The Lahore that was The monsoons are finally here and with it comes relief for the heat beleaguered residents of Lahore, but with a price. Unable to cope with the rain water and built by corrupt contractors and LDA officials, the citys storm drainage system will once again fail, confronting Lahoris with a chaotic situation. My mothers side of the family, who had thoroughbred origins from the walled city, often spoke nostalgically about the monsoons. To them, towering clouds, the cool gusty wind and torrential rain brought an irrepressible urge not to stay indoors. Swings were set up on trees or any convenient spot as dictated by the environment, woks began to sizzle with pakoray and gulgulay and even the worst tempered kin managed to smile spontaneously. There was one word however, that generated excitement and happy anticipation in both young and old - this was 'Picnic. Some of the best picnic spots in and around the city were located on the banks of the Ravi and around Prince Kamrans barandari. Lawrence and Shalimar Gardens were also very popular choices free from the threat of hooliganism or eve teasing, which is rampant in such places today. But perhaps the best picnic of all was a cricket test match in the picturesque lush green setting of the Lawrence Gardens. The ground was surrounded by tall shady trees and open all around, in stark contrast to the prison like stadiums that we see these days. Spectator stands were temporarily made by creating steps out of wooden beams on bamboo and steel scaffolding. There was no loud music or the ear-splitting cacophony that one hears today. A good stroke or a wicket, created a short burst of deafening applause and then silence, as all eyes stood riveted to the action on the pitch. A rope strung along the boundary line separated the spectators from the players and there was no need of any crowd control. Pitch invasions were frowned upon and extremely rare. It was a game played and watched by gentlemen. Many spectators came in family groups and brought their own sustenance. Unbelievable, but true, each family could be seen carrying degchas full of tantalising traditional food. Western style lunches were also available in boxes on payment of a nominal amount. As the teams walked back for lunch towards the beautiful and very English pavilion, they were met by a bevy of young women and children seeking autographs - there was one such album in our family that carried the signatures of legends like Fazal Mahmud, Hanif Muhammad, Maqsood, Wesley Hall and Rohan Kanhai on its pages. This was a signal for the degchas to be opened and total strangers sitting in the close proximity to be invited to a sumptuous picnic lunch. My mother often laughingly said that in many instances, these feasts became the starting point for establishing a more lasting relationship between two families. Lahores surrounding areas boasted some great mango gardens. These became convenient picnic spots for those that owned them or knew the owners and had the means to reach them. With fresh mangoes chilled in ice and jugs of katchi lassi, these outings became lasting memories and more so if there was a tubewell or bumba with an open tank in the near vicinity. I still carry fond memories of being part of numerous 'water battles with my cousins and then gorging myself to slumber with mangoes and lassi. During my last visit to the city of my birth, I found that these gardens had all but disappeared as the concrete jungle that is now Lahore, expands outwards destroying the environment. I, however, firmly believe that true Lahoris will never allow this to happen. It is now up to this group of citizens to protect the environment of what was once the City of Gardens. The writer is a freelance columnist.