And you thought white Christmas was romantic. Snow falling outside your window, soft like a lover’s caress. You didn’t know about fog back then, did you? The enigma that wraps itself around the city every winter, subtle unlike the snow, delicate like petals under your feet. Tread slowly or you’ll lose your way. It is in this fog, bundled up in hand me down shawls that Lahore whispers romance over a cup of Pakistani coffee.
Pakistani coffee? Ever heard of the auntie arm workout? You’ve been living in a hole all your life, my friend. Tear open a sachet of instant coffee and slide that dirt into a mug. DO NOT add a cup of boiling water over it and call it a day. Love is patient. Patient and tiring. Add a teaspoon of water, some sugar and beat it. Beat it hard. Keep slipping a drop of water here and there, in between. Those arms are going to be ripped by the time it all starts looking like caramel. Take a sniff, that is romance. Now if you lick it off the spoon…well go ahead. Try. Love is foolish at times. Cut that thick concoction with hot milk. Keep adding milk until you see boundaries dissolve. Now is the time, take a sip.
Wrap yourself in a shawl, walk out into the foggy night with a mug of Pakistani coffee in your hand and Ghalib in your thoughts. Love in our neck of the woods is simple, subtle and nostalgic. Exhaust it with declarations and demands and it will shy away.
Judge me all you want, I rickshaw-ed all the way to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital rather than Uber-ing to a hotshot doctor’s private clinic to get a contagious skin wart removed from my chin. My chin! I’m vain like that. If the procedure had gone wrong, I would have been left with a scar. That scar would have then found itself in all my pictures and my future children would have wondered how I got it. But I take risks. There will always be Photoshop and a stash of cool stories to tell the future offspring. And also because I trust the ladies on the internet to come up with a DIY recipe for lightening scars if there isn’t one already. Confused? Let me take it from the top.
Once upon a time a little tiny flower like wart found itself on my chin. The internet warned of a buddy wart growing next to it. It could spread to my hands, neck, feet. Wart invasion. I started sleeping in awkward positions to keep it from touching my pillow case. Someone advised tying a single strand of hair from a horse’s tail around the wart and waiting for it to come off on its own. I chickened out at the idea of cutting hair off a horse’s tail. What if it got offended?
I didn’t want to risk offending a horse so I consulted dermatologists. They decided they were going to laser away the wart and charge anywhere between Rs. 5000-7000 for removing it. Living independently comes with a cost. Literally. I couldn’t spend that much on a wart. I looked for DIY remedies. But the internet just ended up scaring me.
I woke up early one day and went to a government hospital, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. You would know how crowded government organizations are if you had stood in a line at DMV for six hours on a Saturday afternoon. No, you can’t get appointments scheduled for your first consultation at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. And yes, my jaws dropped when the receptionist asked me to donate whatever I wanted to instead of charging me Rs.5000-7000. I dropped twenty rupees in the box. It was the end of the month. You know how it is…
I was the first person to be seen. The dermatologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital told me that the wart would be removed in two sittings. She would burn it off. The procedure is called fulguration. I was given a date and time and I left. On my next visit, I forgot all about my DMV incident and got to the skin ward right on time. Needless to say I waited for three hours before my turn came, drenched in sweat. Mind you, don’t walk into a government hospital thinking you’d get any protocol. Those receptionists in there leave kindness at the gates when they enter their work place. But this time, I donated a bit more generously. I’d prefer that to dishing out the same amount at a private clinic any day.
No, I won’t judge you for going to a private clinic and being seated by an elegant English speaking receptionist in a waiting area with polished floors and nice coffee table books. But I’ll tell you this, it has been two months now and there is no scar on my chin. Friends who had warned me about un-sterilized equipment at government hospitals think I got lucky. Maybe I did. Who knows…
Her blood red saree playing peekaboo with her henna dyed feet, her feet in motion. Your eyes in a trance. She keeps moving, her naked torso emerging like a cone tree out of the hills. You’re on a train and the hills are in motion, moving past you, swaying. And just as you think you have finally caught hold of her pallu, it slips through your fingers. She’s always in motion, you’re always in tow. Lahore’s the kind of lady you can only dream of conquering…
She’ll never be yours. She’ll never be mine. But dream we can. And dream we will.
Perhaps one day the pallu will be in our hands, ready to be pealed away from her figure. Till then we dream, you and I. And she moves…
Kicking off this section with a heart-to-heart with Tülin Khalid-Azim. If you don’t know her already, she is a freelance theatre director who dabbles in modern calligraphy, hand-lettering and design. Here’s what she has to say about how she came to accept Lahore finally…
Defence is Islamabad within Lahore. My husband and I came to that conclusion the first time we moved here in 2010 from Islamabad. I had been determined to bond well with the city during our first move. But Lahore! Ah! Lahore! We have a complicated relationship.
I began this complicated relationship by refusing to drive here, relying entirely on my husband and the driver instead. The traffic here terrified me, especially the assault of motorcycles and rickshaws from every angle.
And then my husband and I went from having a toddler to a toddler with a newborn. It didn’t help our relationship, Lahore and mine. I am not ashamed to admit that I was overwhelmed, struggling with postpartum depression, and living in a self-imposed isolation while trying to care for the kids. I was relieved when my husband changed jobs, and we moved back to Islamabad in 2013.
Fast-forward to 2014, and my husband got a great job offer based in—you guessed it—Lahore. This time, though, I vowed to not make the same mistakes, starting with the decision to take on Lahori traffic head on. Oh my! The traffic still drives me crazy, but that one decision has been the most empowering. I have learned the layout of the whole city, taking time to explore Gulberg and the Western side in ways that were impossible for me the last time. I have joined a yoga class, which forces me out of the house regularly, and into a happy, friendly environment regularly. I’ve made good friends with other moms at the kids’ school, and, perhaps most importantly, I have kept myself busy. I don’t work full time, instead taking on freelance projects or working on my modern calligraphy practice, allowing me to spend more time with the kids, and set the pace of my life as I would like.
I’ve understood that Lahore is a different city for those who have grown up here, and they will maintain that their soul belongs to this city. For the elite, it would be summers spent at the pool at Gymkhana or Royal Palm, winters spent riding at the Polo Club, exhibitions, openings, and the winter party and wedding season. For Lahoris in general, it means eating out together regularly (the options are fantastic, and has become a weekend ritual for our family, too), meeting friends and family, going to Liberty or Fortress Stadium on the weekends, enjoying the Shalimar gardens, and generally having fun in public spaces. That’s one thing you have to give credit to Lahoris for: they are bon vivant, and it’s difficult to not get swept away by that love for life when you’re here.
Have I integrated myself wholeheartedly into the Lahori lifestyle the second time around? I can’t say that I have, but it does finally feel like home. And Lahore, now that I’m showing you some love, if you could do me a solid and cool down a few degrees, our relationship would be a lot less complicated.
Note: This series is an attempt at promoting everything local. Like all posts, this one is strung with love too. No paid endorsements on the blog. However, if you feel there is something that I might enjoy, recommend it and I’ll write up an honest review.
Because there are two kinds of people in the world, ones who are too hungover to get off their beds on a Sunday morning and others who rise early but don’t know what to do with their lives on the most precious day of the week. For the lack of a happening social life, I fall into the second category. Here’s to hoping that I’m not alone…
My recommendations for tomorrow:
Oral Hygiene: Organic Toothpaste by Inqalab
Let’s not even get me started on fluoride and what it does to your body. You don’t want it in your toothpaste or your drinking water. Before I lose you to your mini google research on fluoride, go run to the bathroom and get your toothpaste tube out. Yes, its full of sweeteners, synthetic flavors, fluoride, artificial colors and a whole lot of gibberish that you and I can’t understand. I’d rather you use miswak than a toothpaste but if you are as burger as I am and hold your tooth brush like a violin bow then look for a toothpaste with ingredients you know. So far, the only one I’ve found in Lahore is this Organic Toothpaste by Inqalab. I find the packing a tad bit small for the price. However, I will keep buying it because of what is in there: coconut oil, turmeric, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. My teeth definitely feel clean and squeaky after use but the best part is that I don’t have to worry about a chemist’s experiment playing havoc in my body.
Minimal Footwear: Khussa & Kolhapuri from Khussa Mahal
When you wear a size 6.5 and go on a shoe shopping spree in Lahore, you don’t have many options. Nothing fits perfectly, nothing is comfortable enough. You can either go on a scavenger hunt in the flea market near Mayo Hospital for used shoes that someone in the States donated or dive into the world of khussas and kolhapuris. A khussa made with love will embrace your feet, take their shape and grow on you. But not all khussas are created equal. Some will leave marks on your feet, others will never seize pinching you. In my experience, I have only found khussas from a particular shop in Hussain Agahi, Multan and Khussa Mahal in Liberty, Lahore to be truly comforting. These khussas stop pinching after the first few days, become softer with use and leave no marks. And since I’m all against cushioned shoes, arch support and heels (though I do wear them on special occasions), I only wear my trusty pair of vibrams and khussas/kolhapuri chappals on a daily basis.
Feel-Good Fix: Manicure from Araamish
Don’t judge me on this one after my long sermon on gibberish ingredients in toothpaste. Yes, I apply nail paint. And I know its got chemicals. But I like chemical indulgence on lazy Sunday afternoons when I hop over to Araamish and get Essie nail paint added to my manicure. Yes, Araamish is as organic as a spa gets in Lahore. I’m not going to start on their chakra therapy massages, organic facials and fresh fruit hair masks right now. All I’m saying is, this Sunday hop over to Araamish, get hot stones added to your pedicure, red nail paint on your finger nails and feel the difference a good masseuse can make in your life. Smell that fennel in their complimentary tea…feel your velvety hands.. you’re welcome!
Hope you wake up tomorrow with something lined up! 🙂
I believe the ladies on the internet. Yes, these are women I’ve never met. I read about their experiences and let myself be inspired. Its a sisterhood of the holistic women up here on the internet and I trust their natural ways. So when my sisters of the internet embraced the no-poo method couple of years ago, I vowed to go shampoo free too. A couple of years later..
I boiled water and mixed in baking soda, poured the concoction over my head and followed it with a milk or lemon rinse. The first few times, it didn’t feel very different. My hair caught onto the routine. No adjustment period. No grease. I was chemical free. One less plastic bottle in my bathroom. Life was beautiful. And then one day I saw the roughness, split ends eating up the tips of my hair. I hadn’t used oil for the longest out of fear of not being able to rinse it out with baking soda. My hair was a horror story unfolding in front of my eyes. I was screaming.
Finally I gave in and took out my holy grail Loccitane shampoo. For a few days I couldn’t look myself in the mirror. I had given up on something the sisters were practicing. I was embarrassed. But then I got caught up with another idea of theirs – sugar free meals. Only this idea was being vouched by a friend too. And so I quit sugar.
Sugar! My drug! My addiction. My beloved. We broke up. It has been three weeks now. My head is a little dizzy some days, a little achy too. In the first week of the experiment, I found myself lusting after Fanta (yes, Fanta), eyeing Cosa Nostra’s ice cream with a renewed reverence and binge eating tamarind. The sourness would somehow cancel out the need for the sweet. I watched “That Sugar Film” every day. Life became tough.
Three weeks later its not any easier. I feel spaced out now and then. Guilt feeds off me right after I eat bread. I have had to not only bid adieu to pastries, ice creams and sodas, I have also had to adjust my tastebuds to a life without ketchup. Who lives without ketchup! I do now!
While I haven’t noticed any pounds shedding off my abdomen or my skin clearing up, I have certainly stopped craving sugar after lunch and in the middle of the night. I no longer feel the need to rush to Kitchen Cuisine for a pastry or devour one chocolate after another. Instead, I eat water melon. Lots of it. And yes fruit sellers in this city rip you off. Next time you go to a fruit stall take a friend who speaks Punjabi with you. It helps with the bargain!
I’m slow. It is only after I have analyzed a dialogue in my head a few hours later do I realize that I received a compliment. That is saying a lot for someone who sells their communication skills to prospective employers. That brings me to my first resolution of this year. Told you, I am slow. Didn’t believe me, did ya?
I’m job hunting. I’ve landed on one and have my fingers crossed. The idea is to enter the world of creativity again. There have been blocks and barriers in my head. I need to get past them. But before any of that happens, I need to be able to leave my current workplace on a good note. I’m in the process. Somebody teach me assertiveness, please?!
My second resolution is much harder. My earliest memories in the kitchen are of my dad and I making “anda hulwa” at odd hours when sugar cravings’d hit. We’d beat some eggs, throw in sugar, raisins, almonds and milk and then scramble it all out. My childhood was coated in castor sugar and so is my adulthood (ahem). Or lets say was until last week when N mentioned the “The Sugar Film” documentary over dinner. I’m going to be writing about my cold turkey sugar cleanse more. Yes, I have gone cold turkey. No sugar for Ms. Sugar, please!
My third resolution is to find a place near work. Another year, another house. Same conditions. Conservative city. You get the idea, right?
I sometimes forget that this is a blog and not my personal diary. Thank you for sticking around if you are still reading.