Monday 28 March 2016

A Love Letter for Beloved Lahore

I got a call from my mum yesterday afternoon, she sounded upset.  She had called me to tell me that there had been a massive bomb blast in Lahore, in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park and she was worried about my in-laws.  Having no TV this was the first I had heard.  I tried to get hold of them first via Viber, then Whatsapp, eventually getting through on Skype.  They were all fine alhamdulillah, but upset at what had unfolded in their beloved city. 

On weekends one of my five brothers-in-law will often take all of the sisters-in-law and the kids to one of the local park’s (all 13 at the last count).  They will often pick a picnic or take something to barbeque and spend a good part of the late afternoon and early evening there.  Usually they head to Iqbal Park or Jallo Park, occasionally they go to Gulshan-e-Iqbal which is enormous and full of families enjoying their day off school, or work, especially working class people who might not be able to afford more expensive leisure pursuits.

This weekend they were all too busy to go out with the kids.  When I called, mum-in-law had checked up on everyone and made sure they were safe.  She was sitting with the rest of the family watching on TV and trying to understand.  There had been a call for blood donations at hospitals, which were packed with people who had responded.

To be honest, even when the rest of Pakistan seemed very unsafe, Lahore had seemed the one place that was relatively safe from the hellish suicide bombings and attacks on schools and police stations.  Its people are so very resilient and so full of life that nothing seems to get the down.  But to attack their children and women in their innocent places of play is something else, without warning or care.  It’s enough to make you feel despondent and heartbroken.

But this is Lahore we are talking about.  I spent summers there as a child, running around on the streets with my naughty boy cousins, eating carrot halwa from street stands and visiting Badshahi Masjid and Minar-e-Pakistan.  I spent a month there as a newly-wed, falling in love with the city as I fell in love with my husband, the streets of Lahore at dusk a romantic backdrop as we sped around all night on his motor-bike.  I took my daughter back as an infant and was amazed at how far the city had come and how good life could be there is you could afford it.  I took my oldest three back again a few years later as massive inflation and load shedding (electricity shortages) kicked in, making life so much harder for people.  

So you can imagine this wonderful city has a place in my heart.  But even more so I have a soft spot for the wonderful big-hearted people of Lahore.  In Pakistan they are described as “zinda dil” – or alive, lively.  Whether good or bad, religious or louche, they are larger than life, very friendly and everyone wants to know your business.  They love to laugh and have fun.  In my mind Lahore is a city of pleasure and pleasure-seekers: Basant, the kite festival, when everyone spends days partying on their roof as they compete to fly their kites the highest.  The pleasure gardens and parks, Food Street and even better the million street vendors each famous for their own speciality: channa chaat, gol gappay, roast charga chickens or burgers and chips. There is a famous saying about Lahore: "Jinne Lahore nahin wekhya, jamia ae nahin" – if you have not seen Lahore, you have not been born.

My dad-in-law served in the Pakistan army through two Indo-Park conflicts and he would talk about how brave the people of Lahore were, even when the Indian army advanced, people would not leave the city.  He recalled how the army would always get a warm welcome home to Lahore, being cheered and showered with flowers.

So this horrific attack will stun the people of Lahore, it might make them more careful, but I know for a fact that it will not get them down.  My prayers are with the city and its people.  I make dua for the people who have been hurt and lost loved ones, May Allah (SWT) give them sabr in this devastating time and help them find some piece and May Allah (SWT) keep them safe.

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