Historic New Year

Fayes T Kantawala made the effort

Historic New Year
My New Year’s Eve was spent like every other new year’s eve: trying to have a good time by forcing yourself into situations that on any other night of the year you would find horrifying. Still, I am ever grateful for the kindness of people who choose to open up their homes on the 31st of December to friends and strangers so that, at the very least, there is a sense of ceremony about the ordeal. It’s very generous. There was no official countdown at the party I attended, with the result that there were small fits and bursts of “Happy New Year!” for a good fifteen as people checked cell-phones and watches mid-swig. Luckily, New Year’s Eve ends at midnight by definition, and so it can be an early night by Lahore standards.

We should talk about the fact that the 1st of Janurary 2018 fell on a Monday this year. The occurrence made a dark, powerful part of my OCD soul curl its toes in relish and relief. The neatness of a bright, shiny, minty-fresh beginning to the year (and week) made all the New Year New Me declarations only slightly less repulsive and even I found myself in the mood for renewal. My resolutions (made hastily when people kept asking me about them the night before) were to be kinder (haha) and more adventurous. It was to fulfill both these promises that I said yes to an excursion to Lahore’s Fort on New Year’s Day.

I am ever surprised by the number of people I meet who have grown up in Lahore but never went to the fort, or to Jahangir’s Tomb, or indeed the old city. It’s a real shame and part of me wishes the nun from Game of Thrones would follow these people around with a bell as penance for their myopia. I went to the fort a lot when I was a child and make an effort to do so at least once a year. Last year circumstances prevented me from going, so it was with some surprise that I found the area around the Badshahi mosque and fort completely and utterly changed. Whereas earlier you would park and walk up a small road, now there is a giant landscaped pedestrian public park with lakes, trees and benches. Sadly, there are also those terrifying giant peacocks that the Lahore government insists on installing everywhere – which look like something out of Jurassic Park intent on hunting you, to be honest.

People I was with occasionally bemoaned the new construction around the historic site, and while it is true that the Orange Line – essentially a futile exercise in vanity — is actually quite awful on many levels, the changes to the area around the fort are not. They make the site more accessible and the experience quite pleasant. Moreover, they add a very real enhancement to the idea of the whole area as a truly public space. Even inside the actual fort there are quite a few changes that I hadn’t seen before. In the Diwaan-e-Aam, there are actors dressed in period costumes, smiling patiently as people take pictures with them with screaming babies. In another corner is a small selection of stalls where you can buy Mughal costume jewelry or other souvenirs, and in yet another is a small photography studio in a niche where one pays to wear costumes oneself and have a picture taken looking like a royal. The additions of public engagement turn what was once a static building into a living relic and I think it’s absolutely wonderful. The gardens were surprisingly manicured and the interior rooms surprisingly clean.

Lahoris mark the New Year

Part of me wishes the nun from Game of Thrones would follow these people around with a bell as penance for their myopia

Sadly, some of the best bits of the place are off limits. The Sheesh Mahal (hall of mirrors) is now inaccessible, unless you are a VIP or bring some police muscle with you. The Sikh museum is also entirely closed to the public and even when we talked our way in, the gallery didn’t have a light. It’s a pity, because some of the best paintings that the State of Pakistan owns are in that gallery: fine portraits, beautiful marble busts and a giant history painting of the court of Ranjit Singh are only some of the things that few will get to see. If you do make it over, I suggest you try and talk your way in as well – it’s worth the effort.

Every time I go back, the beauty of Mughal monuments hits me like I’d never seen them before. You never really get used to seeing the trio of the Badshahi Mosque’s domes against the light or indeed any of the other spectacular views that various vantage points in the old fort offer you. Going there makes me happy to call Lahore a home. And I think going through our history on New Year’s Day made me slightly more optimistic about the future. So yes, repulsive as the sentiment may be, it is true: New Year, New Me.

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