Slow Burn Lahore Redux

Posted by sepoy on February 01, 2023 · 4 mins read

Much earlier, as in 2012, I wrote a series of small things that were meant for a book that I was then planning and researching. My intention was to write a cult(ur)o-geography of Lahore, a riff on the psychogeographies of Guy Debord and friends. For a few years, then, I had been doing ethnographies and collecting ephemera around Lahore–print and visual materials, tapes, some objects. I had planned the book around a series of walks across bits of Lahore that I imagined as sponge-like, for their capacity to both be full and empty (I mean here “meaning” as well as people). My first walk was to begin, I remember writing it in my mind, from the vestibule of my house, through the main gate, across the agricultural land that stretched in front until the haphazard mohalla lanes with their open-sewer brackets, onto the main road that came to a sudden intersection colloquially called “joint”. The crossroad here merged pathways from two different worlds–one was clean, organized, richer, the other dusty, jumbled and poorer. I would continue walking, letting the dirt accumulate on my shoes, jumping over puddles of garbage, standing water, bricks, on a straight line that will eventually turn right, and lead me to Lahore Railway Station. It was not a very long walk–around two hours–but not an easy one either. In my writing, I would describe this walk circa mid 80s when I was a teenager walking that route–flowing with tongas, carts, rickshaws, bicycles, cows, scooters, motorcycles (the Honda CD70), donkey-carts, goats, mini-buses, buses, trucks, and the occasional cars–with some difficulty.

At the level of describing the city, this walk would traverse the British colonial Lahore. It lead to the grand Railway station from the edge of their cantonment quarters keeping more or less parallel to the railway tracks that were speeding towards Amritsar. This was the first line of partition in Lahore, beginning in 1860s which sliced the city across colonial and colonized, Mughal and British.

I cannot recall, now, why I wanted to start my book with this walk. It felt natural perhaps because my home was at the end of it. There is a lot that is about Lahore that is also about my home. It was then at the margin of the city, away from bazaars, from polite quarters. There was no road that lead to it, just a dirt strewn pathway that hindered motion like knotted cloth. My mother had built this house. She did it on her own, without the help of my father who was working across the sea and her brothers who were not working across the street. She did without her eldest son, me, who was busy reading books and daydreaming. She was born in Lahore and she understood well Lahore’s claims on time and space. Her birth home was in the old city and the house she built was outside, practically, of the whole city. I remember feeling that the book on walking in Lahore needs to have a center and that center should be the home she had built.

Stretched across Lahore are stories of invisible beings and visible non-beings which I have collected for more than a decade. The stories are not just of Lahore, however. They are of elsewheres and elsewhens and I can make sense of very few of them.

I am eleven years removed from the writing that is here: Slow Burn Lahore II, Slow Burn Lahore III, Slow Burn Lahore IV, Slow Burn Lahore V, Slow Burn Lahore VI). As I pick up these many threads, I am excited to finally write a book that will let me walk Lahore.