It was at 9:22am on a spring morning in 2008 when I fell in love with Lahore. I remember this moment distinctly because the windows of my dorm room shook with the sound of a suicide blast in downtown Lahore.
It was not the beauty nor the charm of the city which made me fall in love with her. It was the fear — fear of losing her — the most unendurable human fear.
There was a campus life and then there was something sinister happening in the background. Something awful was unfolding drop by drop, threatening the city which had been my companion.
I was not comfortable with that. "This too shall pass," I used to think. I was wrong. Nothing has passed since then; neither the bloodbath nor my love for Lahore. Together, they are a tragedy today.
The suicide attack in Lahore's Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park posed the cruellest question to me touching the boundaries of an existential query: what should be the reaction? Shall I write a lament?
The question brought me face to face with Theodor Adorno who had famously written shortly after the World War II:
To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.
But then what, if not words, is the way out of this sadness which feels to be eternal in Pakistan now?
If nothing seems to console anymore, can’t we just say that we are sad? Isn’t sadness itself the most substantial thing sometimes? Isn’t it something we, in Lahore, have become used to?
Every city has a heart. Each city possesses memory — it’s the memory which defines a city; it’s the heart which keeps it alive.
The memory of Lahore is fraught with tragedies. Which other city has seen the scars and endured the stigma of the bloody Partition more than Lahore?
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It was in Lahore where Manto penned down the words drenched in the blood of Partition.
It was in Lahore where Intizar Hussain gave voice to the generational nostalgia associated with pre-Partition India.
It was in Lahore where writers and poets lamented about the tragedy which seemed to have scarred a whole generation.
The memory of Lahore was written with pain and the city embraced it with unexampled endurance but the heart of Lahore has always been filled with life and hope.
It was in Lahore where Bhagat Singh kissed death, while smiling to an independent future.
It was in Lahore Fort where Hasan Nasir endured the most brutal torture in hope for a more just society.
It was in Lahore where the young dreamers dreamt of revolution and took up the strand of socialism.
It was in Lahore where Habib Jalib walked beside women to protest against the Hudood Ordinance in defiance of the brutal Zia dictatorship.
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The heart of Lahore has always been a bastion of hope and political resistance but there’s a new kind of memory taking shape in Lahore, and in Pakistan in general.
For a third generation growing up in Pakistan since the Partition, that memory has given way to an equally bloody memory of senseless violence — a kind of violence which is being used as an ideological tool and has come to be an end in itself.
Violence is most deadly when it becomes an end in itself. It plucks away children from classrooms and merry-go-rounds without an iota of remorse.
The heart of Lahore is still defiant; the sight of people rushing to hospitals to donate blood for the victims of the attack is a testimony to that.
There could be no better answer to this cowardly violence than the fact that the blood of many Muslims would run through the veins of Christians who were the main target of the suicide attack in Lahore.
The challenge, however, is too momentous this time. The memory is too bleak.
But the heart must put up the fight like never before — this is a battle yet to be fought in defiance of religious radicalism, a new wave of mindless violence in the offing, and an enemy that is both an idea and a human.
This is a fight which can only be won together or else, lost separately. Until the schools in Peshawar are not secure, the parks in Lahore will never be safe.
As for the lament and prayers for Lahore, Shoaib bin Aziz has said it all in a couplet; I would not dare translate it:
“Meray Lahore per bhi ik nazar ho
Tera Makkah rahay aabad Maula”