It seems I have crossed a vast ocean, maybe I have crossed time itself. I find myself living in northern Africa now. I, infact, have lived here for years, in a world I no longer recognise, in a world I no longer understand, within a person I almost no longer know.
My memories are like rocks on this ocean, islands, the summits of an endless mountain range that stands submerged somewhere within me. Those memories are the landmarks of my life that I cling to when the currents seem to want to pull me under.
On one of those islands I remember a far off city called Lahore, I remember being four or five years old, the snowy nights. I try to recall my mother’s voice on those nights as she read to me about this exotic city, about a boy called Kim who lived there, the books of Rudyard Kipling.
It has been many years, decades infact since my mother, in torment, so brutally left this world and my memories of her seem to fade more as the years progress. I have never forgotten those nights though, they are still vivid, how beautiful she had seemed. I have never forgotten about that magical, faraway city called Lahore.
The reactions were always the same when I told people I was travelling to Pakistan. Worry, suspicion, drama. I would often hear “…..but no one goes to Pakistan”. I could only reply “for the mountains!” and that seemed to quieten them. Yes, it is true, it was for the mountains indeed but not the Himalaya, it was for other peaks far greater than them.
“Towards the Land of the Giants” I thought as I swept in from the Gulf of Oman, the mountains of Beluchistan like huge steps, climbing upwards across distressed patchworks of yellow and gold.
I remember when I arrived in Delhi in 2009 the utter shock I felt being out of my comfort zone. My life before that had been a series of beautiful hotels, restaurants and museums in what was supposed to be the greatest cities of the world. To see dead animals – and even a dead man – lying on the street had for me been highly upsetting. I think living in Africa now has changed me in alot of ways. Driving into Lahore late afternoon, the vibrant, noisy streets and life, the chaos and endless car horns framed in a gentle fading sun, felt no different from my daily African life and I guess you could say I was in my element.
They say that Lahore is the most polluted city on Earth but to me it was, to put it simply, beautiful. Walking through the old gardens of the Mughal emperors early in the morning was very moving. To experience shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), to smell the flowers and soil and hear nature was unbelievably soothing.
I found myself alone in what seemed like a flooded section of the gardens, dense with trees and quite dark where birds were swooping down from the branches, their reflections in the water. It was rather sensational and dramatic, a precious gift from the natural world. If I had to make an ukiyo-e print of an experience in my life it could be that very moment.
Rudyard Kipling called Lahore “The City of Dreadful Night” having spent his days along it’s dark alleyways, brothels and opium dens but to me the city was majestic, far more than Delhi or Isfahan. I feel that Lahore had been a city that reached it’s zenith away back in time.
I have many moments in Lahore that I will never forget, some good and some bad. Walking through the gardens of Jahangir’s mausoleum and admiring it’s impressive architecture a police constable insisted he walk with me “for my own safety” and even though a few times I told him i’m perfectly safe by myself he would not leave me alone often asking if he could come to my hotel. It became so unbearable I had to leave the mausoleum just to get away from him.
I was in a deeply reflective state while I was in Lahore and to be honest I didn’t want to talk to anyone at all. I wanted to enjoy the memories of my mother, it was because of her that I was in Lahore in the first place.
One day I wanted to observe the light and shadows across Badshahi Mosque as the hours progressed, instead I was harrassed hundreds of times for selfies. sometimes by large groups. I would gladly make photos but after hours of this it became unbearable, some people were so disrespectful or would just make them anyway. After a while their camera’s seemed like weapons, shot to death by camera lens indeed. If you ever see someone famous please just let them be.
I could not refect as deep as I wanted that day because of those interruptions but I do vaguely remember the great mosque in changing light until after nightfall when it’s domes seemed suspended, I felt they were like moons and I almost could touch them.
Walking under Delhi gate and along crowded lanes, through elaborately painted hammams and past exotic spices, colorful mosques like jewellery boxes, laughing children and the curious elderly where every man would stare, the scruffy street dog staring at the butcher shop and me going in and buying it breakfast, smiling boys driving my rickshaws and taxi’s, strange delicious sugary sweets and burning hot parantha, puppet shows, milky tea – actually the best tea in the world , the skylines of emperors and kings and through it all memories of my beloved mother whom I felt in some way was with me spiritually.
Lahore, millions of people have passed through your streets across hundreds of years and i’am just another one of them with just another story, but like you, I also have a history that is bittersweet and just like you, I continue to survive through it all.