There is an old saying that you can get a Lahori out of Lahore but never Lahore out of a Lahori. That proved true when I roamed the streets of a small town called Braga in Portugal and from a restaurant rushed out an old school student who burped out in chaste Punjabi: “Shukker aye Lahore ah gaya” (Thanks heavens Lahore has come).
In my school days at St. Anthony’s in Lahore we had a very healthy mix of Christians, Parsis and even an odd Hindu. The concept of sects never existed and neither was anyone excommunicated (officially) from his religious beliefs. Peace reigned. To each himself. Faith was never discussed, for it was considered sort of rude. The excited person in Braga was Francis Pereira, who in Portugal paraded himself as Francisco Pereira as his visiting card told me. He recognised me as one of five brothers and claimed he was a class-fellow of my brother Karim. “You all look alike”, he said. That was disarming enough and I asked him about the name swap and his explanation deserves a column. After all what is the use of an old Lahori who cannot eke out a column for a long lost soul, especially one with an interesting story to tell.
My reason for being in Braga was that a Portuguese couple now living together in Cambridge for almost six years decided they wanted a child. But their traditional Roman Catholic families were alarmed, if shocked is not a better word, as to how a Roman Catholic could bear a child outside marriage, and a Portuguese one at that. The mother of the girl flew in and gave her a piece of her mind. It worked. So to the amazing Braga Cathedral we went dressed in our best. The Braga Cathedral is probably the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula and worth a visit. My interest in the place grew when I read that the Moors (Muslims) had ransacked it in 760 AD. Sounds like another place that I know well.
But the best part after the marriage ceremony was the reception that followed immediately, starting at two in the afternoon and ending at six the next morning, disturbed only by five amazing meals, including a breakfast, a fireworks display, a comedian show, a pop group, an elaborate cake-cutting ceremony, and constant lubricants to keep the crowd from feeling thirsty. The lemon in ice drink helped as Portugal is a relatively hot place. No wonder Francis Pereira migrated to Braga and you just cannot tell him from the local population. In Lahore he would have faced constant discrimination, but not in Braga. He was home and running his own business.
Let me now concentrate on good old cricket fanatic Pereira. His story is worth narrating. “After school I joined FC College where I became more aware of my origins, which was so different from my friends”, he started off. “I learnt that my grandfather and most of my older relatives had come from Goa, with a few having English genes. They were the ‘goora’ Christians of Lahore and they actually discriminated against us ‘kalla’ ones”. Imagine his stark description, for I was a wee bit shocked. I mentioned the Ranghar Christians like the great Chacha Chaudhary and his brave hero son Cecil of the PAF. “Yes, they were the most well off and very influential in Lahore”. I agreed because I knew the family since childhood.
But my question was just why leave Lahore and settle in Braga of all places. But then I rationalised that when I covered the Falklands War as a journalist there was a Sialkoti selling fish and chips in that remote godforsaken island near Antarctica. So a Lahori in Braga was no oddity. I know a friend who lives in Iceland. Imagine! But cricket fanatic Pereira had a solid reason. He investigated his origins and found out that his fifth removed grandfather was a soldier in the Portuguese Army at Goa, and just how local South Indian genes added to his colourful origin he had no idea. His response was classic Lahori: “Yaar, the guy had to do something”. But being a ‘pucca’ Lahori he focussed on his Portuguese origin and discovered that the Pereira family had Galician Portuguese origins and were mostly billiard markers and cigar makers. Quite a colourful lot they sounded.
The trip to Braga took him to England via a British company job, from where he got a British passport and settled near Norwich. There he met a Portuguese girl and they married and shifted to Lisbon, where he got Portuguese citizenship and a job in a restaurant. He joined a language school and polished up his Portuguese. He further researched his family origin “just to make sure he had taken the right decision”. Along the way several times he wanted to return to Lahore, but his three children were Portuguese speaking as was his wife, so the lure of Lahore was kept in firm check.
Why did he change the spelling of his name? Simple, he said. Francis is an English name, which in the first place is a corruption of Francisco the Saint. So I thought forget Francis and adopt the correct name. This was too much and in chaste Lahori Punjabi I reminded him that he was no saint, and narrated an incident in school concerning my brother, probably the naughtiest student to hit St. Anthony’s school. He fell on his knees laughing, with tears in his eyes, and he held me saying: “If you do not have a meal with me I will kill you”.
As he owned the restaurant from which he emerged screaming, we sat down and after light liquids started with a chicken dish with some chillies especially added in my honour. He said that had he known he would have made ‘maash ke dal’. I used a selected expletive over the dish that could have been, and he almost cried in delight the silly chap. Lahoris can get very emotional about their city, but more so about their food.
As we got into the meal I asked him if he felt like a foreigner. “No, not at all. People think I am a highly educated Portuguese who has travelled abroad a lot, for I can speak Portuguese, English, Punjabi, Urdu and a bit of Spanish”. I confessed it was an impressive list for a common Portuguese. Then came the racist part of our conversation. Before I could ask he read my eyes and mind. “Few know that to the South, in Spain too, the population is very dark. So in Braga the mix is fairly even and I blend in completely. No one in his wildest dream could make out that I am a Pakistani and a Lahori at that”, he laughed openly. I merely used a Punjabi word meaning ‘you scoundrel’, to which he laughed even louder.
So no matter where you go in the world you will find a Lahori, all well settled, confident of themselves, but with their minds and heart firmly in their amazing city, its food and its way of conducting life. But then when you hear that the temperature is over 46 degree Celsius, my English friends fall into a world of utter disbelief. How does a Lahori respond: “No problem, we have excellent ‘lassi’ and mangoes to make up for the heat”? So it is with Francisco Pereira the Portuguese restaurateur of Braga.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2019