Evening In Lahore: A Sojourn For 'Bhadoon'

Driven by a longstanding desire, I ventured into the jewellery market in search of a gold nose ring - negotiating the price became an artful dance, and in the midst of this, a woman with beautifully henna-applied hands entered the scene

Evening In Lahore: A Sojourn For 'Bhadoon'

“I have promises to keep!" – and finally it was my last evening tour d'Bhadoon in Lahore.

After my visits to Foreman Christian College and University and Kinnard College for Women, where the fragrance of books filled my senses in their libraries and carefree walks around the campuses transported me back to my student days, I was graciously dropped off at my rest house in Gulberg by Saman Rai. She wielded her power with positivity and efficiency. Changing into casual attire, performing ablution, saying my prayers, and bidding farewell to friends in Lahore, I embarked on an enriching reading and signing sojourn for Bhadoon, a period that felt like a timely stitch etched in the hippocampus of my brain.

Putting on my sneakers, I called for an inDrive (ride-sharing app) to MM Alam Road, heading to Café Noi for dinner. Opting for the safest choice on the menu, the Thai red curry, I politely asked the neighbouring table, equally famished, to lower their chatter briefly. My inner voice, eager to render Ghalib's verses, found expression as I recalled the timeless lines on a paper napkin with the pen I always carry.

وہ فراق اور وہ وصال کہاں 

وہ شب و روز و ماہ و سال کہاں

The good-humoured occupants generously lent their support for a video recitation.

It was a delightful evening spent in the company of my own thoughts, each moment cherished as I reflected on the intricate tapestry of my past and the person I have evolved into. The imprints of countless faces, incidents, and accidents manifested in the wrinkles of my smile and the reflection in my eyes, providing me with a sense of empowerment to translate my journey into words.

Taking my time, I slowly savoured my dinner, a simple act that held deeper significance – a reminder that sustenance is essential for survival. Despite my dear friend Umar's cautionary advice against venturing alone to #LibertyMarket, citing concerns of potential purse-snatching, I chose to defy his warnings. Brimming with courage, I walked confidently on the extreme left of the service road. My first destination was Readings Bookstore, where I intended to collect the list of books that Muhammad had thoughtfully sent me via WhatsApp. To my disappointment, none of the requested books were available in stock. However, the manager expressed keen interest in featuring Bhadoon, and I assured him that copies would be sent shortly.

With a rucksack on my back, I made my way toward Liberty Market, making a delightful detour to Shezan Bakery in Gulberg. Situated at the corner of the semi-circular Liberty Market, the bakery held the promise of elevating the taste lingering in my mouth. My desire for dessert led me to seek guidance from two elderly ladies who were enthusiastically stocking up on delightful treats. Shyly inquiring about the best choice, one of them recommended the brownies. As a patisserie myself, I couldn't help but notice the subtle glitch – the bake leaned more toward a chocolate pastry than a classic brownie. Despite this, I left without making a purchase.

Stepping out of the bakery, I found myself approached by boys selling discarded export clothes due to quality issues. Their kindness was apparent, but my minimalist tendencies prevailed as I graciously thanked them for the offer without making a purchase. Continuing my stroll, I was pleasantly surprised by prêt displayed outside shops at nominal prices – a rarity compared to what I typically encountered in Islamabad.

Amidst the vibrant tapestry of Liberty Market, I observed a few migrants, likely from the UK, their distinctive British accents revealing their origin. It seemed they were shopping for weddings that were anticipated in the upcoming season. The market's ability to cater to every economic segment was an epiphany, offering a comforting revelation amid the turbulent financial times.

The street food scene was a veritable feast for the senses. From roasted sweet potatoes with tamarind sauce, onions, and tomatoes sprinkled with chat masala to piping hot potato samosas, the array of options made my mouth water. I couldn't resist the temptation of black chickpea salad, fruit salad, and boiled and peeled water chestnuts. The tantalizing selection extended to boiled-egg gol-gappas with tamarind water and ginger powder – a culinary adventure that left me yearning for more. In my belief, the bazaar's small kiosks, spaced every few inches along the miles, offered the freshest and most delectable foods and drinks.

Feeling an unrestrained sense of childlike excitement, I embraced the opportunity to be on my own, momentarily forgetting the world's miseries. Creating happy memories and replacing old pains became a pursuit, prompting me to indulge in brightly coloured translucent balloons. The clarity of the moment ignited a spark, a yearning for deeper understanding – voir avec clarté. Innocent happiness enveloped my burdened soul.

Driven by a longstanding desire, I ventured into the jewellery market in search of a gold nose ring. Negotiating the price became an artful dance, and in the midst of this, a woman with beautifully henna-applied hands entered the scene. Personally unfamiliar with henna applications due to my sons' aversion to its scent, I seized the opportunity to capture the moment. Engaging in conversation, she shared her story of visiting from Rawalpindi amid family turmoil. Her bold declaration, "I am not the one who cries, I make others cry!" brought a smile to my face. Seeking further guidance, she directed me to the Moon shop in the basement for henna application – a reasonable Rs. 300 on each side of the hand. With two nose rings in tow, I descended the stairs, engaging in light-hearted conversations with other ladies adorned with artistically painted henna.

Fatigued as the clock struck past 8:30 pm, I contemplated walking back. However, measuring my footsteps against the encroaching fatigue and the enticing offers from rickshaw-walas, I decided on the contrary. Among the many rickshaw drivers, one stood out – exceptionally cleanly dressed with a ride that exuded a sense of order. Polite yet friendly, he assumed I was visiting from the USA, and I chose not to deny it, revelling in his engaging hospitality. Taking his ride, I inquired about his name, to which he amusingly replied, "Diamond!" Perplexed by this English name on a typical Lahori Punjabi-speaking man, he chuckled and clarified, "Heera is my name. You've come from the US, right? That's why I said Diamond. I worked at British Petroleum as a driver; I learned to speak English there." Our genuine laughter bridged any linguistic gaps between us.

Keeping my promise, I requested him to drop me at VersatileAskari5lhr, where the owner suspected I had forgotten to sign the copies of my book. Woods may be lovely, dark, and deep, but my memory remained intact. Signing all the copies, I quenched my thirst with a whole bottle of water before heading to my resting place for the final night in Lahore – just a few paces away. Sound asleep, I woke up to the enticing aroma of a desi onion and green chili omelette with crispy paratha, complemented by sweet yogurt. Settling the dues with the driver present, I boarded the bus with profound gratitude for the blessings that adorned each step of my journey – blessings too easily forgotten in an instant.

The pleasure of my ride persisted until just before Faizabad, where unexplained protests diverted the traffic. The divergence and blatant disregard for rules served as a stark reminder of the regularity of such disruptions in Pakistan. Delayed by an hour and a half without any justification, I resigned to the unfolding reality, leaving the remaining tale to be told on another occasion.