February 1987: Posing at Hiran Minar, outside Lahore
“These photos were taken when we went to Hiran Minar,” artist Ali Mehdi Zaidi told me on the phone, reminding me of the time he and his friends took me to see Mughal structure that was built in 1606 by Emperor Jehangir and is located twenty-five miles outside Lahore, Pakistan.
I had remembered the adventure from 33 years ago as a drive to Emperor Jehangir’s tomb.
“We may have driven to the tomb,” Ali said, correcting my memory. “But these images are from Hiran Minar where we spent most of that day.”
Ali had texted me the photographs via WhatsApp, which he had just found in his archives. And after exchanging a volume of text messages, Ali and I were catching up on a phone call after being out of touch for more than a decade.
“I was in Lahore in February 1987 to cover the basant festival,” I told Ali in response to his question about whether I could pin down the date of my visit; he had thought that the photos were taken a few years earlier. I knew the exact date because by spring the following year, I had landed in Austin, Texas to pursue graduate school—while in spring 1986, I was in Massachusetts.
As we talked, we realized that spring 1987 was the only time that Ali and I intersected in the same city. Not long after our time together in Lahore, Ali flew to London where he studied at Chelsea College of Art , started an arts initiative motiroti, and where he’s still based.
I’ve visited Lahore many times before and after my 1987 lone adventure as a journalist in Pakistan, but those ten days that I explored the city with Ali and his friends are embedded in my memory, so much so that I’ve dedicated a chapter in my memoir to my visit. And while the stories and interviews that I produced are buried in the archives of Karachi’s Star newspaper, my conversation with Ali hit a cord for me. In my memoir that I’m pushing toward completion, I write about memory loss due to a medical condition.
Over the coming months, Ali and I are planning public conversations about memory. He’s also working on his memoir to record his journey; Ali was born in India, raised in Pakistan, and is based in London. And for now, I am processing, once again, the importance of recording (personal) history by relying on dates and photographs, and making sure I document by writing.
Note: In 2005, the Pakistani government enforced a ban on kite-flying that has yet to be lifted.