The last time I walked anywhere in Lahore was in 1994.

It was a fragrant, fresh and green city. A city of gardens, colleges, and beautiful dreams.

The vendors put things you bought in paper bags, and grocery bags were made of cloth. People in the street did not stare, and gave way because they were not looking down at their hands and typing away madly on a cell phone!

Shopkeepers always greeted the customer with a smile and a Salam, and no matter if you bought anything or not, you were always offered a cup of tea or a ‘botal’ (soft drink). If you bought something, no matter how small, a botal would appear out of nowhere. And after the business was done you were seen off with a smile and a ‘thank you, come again.’

Rains were a welcome diversion from the heat and humidity of the summer months; no walk through gates beeping off, no ‘puls nakas’ (road blocks), no jangla, no blocked rain drains or over flowing gutters, the traffic managed itself, and jaywalkers were a rare commodity; and you could walk in the rain!

Foot loose and fancy free in Lahore over the Eid weekend and extended holiday week, I felt the wanderers bug bite, and spent time driving, parking the car, walking some, and trying to find the Lahore of my yesteryears.

I was accompanied by a friend who is a long time resident of the city, with whom I wanted to share my Lahore with, and show some of the places we – mostly I – had talked of fondly in the past.

I found nostalgia out of place in Lahore this July!

Delhi Darwaza, the Shahi Hamam, Qainchi Darwaja (not one of the doors yet a darwaja a bit inside from the Delhi Darwaza), Masjid Wazir Khan, the Kucha Kakaezai’ain of my ancestors, the mazar of Pir Balkhi Sharif, the Sunheri masjid, the grave and mosque of the fabled Ijaz, Aik Moriya pul (bridge of one hole), and the Masjid Shab Bhar…

Then we went to Neela Gumbad, seeing it first from a distance and then going in to see the tomb close up. Then the King Edward Medical College (University) and the boys hostel across the road, the Bible Society, Student Watch in the Purani Anarkali, the Parsi Bandhara Croweater Building, Pak Tea House, Tollinton Market (Lahore Heritage Museum), and a hello after a long time to Alfred Woolner’s statue on the Mall outside the University of the Punjab, the YMCA…

The Jain Mandar toppled by frenzied crowds in the wake of the Babri Masjid razing is now invisible because of the elevated Metro track, and the high wall round it. Then there is the State Bank of India building behind the Punjab High Court premises with the inscription covered by the garish bill board of a government department occupying it.

The tomb of Qutab-ud-Din Aibak off the Anarkali bazar, and the old church at the end of the Anarkali – window panes shattered and the paint peeling off. We drove through the Beadon Road but missed the Cary Home Restaurant which used to serve a real treat at meals. I was glad that the Amritsar Sweet Shop was still there.

The Dayal Singh Mansion – Lahore’s famous horse shoe building saved from the development craze by Musharraf, and restored by a Bank; the crazy mess that is the Hall road, more motorbikes parked along both sides than perhaps electronic items displayed in the shops; the S Rollo now Trust Photo Studios, and Javed Perfumers – a shrunken reminder of their glorious past. Even the shopkeepers don’t know that the whitewashed façade of their building once housed the majestic Civil and Military Gazette which boasted of having had Rudyard Kipling as its editor in the past.

And I was distressed to see the boarded up façade of Zaheersons Chemists. I stood there for a while mentally going up the stairs into the shop and walking to the back room where the late Hakeem Zaheer ud Din Sahab sat in his beautifully peaceful office and met people – literally his devotees – listened to their problems and guided them; dropping a word or two in my direction which was his way of educating about things that he had spent an age to acquire.

The majestic cinemas along McLeod Road are no more. Nor is the Regal. Many others either stand as a skeletal reminder of the time when cinema and not TV or the smart cell phone entertained people! And what is Regal without HKB – the original Mall – that everyone went to?

And the less said of the people in the street the better. The lesser about the traffic.

Gone is the “ankh ki sharam and baron ki izzat” in the Lahori, or maybe there are less Lahoris than immigrants on the street, who perhaps think that Lahore is about staring at people in the street and not about respect of others. And when I drive, I really wonder where all these cars have come from, and if any of the drivers has any concept of driving other than pushing the accelerator and pressing the horn at the same time? And obviously all motorcyclists have had an inter-side change so they think that the right lane is actually the left lane and they drive there all the time!

So while we did go round the city and its environs, the joy that I was expecting at visiting the places of my youth was not there.

What was there were heaps of garbage, people bumping into you or bumper scraping without a sorry, shopkeepers giving the sardonic impression they were doing you a favor by opening shop rather than smiling at you for asking them if they had what you want. And the graffiti and wall chalking made me wonder if we are a nation in perpetual search for the blue pill; or wanting to know when to tempt fate; and desiring to have the beloved groveling at our feet! And of course everyone wants a son and it does not matter if your graffiti is painted over the 1,000 year old fresco of the wall of the old Lahore!

This July I found a Lahore that Lahore was not. I wish I could say “Lahore Lahore aie” (Lahore is Lahore), but then I would be unfaithful, both to Lahore and my memories of that city of my childhood!

But one day soon I will walk in Lahore again, for there’s so much more of me still lingering on some street corner, waiting for that wide dreamy eyed kid of yesteryears to come looking for me…