Despite the borders and histories and impossibilities etched into our lives, I still plan for when I’ll introduce you to Lahore and Lahore to you. I think you both would be able to share wounds, admire each other’s earrings, enjoy some alaichi chai
Your brown would look so beautiful surrounded by Lahore’s, but I’ve told myself over and over again that you and Lahore are not meant to meet, that sometimes circumstances are just so queer that even the safest softest closets cannot straighten them
But I plan still
To show you the long legs of Maall Road with the kind of stubble I know you’ll find sexy for its i-don’t-give-a-fuck flair; to slide with you into the inner crevices of the reddened walls of purana Lahore and spot that one blue kite flying amidst the orange heat; to feel the moist sponginess of the monsoon air; to tickle the erect tips of Badshahi Masjid’s minarets; to kiss with our mouths open and catch the smoke of centuries on our tongues—you see, when it comes to Lahore, even the clichés feel so good
When it comes to Lahore, even the most mundane act amongst sullied roads becomes a romantic cliché
Like the ice cream cone from the roadside stand in Liberty bazaar I so deeply want to share with you, watch the whiteness of the cream diffuse into your tongue, watch you hold the cone as I recount to you how getting ice cream from a street stand became my favorite thing to do in the evenings, tell you how I used to imagine eating that ice cream off of you, tell you that there is no better place to fantasize about our sex than amidst honks and dupattas and aging rickshaw cylinders
You see, when people ask me if I was born with the queer gene or if something ruined me later in life, I want to tell them that I was born into queer by being born into Lahore. You see, there is something so deliciously feminine about this city that the strength of it lingers on my tongue months after I leave it
Perhaps the intricacies and difficulties and love of Lahore have taught me to taste you properly, to travel through your crevices and find your tender spots, have taught me that the walls that guard your heart are made with the toughest red bricks but can soften up with a glance, that there is so much rare beauty in your layers and nuances and shadows (the kind that fell asleep and buried itself deep in my lungs (the kind that makes me smile every time I smoke and see clouds of you coming out of me))
So when I told you I love your rawness, this is what I meant: that perhaps you remind me of a place that is so bruised and bold, but so delicious and sweet still, whose femininity swallows buildings and bazaars but gags on men—refusing to take them in— the unswallowable men who colonize, terrorize, globalize, the men who force us into an exhausted rage
So when I want to bring you to this city perhaps I just want you to feel that something deep within Lahore— despite its men, despite its visible upper class, despite its global bullshit— is in solidarity with our love
I heard about Gulshan-i-Iqbal park when I was wrapped up in my blanket in my warm apartment, oceans away from the carnage and body parts. My immediate response was worry—not about the lives lost but about my family. Having confirmed that everyone I knew was fine, I proceeded to get out of bed and carry out my daily morning rituals. I made alaichi chai, making sure to let the cardamom infused water boil for a long time. I responded to some messages from friends asking about my family, thanked them for their concern, and decided to make myself an omelet with onions and green peppers. Luxuries of a Sunday morning. I made a mental list of the errands I had to run, the electricity bill I had to pay, and the assignments I had to finish for tomorrow. As I sipped my chai, I opened Dawn on my phone, scrolled quickly through the news articles, and glanced at the image with the woman crying. I thought momentarily about how the idea of “women and children” is used by journalists to invite empathy, to amplify the “innocence” of the lives lost; thought about incorporating the images and headlines into a paper I’m writing on the problematic co-optation of women as symbols by nations while broadcasting news about tragedy.
And this is how I forget the real women and children killed, the real Christians in Pakistan who undergo the horrors of existing under religious facism in a country where the sunni Muslims keep sipping their chai; in a country where folks like me never fear that we too will blow up like the suicide bomber with our anger and sorrow. We are devoid of anger, not because we are used to tragedy, but because we know that we will never be the chosen targets of the suicide bomber. We will never have nightmares about finding children’s limbs under heavy metal pieces, we will never fear the monsters unleashed on our religious holidays, we will never live at the literal margins of Lahore. We will text our family members to make sure they weren’t accidentally around Gulshan-i-Iqbal during the unfortunate bombing, we will drink more and more chai as we scroll through the news stories about Islamist militants, and we will continue to do our daily chores. And now and then in the coming week, we will discuss the state of Pakistan, express our contrived grief as we willfully create a rhetoric that highlights the unfathomable brutality of militants and erases the daily oppression lived religious and ethnic minorities. If we are leftist radicals, we will also talk about how our armed forces are not any different from the taliban; how the authorities would not mourn such an attack if “innocent women and children” had been killed in Balochistan by our nawjawan.
And in our condemnation of the militants, the government, the army, the taliban –who selectively target Christians, Hindus, Ahmedis, Balochis, Hazaras etc etc — we will forget that our chores, our schools, our jobs, our academic papers, our smartphones that provide us with latest updates on the bloodbath, are all tools of systems that selectively target those who live at the margins. We will forget that the lives at the margins exist in that periphery because of our complicity, our silence, our forgetfulness, our chai, our ability to calmly chop green peppers for a morning omellete while a Christian woman in Lahore is shaken by recurring visions of her chopped up sister.
Chop chop chop, sip sip sip. I hate chopping vegetables in the morning even though I really like having some color in my omelet. If only I had a bomb in my kitchen to chop up the limbs of the peppers and onions for me.