Chauburji Some years ago, I happened to visit what used to be Lahores celebrated Food Street in Gowalmandi, accompanied by some Pakistani friends living abroad. After gorging ourselves on a variety of spicy meats, we were walking towards the car park when I espied a familiar face near the exit. I towed my friends to the small cart behind which stood this rather theatrical old figure selling paans. When I told him that I was a Lahori who had returned to his roots after many years, he clasped my hands and said that he would prepare something special for me. As he went about applying 'this and that to a full size betel leaf, he hummed a tune to himself grinning happily all the time. Then to the utter surprise of my colleagues, he thrust his specially prepared confection at me with a loud sir mun kholeye (open your mouth please). Having deftly thrust the paan into my mouth he looked at me expectantly and on having received generous compliments looked very pleased with himself. I dug into my wallet to pay him, but he stopped me with the words: Eh ik Lahori da dooje Lahori lai tohfa e, bha ji. This magnanimous gesture, which embodied the true Lahori character, sent me spiralling into the past when Lahoris went an extra mile to demonstrate their love and hospitality to visitors and total strangers, ranging from dignitaries to ordinary people. I remember the times when Lahore was a 'must visit item on every foreign head of states visit programme. No itinerary for 'the City of Gardens was complete without an evening banquet in the Lahore Fort and a reception in the Shalimar Gardens. The first signs of such visits appeared, when floral arches began appearing on The Mall at regular intervals. These were not the ugly hard board and panaflex contraptions that we witness today, but were works of art created with bamboo ladders and green interwoven branches, leaves and flowers. The route along which the visitors were supposed to travel was bedecked with flags of both countries carefully printed to avoid errors in content and colours. Roads were washed and cleaned, and foot paths began filling up with people carrying small paper flags, hours before the motorcade was due to pass that way. First to come into sight was the smart Anglo-Indian sergeant, a subject of one my earlier columns, on his high-powered motorcycle. Next would appear a police vehicle with an officer standing up in it, followed by a beautifully arranged group of military police motorcycle outriders. This was followed by an open convertible car carrying the host and the principal guest, and more cars carrying the rest of the visitors. Another group of military police outriders and an ambulance brought up the rear of the motorcade. This procession drove sedately, unlike the 'formula one speeds that are seen today, and the crowds and the dignitaries exchanged greetings by waving to one another. Sometimes The Mall from the airport to Governor House (then known as Government) was also lined with army jawans, who presented arms as the motorcade drove by. A long time ago, an old female relative happened to take a few out-of-town visitors on a walking tour of the old city. As they entered a street leading to Dabbi Bazaar, they came upon a solitary shop, where some young men were embroidering fabric with gold and silver thread. The visitors stopped, wanting to see how this work was done and within no time stools were produced, while one of the workers was sent to fetch lemon soda and delicious cups of doodh patti. On being told that all this fuss was unnecessary, the reply was that they had received guests from out of town and as Lahoris it was their foremost duty to entertain them as best as they could. As a young budding professional somewhere in the sixties, I decided to take a nostalgic look at our ancestral residence inside Bhati Gate. As I stood looking at the house, I was accosted by a wrinkled old man, Baoo ji tussi ki paye dekhde o (what are you looking at). I replied that I was just remembering my childhood days, when my grand parents lived here. The man put his hand on my shoulder and said: Tussi Mian ji de ki lagde so (what was your relationship with Mian ji). On learning that I was the grandson, the old man clasped both my hands and almost dragged me to a multi-storied house in a nearby street. It appeared as if a VVIP had crossed the threshold, for in typical Lahori Punjabi interspersed with good natured invectives, he collected his family and showered me with bakarkhani and Kashmiri chai (tea) along with long forgotten stories of my family. This then was and remains the Lahori spirit, which distinguishes this great city and its dwellers from the rest. This is the spirit which takes one look at a total stranger, opens its arms wide and says, jee ayan nu. The writer is a freelance columnist.