I began writing my weekly Sunday piece more than a decade ago under the umbrella title of ‘Lahore – The Golden Years’. The desire to do so stemmed from an impulse to revive memories of bygone times and pay tribute to the immortal words, “Jene Lahore nahin vekheya, O jammia ee naeen” (whosoever hasn’t seen Lahore has not yet been born). I would perhaps have dallied long in putting ‘pen to paper’ had I not, during a chat with some young Lahoris from a posh suburban locality, realised with growing horror that the group (and many more like it) had never experienced the thrill of becoming one with the real soul of their city – a soul now imprisoned within an ever expanding concrete jungle. I therefore began repaying an overdue debt, in the hope that perhaps in a magical unforgettable moment, readers may glimpse Kipling disappearing round the corner of a narrow brick paved lane deep within the old city quarter or be accosted by the young jilted lover pacing the Mall of old, oblivious of his tattered attire and disheveled appearance and maybe someone somewhere, may even be ensnared by the long forgotten aroma of freshly baked pastry that seduced countless visitors through the green gauze covered doors of the now extinct Yasin Khan & Sons.

Years later, a well-wisher reminded me that I was first and foremost ‘a Lahore da Puttar’ (a son of Lahore) blest with a unique set of experiences that included a traditional family background, an ancestral home rife with paranormal activity, a hereditary and mystical connection with flora and fauna, a vibrant schooling that spawned everlasting interfaith friendships, love for good food and last, but not the least, a career that necessitated an outdoor life enriched by frequent road journeys across the country. He then suggested that I should take my weekly narrative beyond the walls of Lahore. This is how the ongoing thread of ‘Lahore and Beyond’ was born.

I do not have words to thank my Creator for bestowing upon me a passion for history, the pursuit of which enabled me to meet and learn from scholars and untutored alike. It is perhaps the study of events and reasons for their occurrence that instilled in me the often annoying habit of ‘observing’ and not merely ‘seeing’ events. It has nonetheless helped me as a column writer – an activity, which evokes a variety of responses from those that I meet. There are some, who wrinkle their noses as if to say, “Oh! Column writer? What a waste of time!” Incentive however, comes from a large majority of people, who encourage, criticise and applaud. The best part of this evocation is undoubtedly the quest for stories, especially those that can be linked to one’s own memories. For me time spent on the move, at work or in social interaction is brimming with possibilities of ‘grist for the mill’.

Take for example the time when on the way to work, I saw a young woman pull over to the side of a busy road and unmindful of risk to her person, retrieve a tiny helpless kitten from certain death under the wheels of speeding cars. This incident triggered several pieces related to my late father and his uncanny power to communicate with animals.

On another occasion I saw a young man (the teenage son of an old friend) playing with a top on the driveway of his house in Islamabad. I walked up to him and taking the conical toy from his bewildered hands, showed him how to launch the thing on a shorter string to make it land spinning on the palm of the hand. I became an instant hit with the younger members of this particular family and went home to write about Taj Din, the (now long deceased) master top maker on Lawrence Road and his devoted young followers.

Passing by a building across the Mall from Dyal Singh Mansions, while on a short visit to Lahore, I was reminded of the Nadkarni Family and their reverence for all religions. This inspired me to write about how Lahore was at one time, never found wanting in terms of interfaith harmony. The piece also provided me with an opportunity to pay tribute to the Parsi community of this city.

I firmly believe that as long as ‘Chauburji’ can generate nostalgia amongst members of my generation and curiosity amongst those that came later, I shall consider my task done for in my reckoning, nostalgia breeds temperance and curiosity spawns the urge to know more.