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Once Upon a Time at Bhatti Gate

by Atta Qasmi
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Atta Ul haq Qasmi

It had been a long time since I visited the inner city, and I hadn’t ridden in a wagon or walked the streets of Lahore either. I had been feeling something missing in my life. So, I decided to fill that void by going to Bhatti Gate. I waited at the wagon stop, and after a while, I started feeling the intensity of the sun, and my face began to glisten with sweat. I realized I was thirsty, and I looked around to see that I was surrounded by a group of around fourteen to fifteen passengers. Among them were women and children, all suffering in the scorching heat.

Soon, a wagon arrived, seemingly brand new, as it was empty and waiting. The conductor started ushering passengers in one by one. A few minutes later, all fifteen passengers were squeezed into the wagon. As the wagon started moving, the driver suddenly hit the brakes, causing the passengers to collide with each other due to the safety lock malfunctioning. The conductor yelled, “Sit close together!” Everyone complied, fearing that if one of them received a message from God at that moment, they might accidentally pass it on to someone else due to the close quarters.

We reached Bhatti Gate, but instead of the liveliness I remembered, it seemed dull and chaotic. Cars, motorcycles, donkey carts, and pedestrians were all intermingled as if a puzzle had gone awry. Honking horns filled the air, and people had irritated expressions on their faces. Bhatti Gate, which was once a lively place, was now filled with frustration.

I decided to wander through the narrow alleys in search of the old Bhatti Gate charm that had brought me here. I was trying to navigate the congested streets, often having to step aside for another person to pass. The lanes were tightly packed with houses, and the roofs seemed to overlap. The alleyways were so narrow that even a slight effort could cause the walls to stick to you when someone came from the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, the women in the neighboring houses were gossiping loudly, and the houses were so close that a whisper could be heard through the thin walls. The women seemed well acquainted with the lives of their neighbors. These people were living in a different world and were unaware of the discomfort faced by those who had to pass through these alleys.

I kept searching for a way out. Wherever I found an empty space, I turned that way. The aim was to find the Bhatti Gate I had in my mind. Somewhere in the distance, I spotted an old man with a white beard and a walking stick. He seemed to have gone out to buy yogurt. He exchanged greetings with an old friend of his who was as frail as him and had a similarly white beard. They greeted each other in a formal and contrived manner, creating an artificial atmosphere.

I was now distanced from the Bhatti Gate hustle and bustle, and the narrow alleys led me to a hidden lane. This lane was so narrow that it could barely accommodate one person at a time. The houses here were built closely together, and their roofs were connected. The water and gas pipes were entangled with each other, making it even harder to walk. In this environment, walking was a struggle, especially when someone appeared from the opposite direction. People were squeezing themselves against the walls to make way.

I realized that even in this Lahore, which was much closer to real life, there was a considerable lack of comfort and ease. I had come to Lahore for a change in climate, but now I was returning to my area, realizing that while values might have weakened, the comforts of life had not.

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