Last weekend I went to Lahore. It was a very brief but packed visit to an incredible city, as part of the latest phase in Highlight Arts' City To City project (you can read about last year's experiences here). Sara Kazmi and I reprised our three songs alongside poetry translations, storytelling and new illustrations at the Lahore Literary Festival. I'm finding it difficult to sum up the whole experience in a paragraph or two, so here are my notebook ramblings instead...
Emerge from stale aeroplane fug to the chaos of morning. Wry smiles exchanged at the rain in the air; we've brought it with us. Rose petals on airport floor. Journey to hotel, eyes wide, trying to capture everything. Drinking in the newness.
Colours, patterns, animals. Tiny chicks for sale, dyed bright pink, green and yellow. Donkeys. Goats. Black kites circling above. Painted trucks, rickshaws. Traffic swerves from all directions. Driver's palm permanently hovers over the car horn. Families on mopeds, curious toddlers peer through the window.
Stalls, barbecue smoke and smell. Hive of activity as the day begins. Homes and shops jostling alongside grand columns and walled monuments, a reminder of colonial past.
Security, military, guns.
Jewel coloured clothes. Warm evening air. Dusk at the mosque. Filigree and paint. Whispering wall. Calm. Smiles and selfies. Bubbles, LED toys, flutes drifting, dusty feet.
Hunger for discussion, debate, big questions, exchange of opinion and experience. Freedom of expression vs state control. Wealth and poverty side by side. Laughter, music. Celebration of the written word and its power for positive change. Adapting to circumstance: date, stage time, venue, equipment have all been in flux. Audience appreciation. Wah-wah!
Late night gathering, palatial surrounds, sculptures and palms, Jolene on the stereo. Drivers line the roadside, waiting patiently.
Rooftop view, grilled meat, saag, daal chawal, roghni naan. Bazaar. Onyx, wooden crafts, shelves of stoles and shawls, strawberry seller, children running.
Final meal at a long banqueting table, orange glow. Darkness falls and airport scheduling begins to clamour for our attention again.
The trip was so much more than this. Quite possibly I'll return to this blog in weeks to come. For now, though: thank you to Dan & Ryan at Highlight Arts, the British Council, Lahore Literary Festival, musical partner Sara Kazmi, poets Vicki Husband, Jim Carruth, Gerry Cambridge, Kathrine Sowerby, Afshan Sajjad, Dr Khalid Javaid Jan, Kishwar Naheed and Ali Akbar Natiq, storytellers Mujahid Eshai and Ian Stephen, illustrators Mehreen Fatima and Kate Leiper, and photographer/designer extraordinaire, Ali Kamran.