"He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher - the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah, that 'fire-breathing dragon', hold the Punjab, for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror's loot."
So begins Kim, by Rudyard Kipling. Each city has its own spirit, and Lahore's is, I think, a creative energy. I've spent much of my time in this city of about eight million people. It forms the geographical location of most of my work, most of my writing.
Lahore is an intensely romantic city. Its ambience lends itself to romance and it arouses an intensity of feeling that craves expression. Lahore has formed the location for many writers' works over the years. Known as the "pavement pounders", these writers (including Kipling) wandered the streets of Lahore. Frequenting the tea-houses and coffee-houses they would huddle in each place with a different set of admirers and then write of the relationships they formed there and of their adventures within Lahore.
Perhaps the best known in the West is Rudyard Kipling. He was an insomniac who walked the old city. Forming the heart of Lahore, it took its shape during the Moghul times. Kipling narrated his adventures there - most famously in Kim: the little British urchin boy climbs on to the gun, the Zam-Zammah, even though it is forbidden.
The gorgeous Badshahi Mosque, the fort, the Shalimar Gardens, all created by the Moghul emperors, are locations that continue to inspire writers today.
Lahore, is a gracious, ancient city, whose ambience lends itself to writers. However, the city inspires the arts in all their forms; painting, song and poetry. Musharas are poetry evenings where poets recite their work. These are a very popular form of evening entertainment in Lahore. Poetry is not distanced from the writer as it is perhaps in the West. In Lahore it is woven into the fabric of each person's life. In the course of an ordinary conversation people will suddenly recite a couplet from a ghazal or a couplet from a Punjabi poem about legendary romantic characters. The poems lend themselves to a mysticism and conversations with God.
Allama Iqbal, the most famous poet of the Indian subcontinent, was inspired to write "shikwa", which is the complaint to God, after spending time in Lahore.
Just to exist in Lahore is a sort of inspiration. So it will continue to inspire writers, and people born in Lahore will become writers; naturally.
The novelist Bapsi Sidhwa was born in Karachi, raised in Lahore and now lives in Texas. She is one of the writers chosen by 'The World Today' programme on BBC World Service for 'Sense of City', its celebration of literature and the city, which is currently being broadcastReuse content