These brief notes are inspired by a request from a fellow writer after he read my piece on Karachi. My first introduction to Lahore was in the autumn of 1958. I travelled by Tez Gaam and shared a carriage with three Government College lads — Parvez Rahim, Dr Mahbubul Haq and a Dr Razi. One of the trio suddenly asked me, “Do you by any chance play flush?” I shook my head but said I wouldn’t mind joining them if they taught me the rules of the game. Well, we played all night and it transpired that 16 hours later when the train arrived in Lahore, I had cleaned them all out leaving just enough for tips to coolies.
I stayed for a week at the residence of commissioner Moizuddin Ahmed, who was related to me through marriage. He lived in a large colonial style mansion with spacious verandahs, jalousies and high ceilings. There was also a huge, sprawling well-manicured lawn and garden, regularly washed by sprinklers. When I toured the city the next day, I was overwhelmed by the number of gates — Bhati, Shah Almi, Mochi, Masti, Kashmir, Roshni, Shahi Mohalla, Yakki, Akbari, Delhi and Taxila. There were possibly a few more but I had noticed a look of exasperation on the face of the taxi driver. It occurred to me that he must have picked up quite a few weird tourists in his time, but had never met a nut with such a peculiar fetish.
The next day, I took a tonga and visited the Lahore Fort. The horse didn’t appear to approve of the selection for he chose that very moment to lubricate the road with a copious discharge of urine. Outside the tomb of Ranjit Singh, the great Sikh warrior, a few rather attractive college girls in uniform sat cross-legged under a banyan tree eating their lunch. One of them asked me if I would like to share her meal. Now, which full-blooded man would ever miss such an opportunity to make a conquest? But hang on … she was offering aloo qeema wrapped in parathas.
My next trip to the garden city took place in the winter of 1966. It was very cold. Lamps had ripened early in the surprising dusk and were furred like stale rinds with a fuzz of mist. In the affluent neighbourhoods, fires and electric heaters burned a bright orange. I visited the Shalimar Gardens, museum and the Kim’s Gun. At Government College, I presented an autographed copy of my first book Sand, Cacti and People to the head of the English department. He promptly invited me to attend a performance of the amateur dramatic society, which was being staged that evening. They were playing The Seagull by Chekhov. It was directed by FS Aijazuddin and had Shamim Ahmed in the lead role. I thoroughly enjoyed the acting and the ambience and thought the cast was quite splendid.
The cultural critic of the Pakistan Times, Safdar Mir, who wrote under the pseudonym Zeno, was less than enthusiastic and wrote a less than friendly review. The next evening, there was a tea party at the college attended by the director, cast and Zeno. The reviewer kept trying to meet the director and the latter kept avoiding him. Finally, Zeno cornered him and apologised. He said he was a bit harsh and didn’t really mean all the things he said in his review. Aijazuddin replied with characteristic aplomb, “Not at all, old chap. After all, an amateur director deserves an amateur reviewer.” FSA and I have been friends ever since.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2012.