A Languorous Look at Lahore 

by Claire Chambers

A few tall, dreamy-eyed Sikh men were on my plane to Lahore. Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebration was taking place nearby about a month later, on 12 November 2019, so I guessed their final destination was Nankana Sahib, Guru Nanak’s birthplace. The British-Indians’ presence was a reminder, if any were needed, of Punjabiyat’s close binds. To take another example, after the violence of the 1984 raid (known as Operation Blue Star) of Amritsar’s Golden Temple, some Sikhs took refuge in villages just across the border in Pakistan. It is unsurprising, then, that in Imagining Lahore, one of the best-known recent books about the ancient West Punjabi capital, Haroon Khalid takes pains amid rising Islamization to stress the region’s earlier Sikh rulers and the present-day city’s neglected gurdwaras and crumbling havelis.

As ever, the trip from the airport afforded a veritable binge for the eyes. I made my way through the Beijing Underpass with its sign wishing the Pak-China Friendship a long life. Other less geopolitically-named channels evoked poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Waris Shah, emphasizing Lahore’s rich and proud literary culture

Whereas I have written in a few different places about British chicken shops being an alphabet soup from AFC to ZFC, in Lahore I saw Yasir Broasts and Fri-Chicks. Passing the brightly-lit shopfront of Cakes & Bakes made my mouth water. Meanwhile, educational institutions had equally imaginative handles, including Success College and the Bluebells School Read more »

The Locked Doors of Delhi

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

“I’m on a roadside perch,” writes Ghalib in a letter, “lounging on a takht, enjoying the sunshine, writing this letter. The weather is cold…,” he continues, as he does in most letters, with a ticklish observation or a humble admission ending on a philosophical note, a comment tinged with great sadness or a remark of wild irreverence fastened to a mystic moment. These are fragments recognized in Urdu as literary gems because they were penned by a genius, but to those of us hungry for the short-lived world that shaped classical Urdu, those distanced from that world in time and place, Ghalib’s letters chronicle what is arguably the height of Urdu’s efflorescence as well as its most critical transitions as an elite culture that found itself wedged between empires (the Mughal and the British), and eventually, many decades after Ghalib’s death, between two countries (Pakistan and India).

I write this on a winter day in California. It is Mirza’s two hundred and twenty first birth anniversary. There is a nip in the air and the sunlight is filtered through my carob tree; my notes, scribbled in Nastaliq, are dappled and illuminated by sudden flashes as the branches sway. Isn’t Ghalib’s Delhi a labyrinth of dappled alleys, a dream leaping from rooftop to rooftop, getting a stealthy taste of the saffron-cream dessert known to be prepared here under a full moon and left overnight to set in winter dew— a heady mix of in-the moment-sensations that vivify memory— rising with the city’s nimble frangipani, its famed red sandstone and marble minarets, returning reliably like its homing pigeons. Read more »