Lahore, my madeleine

July 30

You know those bright plasticky toys with lots of colorful buttons, big enough for little kid hands? Every button you press, something cute or creepy pops out, and too often there is a loud obnoxious nursery rhyme that follows? Some are educational, a cat jumps out from a square and meows, while others make no sense at all, mooing sounds from stars that change into a poem about roses or chirpy sentences in a voice so squeaky and shrill it doesn’t sound like any language I know.

This time around I went to Lahore, I felt like I had walked into a gigantic toy keyboard, everywhere I looked, a hologram, a memory, a sound, conjured itself and followed me for a few seconds, and then popped, like a soap bubble only I could see. 

I think the reason I loved Proust was because of the madeleine-induced prose that painted his past in pastels all around him in such a way that he had no choice but to pen it down, calm the writhing images and sounds and guide them into the pages of a novel, so that he could regain his vision for the present…

I am fascinated by how as time passes we become more like puppets, with the strings in hands of inanimate objects and unassuming locations, the sight of a restaurant in a particular light stuns us with the thoughts of a person we have not seen in years, a song on the radio that we have heard so many times suddenly brings back the emotions of 11 years past, reminding us of who we used to be and who we thought we’d turn into, memories of happiness that are tinged with the melancholy of time, events that never seemed important then, like fresh juice on a terribly humid afternoon in H block, that stay in the burrows of our mind for some reason. 

My trip to Lahore this past weekend was more like perusing through a memory book without meaning to, each page turning threw up an invisible cloud of fairy dust, shimmering, caught in the accidental light of the moon, too full to go down.  The Daewoo ride to Islamabad, I believe it was freshman year, I remember Hala, Sehar, Irfan, Ambreen, and of course you were there.  Nothing significant about that motorway ride but for some reason it stuck, and the passage of 7 years has turned the memory into something sweet, fermented wine, caramelized candy.

We zoom past the high court and I remember when I asked Abu if I could go to the protest against the emergency rule imposed by ex-president Musharraf, students from LUMS were joining hundreds of others to march for a cause they believed in, and Abu said no, but a long restless night of deliberation ended with a decision that led me to go ahead and join a peaceful procession, I can remember the tree in the court, and the old dusty buildings that were beautiful in all their decrepit, faded glory of past decades.

Squeezed into rickshaws that weave like drunken needles through a hodgepodge of traffic, a mismatched puzzle with its clashing pieces jutting out, I see the wall hidden behind trees, and remember when we drove through Aitchison, the gigantic, ancient tree and the squat buildings and the stories of youth.

Through Y block and remember when we drove to McDonalds in the rain and ate ice cream cones and went back to attend classes, remember when Bilawal backed into a tree outside Dunkin Donuts, remember when we talked to the ducks in HH block park and played football and took pictures by the artificial waterfall? Remember when we never let a cloudy day with a breeze go to waste, remember when we would wake up at 7 am if it had rained and get coffee in plaid pajamas? Remember when walking down the orange-lit campus streets was the most satisfying, blissful thing to do? Remember when getting bread-butter and tea was an activity that could lead to hours in a khopcha, remember when we didn’t have to plan for four days a two-hour activity with friends? Remember when we all had the time to sit and do nothing?

It was a bittersweet trip that reminded me of too many people, too many commonplace events that warm my heart now just because they happened, from going to the tailor to get black armbands for the group to stand with the lawyers of our country, to the ten minute walk to a café for its uncomfortable straight backed sofas and delicious masala fries.

Lahore, my madeleine, I do miss you. 


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