My first journey to Lahore was by train. The never-ending checks in the train to Lahore leaves everyone miserably exhausted. The journey by bus was less tiring, quick and bearable — corruption at par on both ends of the border.
Journey by air was so short that I hardly noticed anything, except the pure Urdu announcements in the plane, which sounded like poetry to my ears.
When I reached Lahore, I felt as if I never left Delhi. The familiar names of places — Ganga Ram Hospital, Mori Gate, Lahori Gate, the Regal— and the salwar kameez-clad women made me feel at home. I heard people speaking in chaste Punjabi and SRK and Amitabh Bachchan’s billboards, overlooking the main road intersections.
The music shops were stacked with CDs of Indian music. The 24x7 coffee shop was filed with youngsters singing Bollywood songs, while playing
In Lahore, a salesman fleeces you by saying
Jee, aap to humara mehman hai
. The Delhi counterpart says
Jee, aap ki apni dukaan hai
. Delhi women wear sleeveless tops, whereas Lahori women wear salwar so high it serves same the purpose - to show some skin.
These walled cities are like twin sisters, divided only by an international border. In Lahore Fort, there is Dera Sahib, Gurdwara, Chuni Mandir and Badshi Masjid. In Chandni Chowk, there is Gurudwara, Lal Kila, Jain Mandir and Jama Masjid. Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religions coexist in both the cities.
I was spellbound by the similarity of wholesale markets: Azim Market in Lahore and the ‘Katra’s’ of Chandni Chowk. The overhanging naked electric wires almost touching people’s heads, reminded me of old Delhi. The food street of
were at par with the vegetarian eateries of Chandni Chowk.
We have Pindi Jewellers; they have Patiala Jewellers. Shopkeepers in Bano Bazar offer you
suit, though these characters only wear sari in the TV serial. Where else in the world can you find such striking similarities between two international cities?
When I watched the Punjabi film
, I was reminded of the theatre in my hometown Khanna, in Punjab. I thoroughly enjoyed the rustic humour of the movie and the experience of sitting in a box, that seated only ladies.
My subsequent visits made me aware of the dissimilarities. Women in Pakistan were hardly seen in western attire.
I never saw any man urinating on the roadside or in the open, unlike their Indian counterpart in Delhi. The newspapers in Pakistan are filed with gossip about Indian filmstars.
Many people asked me whether I was carrying any film magazine. While I was travelling with my family, a traffic policeman left his duty on seeing my Sikh uncle, and shook hands with him as if he had found a long-lost relation.
The magnificent view of colonial and mughal Lahore from the roof top restaurant Kukoo’s in Heera Mandi was a feast to the eyes. As we drove through the notorious Heera Mandi, my inquisitive eyes looked up a house and I saw a blond haired beautiful dancing girl, who could pale any actress in comparison. Her image haunted me for many days.
Keeping Lahore’s orthodox society in mind, I wore unusually long dresses for days. But a few days later, I started missing my multicultural society in Delhi. However, after a few weeks on the Indian soil, the memories of Lahore started to beckon me to this enchanting city in Pakistan.