My grandmother’s house is built on the corner of one of the streets that branches off from the busiest roads Lahore. Nights that I spend at here are often sleepless as she likes to leave lights on throughout the house. I try to find simple and effective ways to escape. So I stand in my mother’s former bedroom and look out from her window onto the street. It’s 3 am. I stare out at the trucks rolling by on Ferozpur Road. I put my hands onto the windowpane, and feel the vibrations for this grand causeway. For a few seconds, my mind hears Lahore’s diabetic frequency.
There’s an epidemic in the city. We, I try and speak of the common Lahori and not all countrymen for reasons I don’t know. We Lahori’s are addicted to our cellular phones. The poorer we are the more phone calls we seem to receive and the more we get to hear the happiest Indian songs instead of the common beeping when we answer the phone. It’s not about telecom being cheap, or frivolous entertainment, that peasants and princes are glued to cellular chips; it’s all about the momentary fragmented escape. So call me, my ringtone is Lahore’s song.
It has been four days since anyone has called me. No five actually. Its 3 am, the new day is here. Since the 27th of September, I have sent a total of eight text messages. I did however go to a wedding, where I made small talk about clothes, the weather and the dreadful sugar crisis gripping the departmental stores of Lahore. I must have tea at noon with some of my mother’s friends. I hope they talk about sugar as well. My dialogue is well-rehearsed. I need to talk to someone I hardly ever meet; it relaxes me, there is no pressure… Hello instant web messenger. How have you been today? What is your favourite flavor? Strawberry? Mine too. Such lies.
It is Monday. I stare at cement carrying trucks at night. It is Tuesday. I lie in my driveway at 10 pm and try to see the stars through the November haze that grips Lahore and makes it hard to breathe. It is Wednesday. I stare at the progress bar of my download manager, watching the download speed change the time left, second by second. It is Thursday. I close my economics textbook, wait for 4 am to happen when I’m sure everyone’s asleep and light up in my bathroom with the exhaust fan on. It is Friday. I come back from a family dinner and try not to think about why the boy I like couldn’t like me back and think about him for two hours while listening to the music we used to listen to, Nusrat Fateh Ali’s duet with Eddie Vedder and soundtracks to American shows… It is Saturday. I have my period, I have an excuse to mope. I sit in the dark and fantasize about dying, hospitals, and anorexia. It is Sunday. My baby sister falls asleep in my bed, and I stare at her for an hour, marvelling at how tiny the pores of her skin are.
Mornings are hard. We eat at night, we dance at night, we sleep at night, we meet at night, we stay at home because we are conservative at night, we get high at night, we sit with ourselves and get to know ourselves at night. Daytime comes, and makes me sit three exams in one day. It was morning when my aunt just bled to death it the hospital. My cook, bless his ghee laden soul, slipped on a paratha, and broke his hip. It was high noon when my best friend’s boy friend decided to drown in his own bath tub. Ever remember Lahore being bombed in the middle of the night?
There is a story in here somewhere; I am trying to say what I need to say. Lahore I love you. But let me escape for more than just a few moments at a time.
Nirala is closing down. Nirala had the best sweets I have ever had. He has stopped talking to me, he is never online anymore. He also had the best sweets I have ever had. It should be a crime, to make a Lahori so used to something and then take it away. I replace mithai with chocolate. I’ll replace all the hes with a husband. It is the wedding season; those who can’t choose, wait to be chosen. It is most perverse. This is not the story I want to tell. It would be self-defeating. Like the cramped supermarkets, the decadence of the drawing rooms, the fake accents and millions of rupees spent sending you to Georgetown and me to St. Andrews, the Karachite making fun of you, the rude beggars of the posh Defense Housing Authority where the military has sold its land to civilians, the security barriers off Sherpao bridge, the seven overlapping aazans five times a day, the children on the street without shoes, the obnoxious empty towering buildings sprinkled all over you, the men on the street scratching themselves nonchalantly, the bus driver spitting pan out the window onto your feet, the officers gone for Friday prayers while you wait for two hours, the extra tuition fees to make up for inadequacy of schools. Survival in the face of defeat. Yet, Lahore is vibrant, historical, rich and blessed by the Sufis. I need to escape to my bathroom, to have a smoke. I am not a smoker.
In Lahore for 21 years, I have never touched the Minar-e-Pakistan monument. As a child I was awestruck by it, reading about it in Urdu and soshial shtudies textbooks. Then one day, on the way to Islamabad, I drove past it. It was small. It was out of place. A colonized columnar minaret. It symbolized escape, but it was conflicted and trapped. A planned coincidence that it stands there, like a concrete dandelion, symbol of our freedom. They soon built a better escape out of Lahore so I don’t have to see the monument again. It’s a highway that ignores everything on the sides.
So I go blind. I refuse. I stop thinking about mithai at Eid. I turn off the Wi-Fi. No one calls anyway. I delete any nostalgia producing music. I stop comparing Minar-e-Pakistan to Data Darbar mosque’s magnificence. I stop listing to the man with a beard, on nine channels of cable television. I stop listening to the 25 anchormen all telling me Lahore is burning. I nod my head at whatever my mother says. I am left with myself, and I have no way to get away from me.
It is Monday again. I try to tell you about my escape.Saadia Gardezi Pakistaniaat: Journal of Pakistan Studies, Vol 2, No 1, Spring 2010 http://www.pakistaniaat.org/issue/view/367/showToc