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September 27, 2008


We settled down in seats far from each other, as we had reached late and the train was packed. I kept clutching my bag and looked out of the window at the delicious samosas being taken round by a vendor.
Why has life suddenly become so painfully serious? It's our attitude. We need to look at the funny side of things.
Instead we are always focused on the misery around us. I mean... all the pots calling all the kettles black. In Pakistan's case it should be 'swarthy'. You know what I mean black, swarthy, grey... whatever!
Fortunately, there is a funny side to everything. People love a good laugh, especially when it's at some one else's expense. I don't mind that. Otherwise, I would get so depressed. I read somewhere that depression is just a chemical change in the brain. And you can change it just by thinking of something nice, pleasant or funny. What's funny? We all are! Things are happening all the time... only we don't notice them. Let me tell you a funny incident. The only problem is... the joke was on yours truly!
There was this train journey that I want to tell you about. A long time ago, when I was in college...
My mom used to say 'you are not going alone by train or by bus.' It was the 'pre-Daewoo era' of Pakistan, so I had to ask my cousin Iftekhar to go with me to Sialkot. Yes... the same city which is known for its home industry. Also famous for the fact that it is the birth place of our favourite poet Allama Iqbal. I'm really embarrassed to confess, I never got round to visiting his famous home in the city. It was always the case of 'next time', which never actually came.
My parents were stationed in Sialkot in those days and I was going home from college for spring break.
We started off for Lahore's Railway Station ...going to the railway station from Gulberg is quite an exercise, especially when you are going by rickshaw... 'putt-putting' or rather 'trrrrr rrrnnnngggg' all the way. That too with luggage and a cousin!
Finally we reached the railway station. In Pakistan it's a joy to be a woman. Jokes aside, you sit daintily on the side, as your cousin pays the rickshaw man and then runs to stand in line for the tickets or you get to stand on the 'ladies' side of the counter reserved for the seemingly weaker sex, where there is hardly anyone so your turns comes quicker, while the poor fellows have been waiting all this time! Most of the time, they are so sweet that they won't object to a lady being served before them. God bless all of them!
The Lahore Railway station is huge from inside. Though not unlike London's Victoria station. There the resemblance ends. You've got your hundreds of 'coolies' rushing all over in their red turbans and waistcoats. So many stalls, colours, and the number of people... ufff! The huge ceiling, the constant in-comprehendible and echoing announcements and what not. So, going up and down over pedestrian crossings, we were finally inside our train.
We settled down in seats far from each other, as we had reached late and the train was packed. I kept clutching my bag and looked out of the window at the delicious samosas being taken round by a vendor.
Suddenly my cousin came rushing to me in panic. “This is not our train! This one is going to Sargodha!”
“How do you know?” By now, we are gathering our stuff, and stepping off the compartment, on to the platform. Scared the train might start off...he carried the heaviest bag! We looked round for the coolie, mostly very old and haggard men, bickering with each other for the honour of carrying my heavy leather bag, (I could see a white corner of my dupatta sticking out from one side).
My cousin had been trying to strike a conversation with some stranger, “So, you are going to Sailkot?” and the guy said... “No, I'm going to Sargodha!” so, then he said, “How is that possible?” And so on.
We stood on the platform again, having to rush to yet another platform which was, well, on the wrong side of the station.
After a lot of running, dashing behind another old 'coolie', carrying our luggage, we finally landed in the correct train which was ours -- actually going to Sialkot.
I asked Iftekhar bhai to please sit with me and I realised that the 'ladies' compartment' was being used by families and no one complained as everyone preferred to sit with their own menfolk.
We settled in that train. I just love trains. Soon it grew darker and we started feeling a bit dopey when suddenly one person stood up and came to me. He was sitting next to his daughter and asked, “Can you sit next to my daughter please?” I don't want a strange man to come and sit next to her.” I said “fine” and moved over. As I sat next to that sweet-looking young girl of about 13 or 14 years of age I tried to strike a conversation with her. “Do you live in Sialkot?”
“I live in Lahore...” I told her... Big deal! Anyhow, what do you say?
She smiled at me. She was shy. I was talkative.
I saw that she wasn't doing much for our lovely conversation so I'd have to put in more effort, so I added, “I like Sialkot... I've been to the city, a few times with my mother. Where do you live?”
“We live in the city.”
She named some strange place, and I got confused.
“I am in Lahore most of the year and  come here on holiday. I only know one place in Sialkot...which is the only place I've been to,” suddenly, I forgot the name. I tried to think and said “It's called...” I racked my brains a little more and said... “Its called 'Baitulkhala'”.
Quite satisfied with my Urdu, till I saw a blank expression on her face! Suddenly it dawned on me I'd said something wrong. I went over what I had said.
Oh goodness, then I remembered. In college, whenever we stayed late we'd go off to the staff room lavatory. Since we were brushing up our Urdu, we'd try to use the best vocabulary whenever possible. So, we'd all get together to go to guessed it, the baitulkhala! Oh my goodness. I realised my mistake. The word I was actually searching for was 'Darul Aman', a place for destitute women and children. My mother and I had once visited to see handicrafts. I turned to her and said, “I think the word was 'Darul amaan' and not 'Bait ul Khala'.” “Yes,” she said with a straight face.