By Brig Iftikhar Hasan Siddiqi, Retd (1st SSC)
Here is a brief collection of my memories and thoughts about Lahore of my younger years.
I was born on 15 December 1952 at Lady Wellington Hospital; second and the middle son to Safdar Hasan Siddiqi and Farkhanda Begum. Irfan was two years older whereas Salman was four years younger to me. No sisters.
Our family had the privilege to start two localities in Lahore:
1930: Our Nana (maternal grandfather) Khwaja Muhammad Umar, DSP, constructed his house in Lahore near Data Darbar and named the area as Bilal Ganj.
1939: Our Dada (paternal grandfather) Muhammad Abdul Aziz Siddiqi constructed his house off Ferozepur Road near Lahore Canal; and named these as Almaskan and Siddiqi Street. If asked that why did he chose this place, he used to say that it will be the center of Lahore some day. It is practically the center now. When the area was finally developed by LDA as part of New Garden Town Scheme, he arranged it to be named as Abu Bakar Block, New Garden Town. Chughtais followed to the area some years later. I will write about my family in a separate Chapter to highlight the growth of Lahore’s old families.
Lahore of 50s and 60s was a peaceful city with wide gaps between various localities; or we can term Lahore at that time a collection of localities that were to grow in decades to come; probably the right strategy for a city to grow. Lahore could, however, grow only on one side as Ravi blocked the growth on GT Road towards Gujranwala. For example, when our ancestral house, Almaskan, was built off Ferozepur Road in 1939 (in front of area where Qaddafi Stadium is now located), it developed as the only locality between Model Town and Ichhra. Ferozepur Road at that time was a thin dirty road where two buses had to take left wheels off the road to cross each other. After a family gathering on Lytton Road, some one asked for a lift to their home and the response was, “Kithay; Modal Taun?”. Model Town was a far-flung area at that time.
Lahore’s weather used to be real cold in winters and real hot in summers. Frost in winter was a regular feature that is no more to be seen in Lahore. Winters have practically shrunk to a period of two months from mid-November to mid-January. Summers were apparently unending with frequent dust storms. But that brought the joys of eating in Lahore. We had a wide choice both for summers and winters; where halwa-poori and siri-paye were year around specialties.
Fish and hareesa were the treats for winter; to be eaten right from the hot plates there at the sale point. Lahoris strictly followed the fish season related to R-months, September to April while hareesa sales traditionally started on 14 August and went on till end of March.
Summers brought qulfi-falooda, icecream, tarbooz and mangoes. Qulfis were sold in large size thermoses carried by on-foot vendors; and what a taste these had.
Another favourite of mine was rewerrian and gajjak sold by the vendors with a gas lamp on his head-board at night. Traditional flexible gajjak was sold from a wooden pole and the vendor made various shapes of animals for the kids. Cotton candy was also likes by children. Not to mention Khatais and baqarkhanees will be unfair to Lahore.
I still carry the taste of these special goodies of 50s and 60s. However, Lahori cooks and chefs have failed to pass on the flavours and cooking techniques to their next generations; we see that happening to hareesa and das kulche and many other Lahori delicacies.
Sleeping outside in summers or on the roof tops was a norm as there were no threats of thieves and robbers. In Ichhra, we used to sleep in the open verandah with one or two pedestal fans at the ends. And when the rain came at night, and that was frequent, I was always the last to get up in hope that rain will stop. It was fun.
Lahore had its own sets of games and sports. After-school activities included cricket and cycling. Cycles were available on rent on hourly basis and we used to do as much cycling as possible within an hour or till its kuttay failed. One of my cousins, Sohail Yousaf, 47 PMA, 28 Punjab, was an expert cyclist and a master of ‘slow cycling race'; a game in which the winner would be the last one to reach the finish line. I still try to do some cycling whenever I get hold of a cycle. I taught slow cycling to my grandson, Taimoor, and hope he picks up the knack. The government needs to encourage cycling in the country; and to make it safe for cyclists, each city road should have a dedicated cycle track. I have seen such cycling tracks in China and Holland.
I have had a brush with almost every game played in Lahore at that time; and even gained expertise in playing Dabbian where you used a flatter stone to throw out the pile of empty cigarette packs out of the circle around the pack. Various brands had different values like Three Castle had better value than K2 pack. , though played in the dirt, required special skills and every one had his own striker. Pill Goli was the Snooker of the poor where you used no queues. Most of us also played Gulli Danda (in some areas of Pakistan, it is called Gilli Danda).
Pithu Garam was also a very interesting team game in Lahore; both for home and school. Lattoos, made of wood, were another sport; and required expertise. Metal Wire puzzles were another area to master. Whereas I was able to find Lattoos in Multan, I have not been able to locate metal wire puzzles since then. To summarize, Lahoris of 50s and 60s had their own set of games to choose from; and they did.
But what I enjoyed the most at that time was Patang-bazi (kite flying). February was the month for the Basant; and the josh of general public used to be worth seeing. The pleasure of kite flying was supplemented by catching a kite that came in to our ‘area of responsibility’. When I visited our old house after my retirement, I was amazed at speed and expertise with which we used to negotiate various roofs and walls for catching the kites. Basant must be revived in Lahore through a movement as due to its closure, Lahore’s tourism value has also been eroded.
Cycling was not restricted to being a sport. I, along with many others, used to cycle to Government College; whenever possible, holding on to rear of a bus as an adventure to cycle at that speed. When I look back, that was quite risky but enjoyable. Aizaz Malik, my colleague in Government College and later in PMA was a frequent cycling partner.
Family gatherings were held frequently and informally visiting other relatives by the family together was a norm. This gave chance for members of all ages to interact with others. In those days, most of the time, one just made a program to visit and left. Most of the time, your hosts were at home.
My earliest childhood memory is of floods of 1955 in River Ravi. My brother and I were visiting our Nani in Bilal Ganj; and had to be evacuated on a cycle by a relative. I remember, when I visited that house after few years, its ground floor rooms had water marks almost 5 feet above ground level.
As I look back, school and college lives were excellent life experiences. I will deal with these educational aspects in a separate chapter. It shall suffice to say at this point that teachers of 50s and 60s were dedicated and devoted to teaching and grooming of their students. We still invite some of the teachers to our school gatherings even now.
Religious tolerance was at its peak. Nobody really thought of who the other person was; shia or sunni or any other sect. We did not even know or ask anyone about it. We used to play cricket in a ground in Shah Jamal in front of which lived Sabhia-Santosh; and in heat of summers during Muharram, we would just walk to their house for water or sharbat. No one asked any questions. My father was four brothers; and though we were Sunnis, their names were Yousaf, Safdar, Shabbir and Asghar.
I remember the excitement of 1965 War. We were living on Ferozepur Road at that time and used to go to the main road to see the military convoys moving towards Kasur border. In their enthusiasm, people of the area would bring fruit and eatables and try to hand over the bags to the soldiers.
Newspapers were an essential part of Lahore; neighbours usually exchanged Urdu and English newspapers in the afternoons. In English papers on Sundays, a pen friends page was always there. I started making pen friends in foreign countries and had over a dozen pen friends in various countries including Kenya, Japan, the Netherlands and the US. This supplemented my primary hobby of stamp collecting. Philately was a favourite hobby of many in those times. One of my regular pen friends in Holland was Klass Van Loon. Recently, I searched for him on the net and found that he had also joined the Army; but I could not connect him. One interesting incident of pen friendship times was when I sent a friend’s request in the paper with a female name, my younger brother as my confidant. We received probably 3 letters in the first week but received over 200 letters in a month; including many from PMA cadets.
Lahore’s long summers warranted at least one trip to Murree and people planned such vacations. We also visited Karachi by train couple of times as my mother’s Mamoo and Chacha and their families had settled in Karachi; a long but interesting trip as we took turn to record names of all the stations on the way. We knew which were the stations where there was something special to eat like Khanpur ka khoya.
For journey between cities, train journey was quite comfortable, specially between Lahore and Rawalpindi. For commuting within Lahore, we had a number of options. Lahore Omnibus Service, known as LOS, was a novel concept of city transportation and was frequently used by all. On selected routes, red double-decker buses were also available. Upper deck was the favourite of the young ones; and that too the front row. Model Town Bus Service (MTBS) started from Model Town for various localities in Lahore. Whereas MTBS had rough seats, LOS buses had sponge seats; inviting many children to cut through the leather for the sponge to clean their slates. Gradually those excellent bus services were mismanaged in the public sector and closed down. The LOS bus terminal is still there, waiting for a restart of another such project.
Medical checkups at schools was a regular feature; and contributed to overall health of our generation. This practice needs to be formally revived in current times when children are exposed to many dangerous diseases.
Lahore of 50s and 60s was a city of libraries. We were frequently visiting libraries in schools and colleges. While in Government College, I was member of the British Council on The Mall and the American Center behind Bank Square. Both these institutions had their own libraries and arranged other educational events. I had attended a live broadcast event of a title fight of Muhammad Ali over radio; we taking a break from College to attend the event. It was at the American Center that for the first time I saw a 19-litre water dispenser and could not figure out how it worked. Talking of libraries, I joined PMA in 1971 when I was in B.Sc. 4th year. When I came back to Lahore after retirement, while searching for a book in my father’s library, I came across a 2-volume history book. To my surprise, I had drawn this set of books in 1971 and missed to return these to college. I wrote a letter to the librarian returning the books and asked to let me know the amount of fine that I need to pay as late fee for 32 years. He was kind enough to call and invite me to the college; and since then send me the Ravi year book regularly.
Taleem-o-Tarbiat and Bachon ki Duniya were subscribed for us; that developed our love for reading. I recommend to all parents and grand parents reading this to do subscribe to such magazines for the children.
Tandoors were part of life in Lahore, at times managed by females. Major activity at tandoors was cooking rotees from your own prepared atta. Tandoori daal was one of my favourite dishes and always brought some when I went for getting the rotees done.
We had a reasonable level of liberty of action as kids of 50s and 60s. That gave us initiative and groomed us well for the life ahead.
Radio Cylon was a favourite radio channel for those fond of songs. Every house had a radio or two.
Description of Lahore will not be complete without mentioning Lahore Canal and rush of bathers in summers, Ammunition Depot blast somewhere around 1969, Ravi and Budha Darya and Kamran’s Bara-dari right in the middle of river Ravi.
Editor: Kamran Mirza was son of Mughal Emperor Babur and step-brother of Humayun. He built Kamran ki Baradari on the bank of River Ravi. The river changed its course over time and the Baradari now stands in the middle of the river as an island.
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