Zindadil is one the great words in Urdu. Translated as ‘lively-hearted’, ‘vivacious’, or even, ‘up for it’, the word is full of energy and veritably rings like a bell when pronounced. And while it describes Pakistanis in general, it is the people of Lahore, one of the truly great cities of the world, who can best be described as zindadil.
I lived in Lahore between August 1986 and July 1987 as a paying guest in a middle class family home in Rivaz Garden. Everyday I rode my pushbike across several suburbs to Shadman Colony where I studied Urdu. In the afternoons and on many weekends I explored the city at leisure taking in classical music concerts at the Alhamra Theatre, dance performances in Hira Mandi, mushairas (poetry recitals) in many private homes and qawwali in the Old City.
The city welcomed me warmly, as if I were a long-lost relative. No one I met questioned why I was there or made me feel as if I shouldn’t be. Whether I meandered through the cloth-draped bazaars in the Inner city or sipped a double peg at a flash soiree in Gulberg, Lahoris treated me with respect, warmth and great humour. As an outsider it was wonderful and comforting to feel simultaneously welcome and ignored.
In my year in Lahore there was plenty in the air. Benazir Bhutto had recently been allowed to return to Pakistan. When she visited Lahore the air was electric with excited expectation. Gen. Zia, of course, was very much in charge but also the butt of hundreds of jokes. Everyone wanted a change.
One of the General’s more infamous policies—nurturing ideological gangs dressed up as political or religious parties, to act as proxies to advance his political agenda—was being played out in Karachi. Small arms had flooded the city and bombs exploded in buses, markets and mosques on a regular basis. Protected politicians operated torture chambers for their enemies. But all this was just headlines to us in Lahore. Our city was the embodiment of peace and goodwill.
The atrocity which occurred this weekend in Gulshan Iqbal is, unfortunately, nothing new in Pakistan. The seed planted by Gen. Zia clearly has found fertile ground. The deadly weed is choking the life out of the country. Even the fact that the bombers targeted children and revelling families is nothing unusual. The slaughter of children and happy families at play is so commonplace it is proof enough of the existence of the Devil.
As a city and country I love binds its wounds yet again I wanted to recall that word zindadil. It is this quality that I hope Lahoris will be able to draw upon in the next few weeks. Keep your hearts alive and lively! They are stronger than the darks hearts of the murderers.
The photograph that is at the head of this post captures the quality of zindadil for me. He is a chaiwala near Lahore Fort. When I passed he called out to me with a friendly, slightly off colour Punjabi phrase. In revenge I turned and shot! He laughed and I then bought a cup of tea!