As soon as you land at Lahore’s International Airport, carrying your luggage, walking through its enormous walkways, you begin to feel mystified.
You have entered the seventh largest country of the world. A country boosting some of the biggest metropolitan cities on earth; one of the oldest civilizations in human history; and one of the most fascinating cultures in today’s world.
You begin to wonder if you will get to unveil those legends of “mysterious east”, fully aware of the fact that you are entering a third world, developing country, renowned for all the wrong reasons, and very few right ones.
Welcome to Pakistan… you have arrived at the center stage, and the forefront, of the world’s oft repeated buzz words, “the war on terror”
But don’t panic, you will not get to “see” or even “feel” the war being fought here. You can calmly leave the airport, take a cab and drive across the city of Lahore. Chances are that you will find it more peaceful and orderly than New York, more culturally rich than Mumbai and more scenic than London.
But don’t be deceived by this either. You have entered a country at the peak of high voltage political drama. Its social volatility will soon baffle your senses – the ironies, the paradoxes, the inherent conflicts and the poles-apart points of view will challenge your brain cells.
You will take some time to get accustomed to its intrinsic fiber. You will be amazed at the way the global media depicts a somber picture. Sometimes quite rightly so; but not always. You will be reminded that when this country stumbles into crisis, the world holds its breath. A slight stir in its ideological mix, and the world misses a heartbeat.
Relishing your stay in Lahore, you will start to wonder; “what crisis”… notwithstanding the fact that the country perpetually leaps from one conundrum to the other. Some of your friends will call it the most dangerous place on earth. Others will call it just exciting and dynamic, with equal conviction. Some will never want to be here. Some will not want to take their eyes off it, forever.
A deeper insight will reveal the “brilliance” it carries; not through the “larger picture” or the macro economic view, rather through small yet significant occurrences, the deep rooted traditions, the mystic wavelength of its people, the volatile partiality, the folklore of passion, the innovative mindset, the innate flashes of brilliance coming out of nowhere.
You will ponder on it’s current socio-political climate, thinking that this is exactly what the doctor did not order for this land. You will begin to wonder how things would have been had there not been all that crisis, violence, corruption and volatility.
And you will be thinking about it while driving alone in downtown Lahore late in the evening, or having a hearty traditional dinner at a small roadside restaurant well past midnight, considering it neither dangerous, nor unusual. Instead of being worried, you will continue to be amazed with the glits and glamour of Lahore’s streets, the absorbing liveliness of the people and the calm yet invigorating atmosphere unique to the city’s evenings.
While going back from this land, again carrying your luggage, walking through the enormous walkways, you will begin to feel ecstatic. You will sense a strange affection for this place; the people and the things.
You will go back with a sense of belonging. You will want to tell its story to the strangers you have never met, and to the bystanders who never listen. You will joyfully cheer for its cricket team whenever you can, and you will excitedly follow the developments at its domestic front, reading between the lines from the global media.
This is when you will fully understand this place… and appreciate its splendor.