The first time we locked hearts was over China Town’s Beef Chilli Dry and Delicatessen’s Nutella Crepe. We had stared at food in unison with googly eyes and subsequently stumbled upon the realization that we had found our respective companion. It’s been three years now and we celebrated the date of his birth with s’mores and homemade mac n’ cheese this weekend. Needless to say, I’ve smothered him and now feel akin to that extra dose of maple syrup drowning a beautiful golden French toast in all its sappiness. Am I calling him a beautiful golden French toast? I embarrass myself at times. I embarrass him too. And before I tell you that tonight I plan on shaking off that nauseating smitten self, I will let you in on a secret.
You don’t need to start a bonfire to enjoy s’mores, neither do you need special equipment. Find a terra cotta pot in your backyard. If you’re feeling a little giddy, paint over it. If not, just line the pot with aluminium foil, throw in a bunch of coals and get the party started. You’d need marshmallows, chocolate, digestive biscuits and lots of nauseating sappiness before you give up on the idea and realize that you’re going to suffocate him and yourself. Till then, keep looking at him googly eyed. He’s worth it!
Call me frugul but I window shop at Habitt and do the actual shopping at a landa. Don’t get me wrong, Habitt is all dreamy and glitzy but I’d rather shell that money out on food and technology than spend it on plates, pans and fondue pots. Oh! Wait! Habitt doesn’t sell fondue pots. A shop at the Haji Camp Landa does.
My first year in Pakistan, K and I located three shops at the Haji Camp Landa that carry old telescopes, vintage suitcases, buddha statues, cutlery, crockery, paintings etc etc. We went there week after week, sometimes for curtains, sometimes for mason jar mugs and sometimes for Ikea lamps. Since then, we have discovered the Daroghawala Landa, the Mayo Hospital Landa and the used stock piles at the Pioneer store in Main Market, Gulberg.
If you can buy it cheap and good, why give into all the drama of great packaging. By shopping at the landas, not only do you get a chance to support small shop owners, you also get to buy good quality items that have stood the test of time. And yes, all that jazz is from Europe. Think about it, landa shopping or London shopping?! One and the same, my love. One and the same!
Gourmet Bakery maybe all glory but trust me! I’ve had enough of it. When I first landed in Lahore to live by myself, it was during Ramadan. A mutual friend, K and I would scour the city looking for suitable housing and Gourmet was our prince in shinning armor. Suprizingly enough no real estate agent earned that title until Shauki Boy sauntered into our lives a year and half later.
The thing about Shauki Boy is he’s got no office and he’s no real real estate agent. He’s someone’s guard who looks up housing for people like you and me – the outcasts. The boy doesn’t judge. Tell him you want your freedom, friends from the opposite sex staying over, separate entrance, the life, the works! He won’t bat an eye. He’ll just get to work. Out of the 100 houses he will show you, you will only like 2 to 3 but know that he’s got your back. And no, he isn’t a boy boy. He’s an old man!
Shaukat Real Estate Agent: 0300-4156691
Note: Always ask for a separate electricity/gas meter when renting a space for yourself. Real estate agents get half of the rent as their payment and the landlord gets two months rent as advance and one month’s rent as security when you finally settle upon a place. Come out clear early on. If you’re going to have parties, be honest. At the end of the day, its your house. You’ve got to be able to live on your own terms.
I scare me at times. I had taken Woolf too literally when she had said that a woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction. I threw three cats and no fiction into the mix and am living my own interpretation of her famed essay. Though I’d like to think I’m living a beautiful Austen story instead, except I’m not. I am yet to master the art of silence, of punctuated breaks and articulated thoughts. I pour my heart out over texts, essay after essay sent to his inbox. And before he has the time to read the love letters imploding his phone, I send another one for silence scares me. I try to fill it, the harrowing silence, with words. Words upon words. And let me tell you a thing about words. They become meaningless after a while when you use them to fill voids. They abandon you. You’re left with empty syllables, a pinning heart and emojis for answers. These late night blunders, words thrown into black holes are coming back to haunt me. Even the cats are judging my sanity now.
If I look back, it is obvious that I had my head in the clouds when I rolled my bags across the Pearson International Airport. It was a crisp summer morning in Toronto and yet the universe got into action like it usually does, my flight got delayed thrice. But then I am a desi through and through and reading signs just isn’t my thing. I went on to board that flight and then another and then another and landed in the ‘Land of the Pure’, my eyes set on a bright future. I was going to live alone in Lahore and take rickshaws at 4 in the morning to go watch sunrise from the minarets of Badshahi Mosque and do reporting for a kick-ass newspaper.
I ended up renting a room in a crumbling old building in the poshest area of the city, working as a content writer and coming to terms with my limited access to public space as a girl . Life as a single girl living independently in Lahore isn’t Saba Imtiaz’s ‘Karachi You’re Killing Me’ after all. Here I was relying on male friends to drive me around the city (pre-Uber era), getting pinched in the markets now and then by perverts and finding out that a good sized water melon shouldn’t cost me Rs.1000.
But after three years of living alone in this city, fighting with landlords and dealing with broken water motors and moody circuit breakers at three in morning, I’ve come to realize that Lahore’s home now. Of course, I can’t go for a run on the streets or lay down with a book in a public park. I can’t roll up my pants and dangle my feet in the nehr at night or walk into a market without being ogled from head to toe. But it is in Lahore that I truly kicked off a budding career in communications and community management. I found my path in the yellow woods. I met the most important people in my life along with the most helpful strangers. The city sucked ego and cynicism out of my chest, shattered me more than once and then let me rebuild myself. I’m still in the process of learning to look for solutions, jugaads instead of complaining and crying. I’m still in the process of learning what is socially acceptable and what is not. Wrapping up three years in this city seems like a feat and just about the right time to go from being the ‘New Girl in Lahore’ to just ‘Girl in Lahore’.
It had been months! The man in shinning Ray-Ban wasn’t budging. I needed to dress up, look sharp and be swept off to a nice dinner but his definition of a dinner date has been changed to ‘Netflix and Chill’ or rather ‘Torrents and Take Out’ and there’s nothing one can do about it except wait for the internet bundle to run out. And when it did run out, I slipped on my new Mango tee (that’s as dressed up as I’ll ever be) and he pulled out his Toms. Off we went to Rina’s Kitchenette (the one on Main Boulevard).
There’s much to be said about pretentious dinning in Lahore but I’d rather keep my mouth zipped here. Walk into one of the more upscale restaurants and when you find Drake blazing out of the speakers as you fiddle with your fork and knife, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Rina’s Kitchenette was a different story.
We found ourselves seated on a communal table with nice plush bar stools, no wooden seat corners digging into my thighs, no back aching, no staring back at K in sheer awkwardness. It was an informal and yet comfortable seating with a fun and casual vibe. K ordered Chicken Schnitzel and I went for Aglio E Olio. Simple comfort food cooked to perfection. His was golden and crisp and came with fresh home made bread. Mine was hearty and wholesome and tasted even better the next day. The dessert, the dessert, the Nutella Caramel cake slice! We dug into it with our tiny teaspoons satiating a desire we didn’t know of before! And I have kept going back for it again and again. Lazy K’s skeptical, I wouldn’t be able to hold off the weight I lost over the past couple of weeks but trust me! If I end up leaving Lahore, I’d be bummed I didn’t have my cake and eat as much of it as my heart desired!
PS. Someone pray the internet bundle runs out again! There’s this Smash Burger that everyone’s been talking about! Man in Shinning Ray-Ban, are you listening?
Note: I wrote this piece a while back for ‘The Lookout Journal’. Etching just a snippet of it piece on the blog today. You can read the full piece here.
“There is a moment sandwiched between the last breath of electricity and the first hum of the generators. That moment is mine. The city stands still. It freezes. In that moment. For that moment.
And then a second comes to completion, clocks tick, fans start turning, candles start melting.
That moment when reality hits, when air conditioners stop and the prospect of heat seeping inside closed doors starts haunting others, I look at Lahore and smile. That’s the only honest moment the city gives me…”