Home away from home


You know you’ve lived in one place long enough, when you find bits and pieces of it no
matter where you go. Like it or not, you develop an affinity to it. It becomes your identity, your whole life.

The city of Lahore, located on the eastern border of Pakistan, has been home for me for as
long as I can remember. Its 2000-year rich history has been sketched by the 16th century Mughal dynasty and the British colonial system of the pre-partition years. With a dense population of 10 million, Lahore is the cultural and educational hub of Pakistan. Lahoris are loud, warm and they take their food very seriously.

With all my biases, I knew Boston had big shoes to fill when I moved here a year ago.

Perhaps the English settlers can be held responsible for the striking similarities in the
architecture of Lahore and Boston. It appears as if a chunk of ‘Old Lahore’ broke off, was wiped clean and landed at Copley Square. Tall, robust, red-bricked buildings abound the two cities. A walk through the Public Garden and I reminisce the countless school trips to the historic Shalimar Garden. Or maybe that’s just my homesickness talking.

Whatever the reasons, I’ve been able to draw a lot of parallels between these two culturally vibrant cities I’ve grown so fond of. Boasting some of the best institutions in the country, Boston has Harvard and MIT, Lahore has Lahore University of Management Sciences and University of Engineering and Technology.

And then there’s my favorite one: the shared obsession for sports. Even for the  average fan, it’s not a pastime, it’s a religion. Boston’s Red Sox is our national cricket team. Big Papi is our Shahid Afridi. Which is why, when the entire city went drunk wild, celebrating last year’s World Series win, I wasn’t baffled by the chaos that ensued Yawkey Way. Mall Road in Lahore saw similar scenes after Pakistan’s T20 World Cup triumph in 2009.

For whatever my tennis background is worth, there’s one observation, though, that I’ve made. America might have superiority over Pakistan on the international tennis stage, but Lahore trumps Boston when it comes to the popularity of the game. I came to that conclusion when I went shopping for tennis shoes in my first week here and couldn’t find a single pair anywhere. Eventually I had to settle for the only one City Sports had.

Outsiders, normally, can’t stand the Boston accent. As a Lahori I can relate. The typical Punjabi dialect, widely spoken in Lahore, is not the most pleasing to the ear either. And then don’t even get me started on the driving abilities of the two cities’ residents. Traffic congestion is a big problem in Lahore because, if out of a population of 10 million, 75 percent have their own conveyance, there’s only so much that the roads can hold. That, coupled by the short tempered nature of an average Lahori driver, and you have the ingredients for an explosive cocktail. As for Beantown, a recent report by Allstate Insurance declared Boston home to the worst drivers of any big U.S. city. That sounds about right.

Despite the many ways Boston might mirror Lahore, I’m pretty biased when it comes to the food. No matter how greasy and hot our food may be, the Lahori taste bud is not entirely open to new cuisines. Having enjoyed the typical savory dishes of my city, no New England clam chowder was going to cut it for this Lahori girl. For that precise reason, you can imagine my delight when I discovered ‘Man-O-Salwa’, a congested little restaurant-cum-store serving fine Lahori style food in the heart of Somerville!

While the New England weather can dampen anybody’s spirit, Boston, with all its idiosyncracies, imperfections and stereotypes, has a lot to offer. In discovering this city, I found a way to appreciate my own. And, most importantly, I managed to find a home 7,000 miles away from home.

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