“My Old But Ever New Pindi” (Part 17)

By Rafique Ahmed Khan, Dubai

Rafique Ahmed Khan

Rafique Ahmed Khan

Editor’s Note: The writer was born in Rawalpindi in 1925. He studied in Denny’s High School, Mission High School and Gordon College. He now lives in Dubai. He is writing a series of articles about the life in Rawalpindi during 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.

Continued from Part 16……….

In Rawalpindi, during 1930’s, there used to be various road-side “Entertainers”, “Vendors” “Acrobats” and “Technicians” busy in their “professional” activities, like Snake Charmers, Comedians, Medicine Men, Monkey Owners, Wild Bear Owners and Magicians, Weight Lifters, etc.

Snake Charmer and Medicine man on the street in Pakistan

Wild bear owner and monkey owner on the street in Pakistan

Every such entertainer was a sort of specialist in one’s own trade; such as the Medicine men, some of them used to offer medicine pertaining to pains only such as headaches or toothaches, etc. They used to offer smelling salts or liquids. After delivering a lengthy lecture, punctuated with references, to various famous doctors and medical books on the different type of pains in the body, he would introduce himself as having specialized only in pains and aches, etc; and would offer his priceless invention to cure-all types of pain in the body. To demonstrate the spot results of his only invention to remove the pain such as toothache or headache, he would ask for some volunteer with pain to come forward to receive on the spot treatment. At this moment, strangely enough a few volunteers would come forward. Continuing his lecture and elaborating on the effects of his invention, he would partially remove the cork from the small bottle in his hand and would ask the patient to sniff in the bottle. Then he would ask the patient how he felt now. The patient would start smiling and confirming about the immediate relief from the severe pain which he was having a moment before. Then further elaborating magic effects of invention by his ancestors from the seventh generation of “MUSTANAD (EXPERT) HAKEEMS he would continue telling the public about its various properties and the details of efforts, labour and cost to obtain such wonder magic priceless drug being offered only to advertise his “Company” for only two annas and not rupees two at which it is offered in his clinic only. Then he would pick up a few bottles and start delivering the “wonder drug” to the desirous persons in the gathering: and within a few minutes he would earn enough money and after winding up his open clinic would move to his next destination to start afresh his clinic at some other convenient spot in the city.

A road dentist in Karachi

Similarly Road Doctors expert in other diseases like general weakness, and sexual weakness were also busy selling their wonder drugs and earning sufficient amounts at the various spots. They used to display some dead animals like desert lizard, etc., duly oil dipped in a tray lying on the ground. The “Doctor” after gathering some audience used to start introducing himself as a descendant of some old-time “Hakim” famous for treating human sexual diseases. He would start talking with his early life spent in the Himalayan mountains and jungles searching such “Elixirs”, and was successful to find his object after a very hard toil. He came to plains only when his “Guru” permitted him after being tested and duly passed his tests in the trade. He would claim to treat all impotent men with guaranteed success except those who are impotent by birth. He said though he could cure them also but it would be against the Will of God Who has created them with some purpose. After a brief but exhaustive introductory note he would offer one month course including some oil and silver/gold quoted pills for Rs. 5 to introduce his “Company” which is sold at his “Clinic” for Rs. 200. Obviously people would be too anxious to make best use of this generous offer and rush to obtain such a costly medicine at drastically reduced price. He also collects a handsome amount and vanishes to perform at some other destination.

A road doctor in Pakistan

There was an open space by the roadside on the Pull Shah Nazar (Where I used to live during my early life), to accommodate  about 100 persons to stand and watch/listen to these entertainers. I used to see almost daily such type of gatherings especially in the afternoons. There was lying by the roadside in this open space a mile-stone type very heavy stone, which no one could move. But occasionally one bony person would come and start saying something to attract some gathering. When the onlookers gathered he used to throw challenge that he would give a handsome amount to the person who moves the stone and would raise the offer four times more if one lifts the stone. After no one would dare to perform he would offer not only to lift it but also bear its weight on his chest. He would call four volunteers from the gathering to help him. Then he would lift the stone single-handedly and would remain in that position for a few minutes before keeping it safely back on the ground. Then he would ask the four volunteers to raise the stone and keep it on his chest after lying down on the ground. He used to lie down and the persons would raise the heavy stone and put it on his chest. After a few seconds the stone was removed and the man would stand up and bow before the stunned public who started throwing coins before him, which he really deserved.

The very interesting and attractive performance used to be by the Chinese troupe, who usually used to visit during the spring season. They were teen-agers performing various types of acrobats. Very common item was the rotating dishes at the end of small sticks. First they would take one stick, place a ceramic plate at one of the ends and rotate it with their fingers. When the plate would gather speed, they would raise it and while holding it into the same position they would take another stick and repeat the rotating act. They used to hold more than six such sticks with the rotating plates in their mouth and with their both hands. They would start reducing the sticks one by one and finish the stunning act so skillfully before the public, who used to throw coins before them. Also a ball was thrown high up in the air which was received by a very small kid in a leather cup fixed on his forehead. Their shows were very stunning and entertaining, and far better in the quality than the Indian performers. The people being much impressed by their skilled performance, also threw coins abundantly to praise the performers; and thus the group would gather enough money in lieu.

Chinese acrobat

Sometimes there used to be more than one gathering at the spot and the public used to attend both of them, and enjoyed. The public used to enjoy the roadside entertainments, there being no other or very few public entertainment places like theaters, cinemas or clubs in the city area. The general public being ignorant was also not so desirous of such luxuries and were quite contended with what was available in hand. The Muslims mostly were not so keen to buy and use even the ice during summer, when the same had started being manufactured in the city. The Muslims mostly used to collect drinking water in the month of Ramzan, from the well in the Jamia Masjid the water of which was almost ice cooled due to being a very deep well.

I really feel astonished and bewildered to compare the overall “Satisfaction” which was felt during those peaceful days with whatever the little availability of comforts, and with the present uneasy “craze” for more even with such abundance of luxuries. This human attitude may be the main reason of general restlessness and other repercussions prevailing all over.

Quetta earth quake 1935Capital Cinema, Rawalpindi I still remember during mid 1930’s when the students from all the schools in the Rawalpindi City area were escorted on foot to the Capital Cinema to watch the silver jubilee of King George V, which was shown on the film. We were served with snacks also in the cinema hall. The pleasure which was enjoyed by us at that time is still unforgettable. Another unforgettable news reel which I saw during 1930’s in the Rose Cinema was of the earth quake which struck Quetta. I still remember the anchor in the film was a famous film actress, who at the start of film introduced herself by unfolding a small piece of cloth with her name “SALOCHNA” printed on it in Urdu. Then she went round showing the various ruins in the city caused by the  earth quake, and also talking with the effected persons.

Another “news reel”, which attracted tremendous rush during mid 1930’s at the Rose Cinema, was “Scenes from the HAJJ” performance in Mecca”. It also showed sites in Medina. This film show of the Hajj was seen by almost all the Muslims from Pindi and adjoining areas including ladies. The public in the cinema hall became so sentimental that they kept reciting the “Kalima”, “Darood Shareef” and “ALLAH-O-AKBAR” throughout the show; and the show earned a huge gross for the cinema owners. TO BE CONTINUED …….

Editor: Those on FaceBook can see a video titled “Makkah in 1930″ by clicking on the following link:-
“Makkah in 1930″

 Rawalpindi, Rose Cinema

Old photo of Hajj AT Mecca

Related Pages:
Nostalgic Articles about Rawalpindi  
Rawalpindi Blog 

Editor’s Note: 
Did you find this article interesting? Feel free to share it on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media by using the buttons below. If it is not inconvenient, please do write a brief comment at the end of this page under the heading “Leave a Reply here”. You are welcome to contribute nostalgic articles about Rawalpindi by sending to the Editor at:  rashid.cheema11@gmail.com


  1. Lt Col Masood Alam (retd) says:

    Thanks a lot for providing priceless information that too with pictures. It really increases our knowledge regarding Pindi.

    • Rafique Ahmed Khan says:

      Dear Lt Col Masood Alam,
      Thank you sir, for your encouraging appreciation of my memoirs.
      With Blessings,

  2. Catherine Paitry says:

    Passionnant ces souvenirs…merci infiniment de les faire partager…

  3. Shaheda Rizvi, Canada says:

    Dear Rafique Ahmed Khan Saheb,

    Thank you for another lovely segment of Pindi life and times.

    It appears to me that you were destined to write these stories of times gone by, of times that are real only in our imagination. I read with immense enthusiasm the stories of the medicine man, the hakeems, the bony man challenging the laws of Physics.
    I recall watching a monkey trainer, thin as a rail, commanding his monkey to perform various incredible feats. We wondered whether he fed anything to the poor monkey because not only was he very thin but so was the monkey. However, both appeared contented with their mobile circus, taking their bows and applause with joy.

    Life was so sweet and simple then.

    With Respect and Regards.

    • Rafique Ahmed Khan says:

      Dear Madam,
      Thank you for your much awaited and valued opinion. My memoirs take me also back in lost past and enjoy recalling all such pretty but worth remembering events. These routine petty events may be of small significance to the modern generation; but we the old timers did enjoy watching with interest.
      Thanking you again and with best regards,

  4. It’s always a pleasure to read these beautiful articles with great photos.
    Thanks Sir.

  5. Nader Rasheed says:

    Wonderful pics Rafique Sahib,
    How quickly time passes and an entire world vanishes before our eyes. I used to live in Pindi back in 1972 when I was just eight years of age. We lived in an old place called the “Kashmir Hotel” which was constructed during the days of the Raj. It was a “U” shaped single story colonial-style building with a fountain in the middle and a driveway encircling it. The building was divided into separate two room units. I still remember the rain spouts which were shaped in the forms of fearsome-looking gargoyles and our Kashmiri domestic servant would humorously scare us by telling us that these were the “Anrgez Jinns!!!”
    The place was next door to Sir Syed College and walking distance from “Wilsons (eye wear) and the Flashman’s hotel.
    I live in Texas now and just turned fifty. I was in Pindi last year and attempted to look for Kashmir Hotel but the scene has changed completely. It was as if I was walking through a dream when I roamed the streets with flickers of faded memories running in my head. You recognize some (or at least you think you do) and don’t recognize others. Do you have any idea of the place I’m speaking of? I searched all over the net but was not able to find anything. I would appreciate any help. Once again, you have done a fantastic job. Please keep the pics coming.

    Take care.

    • Zahir Khan says:

      Dear Mr. Nader Rasheed,
      I know exactly the place you are talking about. I was born and brought up in Pindi and used to attend Sir Syed High School which was later upgraded to Sir Syed Colege.
      Coming from Flashman’s on The Mall and turning left you come to a round about. There is a Shell petrol pump at the round about. This round about is popularly known as ‘Punj Sarki‘ because five roads meet here (Two roads coming from The Mall, third road coming from Adamjee Road, past Secretariate II, fourth road coming from Mareer Hassan and the fifth road coming from Civil Lines). If you turn right coming from the Mall, Kashmir hotel was the 5th or 6th building on the left with Sir Syed Primary School and Sir Syed College across the road extending all the way to The Mall.
      Like all the other landmarks in Pindi, this has been converted into residential plots and many houses have been constructed. No way will you ever be able to recognize that old majestic building you mention. If you carry on on this road it will take you to civil lines with Mareer Hassan on the left and Katcheri (District Courts) on the right.

      On the corner of this T-junction is a very nice eye hospital. Reminds me of Barbara Streisands song “memories light the corners of my mind, misty water color memories of the way we were (rather the way it was)”.

      All the best,

      • Nader Rasheed says:

        Hello Zahir,
        Thank you so much for the info. Yes, that was what I felt all along but refused to accept it, somehow thinking that through my denials I would be able to locate the place of so many fond childhood memories. My cousins in Lahore said the same thing that the building probably went the way of new construction. Oh well, that is how it goes.
        I had the good luck of living in all four major cities of Pakistan (at various intervals of my life), that is, Karachi, Lahore, Pindi, and Peshawar. My father was in the Pakistan Air Force and we moved frequently. I don’t know what generation you are from but Pakistan was a different place during the 1970’s and 1980’s, the time when I was coming of age.
        My family left for the U.S. in 1983 (I was nineteen). I was unable to visit after that until 2010! And it was quite a shock. This was not the country nor the culture that I had left in 1983. I don’t know what happened but I suppose that is life.
        I had briefly attended Lawrence College, Ghora Gali (1976-1978) so I was somewhat familiar with Pindi. I also attended Sir Syed College for about a year or so. I remember walking from Kashmir hotel to the commercial area and Flashman’s even though my mother always yelled at us for going out alone and un-escorted! LOL.
        As you mentioned, many old and beautiful buildings have been torn down to make way for sterile housing projects. The familiar sights and smells are fading away. During my trip to Pindi last year, I was unable to find any snake charmers or “Bahloo walas” which were a common theme during my years. Anyway, thanks again and take care.

        • Zahir Khan says:

          Dear Nader,
          I am just a decade and a half older than you. It was pleasure to take a walk on The Mall like you said between Flashman’s and Sir Syed School. The bahlo walas and the snake charmers along with the bandar walas are seen every now and then.
          Things are getting to a point that every time we look back, the days gone by look better.
          If you want I can send you the lat long of Kashmir hotel when I get back home. Right now I am travelling in California.
          All the best.

          • Nader Rasheed says:

            Thank you so much Zahir, please do. That way next time I visit, I can at least get in the general vicinity and see what has become of it now.
            Be safe,

  6. U K Madan says:

    Honorable Rafique Khan Sahib,
    May God bless you with a long and healthy life so that we remain fortunate to share your experiences.
    I am from India and my family had to shift to Delhi in 1947.
    I was born here around the same time and I have exactly similar memories of life in Delhi in the early post Partition period.
    Till recently we used to hear many such experiences from our own elders who have since left us one after another.
    With best wishes and regards.

    • Rafique Ahmed Khan says:

      Dear Mr. U K Madan,
      So nice of you sir to comment on my memoir, We are, have been and will be passing through the CONSTANT CHANGE which is God’s Blessings in disguise. The Partition of India is one of the most tragic events in our history, unforgettable & unpardonable. May God bless your parents and may God bless you also. Memories are our only true companion & support, when in distress and anxiety.
      With blessings,
      P.S. One of my best friends and life long companion’s name was also Madan (even this word is so dear to me).

  7. Maj (R) Khalid Saeed Shah says:

    Fantastic recollection of events. Keep it up, sir.

  8. Zahir Khan says:

    Rafique Sahib,
    Another nostalgic trip down memory lane. I admire your memory and your recollections of the past. Where you mention “two Anna’s and it will be two rupees at the clinical” the typical dialog was ” Company kee mashoori kay liye 2 Anna, clinic per ayain gay, chai bhee pillayain gay Magar keemat 2 ropai ho gee” how well I can recall this dialog daily heard on the bus trip to Govt. College, Asghar Mall, Rawalpindi. Thank you.
    Warm regards,

    • Rafique Ahmed Khan says:

      Dear Zahir Khan Saheb,
      Many thanks for your kind interest to read my memoirs Sir. Govt College Asghar Mall was a DAV School before the Partition. It would be so entertaining for you to recollect such memories.

  9. Azam Gill, France says:

    Rafique Khan Sahib,
    If you hadn’t existed, you would have had to be invented!
    Thank you once again, respected sir.

    • Rafique Ahmed Khan says:

      Dear Azam Gill Saheb,
      Many thanks for your usual such a nice comment Sir, for which I remain most anxious to read all the times.
      May God Bless you.

  10. Ejaz Ahmed Ansari says:

    Rafique Khan Sahib,
    A beautiful article by you about my beloved Rawalpindi. It is a great city, I am living in Rawalpindi since 1971. Really old is gold. Please also add old photographs of the city. May ALLAH give you long life with faith (Eemaan) and health, Aameen!!

    • Rafique Ahmed Khan says:

      Dear Ejaz Ahmed Ansari Saheb. Very kind and nice of you Sir, to have good sentiments for me. May God bless you With regards

  11. Rafique Khan Sahib,
    It’s again a wonderful article about the pre Partition era of Rawalpindi.
    I hope you would like the relevant photos added in your Post. :)

    • Rafique Ahmed Khan says:

      Dear Sir,
      Many thanks for your gracious appreciation. In fact the credit of this article goes to you more with your marvelous photos. May God bless you.
      With best regards,

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