Lahore diary

If you haven’t seen Lahore, you haven't even been born

When actress Nandita Das crossed at the Wagah border, she found a place that was both familiar and different.

It is always bittersweet crossing the Wagah border. The insanity of Partition, the lines drawn in the middle of Punjab, these are thoughts that invariably replay in my mind. And yet having made the journey several times, I look forward to the interesting conversations with porters, security staff and immigration officers on both sides, who live the result of that insanity every day and have many insightful stories to share.

This time the coolie I got on the Pakistan side was an old man, who had been doing the job for the last 25 years. All those years at the border had made him a philosopher and he had clear views on the mindlessness of the animosity between the two countries. He spoke in Punjabi, just like his counterpart who took my luggage till the Pakistani border.

This trip was primarily to research my directorial project on Saadat Hasan Manto, the writer of the 1940s who I am in love with. I felt very fortunate to stay with his middle daughter, who along with her family made me feel completely at home. The last time I had met Manto’s three daughters was over a meal in Lahore. But on this trip I was able to spend extensive time with them. Their many anecdotes were precious nuggets that I could not have got from any book. But most of all it was their warmth and trust in me that was most touching.

We visited the house where they grew up with their Ammi and Abbajaan – the famous Lakshmi Mansion. The insides of the house have been tackily refurbished, but the brick façade is the same. It reminded me of the houses in Delhi’s Sujan Singh Park, where Khushwant Singh lived. Sadly, even the plaque that had Manto’s name has been removed. Should Lakshmi Mansion not have been made into a museum or library or at least a place where writers, poets, thinkers could meet and engage in dialogue?

It could have been a place like what Lahore’s India Tea House used to be before Partition: it is now called the Pak Tea House – an intellectual and cultural adda, where writers, artists and thinkers spent hours drinking endless cups of tea, discussing subjects close to their heart. They were never in a hurry. Once someone called it the “intellectual depth of the city”. Now that is all gone, from pretty much everywhere. Yet one chai at Pak Tea House made me feel like I had somehow inherited the legacy of people like Manto and Faiz.

Rafay Alam, who was a world fellow at Yale University with me, graciously offered to be my guide when I wanted to explore the Old City. We habitually compare Lahore with Delhi, but Lahore’s charm is quite distinct. For one, the sense of space in Old City is not so common and it is relatively clean. But there are many uncanny similarities too. Just as Delhi has Lahori Gate, Lahore has Dilli Gate.

The other parallel is the Jama Masjid in Delhi and the Badshahi Masjid in Lahore. At night it is beautifully lit, revealing itself only as much as it needs to, not more, not less. The view is even more spectacular from rooftop restaurants like the Cuckoo’s Nest and Andaaz. The weird thing about being in Lahore is that one at times forgets that one is in another country. The language and food are similar, the sights and sounds are similar to many parts of north India, not so much Kochi or Imphal. Often we don’t think or feel beyond what we know or are told.

The Wazir Khan Mosque was the highlight of my exploration. Tucked away in the Old City, it is a stunning monument, still a place of worship, but with an old world charm that today’s live structures don’t have. The evening light fell on the carvings and colours and made the whole experience magical. A lone man was in deep prayer, undistracted by us tourists. It was an unusual combination of being an archaeological wonder and a living mosque, where women could enter.

The brilliantly colourful Pakistani trucks, despite being a cliché, grab my attention every time I see them. This photograph was taken from my car on the highway from Lahore to Wagah. Most traditional cultures have art embedded in utilitarian things in an inseparable way. But nowhere else in the world are trucks painted with these kinds of fantastical murals. Even the Qimchis, the half rickshaw-half motorbike, which I believe are now all made in China, cannot escape the aesthetic hijacking!

Going through the lanes and bylanes of Lahore I was reminded of Asghar Wajahat’s play Je Lahore Nai Dekhya, O Janmyai Nai, meaning, the one who hasn’t seen Lahore is not even born! The play was performed by Habib Tanvir’s troupe and is ingrained in my mind.

Support our journalism by paying for Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

When did we start parenting our parents?

As our parents grow older, our ‘adulting’ skills are tested like never before.

From answering every homework question to killing every monster under the bed, from soothing every wound with care to crushing anxiety by just the sound of their voice - parents understandably seemed like invincible, know-it-all superheroes all our childhood. It’s no wonder then that reality hits all of a sudden, the first time a parent falls and suffers a slip disc, or wears a thick pair of spectacles to read a restaurant menu - our parents are growing old, and older. It’s a slow process as our parents turn from superheroes to...human.

And just as slow to evolve are the dynamics of our relationship with them. Once upon a time, a peck on the cheek was a frequent ritual. As were handmade birthday cards every year from the artistically inclined, or declaring parents as ‘My Hero’ in school essays. Every parent-child duo could boast of an affectionate ritual - movie nights, cooking Sundays, reading favourite books together etc. The changed dynamic is indeed the most visible in the way we express our affection.

The affection is now expressed in more mature, more subtle ways - ways that mimics that of our own parents’ a lot. When did we start parenting our parents? Was it the first time we offered to foot the electricity bill, or drove them to the doctor, or dragged them along on a much-needed morning walk? Little did we know those innocent acts were but a start of a gradual role reversal.

In adulthood, children’s affection for their parents takes on a sense of responsibility. It includes everything from teaching them how to use smartphones effectively and contributing to family finances to tracking doctor’s appointments and ensuring medicine compliance. Worry and concern, though evidence of love, tend to largely replace old-fashioned patterns of affection between parents and children as the latter grow up.

It’s something that can be easily rectified, though. Start at the simplest - the old-fashioned peck on the cheek. When was the last time you gave your mom or dad a peck on the cheek like a spontaneous five-year-old - for no reason at all? Young parents can take their own children’s behaviour available as inspiration.

As young parents come to understand the responsibilities associated with caring for their parents, they also come to realise that they wouldn’t want their children to go through the same challenges. Creating a safe and secure environment for your family can help you strike a balance between the loving child in you and the caring, responsible adult that you are. A good life insurance plan can help families deal with unforeseen health crises by providing protection against financial loss. Having assurance of a measure of financial security for family can help ease financial tensions considerably, leaving you to focus on being a caring, affectionate child. Moreover,you can eliminate some of the worry for your children when they grow up – as the video below shows.


To learn more about life insurance plans available for your family, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of SBI Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.