Friday, January 19, 2007

Pak Conversations - III

How went the next day in Lahore? Something like this.

In the morning, on waking up, I kept telling myself,"You woke up in Lahore!" over and over again, but it stubbornly refused to sink in. I felt like I was cheating myself for some reason, not being able to fully comprehend the fact of my being in Pakistan. Strange, but for about the first three days I couldn't believe that I was technically a foreigner.

Anyway, at breakfast I discovered that Pakistani butter and cheese are YUMMY, creamy, soft, golden, the works. I had three pieces of toast, and I actually hate bread! Our wonderful, eversmiling caretaker took us down to meet an old gentleman who had taken part in the freedom struggle and had been a companion of Gandhi at Wardha. He was lonely, and more than a little bitter. He spoke impassionedly for about twenty minutes on how we were lucky that freedom was more real to us in India, whereas all designated 'freedom fighters' were still watched by the government over there, and how he still came in to work everyday inspite of being over ninety years old. I felt awkward, shamed somehow. I didn't feel like telling him that freedom in India is only if you don't push the bounds too far, that a lot of times it is the illusion of freedom that suffices. But I figured that ninety is not a good age to get disillusioned.

The car arrived shortly, and we made our way through the streets of Lahore towards Jahangir's tomb. They tell you Lahore is like Delhi. Well, maybe, some parts of it are, but it is much more beautiful. A canal from the river Ravi runs through the city, and fountains light up the night. Hmm, well, this was still morning. The drive was enough to show the striking contrast between the rich and the poor in Lahore. The place where we stayed was clean, sparkling, open. It was lined with spacious bungalows, swanky shopping malls etc. We crossed these old colonial era colleges like Acheson College. They were breathtaking to look at, immense colonial buildings and campuses, and one college had these manicured lawns interspersed with quaint little white park benches. I had visions. Never mind. Even administrative buildings like the General Post Office were housed in beautiful British buildings. They even had their own version of Connaught Place. But on crossing into the old city, we saw the cloistered buildings with their little balconies, the clustered shops, the bad roads and the masses of people. I don't know what charmed me more.

At Jahangir's Tomb, we were asked to cover our heads by a rather hysterical man. The veil gives a very strange feeling. I didn't really hate it, maybe because I knew it was temporary, and it did help in cutting out the cold a little bit. Anyway, the tomb was exquisite, but the maintenance was nothing to really write home about. The place was under restoration, so maybe it'll get better. Again, my old ghost caught up with me. Panels, ceilings, pietra dura on the tomb, lightning scarred trees all caught my fancy. These people had really awesome ideas about use of space. In this world of shelling out big bucks for matchbox sized 1 BHK apartments etc., its just soothing to think of a time when a despot could say,"I want my tomb to encompass all this land as far as the eye can see", without worrying about brokerage fees and the rest. We walked across the complex to the very dilapidated tomb of Asaf Jah, Noorjahan's father. It had been been stripped of all its marble by Ranjit Singh to be reused in the Golden Temple in Amritsar. A similar fate had befallen Noorjahan's tomb which lay separated from Jahangir's tomb by a railway line of colonial vintage. These places were in a bad way. I was in a Shelleyesque, 'Ozymandias' kind of mood already; it made me sad to see how grand visions are reduced to glorified rubble, and how a lot of empire building is just denuding the past because it isn't our own past.

Enough of tombs, it was time to eat. We went to a little lane in an old market whose name I never found out. The little lane had a little restaurant, and we sat upstairs in the 'zenana' section. Quite a change from Bundu Khan, but I was not complaining. Details of food- chicken qorma, chicken biryani, haleem, pizza sized rotis and sesame seed covered nans, gajar ka halwa (which I learned to love that day), shahi tukda and some other dessert (dates in golden sugar syrup) whose name I can't recall. Appraisal- YUMMYLICIOUS. Cost to pocket- minimal. Bursting at the seams, we rolled out onto the street, and from a street vendor I bought a pair of the rattiest looking gloves I've ever seen. I still have them, they're tougher than they look. The next item on the agenda was the Lahore Museum, where I discovered that I'm an utter fool for museums. The only reasons we left in less than an hour were that they were closing, and nature was issuing urgent summons to R and me.

However, valiantly ignoring nature for the moment, we made our way to the walled city area to look at Wazir Shah's mosque, which still retained most of its colourful splendour. Blues, greens, yellows, reds, symmetry, crazy man screaming at me even though my head was covered, it was a complete experience. The artistry of it has to be seen to be believed. What also took me a while to believe was the sight of a couple cooing what I presume were sweet nothings to each other inside the mosque complex. I think they would been very glad to have been in JNU right then.

Now came the most important bit--the walled city is a shopper's paradise.....I maintained some semblance of control, and bought only one exquisite shawl as a gift for SKT, and three sets of cloth for the sisters and myself. Congratulating myself, I walked carelessly into the lair of my nemesis.....the shoe seller. End result- four pairs of exquisite jootis at throwaway prices (Rs.70 INR each). What a way to lose one's resolve. And a pleasant side effect was that nature stopped calling. The therapeutic effects of shopping need to be seriously studied. No, it isn't over yet. We did some more shopping at the beautiful Anarkali Bazar. I actually bought cheap knockoff sunglasses, which says a lot considering I can't even wear them yet, but I continue to be optimistic. That's how knockoffs should be done, the chaps at Sarojini Nagar should seriously take lessons. This was my first encounter with the Pakistani shopkeeper. He is utterly charming and his strategy is ingenious. Let me demonstrate.
Me: - Too expensive.
Shopkeeper: - I'm not doing my shopkeeper routine with you. This is a special rate because you are our 'mehmaan' (guests) from the other side.
Me: - Erm....
SK (looking crestfallen) : - We were hoping that you would buy this and think of your brothers on this side fondly when you're back home...but if you can't afford it....
Me/Sucker (looking completely shamefaced) : - Alright, I'll take it.
My wallet: - You moron...not again...
No wonder they love Indians.

Then the highlight of that night....Food Street...rather, Bliss Avenue, as I like to call it. The street is lined with chairs and tables, and softly illuminated buildings on both sides. What did I eat, you ask? I did not eat, I consumed. The best fried chicken in the world, crisp, succulent, subtly spiced...the best fried mutton in the world, similarly described, some exotic bird whose slaughter is banned in India, chicken in gravy. pizza sized rotis again, chicken tikka, mutton tikka, and sweet, sweet phirni. The food is cheap, the portions are humungous, and the taste is beyond divine...I'm hungry again.

It was finally time for the day to end....with ecstatic reviews of all the shopping, with satisfactory 'ooh's and 'ah's from the comfortable companions, midnight snacking on phirni and tikkas, and moaning about hurting tummies. All in all, perfection with a few specks of dust on it.

PS :- You know the definition of a wonderful day? Waking up at 9.30 am, toast, fried eggs, tea for breakfast, long hot bath, no washing clothes, a short bus ride, making it to the movie just in time, the movie being completely worth a watch, clean toilets, good lunch, great cheesecake, a long due haircut, and the perfect black shoes. I have closely resembled a Cheshire Cat all day.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

First witness to greatness .....

Idiot

heh? ok said...

@ idiot
eheheh...erm...what?

sun4none said...

edit edit.. i dunno where n what.. therez smthng missing in ths part.. its good no doubt.. but jst go over it again.. i dunno.. part 1 and 2 were brilliant.. ths jst seems a l'il low.. thoda refine karke dekh le! still 7/10 whereas part 1 n 2.. nice 9/10 and 8.5/10 respectively :)

sun4none said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
heh? ok said...

@ sun
arre dhol, it isn't an english essay, its an experience. one can't edit those.

akhila said...

for all those who want this to be edited...this is already an edited version. if more is removed the juice will go!!! me thinks it captures the moments just right. yes it is long but so is life, no?

heh? ok said...

@ akhila
thankee...and we thoroughly enjoyed this long day, no?

akhila said...

of course... how can u doubt that!!! i mean the food...oh i wish i could get those tikkas here... :-)

sim said...

oh oh oh oh haan haan haan, woh shawl sache mein bahut pretty hai!!hehehehehehehe.....lookie lookie i figure in the pak chronicles as well(sheesh wat a thing to be proud of!)

n.g. said...

hello, been meaning to read the entire pakistan chronicles and then comment but just havent had the time. so saying hi, nevertheless, with good intentions to read the pak diary, sometime soon, inshahallah.

heh? ok said...

@ n.g.
insha-hallah? hehehe... and hello.

heh? ok said...

omg, just read my last comment again. exactly when did i become a moron?

raghu said...

n vrnt u a moron?