch the worms; they aren’t that delicious anyway.’ Lahore wakes up. It has to. The growling noise of tin-shutters being pushed open, reverberates through the dense, smoggy mornings. As the tamed, orange ball rises up the sky; a confluence of sounds arises from near and far. Somewhere in a school ground, a gardener pushes a lawn-mower. The waste-buster’s donkey brays its derided laughter. A street-vendor sells cotton-candy and rings that little bell. Like a ballet dancer, a puri descends into a bubbling, hot karhaahi full of hissing, angry oil and sizzles and gloats into a spherical perfection. The bus conductor rants loudly the names of stations and destinations as cars honk and angry drivers spit explosive curses. The noises wane but they never disappear, do they? That famous tune that popcorn vendors use, echoes through empty streets. Often, a kid selling hot, boiled eggs, sings fearlessly along the shrill whistle that some night-watchmen still use. And when there’s nothing, there’s always that delicate ‘click’ of a chalghoza shell being cracked open by a smug, expectant child who has learnt to love the ten days of winter-break more than the three months of summer vacation.
Oh but there’s so much to see too! You can watch the slender silhouette of Kalma Chowk pointing perpendicularly towards the midday sun. And the marigolds! Yes, the gainday kay phool! Growing so plentifully along the roads. Or the little kids pretending to smoke cigarettes as every breath they exhale materialises into a dense haze. Also, the ageing couples, walking briskly through Lawrence Garden soon after Fajr prayers. The lemon being squeezed over spiced shaker-qandi on a cart near a school gate. And of course the razzle dazzle of Lahori weddings! Where more is less, and tawdry is tasteful, and loud is lovely, and flashy is still fabulous. No kissing the air; no muah- muahs; full on, full throttle bear hugs. Men piling up plates with mounds of chicken. Young guys sharing a laughter as an old, obese aunty ji staggers on the stairs to the stage. Nasty little greedy boys collecting the ‘bidh’ pouches, eating the éclairs out of them and handing the leftover chowaaray to their mothers. The bride’s cousins setting her lehnga’s pleats just to get snapped by the wedding photographer. Isn’t it all a sight for sore eyes?
I am not exaggerating. If it is winter, and you happen to be in Lahore; count yourself lucky!