In Lahore, Pakistanis Welcome Spring

Players at the Polo Grounds of Lahore. The National Polo Championship culminates their season and caps the unofficial start of spring.

Players at the Polo Grounds of Lahore. The National Polo Championship culminates their season and caps the unofficial start of spring. Sajid Mehmood /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Sajid Mehmood /NPR

The rites of spring endure even in times of hardship.

As the Japanese await their cherry blossoms, the Pakistanis too anticipate spring. Flowers, fashion shows, the air redolent with orange blossoms all transform life in Lahore, Pakistan's cultural capital, this time of year.

And despite the country's calamities and conflicts, the detritus of winter is swept away.

Painter Iqbal Hussain's terrace overlooks the fabled Badshahi Mosque, dating to the Mughal emperors. "This is the best part of Lahore: We have all four seasons in Lahore, and the spring is the best one," he says.

Painter Iqbal Hussain's terrace overlooks the fabled Badshahi Mosque, dating to the Mughal emperors. "This is the best part of Lahore: We have all four seasons in Lahore, and the spring is the best one," he says. Julie McCarthy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie McCarthy/NPR

Outside the resplendent Badshahi Mosque, dating to the Mughal emperors, songbirds herald the season. Their singing is so frenzied it manages to compete with the boisterous call to prayer.

Standing on his terrace, artist Iqbal Hussain overlooks the mosque and the riot of bird songs.

"This is the best part of Lahore: We have all four seasons in Lahore, and the spring is the best one," he says.

His perch, four stories up, lends the painter a dreamy perspective on a city stroked by gentle breezes and bursting with new life. "The warm clothes will be gone and the colorful clothes will come out," he says. Women will wear lovely perfume, he says, blending with the scent of blossoming flowers.

"The amaltas tree, the brilliant yellow of it comes out, which I always paint every year," Hussain says. "I'm waiting for the season of the yellow flowers to bloom up. It's all yellow everywhere. It's so beautiful!"

Clumsy overcoats are being shed for thin, gossamer-like cotton. Pakistan's specialty cotton known as lawn is the fashionistas' way of vanquishing winter.

"I'm in love with this fabric," says model Noor Bhatti. "The country, the climate we come from, it is bloody hot. So it's airy, it's breezy, it's soft. You wear it; it's comfortable. And it's one of the favorite fabrics in this country or in this region."

A who's who of Pakistani designers beats a path to Lahore this time of year to splash out their spring/summer lawn creations in a nonstop swirl of exhibitions.

Lahore model Noor Bhatti stands before designer Veneeza Ahmed's lawn collection. Bhatti says the "light, airy" lawn represents "renewal" and the impending start of spring.

Lahore model Noor Bhatti stands before designer Veneeza Ahmed's lawn collection. Bhatti says the "light, airy" lawn represents "renewal" and the impending start of spring. Julie McCarthy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie McCarthy/NPR

Designer Shamaeel of Karachi is the queen of lawn. "In the British Raj, it used to be called Woven Wind," Shamaeel says. "It's very lightweight and great for summer."

It's designed for women to make their own wardrobe. Five meters of the fabric and a designer pattern cost approximately $40. There's a separate cost for a tailor to stitch the tunic and trousers that are Pakistan's signature dress.

Shamaeel says prices are up significantly because last year's catastrophic floods devastated the country's cotton crop.

"The price of the yarn became dear, yes, that goes without saying, so naturally the prices have seen an upward trend," Shamaeel says. "And next year, our cotton crops will have so much silt we will probably outdo the international market. So I look at it more positively."

With springtime come hope, traditional music and the happy crack of a cricket bat on just about any empty lot in the city. Bagpipers mark the culmination of the season at the national polo tournament.

Ajaz, Pakistan's leading watercolorist, is wistful about Lahore's losing its most fabled rite of spring: kite-flying, one of his favorite subjects.

"It is as if the sky has been sprinkled with 100,000 colors, colored flowers," says Ajaz, who goes by one name.

Kite-flying has been banned for the third straight year because contestants keen to win string their twine with metal and glass to cut their opponents' string, to deadly effect.

Ajaz, Pakistan's premier watercolorist, says the terrorism that has stalked Lahore requires a season of soothing.                     "Let  these tragedies not dull our spirits," he says. "When there are  tragedies around, we ever more need entertainments to relieve us of the  gloom that is around us."

Ajaz, Pakistan's premier watercolorist, says the terrorism that has stalked Lahore requires a season of soothing. "Let these tragedies not dull our spirits," he says. "When there are tragedies around, we ever more need entertainments to relieve us of the gloom that is around us." Julie McCarthy /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie McCarthy /NPR

For Lahore resident Mussarat Misbah, the remaining spring festivals distract the city if only for a short while from the threat of extremist bombings that the people here live with every day.

"All these activities actually take your mind off all the sad things that are happening around you. It's amazing; it's beautiful," Misbah says.

Ajaz says the misery of terror and bloodshed that have stalked Lahore require a season of soothing.

"Let these tragedies not dull our spirits," Ajaz says. "When there are tragedies around, we ever more need entertainments to relieve us of the gloom that is around us."

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