By Azam Gill, France (2nd SSC)
Hico Chalet probably opened in the late 1950s on the Mall Lahore and quickly became a focal point for families and eventually for unmarried couples. It also caused a controversial buzz to ripple through Lahore. There were strongly defended arguments about how to pronounce ‘chalet’! Apart from its ice cream selection, Hico Chalet sold wonderful little hamburgers in its dark, varnished wood interior and through the takeaway window in its outer wall.
That’s where our parents took us to taste our first hamburger in the early 1960s.
Of course, Pakistan being Pakistan, it had to be called a beef burger even though it’s called a hamburger because of its origins in the red-light district of Hamburg, and not because of the meat!
Then, of course, there was the issue of how to eat it: with the fingers, or with a knife and fork? If with a knife and fork, remove the top half of the bun or slice right through?
Separating the two halves of the bun diminished the taste: after all, part of the pleasure of eating a hamburger or a nawala wrapped around a boti is just that: succulent meat enfolded in crispy-soft flat bread.
Slicing right through could end up being embarrassing. Done clumsily, parts of the burger might fly beyond the limits of your own table and you would be shown up as a jungly!
For our family, the problem was resolved by Aunty Peggy, our American Aunty. On her authority, she informed us that a burger was almost invariably eaten with the fingers, “”honey”, she concluded with a smile and a wink.
The problem was also solved for the Rahim Bakhshes. Uncle Rahim Bakhsh, a Sessions Judge, had been transferred from Quetta and lived in the predominantly middle class Christian neighbourhood just behind Hico Chalet. One of their children, older than I, is Brigadier (retd.) Javed Rahim Bakhsh of 28 Cav. The youngest was nicknamed ‘Lucky’, two years my junior. Aunty Rahim Bakhsh had opened an account with Hico Chalet for his afternoon ‘tea’ of coke with ice cream or a burger. If we were there at about that time, everybody else would be chatting, the household help busy, so I was told to take Lucky to Hico Chalet and allowed to have a treat as well! It was invariably vanilla ice cream wrapped in chocolate!
Shortly after that, my father was transferred from Lahore to Sargodha, and then a few years later we were back in Lahore, living in Shah Jamal Colony. I returned to Cathedral High School, my childhood school, old enough to be given pocket-money to manage. So I do remember that in the late sixties a Hico Chalet burger cost eight annas or one rupee.
On the way home on my bicycle, I would often drop my buddy Azhar Usman Changezi (later joined the Army and went to a Lancer unit and became a PW in 1971), son of doctor Afzal, Head of King Edward Medical College’s Pathology Department, brother of Captain Akmal 28 Cav and brother of Hassan Waseem Afzal, former Deputy Chairman of NAB, to his house in GOR 1.
And on the way, when one of us had the money, we’d buy a burger from the takeaway window in the Hico Chalet’s outer wall and get it sliced in half. Then, whichever one of us was taking his turn cycling would pedal furiously until we reached the then Lawrence Bagh, popularly known as Larsen Bagh in Lahore. There, on a patch of well mown lawn under the thick shade of almost one hundred year old trees, we would eat half a burger each, chat, argue, laugh, exchange tall tales and share our dreams before going home for lunch.
Sometime later, Azhar Usman started feeling embarrassed sitting on the grass-eating half a burger, so I convinced him that he could let me have all of it and not sit but stand, looking in the direction of the Gymkhana Club, pretending he didn’t’ know me, while I ate his half as well for which he had often paid! He happily agreed!
Later on, as my interests diverged, I realized that Hico Chalet, due to its dim interior, was a very nice, safe place to take a girl to. Goes without saying that Dolly agreed, and with a heart of gold, always let me eat a part of the burger on the plate next to mine.
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