My first night in Lahore in late 2013 was spent at my brother’s workplace located on the fifth floor of the iconic Arfa Software Technology Park. I was woken up several times by loud ringing of telephones from the room next door.
In the morning, I went to the 17th floor of the building where I was able to get my first panoramic view of the beautiful city of Lahore. Silence in the atmosphere and the soft early morning light made the view even more mesmerising. I also got my first glimpse of the long stretch of Metro bus track in the middle of Ferozepur Road. Before leaving for class at the university, I learned that the Metro headquarter was located on the fifth floor of the Arfa tower and that the ringing of phones during the night was coming from there.
For part excitement and part convenience, I used the Metro for the first time that morning. And therein began my fascination with it. From my first day till the last day of my four years at the university, the Metro not only helped me with my commute to college but it also served as an inspiration for me to get this book published.
Lahore, since ancient times, has been ruled in turn by a number of dynasties and has Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and British imprints on its cultural and architectural fabric. So much so that the city is widely known as the cultural capital and the heart of modern-day Pakistan. Home to over 11 million people and the second-largest city of the country, Lahore needed a modern intra-city public transport system when the Metro arrived.
My day used to start at six in the morning when I would arrive at the Metro station. I started observing everything happening around me. A bus arrives every two minutes at the station and passengers start hoping on immediately.
People from every age and walk of life use the Metro bus to reach their destination. Factory workers start travelling early because they need to go from one side of the city to the other. I see students with their lunch boxes hanging from their shoulders saying goodbye to their parents, a lawyer with his leather briefcase and black coat heading to the Lahore High Court and a group of women chatting excitedly. A man who has come to escort these women to the station hands them a token and is watching them pass through the turnstile. This is the morning routine I became accustomed to seeing almost every day for the last four years.
I used to start my journey from the Ittefaq Hospital station to reach the University of Education on the Lower Mall. In the bus, I would always stand by the corner window from where I could observe other passengers travelling on the bus and also enjoy the view outside.
Many people travelling in the Metro belong to the tribal areas of Pakistan. I always noticed interesting things happening around me: a student standing on my left was setting his hair in the reflection of the bus window, another boy was singing softly. In the next station, a young couple entered the bus, the woman was wearing a red suit with a load of jewelry and the man was in a boski suit. From their appearance, one could easily see that they were newly weds. The man chose a space from where he could easily see his new wife who was standing in the women’s section. After a few minutes, she turned back to see her husband and they both started smiling.
The double-track Metro route in the middle of the Ferozepur Road runs through various boroughs of Lahore. You can watch the view from both sides of the bus. One can see a milkman with his motorcycle loaded with steel milk crocks, an ambulance making its way through the crazy traffic and school children walking hurriedly to school.
At the next station, two Sikhs with long beards and turbans on their heads embark the bus and finding no seats, they stand next to me. Two young men offer them their seats in courtesy. They share that this is their first time in Lahore and they are visiting from India. Other passengers look at these foreigners as they sit on the offered seats saying: “Guru Nanak is great, Lahore is beautiful and its people have given us a lot of respect.” Answering a question from a passenger, they say: “Yes, our father was from Lahore. He lived near Food Street in Anarkali.” They tell us that they are on their way to visit Gurdwara Dera Sahib.
Another passenger on the bus was an Australian. When I started talking to him he told me that his name was Tim Jones and he was visiting from Newcastle, Australia. “I’ve been here for the last five days learning about culture, history and the inlaid beauty of your city.”
“Did you visit Food Street?” I asked. “Oh yes! I wouldn’t miss it. Very delicious food near great historical buildings, just lovely,” he said. With his DSLR camera ready, he disembarked from the bus at the next station and disappeared into the crowd.
After a while, I heard an old man complaining at the back side of the bus. As I turned to glance back, I learned that the man had missed his station. Another passenger on the left side of the bus was shouting that his pocket had been picked. All sorts of people are found on the Metro.
After 45 minutes, I reach my station at Katchery. After spending six hours at my university, I return to the station to go back home. I start my journey again at 2 pm. Around this time, a lot of students are standing around this station. It is difficult to enter the bus because some students are standing on the “no standing’ zone and blocking the entrance of the bus. I try to squeeze past them so I can enter the bus.
When the bus is this crowded, I usually try to stand at the rear side of the bus. Rush hour begins from 1:30 pm till the late evening. The majority of people travel on the bus because it is cheaper than other means of public transport in Lahore like rickshaw and taxis. The Metro buses are also air-conditioned and save a lot of time because they travel on the Metro route where no other vehicle is admissible.
Life is bustling in and around the Metro. It is a world all on its own. Inside the bus some passengers, especially those who are new to the city, are excitedly praising the quality of the service on the bus. Near the front seats, some women are discussing their workplace. In the middle of the bus, I hear some people talking on their budget smartphones.
The diversity in Metro is astonishing-people from all parts of Pakistan travel of the Metro: rich and poor, young and old, literate and illiterate, the timid and the assertive. All sorts of conversations are taking place. Agreements and disagreements are being debated. Some people are discussing the new generation of Pakistanis. Some are discussing social media and whether its a waste of time.
A couple of students are talking about the advantages of the internet. Some other students are worried about their upcoming exams. A businessman is telling his bored fellow passengers about some recent fluctuation in the stock market.
Politics is a favourite topic of most passengers though. Most people are happy with Nawaz govt and praise his initiatives such as Metro Bus and reducing the power outages. Young question them all and lean towards Imran Khan, but can not stop discussing the controversies surrounding him. Often these conversations end at the agreement that change of Government does not necessarily result in any change in the life of common people like the passengers of Metro Bus.
Every day I saw hundreds of people and enjoyed these interesting conversations with them. I kept amusing myself with these people and their time in the Metro.
More information about Faizan Ahmad’s Lahore by Metro here.