A visit to Lahore

Three years ago, I got a chance to visit Lahore for participating in a poetry symposium. Someone has aptly remarked in Punjabi “Jiney Lahore nahi vakheya, ohne kuz nahi vakheya” (the one who has not seen Lahore, hasn’t seen anything).

Kashmir was on the boil again. Brutal carnages were fomenting tensions between both the nations and guns were trained against each other. But all those malevolent feelings of rancour and hatred that prevailed on the borders, vanished the moment I crossed the Radcliffe line and set foot on the neighbouring soil.

On our arrival, we were made to check in to a pre-booked hotel where our hosts, Azar and Junaid, gave the delegate poets from India a rousing reception. Kashmir was not on the table for talks. It was packed only with elaborate mouth-watering dishes and indigenous delicacies. In the evening, our friends took us to the famous grub street of Lahore where we were made to savour the best of non-vegetarian dishes.

Truly, the city of Lahore never sleeps. The whole ambience lights up with the fall of the night and the much-famed food market begins to buzz. Every corner of the food street exudes soul-stirring aroma, casting its strong sway on the nostrils of a gourmet.

The next morning, as we were having breakfast in the hotel room, Junaid sprang a surprise on us to our utter elation. He invited all of us home for lunch, boasting about the incredible culinary skills of his wife with exuberant elan.

Later, as we sat enjoying the luncheon, we realised that Junaid had not unduly exaggerated Salma bhabi’s cooking abilities. Instead of satiating our appetites, the homemade mutton just made us hungrier. Bidding adieu to all eating etiquette, we literally licked our fingers much to the delight of our hosts.

The same evening, our delegation took part in the poetry recitation session where we were regaled with the best of the poetic pieces from our neighbours. There was no malice or ill-will in any of the couplets on India. I sat there, momentarily forgetting the fact that I was on the territory of a country with whom we had locked horns several times. Pakistan looked another home away from home. The view of the city markets, the glimpses of village life, the people, their language, attire and food were all the replica of things back home.

Salma bhabi’s homemade desi ghee laddoos oozed the fragrance of love and bonhomie in the courtyard of my home when my son eagerly unwrapped her gift and ate to his heart’s content. I had brought back home a bundle of sweet memories from the so-called enemy nation. After meeting and living with my Pakistani brethren, I now believe more firmly in that commandment enshrined in The Bible: love thy neighbour as thyself.

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