Lahore these days is like a post apocalyptic scene from a horror movie. Everything is hazy and grey. As if sensing the end one after the other, the stars, birds and colors have disappeared. As I drive down Noor Jahan road towards main Boulevard I cant see a single color. Everything from the tarmac, to the sky, to the sounds and trees is grey, only to be told apart by shadows and shapes. The trees look old and haggard as if they are choking on the numerous layers of dust settled on their bodies. The birds of whom only the crows and kites remain are circling above the dense layer of smog, confused and unwilling to come down. In this grey frame the only colors that remain are artificial. On billboards and the streams of digital screens on the median strip, that have replaced the rosewoods and the neems. The screens flicker and flash relentlessly , battling to outshine each other for your attention. As you drive by the Liberty intersection dozen of vital fairness cream and tarang milk whitener adds flash aggressively for the rupee in your pocket. Their sharp contrast against the bleakness is unnerving.
I see two small girls sitting behind their father on a bike, their childhood seemed to have greyed and frozen. Will the future generations know colors? How colorless will their imaginations be? How many colors will be lost forever? Used to the self advertising obscenity of artificial high contrast blues and reds, will they know and feel lilacs and pinks and sky blues and soft oranges? Will they know the many blacks of the night sky and dance of reds, golds and purples every morning and evening when the sun and the sky meet?
There aren't many people on the streets, the ones that are there, look more like props or shadows of ghosts, forlorn and listless. A wretched lifelessness, reflected in their walk. The rich are cocooned in their houses, with air purifiers and conditioner running simultaneous, completely lost to the irony of the situation. Their conditioners and the generators they run on pumping out more poison, suffocating the barely alive beings outside. Though how painful can death be when the consciousness of being alive has left us?
Domineering, haughty looking retail stores and fast food chains line the boulevard. Their owners have fled town to breathe better and left us to eat shit drink and breathe poison. As a consolation we have their new winter collection and should somehow make it all ok by dressing our sick dying selves in designer coffins. Their neon signs flash shamelessly trying to seduce or distract, but the shooting pains on in the top half of my brain make it impossible. Maybe, if only I could breathe it would work, I would be lured but my brain seems to be contracting and on the verge of bursting in on itself. Some one flashes their headlights lights worsening the pain and disorienting me. The signs and screens keep flashing. The dressed up stores look like wretched prostitutes, trying to over compensate by applying more rouge and color, appearing all the more ghastly, for all their efforts, they only succeed in horrifying me and filling me with dread.
I pull into a petrol pump to refuel and a sickly old man struggles to ask me between fits of coughing how many litres I want. For a second I contemplate how much do I want to pay for carbon emissions today, then signal a 5. It is all so unnatural and disturbing that the Lahore I knew or loved seems like a distant dream. I am scared of stepping out of the car because it feels if I do the bleakness will overtake me, spread all over and through me.
Last night I felt short of breath and worked myself into a fit, my brain felt like it would explode and seep out of my ears. The past week I have been introduced to a variety of new headaches. A throbbing , a maddening pricking of a hundred needles, which occurs at short intervals. In another one, the veins in my temple start beating like a drum and I lose vision and in another the top most and lower most parts of my head start hurting and seem to be uniting their efforts to crush my brain between the two if them. I wish I could wake up from this.
1st November 2019