Outside in

From whence came the rivers

By Shahbaz Ali Khan

Shahbaz, a former Industry relations and PR professional, has spent the past 8 years experimenting with the frontiers of professional competence by insisting on not specializing in anything but thinking, communicating and writing. He tweets at @intensedesigns



Having recently moved to this ancient city, I felt I had to share the joy it has given me since my arrival.

I will tell you why I love Lahore. This is not the port city; it does not transact the billions of dollars of goods that come into the country. It is not the capital; it does not transact the billions of dollars of deals that dictate what comes into the country.

This is the ancient seat of our last empire, the death place of the glorious Mongols. It is the patch of land sitting at the heart of the land of rivers. This mass which splinters out, figuratively, the source of life and agriculture has also long been a center for production of goods.

The culture here is that of stories and experience. These are the stories of woe, want, land and food dating back to hundreds, not decades, of years. Here, the love of music comes from the history of music itself; the deep beats and voices of the land were born here, and their greatness has transcended much of what history (as we read and perceive it) seems to have forgotten. It was not far from here was born our only true musical genius, the Ustad.

Here, coming from the blossoming would be metropolis we call Islamabad, I found peace of a very unique kind. On the one hand we have Islamabad: a city of a thousand lonely souls, each clinging to their own selves for comfort, lost in their need for company but with no sense of community. On the other is Karachi: where the stories and history runs so deep in its trade that there is something cold, unforgiving and decaying lying at its core. One should not make comparisons, but for citadels, the choice of habitat for one over the other deserves some cross analysis.

Lahore took me by surprise. A long time ago, a friend had told me it is a city that grows on you. In my brief visits, I had not seen any of the sanguine nature of which he spoke so passionately. I had seen only numbers, chaos and inconvenience.

I have spent many years in Islamabad. I call it the ‘little big town’ of Pakistan. Many years of happiness, friendship, joy rides, evolution and general bonhomie. Yet it had also infected me, with time, with an unshakable sense of solitude. Despite being surrounded by people in their numbers, the stories I had in me were left untold. Worse, the stories I wanted to hear were mere whispers of reality. They were conjured, fabricated exposes of thought. Thought corrupted by endless sacrifice. Islamabad is indeed a city that has sacrificed much; it has sacrificed its sense of identity by being thrust upon the world before it had the chance to know its own self. The people there reflect this.

Lahore changed the paradigm. It has numbers in the millions, not the thousands; this alone is enough to dissuade many people. Its opinions are strong, they are in your face, and often, they deny you the chance to counter them. The unique nature of discourse here is, above all else, combative in nature. Yet Lahore syntax has truism in it. The people, though exhibiting the same lack of civility on the roads as anywhere else, have learnt to live with and appreciate their own stock. They have managed to show to me the real face of Lahore: it is a city that pretends to nothing. It is a city that simply is. It has been thriving of the bounty offered by fertile land, and it has done so for centuries. These bounties include its eccentricity, its genuine empathy for its fellow man (on the surface at-least, which counts for a lot) and its original spectrum of stories. The sadness, the pain of being, the joy of life are all bundled into the daily grind.

It is a city that wears its sentiment on its sleeves. The enthusiasm is open to see and feel without direct contact. No one shies away from expression. During festive times, if all working men and women are free, you can feel it. The streets themselves remind you. In times of general woe, the tragedy of life seems shared. It is as if the people have not yet forgotten that seasons and climate impact all.

I have come to live and love Lahore because here the few merge with the many. Here, my story is not unique; here there are a million souls whose stories have more poignancy than mine.

More than any other city I have lived in or experienced (in Pakistan), Lahore is the city of people. The place of humanity being true to its roots; the people have lost none of their language’s core essence; their originality is not dependent on mastery over the English language, but mastery over their ideas and their craft.

In its exuberance, the city made me fall in love with local music again. In its brashness, the city reminded me I was indeed in a (potentially) progressive Pakistan, if only one whose direction requires alignment.

These traits are not to be trifled with. For a person such as myself, looking to get lost amongst the many, I could not have asked for a better habitat for the here and now. Despite its heavy traffic and seemingly noisy demeanor, the city has chilled me out. And I have been boiling for some time.

PS: I would like to add that Lahore also boasts the most beautiful women in Pakistan, and for that alone, it deserves an ode

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