I shall prefer to describe the street of a small town. Streets of large cities like Lahore present too confusing and crowded a sight for easy contemplation. Moreover, who does not know the busy shops, each one with its window-dressing, the interminable lines of sign-boards, the busy, richly-clad customers, the long lines of tongas and cars, moving and parked, the interruption by a laden hawker every few steps button-holing you?
The sight is altogether too familiar, therefore I shall leave it for you to imagine it and relish it in your imagination. You and I have too little to spend in such places and can only look at the more fortunate ones shopping beyond our capacity to imitate and even to envy. So, why describe them? Let us go to a scene which is as much within our reach as within our pocket.
The streets in large towns are generally, each one of them, the centre of some particular trade or industry. If in one street you have only cloth shops, in another you will have foodstuffs, in another article of luxury, in another eatable, while still in another you will have large wares like furniture and other requisites. But not so the street in a small town. It is very often a kind of omnibus center, where all trades are jostling side by side. I shall try to describe such a place on any shopping day the time being, say, about five or six in the evening.
The street is not smooth-tarred as is your Anarkali or one of the allied streets. It is the old type stone-metalled surface, done by a benign government half a dozen years earlier and then kindly let to rest undisturbed in peace. So there is here and there a pit of dimensions enough to embrace the arc of the wheel of a tonga or any other vehicle flying over it. The shops are all jutting into the road-not like your Anarkali, doing their cultured, uppish shopping at the counter. The customer invariably stands on the road, and the shopkeeper, from his seat, shows him the wares, haggles with him and finally the bargain is struck.
It is again not like Anarkali or the Mall, where it is the presentation of the hills and payment in notes and the respectful return of change. There is a general merchants’ shop, next to which is a bookseller and stationer one. Ahead of it is an iron-ware man, and then you come upon two or three cloth merchants, with ‘tailors and outfitter’ squatting in front, advising you as to the length of cloth you need for this, that or the other.
Then comes a fruit-and vegetable-man in one. A donkeyman is waiting in front with his animals, unloading a deal of green stuff, pumpkin, cabbage, onion and all that he has. You are tempted by the mangoes and perhaps buy some. Next is perched incongruously a potter. He has pots, pitchers, bowls and all earthenware stuff.