Lahore has been very kind to me over my preference for the night
I’ve never been a morning person. Sunrise for me has always been the time to go to sleep, even when I was a kid. I might as well have put fangs in my mouth and donned a cape.
In fact, I used to tell people I’d be quite happy if the sun never shone again. People would tell me back that the sun is vital for life. I mean yes, if you’re a plant. I don’t need photosynthesis to survive. The sun is uncomfortable. It induces sweat which causes dehydration, and you can’t keep your eyes open if it’s in your direction.
“Oh you need to be in the sun to make Vitamin D.” Sure, you also need to be in the sun to make skin cancer. I don’t think you can get ultraviolet rays from multivitamin pills.
Lahore has been very kind to me over my preference for the night. I’ve heard of many cities described as ones that never sleep, yet are mostly sleeping. Then there are places like London that are always sleeping. The shops draw their shutters down while there’s still daylight outside – is shame a foreign concept to England?
Lahore’s commercial life goes on till ten or eleven in the night, at the very least. You’ll still see a lot of traffic beyond midnight, which is always reassuring when you’re driving around.
Of course the biggest problem in staying up at night was, potentially, food. I’m not very good at cooking so I needed places that would be serving food around the clock, and Lahore has an abundance of those.
In pretty much every part of the city you’ll find driver hotels. Truck addaas. Because truck drivers work around the clock, they need places to rest and eat. The food isn’t amazing but quantity matters here not quality – the required quantity being anything at all at this time. You’ll find our national subsistence food of chanay ki daal in all of them, haleem sometimes, nihari, eggs and parathas; all very serviceable stuff.
Some of the bigger eateries open in Lahore were at Lakshmi Chowk, where just down the road from Butt Sweets you could find Butt Karahi, next to another Butt Karahi, next to another Butt Karahi. On the opposite side of the road you could find a Bhatti Karahi, next to another Bhatti Karahi, next to another Bhatti Karahi.
They were probably open half the night trying to figure out who works where.
There was one fine week where I was pulled over by the same policemen two nights in a row. Having paid for their breakfast the previous night you’d think they’d let me go this time. But no.
Muhammadi Nihari at Mazang is still a 24-hour service of yesterday’s reheated food. Khan Baba on Chauburji Chowk was excellent. Back then it was where the ‘heroinchis’ or the assorted drug addicts would sleep at night relying on the kindness of restaurant patrons to give them leftovers – the best leftovers in town to be honest.
The police are an absolute pain in the neck at night though. I’d imagine that’s true for every city in this country. You can find trouble at naakaas in Karachi, Islamabad and so on, but Lahore’s police force is a special kind of pestilence.
They will give you moral sermons while taking a thousand rupees from you as bribe, and not just in a well-I-have-to-say-something-because-silence-will-be-awkward way. No. Full fledge lectures on religious duties and obligations. I mean, how does that internal logic work?
I’ve been threatened with blood tests at the nearest hospital; threatened with indefinite detention; threatened with having the car impounded; threatened with having the car taken and leaving me on the street. Once I was told that there was too much smoke in the car. I said I smoke a lot of cigarettes to and from the university. I was told it’s still too suspicious an amount. Yet at the end of it all the rupee solves everything, and you even strike a Stockholm Syndrome camaraderie wishing them well when they thank you for paying for the breakfast they’re about to have.
There was one fine week when I was pulled over by the same policemen two nights in a row. Having paid for their breakfast the previous night you’d think they’d let me go this time. But no. You’d think they’d at least make the bribery process mercifully shorter. But no. They spent thirty minutes joking around with me. And when I pointed out there were other cars with single men driving by: “You’re missing out on more business,” they said they didn’t care. They were bored.
It was still fine though. Acceptable losses. Nice cool temperature to roll down the windows and go on long drives. Less car exhaust to inhale. Yes, even smokers don’t like anything that puffs out more smoke than they do.
Or I don’t know. Maybe I’ve lived a very silly life. What’s a night bird then, an owl? My mother did rightly call me ulloo then.
The writer is an author and a freelance journalist who has written for local and foreign publications