By Rafique Ahmed Khan, Dubai
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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″
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