April 27, 2006
Lahore is burning. It was 42 yesterday, and again, 42 degree Celcius today. Walking on the street just resembled being boiled by microwave open, with the invisible waves from any directions.
I got emotional. But I was not alone. I am sure that the heat makes impact to everybody’s head. I got irritate easily, and I am sure other people were also.
These days were the first time I felt annoyed in Lahore. When I walked on the steet on that Sunday, when all of the shops were closed, there were a bunch of boys playing cricket on the street, seeing me, and yelled “Chinni chinni” resembled a chorus.
That day I still had quite a sense of humour, that I replied, “main chini mini nahi hu, main namak hu” (“I am not sugar and stuff, I am salt!”). In Urdu, the word “chini” means “Chinese” and “sugar”.
But now, with this heat and harassment, I didnt quite have sense of making fun. Because I felt I was there to fulfill their need of entertainment. When I walked through the labirynth-like small alleys in the alleys of Old City, I could not count anymore how many people yelled to me, “Hello, Chini, come here!”, or “Chini, a jao!”, or just simple “Chini… chini…”. I am not Chinese, and even if I was, I would not like to be called by my race. I ignored them.
But not all could be ignored. The curiosity of where my origin was so strong among the workers in the old city. So strong, that they may stop working, just watching me, observing me from head to toes. I just replied by staring at them, “kya hua!” (What’s wrong?), then they realized and left me. But it did not always work.
Among the millions curious people, some of them might chase after me, and grabbed my hand, like this one boy of the old city near the Bhati gate. “Stop… stop…” said him in Urdu. I didnt think that there was any reason for me to stop. I continued walking. He kept running behind me, “Chini… bat sunno… (Hey Chinese… listen… listen…” I was fed up. I turned my body, and answered “Kyaa hua?” (What’s wrong?)
He stopped moving, stared at me…, then “Tum to angrez nahi ho?” (So you are not foreigner?)
How big was the curiousity to confirm about me, someone who appeared in his life for less than one millisecond, to make him running behind me for such a distance.
On the same day, when I tried to cross the street under this unforgiving heat of Lahore summer, a boy grabbed my hand. “Someone is calling you!” he said. I was thinking I probably just dropped my wallet and someone was trying to return to me. I followed him and I had to backtrack for around 50 m. Quite a distance under 42 degree heat. The man who was calling me was a worker (quli) with his chariots. He just wanted to ask, “Tum kahan se ae ho?” (Where are you from?)
After I answered, he replied, “OK you can go…!”
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The way to attract my attention was not only verbal. The sssh sssh can be heard all the time directed to me. A woman even splashed the water she was drinking in her mouth to stop me walking. I was surprised. It was not the Lahore people I knew before.
My theory is, the temperature does make the phenomena. Actually I found that the best time to wander around was in early morning or late afternoon. Early morning because people were fresh, busy of preparing their business. Late Afternoon because the temperature fell down, and people also had less energy. But the day, everybody was boiling (included me), and a foreigner passing can be a fun entertainment.
All of the experience here happened in one day, during my visit to the Badshahi Masjid, the last and biggest mosque of the Moghul dinasty. The mosque was gigantic, of course. But it was boiling. The land was burning, as nobody was allowed to walk with shoes or sandals, and the the fierce sun had boiled up the whole ground. I hand to walk by jumping…, still I hurt my toes. The 42 degree of heat (not the record of Lahore though, it was said that in the peak of summer it might reach 52) is really something.
In the mosque, I sat and chatted with some photographers there. Then came a man, in his forties, started to make a religious discussion with me. He didnt know that Indonesia was the country with the most Muslim population. But he tried to confince me about the world’s politic. At first I didnt really put attention on him, as he started his conversation by saying praying to the statues (he meant Hindus and Buddhists) were evil (iblis). I told him I was Buddhist before. He had the habit to touch other people’s toes, to show respect. I felt uneased. The other men around him also felt uneased and tried to protect their toes not to be touched.
But anyway, Hafiz, the man’s name, had made me concentranted on his Urdu lecture. He always used the term “Rabulalamin” to direct God, Allah. He said that there were two systems in the world: religious system and non religious system. America was religious system, Islam was religious system. Soviet was non religious system. There is always conflicts and wars between the two.
The conflict between religious and non-religious would be always won by the religious one. So the religious system won when the Soviet collapsed.
Now (miraculously) America was from the non-religious system, and trying to attack the Muslims (the religious ones). But Muslims had friends, in here he meant Chinese. He regarded that Chinese also from the religious system. I objected. But he said that Chinese were Buddhists (as most Pakistanis believe).
Then there was the concept of Rabulalamin. But here, because there were too many Arabic terms, I didnt quite understand his speech.
Seeing that I got confused, he stopped, then took pictures with his family, and left the mosque.