Lahore

If you think it’s difficult being a Christian in Liége, try being one in Lahore. I deliberately chose two places that may be relatively obscure. You’ve heard of them, but little more.

I’ve been to Liége, a charming Belgian city, population 200,000. Good food, good beer. It was founded by the Romans, and Christianization was completed in the eight century.

Lahore is the capital of Punjab, right now the air outside is close to body temperature, and it teems with over five million people—oops, that was the Google number from 1998. Wikipedia tells us 6.3 million in ’98, 7.5 million in 2014, and puts greater Lahore at over ten million in 2015—equivalent to the population of Portugal, or of North Carolina.

The last number is double the first, which tells us we don’t know much about Lahore. Why should we care? Because it’s difficult to be concerned with people or places we know nothing about.

The capital of Punjab in the late nineteenth century, in the days of the British Raj.

The capital of Punjab in the late nineteenth century, in the days of the British Raj.

So this is how it looked in the 1890’s. I tried to wander round it today, virtually of course, but Google Streetwalker, as I like to call it, had no truck with Lahore, if you excuse the pun.

The little orange man swung there like a Christian on a gallows before zipping back to the safety of its little Northern California home at the bottom right of the screen.

If you think it’s difficult to know the population of Lahore, try finding out how many Christians there are.

The city is predominantly Muslim—about 94% of the total population, according to one source. The same source (data are sparse) claims Christians make up 5.80%. The accuracy of that number—two decimal places—is delusional.

Nevertheless, if we consider 5%, then you’re looking at a minimum of 250,000 people—that’s 25% more than the entire population of Liége, capital of Walonia.

Whatever that number was before Easter Sunday, it’s now seventy-two less. When compared to the Brussels attack, almost as many kids (29) died in Lahore last week as the total fatality count in the European capital.

But whereas the Bourse became the Western Mecca of facey, selfie, and twitty—three of Donald Trump’s favorite nephews—there was hardly a peep about Lahore, gateway to the Silk Road, and capital of the Mughal Empire.

Hey, student, leave those kids alone! A taliban suicide bomber blew himself up next to swings in a children's playground on Easter Sunday.

Hey, student, leave those kids alone! A taliban suicide bomber blew himself up next to swings in a Lahore children’s playground on Easter Sunday.

I can think of no sadder image than a child’s blood on the seat of a swing.

The little girl woke up very early. She knelt beside the window and said her prayers on this special day. She asked God to take care of her family, to help her father with his new business that made him so tired, she asked that he might smile more. And she prayed for chocolate.

Then she crept into the big bed, eyes shining with joy and mischief. She watched for a minute as her parents slept, then her impatience got the better of her. She put her mouth close to her mother’s ear.

Maa, I want an Easter egg,” she whispered.

Her mother stirred, her hand reached up and she stroked the girl’s long brown hair.

“Kuldeep, it is so early,” she whispered back. “Look, look how Pita sleeps, he must rest.”

Her father let out a loud snore, as if on cue. The hairs on his thick mustache quivered, making the child giggle. 

“Mommy, it’s a beautiful day. It’s Easter, and I want to go play in the park.” She pouted.

Maa turned and looked at her baby, her beautiful baby with the dark eyes. She kissed Kuldeep. “Your name has a meaning, little one.”

“You told me, mommy. It means the ‘lamp of the family.’ Am I a lamp?” She giggled again, and snuggled into her mother.

“Yes. Yes, my love, you are our shining light, brighter than the sun. Go and put on your best clothes.” Kuldeep had only just learned to dress herself, and often her buttons needed fixing.

“Go my sweet, my jasmine blossom. When daddy awakes, we will go to the park. We’ll hunt for eggs, and we’ll play on the swings.”

Now that I know more about Lahore, and have inked a few lines of a story that brings one of those children to life, I feel I understand this tragedy a little better.

I hope you do too. Perhaps you’ll finish my story for me. You know how it ends.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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