The Lahore we grew up is no more the Lahore we live in. The landscape, skyline, people and culture have disappeared with the deluge of concrete, asphalt and migrants. The rich of the walled city have since moved to posh areas replaced by migrant tenants. The walled city and beyond, that was once a melting pot of cultures continues to snowball and reshape like a black hole of antimatter or shall I say a star.

The communitarian culture of collective, joy and grief, the dos and don’ts of mohalla ethics have vanished. Mohalla (street) culture was unique. Everyone knew everyone. The whole Mohalla was chacha, chachi, mamoon, mammi, pha jee, veer and pehan jee (uncle, aunty, brother and sister). The code was strict and unforgiving. Meals were happily shared and weddings were collective. Everyone participated. In deaths, the bereaved house was not permitted to light a cooking fire for forty days. Widows never cooked. Meals of a day was shared, coordinated by the eldest lady of the street. And when guests departed, packed food went with them. Happiness was collective and so was grief. The power of sharing evolved into a Lahori spirit of ‘never die’; ‘zinda dalan e Lahore’!

Forty five years hence, I returned to the city of my childhood, where I grew, got educated and left to earn my living. When I look out of my 270 degree balcony in defence, there is no one I know, nor is anyone keen to know me. It’s a rat race of armed guards sizing everyone passing by, a rush of limousines, late night traffics and midnight visitors. These are the nouvelle and dirty rich exhibitionists Lahore was never known for. Lahore life was about closely knit communities, its delicate and cheap cuisine, sprawling gardens, playing fields and competitive spirit. It was for this love that I always wanted to settle in Lahore after my retirement. But where is ‘Lahore lore aye’?

There were three or four centres interlinking Lahore within walking distance. In those days, an 8-kilometre walk was normal. Each centre was a start point itself. You could go anywhere from anywhere. Rickshaws, tongas and double decker buses were available. Roads even had exclusive lanes for lady cyclists. These centres were Regal Chowk, Bhatti Lohari, Railway Station and Krishen Nagar. Then, as it happens in unplanned urbanisation, new markets and living areas shaped up.

Medieval Lahore grew on the outskirts of the walled city. Old Anarkali was a food street and lunchtime hub with university grounds next to it. New Anarkali rapidly became a clothing and fashion market. At its head was the famous Tollinton Market clustered by MAO College where all student movements originated, Old Punjab University, Lahore Museum, Government College, Law College, Islamia College, Central Model School, Sacred Heart Convent and St Andrews. Not to forget the famous Tea House and Neela Ghumbad, once a flogging square of British Martial Law. Down the Mall came the Cathedral Church and School, Sacred Heart School, Catholic Cathedral and St Anthony’s. These were and remain the finest educational institutions that produced three generations of Pakistan’s civil service, judges, soldiers, sportsmen, artists and adventurists.

At the junction of Beadon Road, Temple Road and Hall Road there was the option of walking into Royal Park and McLeod Road to the finest cinemas, food and lassi. Regal Chowk provided the best samosas, Mamma’s mince on a footpath and Mulla Bux pans. The chat shops and channay wala came in late 60s. Amristsari, Jullandari and Halwa Puri on Beadon Road were set up by 1947 migrants. The famous Barrot’s Bakery with its specialities of rich plum cakes and croissants is no more. By Lahori standards, Chaman Ice Cream is an upstart.

A stroll through the streets beyond Hall Road, Beadon Road and Assembly Chambers led to Laxhmi Chowk, the food hub, Diyal Singh College and Library, Garhi Shahu, Don Basco School known to produce boxers and basketball players, Convent of Jesus and Mary, Queen’s College, Railway Headquarters, Qila Gujjar Singh and railway station. We always wondered why Nisbat Road became a lake at the slightest drizzle. It is recently, while excavating Shahi Hammam of Wazir Khan that archaeologists discovered that the walled city had been raised by a few feet. Possibly what is now Nisbat Road was excavated for mud.

Walk through Anarkali and you end up through Pan wali Gali at Lohari, the entry to the walled city, a centre of consumer trading, kite manufacturing and Brandreth Road. It was from this walled city that food stalls and carts sallied out to provide Lahore its typical cuisine. But the best recipes were always found inside the walled city with its narrow streets. One had only to venture into the open street squares to get a feel of Lahori life and street food.

Victoria Park at Beadon Road and Garhi Shahu were the living areas of the Pakistani English-speaking community. These Goans and Anglo Pakistanis were mostly employed in the Accountant Generals’ office, railways, police and schools. They brought a diversity and style to the city. They ran the accounts, railways and police with ruthless efficiency. It was a generation known for strict work ethics, diligence, discipline and fun, unfortunately lost to Bhutto’s nationalisation and Zia ul Haq’s policies. Though some still remain, most have now migrated abroad or to Karachi.

Queens Road was an extension of Mall and Lawrence Road known for Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, medical college and Prime Minister Liaqat Ali’s residence. It linked with Mozang, itself an extension of Old Anarkali and Temple Road. Mason road was where Lahore ended. GOR was a no go area. Shadman, Samanabad, Ichra and Gulberg had yet to come up. The Cantonment started at Zafar Ali Road. Model Town, for its relative isolation, was an outside community that ran its own bus service called MTBS. Taxis and rickshaws would refuse to go to Gulberg, Walton and Model Town at night.

Discipline on roads was strict patrolled by the likes of Sargent Niblett or Snell. Tongas and bicycles without lights were fined at night. Every hand cart had a licence and night lantern. Every eatery had a medical fitness certificate. Sanitary and food inspectors in typical khaki outfits and a turban patrolled the markets.

Back in sixties and seventies, Lahore was a modern city that had preserved its heritage. Mall Road was always a sight of cleanliness, wide side roads and a blend of colonial architecture. Lower Mall, from Krishen Nagar to Chuburji to Bhatti Gate was lined with beautiful buildings grounds and parks.

Though much is being done to revive the old city, there is sweet nothing to revive the heritage.

Sitting in isolated grandeur I keep asking myself, what ails the home I knew as Lahore?