Lahore's Cultural Enigma

Qasim Khan Lahore

I once had a chance of working with an NGO for raising awareness about the dengue fever. We worked tirelessly day and night in the streets of old Lahore, which is referred to as the “down town.” A canal demarcates life in Lahore. Northern Lahore and its outskirts constitute the “down town” while Upper Mall is the center from where the so-called countryside of Lahore begins. As we go ahead, castles of Lahore with striking beauty start to come in view. The ball and chain does not lie in these exquisite abodes but in the dwellers. In fact, not in the dwellers but in their perspectives or one should say in their thoughts.

Winding back to the sequence of events in the beginning... During the course of my job, I had an opportunity to look at the strata of Lahore with a bird’s eye. The culture of Lahore is not about living in an exorbitant mansion, neither having a classy car in your porch nor dressing up brands. But it is about living a family of 25 people in a 151 square yards tower having five portions, which accommodate five people in each, it is about the galloping of a tanga horse on the crowded roads, it is about wearing anything which you feel comfortable in without acting pretentiously. This is the true Lahori culture where people are less materialistic. 

Lahore is a home to diverse group of people and as James Baldwin states, “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” Undoubtedly, being in the Lahori state gives you immense pleasure for all times. Most Lahoris would never ever want to leave their condition and move to an abode outside the Lahore.

Although sophistication, urbanity, and refinement of manners are few terms associated with the cultured beings but the utter use of these terms is seen for the upper-middle class, the elite class, the one’s tremendously influenced by these two classes and the one’s pretend to belong to these classes of Lahore. The saying of Shannon L. Alder co-relates to my viewpoint on culture that, “Life is always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone.”

Perhaps it seems foolish to some that if they cannot live a culture themselves then seeing someone who is adhering to the culture with contempt is completely jaundiced. Lahori culture is not the representation of gentry rather it is the lifestyle of a common person because how hard a moneyed man tries, he has to fake something. On contrary, a common person with true Lahori spirit is guiltless inside out. 

We never see a role of common person depicted as the culture in the theme of history. Our history text explicitly states the culture of Lahore during the Mughal era as royal, which is again the culture of elites. We never get our hands on any literature that describes the culture of majority of Lahoris. Sole representation of the Lahore’s culture by the elite society is unmerited. To be exact, we should say that a throng of cultures is the intrinsic feature of Lahori community. 

Culture is elegant that it persists for years within an individual. As far as crème de la crème of Lahore is concerned, they once had a culture of a common people, which still exists in any corner of their organs. Generations back, their ancestors must have lived in old Lahore when there were few societies for residence in Lahore. One way or another, we belong to this common culture whether we acknowledge it or not

So far, the culture of Lahore as a whole focusing the strata is discussed.  Now moving down the gradient to discuss the particulars of this culture with reference to each stratus. Lahoris are famous for their love of travelling, food and their liveliness. In general, Lahoris are tagged as the foodies. They can devour almost anything when hunger strikes. As far as the sight can see in the streets of old Lahore, roadside food setups prevail. These thelas offer supposedly unhygienic yet masala rich food to the Lahoris like chaat, gol gappay, samosey, jalebi and such like. While the other side of the city has restaurants having international ratings, MM Alam road is one great example. Overall, food is to Lahore as what money is to a shopaholic and a pen is to a writer.

The local language of Lahore is Punjabi but people of other regional languages like Pushton, Baloch, Sindhi, Saraiki also reside in Lahore. If we precisely categorize the people then it would not be wrongful as typical Urdu speakers, mixed speakers, and the speakers who do not fall in any of the above categories. The realm of Lahore is extensively strained with Punjabi speakers.

Around 75% of the Lahoris are found dressed in their national dress i.e. Shalwar Kameez, both males and females. Remaining 25% of the Lahore dresses to nines. Like food, Lahoris can wear anything whether it looks good on them or not. Generally, dresses range from dhootis to turbans to burqas to western. 

Moreover, colorful yet full of gratitude festivals embellish the culture of Lahore just like the stars adorn the sky. Lahori culture is surged with the events enclosing the calendar. All the celebrations are commemorated overwhelmingly in Lahore. Get together, family parties and dawats are common during these festivals. International, national, provincial, regional, and zonal events are memorialized in Lahore. Haut Monde of Lahore is also known for nighttime activities like concerts and shisha bars. Apart from it, various cultural shows and exhibitions enhance the worth of Lahori culture.

Concisely we can say Lahore is a mini world profuse with gaudy people but the charm of true Lahori culture is seen in the lives of commons. No matter how hard we try to counterfeit the extravagance of western culture, the sensation of gulping air of desi culture is matchless. It makes no difference whether you are born privileged or not but a person of good moral values is a cultured person indeed.   

- Article by Zaman S. Butt and Aminah Suhail Qureshi