“Rawalpindi – Sorrows of a Pastry Man”

By Shaheda Rizvi

Editor’s Note: Shaheda Rizvi lives in Montreal, Canada. She narrates the tragic story of a Pastry Man who used to visit her house in Westridge, Rawalpindi in 1956.

While living my own challenges, I have often thought of  my childhood city, Rawalpindi, of kind souls, and unsaid good-byes. With that came many other thoughts, of friends, of schools, of flowers, of fruits, of roads and bridges, of houses and more, and then of folks who left a permanent image on a young psyche. Image of gentleness, of kindness, of modesty, of sensitivity, of deep secrets, and of sorrows unexpressed.

125 Westridge Road, Rawalpindi, photo 1

Tree-lined pathway from the main gate to the house -2013.

We always called him ‘Our Pastry Man’.  A very gentle and soft-spoken man who wore a smile each time we jumped with joy, watching him walk the gravel pathway from the gate to our house. His eyes would light up knowing well that we wanted all his pastries, but must choose just one.

We lived at 125 Westridge Road in a lovely house given to us by the  Pakistan Railways. The  house was situated on a large estate in the Westridge Section of Rawalpindi. As a child I was told and later I read that all the large houses on Westridge Road, once belonged to rich families, mostly Sikh families who left Pakistan for India at the time of Partition.

It was usual for him to enter through the side gate. Looking at the Google map, it appears to me that the road has been renamed as Zahid Baig Shaheed Road. He always exited from the front gate connecting the Westridge Road.

125 Westridge Road, Rawalpindi, photo 2

Front Gate of House No. 125 Westridge Road – 2013

The year was perhaps 1956. Once or twice a week, our Pastry Man, worn by the weight of the load on his head, visited our house.  The load  was  a result of a  heavy tin trunk, silver or slightly rusty- grey in colour, which he carried every day for about eight hours a day.

The tin trunk hid the most magical pastries. I can’t even describe them. Some layered with light pink frosting and a touch of lemon, some yellow with white flowers, some white with pink pansies. All meticulously settled on trays, that rested firmly within the trunk.  My mother would buy each of us a pastry and would tell the  Pastry Man to return after a gap of two or three days, which he did, very promptly, always wearing the same sweet smile and asking us, to choose our favourite one.  My mother ran a sort of credit with him, and paid him at the end of the month.

Pastries

Pastries (Not from the tin trunk of Pastry Man).

Our Pastry Man stopped at a few other houses along Westridge Road as he exited our house, and some houses along the railway tracks, up the hill, and then down the hill, past the Railway Hospital. At the Railway Hospital, he had a few permanent customers and many temporary ones, I think. I often wondered whether he rested under our Peepal (Banyan) tree.  Some days he traveled as far as the Railway Station, which was about three miles from our house.  I know in my heart that while walking from house to house, with his gentle gait, he wished that folks would buy that which was in his tin trunk, and perhaps lighten his burden for just a day.

125 Westridge Road, Rawalpindi, photo 3

Front facade of House No.125 Westridge Road – 2013

We had been waiting for a good half hour and no Pastry Man. That  had never happened in over a year since his visits began. He had neither been late nor absent, ever. “Probably he has come down with some flu or cold”, I heard someone say.

I imagined he might have rested under our 200-year-old Peepal tree, and perhaps overslept, and will soon be at the gate. But no, days passed into weeks, and no Pastry Man. And then one day, he was at the gate. I saw him, walking down the long driveway and a cold chill went through my heart. The tin-trunk with its magical inhabitants no longer occupied its familiar seat. He walked laboriously, more like an old man, who had lost his best friend and wanted no more of this earth.

125 Westridge Road, Rawalpindi, photo 4

Driveway from the gate to the house – 2013

Within minutes we were around him, asking him a  hundred questions: where is the Sandooq ( the tin trunk), had he been sick, had he gone away, and the more we queried, the sadder and graver became his face, until he could not stand the pain and wept  like a child who had lost his favourite toy. He said that his Sandooq was stolen and that the bakery owner wanted him to pay for the Sandooq, plus he had lost his job, and had not a penny for food. He asked my mother if she could pay him the credit she owed. She promised to do so on his next visit because she had none to pay then.

And so, days passed into weeks, and our Pastry Man did not appear at the gate and then one day my mother told us that our Pastry Man had committed suicide. We lost his memory while living our own challenges, moving away from Pindi to a larger more congested city was the first challenge, and many others followed. I had forgotten him along with everything sweet that Pindi was, the scent of Apricot trees, when laden with pink and white Apricots; the Apricot blossoms, that promised fresh  fruit each year, and of course our Peepal tree.

Lately, as I recall my childhood stories for my children, this great soul, that is, our Pastry Man, has started revisiting me often. How often I can not say, but with each visit my heart longs for Pindi, and with each visit his pain seems to own me, and with each visit I wonder whether our Peepal tree cried out for him as it too was being chopped off for developers to build a hundred new homes on that sacred soil.

Peepal (Banyan) Tree

Photo of a Banyan tree (Not in my house).

I am extremely thankful to Brig (R) Tariq Saeed (2nd SSC), who lives in Westridge and took the trouble to locate my house and took all the above pictures (except the pic of pastries) which have embellished my article. Thanks Brig Sahib!!!!

Related Articles:
Nostalgic Articles about Rawalpindi 
Photos of Rawalpindi 
Rawalpindi Memorabilia
Nostalgic Memories of Rawalpindi

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If it is not inconvenient, please do write a brief comment at the end of this page under the heading “Leave a Reply here”.
Visitors of this website are welcome to contribute their nostalgic articles about Rawalpindi by sending to: nativepakistan@gmail.com

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Comments

  1. Tahmeena Malik says:

    We were also visited by a Pastry wala in Lal kurti, actually on Siri Krishan Road, now renamed. The nostalgic part was that the Pastry wala became a reward for good behaviour and no pastry for punishment. He was an invisible “discipline’ in our lives. Such were the days in good old Pindi……not like today when children are not taught to take no for an answer. Thank u for sharing…….

  2. Perveen Rasheed says:

    Dear Shaheda, Written by a thoughtful and a deeply caring heart. Memories are such. I did not know when the story ended as I got lost remembering ‘mine’. Oh yes. 25 miles westward [in Wah Cantt 1950s-60s] we had our Bakery walla: same cycle [with a special bell], same sandooq-a magic box of heavenly concoction of pastries [2Ans/ 3Ans]smothered in fragrance and flavours which meant choosing only one so difficult. Your narration let me reach out to the people who mattered to us so much when we were growing up and took for granted that they’ll be around always.Pastrywalla died a tragic, unnatural death due to what happened to his ‘means for living’. Let’s leave at that and keep his pain in our hearts. Perveen Rasheed

  3. I always fly back to the beautiful past just by the scent of the pine trees, the sound of the eagles, old song and music that were part of me then and live with me. The pastrywala, icecreamwala, doodhwala, sabziwala, etc. etc. They formed the main part of people bringing convenience in to our lives. Cherished memories from Going Thomas Road, Rawalpindi, walking to Sir Syed School, going to the Drug Store opposite GPO for Canada Dry. Harley Street, Westridge and Saddar are some of the places I always visit whenever I am back home, although nothing is the same, it is for old time’s sake! Shaheda Behen thanks for reviving the old times.

    Time is very cruel and unfortunately, man is worse. May Allah always keep us in His protection, aameen.

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Muhammad Taufiq,

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, all these die-hards brought so much comfort without asking anything in return. How about Dhobi wala? The moment one steps out of that part of the world, starched bed-sheets go out the window. You wrote: “Time is very cruel and unfortunately, man is worse. May Allah always keep us in His protection, aameen.” Thank you for your kind words, and yes man is worse!.

  4. Col Khalid Hameed Shah says:

    I spent my childhood in Canaught Lines adjacent to Railway Colony. The pastry man used to visit our area as well. After reading this article my childhood memories activated. Ms Shaheda wrote, “My mother would buy each of us a pastry and would tell the Pastry Man to return after a gap of two or three days, which he did, very promptly, always wearing the same sweet smile and asking us, to choose our favorite one. ” I think it was the story of every house. I still remember the well laid out pastries in his trunk, and choosing of one pastry “allowed share”. Never knew the tragic end, in fact in our area one grocery shop added bakery items as a product line and the shop keeper used to bring all confectionery items from Railway bakery the supply source of the Pastry Man. We assumed that was the reason that he had stopped coming. All the places mentioned in the article I can recollect, we used to cycle all these places. Madam, thanks for taking back to childhood!!

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Col. Khalid Hameed Shah,

      Thank you for sharing your childhood memories of this pastry man and his magical pastries. I apologize for this late response but by the time you posted your comment I was off to a different story perhaps and never visited this page on the website. I saw your comment just by chance or via Wayne Croning’s FB message.

      You are perhaps the third person on this website who remembers this pastry man and did not know why he did not show up again. Also, we who live in North America and have tasted pastries from the choicest bakeries can affirm without any exaggeration that his were THE BEST ever!!

  5. Dorothy Doyle says:

    Beautiful poignant memory of the kind hard working poor, in my old hometown Pindi. I pray he received his just reward beyond this hard/cruel world. It is wonderful to have been able to share your memory of him, Shaheda Rizvi Also enjoyed reading the other memories provoked of the different and similar walks of life in Pindi in 1950s. Thank you.

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Dororthy,

      Many apologies for this late response but by the time you posted your comment I was off to a different story perhaps and never visited this page on the website. I saw your comment just by chance or via Wayne Croning’s FB message. Actually, the only solace in such stories is just what you wrote: | I pray he received his just reward beyond this hard/cruel world.” Thank you o much for your most generous comments.

  6. Hello Shaheda,
    Very sad story. Very well written. I had a similar story but not as tragic. We had a pastry man that had a similar steel trunk which he carried on a bicycle. We would always buy mutton and vegetable patties from him, including ginger biscuits, khara biscuits, etc. One day after an absence of about two months he came back and said he had been hit by a car and badly injured. Was pleading with us to buy something and we did. He did get better but always seemed weaker than normal. This all happened in Karachi in the good old days. Thanks for sharing.
    regs,
    Happy New Year,
    wayne croning

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Wayne,

      Thank you for the FB message and so I was able to track back here and make amends for my neglect. Thank you so much for your comments. I am looking forward to reading your book: “Karachi Backwaters” .

  7. I WISH , SHAHIDA RIZVI’S MOTHER SHOULD HAVE PAID THE CREDIT TO THE PASTRY MAN. MAY B IT COULD HAVE SAVED HIS LIFE. OR SHE COULD / SHOULD HAVE GIVEN A TIN TRUNK FROM HER OWN HOUSE . IT COULD HAVE SAVED HIS JOB…. LT.COL ( R) AJMAL MAHMOOD , 30TH PMA (. PINDIWAL).

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Ajmal Mahmood,

      By the time you posted your comment I was off to a different story perhaps and never visited this page on the website. I saw your comment just by chance or via Wayne Croning’s FB message. I agree with you completely that she should have paid, but if she did not have any cash on hand, she could have asked him to eat, sleep and rest at her place, where there was room enough for an army. Later she could have given him the tin trunk and money too. And his employer would have believed his story too.

  8. Albert Dean, Mississauga, Canada. says:

    An immaculately presented article bringing about contrasting feelings from memories of yesteryears. Briefly first I want to give my own experience regarding another tin carrying pastry man.
    He would shout several times “Cake pastry wallah” to let folks know that he was around. This was the pastry man who frequently visited the Gordon college campus in the 50’s. The contents of his trunk were most delicious, and although each pastry cost only 2 annas I can frankly say that all the fruitcakes, doughnuts, pastries and cookies that I have had in North America are nothing compared to those pastries of that pastry man.
    I am sure the memories of the pastry man which Madam Shaheda Rizvi describes, Must bring back memories of delicios pastries but along with that sad, solemn and sombre memories accompanied with a certain feeling of hoplessness, as to why no one came to the aid of the pastry man.

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Albert Dean,

      By the time you posted your comment I was off to a different story perhaps and never visited this page on the website. I saw your comment just by chance or via Wayne Croning’s FB message.

      Thank you so much for your generous words. You wrote: “The contents of his trunk were most delicious, and although each pastry cost only 2 annas I can frankly say that all the fruitcakes, doughnuts, pastries and cookies that I have had in North America are nothing compared to those pastries of that pastry man.” My response: DITTO. Nothing in North America (Many states in the U. S + Montreal and Canada) can compare. You asked : “as to why no one came to the aid of the pastry man.” I don’t recall as to why he had no family and that this job was all that he had, but it saddens me now as much as it did then…………………….

  9. Mehmud Ahmed (Brampton-Canada) says:

    An interesting and very nostalgic recall. Thanks for writing it. When the Pakistan Times started publication our printing and editorial offices were located in Westridge and the reporters who sat in the old office on the Bank Road in the Compound next to the Ismail Tailors remained there. We use to regularly visit Westridge for editorial meetings and pass through the roads and houses mentioned by Ms Shahdeda. But you did not say what your mother did with the money, however small, that she owed to the Pastriwalla…did she pay it in Sadqa or Khairat or just forgot about it as the Trunk Walla Baba did not re-appear to claim it. In a separate comment this morning I have mentioned about another Pastriwala who use to visit the Gordon College during the socalled ‘Coffee Break’…That institution like the Kulfi Wallas whom Bapsi Sidhwa (sister of Minoo Bhandara of Murree Brewery calls Ice-Candy Man, seems to have disappeared now. One however, sometimes sees the Rehri-wallas selling water-chestnuts (Siingharas), Shakarqundis or the more popular Chhuli-walas (Steamed Corn Ears).

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Mehmud Ahmed,

      By the time you posted your comment I was off to a different story perhaps and never visited this page on the website. I saw your comment just by chance or via Wayne Croning’s FB message.

      You wrote: “But you did not say what your mother did with the money, however small, that she owed to the Pastriwalla…did she pay it in Sadqa or Khairat or just forgot about it as the Trunk Walla Baba did not re-appear to claim it.”
      Honestly, I don’t know what she did, but I know that we anguished over the fact that she or WE offered no water, food, place to rest his weary body, just let him wander out in the dark, hungry and thirsty, asking people to pay back on his account for he had lost his job!!! I will carry on with sadqa and khairat — so many thanks for the reminder.

      So many charming memories of Kulfi wallas and the Chuli walas.

  10. You took me back in time Shaheda Behan, we lived on Peshawar rd, close to radio Pak, after moving from Chittagong (then East Pak)’ and my father was in Railways too, we used to have a pastry man visiting with same sandook, possibly same person!!!?. Although our society was much more sane those days, yet these tragedies occurred, May Allah forgive us.

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Mukarram,

      So sorry for such a late response. By the time you posted your comment I was off to a different story perhaps and never visited this page on the website. I saw your comment just by chance or via Wayne Croning’s FB message. So, yes it must have been the same pastry man, gentle, kind,, middle aged, sweet, what else can I say. You are so right: “May Allah forgive us.”

  11. Lt Col (R) Kamran Gul Abdullah says:

    Nice article by Shaheda. I was a four year old kid then and we lived close to Westridge, (Stephenson Road). We often visited Westridge where my uncle, also from the Railways, lived.

    Cheema, I need to know the contact of Shadeda Rizvi. She is probably the daughter of my father’s colleague, Mr. Rizvi and also our neighbour in Karachi.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Kamran,

      I remember you very well. Your sisters and I were the closest friends ever, and then you all moved to Lahore…..Puppu and I continued to write long letters to each other for sometime. I have not forgotten you either. How are Puppu, Farhat and of course you.

      Please write to me via my email address.

      Regards

      Shaheda

  12. Zeeni Zahid says:

    Lovely article Shaheda, it brought so many memories of Rawalpindi.

    In 70s, back in Lahore, we also had a pastry man and my brothers and myself used to have pastries after a game of tennis in the Services Club while on our way back in the evening out of nowhere this pastry man would emerge with the ‘sandooq’ on the back of his cycle and all three of us would gather around him. I still remember, being the youngest I could not see inside the box so I would cry and he would always take out the whole tray for me. My mother used to pay him by the end of the month and while doing the ‘hisaab’ he would say, “Baji ji, bhuleka pai gaya” (in Punjabi it means ‘I’ve forgotten’).

    He used this term so often that later on we started calling him bhuleka and he never minded it. Later we came to know he used to come from the now famous Rahat Bakers and he was probably the youngest brother.

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Zeeni Zahid,

      Thank you so much for sharing your sweet memories of the pastry wala from Lahore. By the time you posted your comment I was off to a different story perhaps and never visited this page on the website. I saw your comment just by chance or via Wayne Croning’s FB.
      Maybe you’ll post your story one day?

  13. Iftekhar Aziz says:

    Brought back wonderful memories of 30 years spent on Nisar Road near the house mentioned in the story (1974-2004). May Allah SWT Bless you, Amen!

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Iftekhar Aziz,

      Thank you so much for your kind words and I am sorry for such a late response. By the time you posted your comment I was off to a different story perhaps and never visited this page on the website. I saw your comment just by chance or via Wayne Croning’s FB message. I would love to read one of your stories. May Allah SWT Bless you too.

  14. A soul piercing masterpiece narration of tragic childhood nostalgic happy but weeping memoirs of a poor pastry man. What a pity, the poor pastry man is now transformed into a young, educated, smartly dressed up with a specially designed SANDOOQ of bike-ridden Pizza-wala. But goes away without leaving any feelings or emotions. As we & our children are breathing in the era of materialism and commercialism.

    Shaheda Behan. Masha Allah, your prose style has got all the elements of writing a good short-story. Keep penning down your nostalgic memoirs! May Allah Almighty bless you with good health and happiness. Ameen.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Thanks so much for the heart felt prayers and the nicest comments…..yes indeed materialism and commercialism is a global disease…and my prayers for you and your family too.

  15. Syed Abid Salam says:

    Heart-rending story, reflection of apathy and misery prevalent in the lives of ordinary Pakistanis and state of helplessness on those who can make a difference, even in a small way. Well-written, a powerful expression of human emotions and feelings.

  16. Azam Gill, France says:

    As expected, Shaheda Rizvi, another fine piece, the poignancy of which is touching. Look forward to the next installment.
    Cheema Jee, the butterflies are not just a masterpiece of montage, but express part of the ethos of the article. You should be promoted!

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Thank you so much for your lovely sentiments Azam Gill. Immense thanks to Brig. Tariq Saeed and Col. Cheema for the pictures of the Gate, the trees, the pathway, the house — the pictures add a soul to the whole article in a way I can’t quite express.

      • Dear Gill,
        The photos were taken by our course mate Brig Tariq Saeed and the butterflies were added by Shaheda Rizvi. I just posted the article in my Blog. My contribution was minimal.

  17. Lt Col (R) Zafar Mustafa says:

    I am shaken after reading the fate of a simple, hardworking Pakistani whom no-one helped in a heartless society. Intervening 50 years have brought more misery for the common man with no hope for a better future. A state created in the name of Islam has come to this pass —— people selling their children, unemployed committing suicide or becoming dacoits and children going to sleep hungry, waiting for their father to bring some food after a day’s hard labour. A country where old parents, young widows and orphaned children are even denied the honour of Shahadat for their dear ones who laid down their lives defending motherland —– cannot expect any better from Almighty unless each one of us seeks His forgiveness and promises to abide by His commandments.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Col Zafar Mustafa,
      “Shaken” is soul’s way of saying you’ve got the message. It’s as if Buddha telling his followers to ‘WAKE UP’… what are you doing to your fellow men; women, children, while gathering riches of the world for yourself.”

  18. Brig (R) Khalid Hassan (2nd SSC), USA says:

    Beautiful narration of the touching story by sister. Such pastry men would tour almost every neighborhood. Some lucky ones had such tin containers attached to their bicycles while some carried their products in huge tokras on their head.

    Thank you for sharing it.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Thank you so much, Brig Khalid Hassan–Yes, indeed the tokras were a round-padded-ring made of cotton cloth. In the 50’s Pastry Walas were not the only ones who used the tin-trunks for their merchandise. We also had a fabric+wool+accessories sales man who carried a similar trunk with items for sale from Peshawar, Landi-Kotal, India, England–you name it….

    • Lovely narration, extremely poignant. We lived in Peshawar around that time, and our visiting pastry man had a three wheeler cycle to carry the lovely tidbits.
      And also, Khalid Hassan, nice to see your name. Hope all is well.

  19. Arshad Ali says:

    Dear Shaheda sister, really unforgettable incident of your childhood. Once we were living at Wah Cantt there was also a Pastry man who used to come to our street Nargis Road (older name was Astercolia) on a bicycle with a trunk at the carrier of his bicycle and a basket at the bike’s handle with buns, etc. He had the product of Abbasi Restaurant from Aslam Market. We used to buy coconut, cream roll and delicious pastries. Really its taste was marvelous. A few years back I saw him and thanks to Allah he recognized me though he was about 60 years but still he is in the same business.

    Thanks for reminding my past which is always a beauty.

  20. A well written prose that touches one’s heart. I must appreciate sister Shaheda’s memory to be able to narrate the events at this length and in great detail. Those were good times when each sad incident was taken to heart. Allah knows where did we go wrong as a Nation. Bad omens await us at each corner. May Allah spare us our grave errors.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Thanks Brig. Chaudhry, Yes:
      “Allah knows where did we go wrong as a Nation. Bad omens await us at each corner. May Allah spare us our grave errors” – Sometimes it’s the realization of our errors that turns a hard heart into a soft one.

  21. Lt Col Masood Alam (retd) says:

    An excellent narration/story which touches heart and brings both joy and sorrow. It also makes me remember my bread man and barber in Sialkot back in 1969. Regards.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Many thanks Col. Masood Alam.

      Yes, tales like these stir up our inmost thoughts and remind us of those whom we owe a great deal… Looking forward to the bread man and the barber story.

  22. Maj (R) Munir Ahmed (2nd SSC) says:

    Dear Shaheda Behan, I was overwhelmed by my emotions to read the story. We all live in a society where so many like this Pastry Man are forced to go to this extent. We all are to be blamed for this. It has really saddened me. This certainly reflects the life style of the majority of our people who work so hard just to survive but their end is mostly tragic. May Allah bless all such people with His infinite mercy & make their lives easy & smooth. Committing suicide due to hunger is a slap on the face of society, we live in. Let us look around to ensure that no Pastry Man commits suicide in future. Thank you for touching a very touchy issue.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Munir Bhai,

      Thanks..and even more thanks for your words: “Committing suicide due to hunger is a slap on the face of society, we live in. Let us look around to ensure that no Pastry Man commits suicide in future”.

      I could have written a bit more but left it on its own because for me this translates to ‘Divine sorrow’…Reason is that I have been telling this story to friends and acquaintance for some time — it would spark from a conversation, such as: the best pastries ever in the whole world…and then I would not stop until I had related the whole story — and every feeling heart told me: Shaheda the pain just went right into me…how could you let him go away, and not offer a place to eat, rest and sleep……sigh , sigh..

  23. It’s really a tragic story about the poor Pastry Man. I am sure your Peepal tree must have lamented and shattered the sky at the heartbreaking end of your Pastry Man. May his soul rest in peace, Ameen.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Thank you Col. Cheema for your thoughtful comments; for printing and editing, and most of all for the feeling conveyed through: ” lamented and shattered the sky at the heartbreaking end…:”

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