Mr. MacPhisto leaves his hometown Karachi for a job in Lahore and lives to tell the tale

After spending just a little over a quarter of a century in Karachi, my hometown, I experienced a life-changing epiphany last year when I attended a U2 concert in Istanbul. As Bono’s mighty vocals rang in my ears with lyrics from ‘Walk On’ (“You’re packin’ a suitcase for a place, none of us has been/ A place that has to be believed, to be seen/Walk On/ Leave it behind/You’ve got to leave it behind”), a strange feeling took a hold of me: I just wanted to be away from home.

Soon after I returned to Karachi I made it a point to seek job options
outside the city. And, as luck would have it, the opportunity knocked on my door when only three months after that fateful evening in Istanbul, I had an offer to move to Lahore.

Having visited that famous ‘other’ city over the years, the decision was a no-brainer: three weeks later I was ready to change my area code from 021 to 042.

However, the moment I stepped out of the airplane and felt the bitingly chilly wind on my face, I knew I wasn’t in for a ‘warm’ welcome.  My Karachi-dwelling friends had warned me. A few had suggested I check into a mental asylum, but most had simply predicted that I would be back in less than 90 days, with my sanity and accent more or less
intact.

To pass judgement on a city like Lahore after spending only a weekend in it is a crime against humanity. (Or the chunk of it that lives in Lahore anyway.) One can never get an accurate impression of the city in a three-day visit.  One needs to spend a considerable amount of time in Lahore to understand its culture, its eccentricities, and all
that is good, bad, and ugly here.

On my previous visits to Lahore I often had a car on me, which meant it was easy for me to move around. But this time I was car-less and soon found myself in a crisis. How to get to work! The Lahori public transport system is mostly an exercise in fleecing poor, unknowing customers. For example, I have yet to witness a single functioning, stopping-when-you-wave-your-hand-at-it taxi in the city. Rickhsaw walas, whether on their shiny CNG-powered Qing Chi rides or specimens of the older and more colourful variety, all cite a shortage
of gas as an excuse for exorbitant rates. The Khan Metro Bus Service buses, which I currently use to get to work, keep me waiting at the bus stop for a minimum of 25 minutes.
And then there’s the bargaining process, a tragicomic farce in which I, an Urdu-speaking Karachiite with no ear for Punjabi, try to convince a nonchalant rickshaw wala that 300 rupees is way too much for a journey of less than 10 km.

Also (and I am about to offend some Lahoris by saying this), despite the presence of the most efficient and nicely dressed, colour-coordinated traffic wardens, the traffic itself is atrocious, and no where it is more painful to navigate than on the Canal Road.
With narrow roads and multiple underpasses, the Canal Road is a mela of indecisive drivers who try to zigzag their way out of procedural lines at rush hour as they are still calculating whether to enter the underpass or not.

However, I must concede that aesthetically, this city is like no other in Pakistan. Even though Isloo loyalists might want to lynch me for this blasphemous statement, I have to say that Lahore wins this competition hands down. There’s no city in Pakistan which can compete with Lahore’s history, culture and stunning architecture,

People in Karachi often accuse Lahore of being too phony, too loud. This I feel is a misconception. The final cut in this war of words between Karachiites and Lahoris is that the former have a sea to call their own. What can Lahore boast of? Great waters aside, Lahore has much to offer. For an outsider like me, exploring my new city of residence and its people allowed me to understand what makes Lahore the city it is.

Admittedly, there are vast contradictions. You have extremists at both ends of the spectrum. While riding a bus, you may find the interior dotted with stickers and graffiti calling the faithful to wage Jihad against imperialists and blasphemers. You could see a call to eliminate Ahmadis and a salute to the killer of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. On the other hand, the city is also home to the Lollywood film industry, raunchy stage shows and a thriving nightlife, albeit for a private few.

What is common to everyone in Lahore is their generosity and hospitality. Lahoris don’t do things in half measures. They go out and they make sure they treat you like a king, even if you can’t understand a word of Punjabi!

My own love affair with Lahore has been going on for quite sometime, but all of it was of a personal nature. All my former lovers and my current flame happen to be from Lahore, but this time round, I fell in love with the city too! This moment of confession came when I was
covering an event in a college inside the Old City.

Not knowing much about the old city, I borrowed my uncle’s car and muttering ‘In Google (maps) we Trust’, I made my way to the Government Fatima Jinnah College, Choona Mandi. Entering The Mall, I had to stop myself from craning my neck to look at all the marvelous buildings on this great road, whilst driving. I was left awe struck by the majestic
architecture.

But the best was yet to come. As I turned towards Badshahi mosque, the magic of old Lahore swamped me. Buildings made hundreds of years ago, the marvelous structure of the Lahore Fort and the famous Alamgiri Badshahi mosque, the walls of which are witness to history, were right there in front of me. I was visiting the place after almost 14 years
and I was completely taken aback by what I saw. For a history fanatic like me, Androon Shehar was like heaven on earth. The Fatima Jinnah College itself was housed in two havelis which were regal. The narrow streets, the people, the small workshops, everything just looked so quaint and attractive.

When I returned to the office, the first thing I told my colleague was how I fell in love with the city. He laughed, asking me if I was sure I went to the college and not to that “infamous” street!

So far, at the end of the first month, my overwhelming emotion is that Lahore is a city I would love to live in. Having a scrumptious Mughlai dinner atop Andaaz restaurant, overlooking the walled city, I realised that Karachi may have the sea, but Lahore has the soul.

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