Born into a Muslim home family whose ancestors migrated, from now what is Indian-controlled Kashmir, I Sarah Azhar, was born in my grandfather’s home located at Ravi Road, a town in Lahore, Pakistan. Opposite to my grandfather’s home is ‘Minar-e-Pakistan — a monument that was constructed on the site where Pakistan Resolution, demanding creation of Pakistan was passed. The monument attracts many visitors as it signifies the development of Pakistan as a nation and also reflects a blend of Mughal Empire and modern architecture. As for personal meaning this is the very place where our old family caretaker used to take me out every day to learn how to walk. It’s near and dear to my heart, a place where I took my first “baby steps”. I had a feeling of fulfillment when I resided there, and still do so whenever I visit.
The envelopment of my surroundings allowed for me to broaden my horizons both emotionally and intellectually. Though that is not to say I have not gained a little influence from my partial growing up experiences in China and in the US. As a matter of fact, I am multi-culturally faceted as I am conformed to Eastern and Western customs. As I took my vivid memories of my days in Lahore to China and then to US, I see Pakistan through a different perspective now; one that makes me love my motherland more, one that makes me realize how blessed my life was in Lahore – the heart of Pakistan. At first I hated the fact that I had to leave my hometown, my people, my memories all back, but now I feel privileged that being out of my country gave me an opportunity to represent Pakistan, to be the ambassador for my country, and more importantly it made me appreciate the life I had lived there.
Being away from Pakistan, I had been waking up every day with a fear in my mind. Fear for my fellow countrymen from the surmountable issues and disasters. And I ask everyday so what’s next? However, the Lahori inside me tells me something else, tells me that life goes on, reminds me about the time when I go to Lahore, when I hear about political drama, suicide bombings, financial crisis, natural disasters but life goes on. Life goes on because there is so much more about Pakistan that media can never cover with true justice. The person inside me reminds me of what my dad always used to say when we moved to China, “never forget your roots, ignore what others have to say, ignore their opinions, be what you are and be the best in whatever you do. Inspire people with your true identity, that is, I am Pakistani”. And indeed I am like just another young Pakistani woman who has been given every opportunity in life, whether it be to gain education or to live freely in Pakistan or anywhere else on this planet, unlike the given oppressed image of Pakistani women by the western media. I wish I could tell everyone that life back home in Pakistan is a blessing for me, it’s a fairy-tale world – pure vacation package one could ask for. Life back home in Pakistan gives me a feeling of a strong sense of family ties and unity in people which can be seen in different customs such as Eids (a Muslim Holidays), Basant (kite-flying festival), and weddings. All these occasions further brings people together, especially the variety of food served on such occasions is a sign of hospitality, and that’s what makes the community and people in Pakistan so vibrant. There is an old saying that there are eight festivals in Lahore in a week that spirit is still alive in people of Lahore. Even if you are a stranger and meet a Pakistani family for the first time, they will greet you as if you are one of their own, offer you good food, good conversation over a cup of tea or perhaps “mithai” (sweets) and expect you to be comfortable at their place – like it’s your home. To them it would be rude if you behave like a stranger towards them.
Sure the “Red Alert” warnings are real but so is the cultural, musical, literary, intellectual, and humanistic evolution, which sets Lahore apart from every other city on earth. It is just so magnificent, so very fabulous, that every corner of the city speaks of certain enthusiasm; a certain spirit of life, and the very passionate people which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. What makes Lahore a truly rewarding experience is the history of Lahore which has been ruled by a number of dynasties even before Muslim Mughal Empire (1524 to 1752)-who gave Lahore its finest architectural monuments, and then the British invasion of Lahore (in 1849) – who built Forts and constructed many buildings in Mughal architectural style. Perhaps the fact that Lahore is lying on the main trade and invasions routes to South Aisa, it made it easier for these Dynasties to invade Lahore. The history, the festivals, the buildings, the roads, and the gardens, and more importantly Lahore being the center of arts and culture in Pakistan is enough to admire the beauty of Lahore. In fact the most beautiful thing about Lahore is that the city’s lively spirit is visible in the people of Lahore. Perhaps this is why we have an old saying that in every Lahori, there is a Mughal Prince.
Lahore is known as a place where East meets West – a city where ancient and modern worlds collide. Don’t be surprised to see a Tanga (a light horse-drawn carriage) alongside luxurious cars like Porsche or a BMW on the roads. I recall visiting the Old City of Lahore, sitting on the rooftop of Coo Co’s Den Café, nearby “Minar-e-Pakistan”, while admiring the view of Emperor Aurangzeb’s architectural masterpiece: Badshahi Masjid built in 1673. One can experience more of such rich culture and the influence of different Eras on Lahore by wandering in the Walled city of Lahore, also known as the Old Lahore, consisting of 6 gates now out of 13 gates it originally had before. The Old Lahore is famous for its music and arts which welcomes tourist to its vibrant bazaars like Anarakali (named after a woman) or taking a tour to the historic “Minar-e-Pakistan”, Lahore Fort and so on. Whereas present day Lahore consists of different modern cafes, restaurants, universities, performing arts theaters and other such accommodations, as these keep Lahore’s reputation of being center of music and arts alive. People could come to Lahore not only for food which it is famous for, but to learn how to be passionate, lively and kind hearted like the culture expressed by Lahori’s. The taste in all those delicacies and specialties is not only a mix of ingredients, but pure love that the Lahori’s have for their people, their country. The tourist just needs to have the eyes of an observer and all is clear, but hidden for those who don’t want to open the eyes of their heart & just come, travel, eat and leave. A real interaction with people in Lahore would definitely make it easier for a tourist to know Lahore and the people- try to get to know their feelings and thought about things, about life, to understand and accept the way the locals do things, to respect their feelings and emotions, and not just wave for the sake of capturing some pictures.
Being away from my hometown may have made me realize that there is no city like Lahore. Lahore is Lahore. There is no other city like it, and it is uniquely its own. If you choose to live in it, you’ll certainly come to embrace all that it is. One can travel openly, freely and with an open heart only if he/she has the eye of an observer. If you are willing to accept things with an optimistic mindset, no matter what it is, and learn from it, then you should sweetly anticipate this adventure rather than the fear of it. And above all, you should be crazy as it helps, really!
Life for a person in Lahore, like anyone in today’s busy world, is surrounded by insecurity of life, career and relations. But the trough of this pessimistic feeling is followed by a positive move, a sense of hope and motivation. There is a desire to change the world in every Pakistani, at least in his or her own mind. I hate how the country is being ruled by the most corrupted politicians but the love for my country and people does not change. And when I am not in Pakistan, my love for it still does not change even when I read articles stating Pakistan as “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth”. And it still did not change my opinion when I recently heard about Newsweek calling Pakistan as “The Bravest Nation”. My passion for the people of my nation is what differentiates me from those who are easily swayed from such headlines without having experienced life in such a beautiful estate. This is the positive feeling that I see around, the compassion, this one narrow beam of light in a room of darkness. And I know that this narrow beam of light is in every Pakistani’s heart out there and everybody is just looking for the right opportunity to combine it to make it become a strong effective lamp of hope. As for me when I go back, I want to find opportunities, and if not found, I want to create them. Perhaps help my people in whatever manner I can; especially nowadays when Pakistan needs me more due to the floods disaster, described as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. This devastating natural disaster has affected 20 million people, and has destroyed crops, infrastructure, and villages as the UN states “the scale of Pakistan’s floods is worse than the 2004 tsunami in Asia, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined”. I wish I was in Pakistan right now to help those people affected by this disaster, however, being so far away still does not stop me from helping as I have been actively trying to raise funds and to help through the organizations I am part of. I am going to request you all to rise up as humans and help save lives and maybe bring a smile on some child’s face who needs nothing but food and some place to sleep. Help these people to stand up in life again, and I assure you that every penny is going to the right place as BBC report states that “these areas are of no strategic interest to anyone because they have neither exported terrorism nor do they have the ambition to join a fight against it”. Do your own research outside the regular media institutions that you might be relying on, or join me to show you the other side of Pakistan, its cities and people that you might not have heard before.