A great deal has changed in Sialkot as the years have passed. Many of the old landmarks are gone. Along with them, some eyesores have also disappeared. But there are fewer trees than there used to be and the roads are potholed, though an effort is now underway, partly with contributions from the local sports and surgical millionaires, to lay new roads, carpeted ones. After all, this is a city that earns Pakistan – or its business elite – money enough to declare war on Portugal and win it.
At first sight, the old city has not changed much, but if you look carefully, you find that it has been crumbling. The streets look narrower than they once were and given the almost vertical increase in numbers in the last twenty-five years, they are crowded at all times of day. Thanks to Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and his successors, the Fugitive Princess not excluded, the country is now beyond the point where the birth rate could be brought down, the dainty efforts of Ms Attiya Inayatullah, perennial minister for such things under all governments that come to office either by accident or design, notwithstanding.
No one has done anything about the open gutters, either. If the residents are lucky, they run but mostly they remain clogged. It is not a pretty sight; nor does it smell very nice. Last time I was in Sialkot, I went to look at Iqbal’s house, but I did not venture to climb the stairs to go up. For one thing, it was rather early in the morning. A friend who was with me and whose own home used to be in the next street recognised one of the men from the neighbourood. “You never come down from Lahore,” the man said to my friend. This being Sialkot and story-telling being one of the known local talents, he told us about a bunch of men he had come upon the other day, standing almost right where we now were. “They were looking up at the house.” Then one of them asked, “Is that Allama Iqbal’s home?’ “Why do you ask? Have you come to burn it down?” answered our friend.
There you have it. Vintage Sialkot.
The Sialkot of our boyhood is now a memory. It is a ravaged city, one of the dirtiest in the country, where few roads are whole and where dust rises from its once green earth. The hills of Jammu still glimmer in the distance on clear mornings but you would have to get out of the city to see them in their isolated beauty because the air is thick with smoke belched out by cars, factories and rickshaws. Most things have crumbled or appear to be crumbling. The feeling of decay and neglect is hard to escape. The residents no longer seem to notice. Truly has it been said that human beings would get used to anything. . Even those who are thrown into solitary confinement have spoken of having got used to the environment after some months. I suppose it is nature’s survival kit with which all of us are endowed.
Some years ago, my friend of college days Muhammad Rafiq, who has lived in England for over thirty years but travels to Sialkot more often than he cares to admit, wrote, “It is a small town of about 160,000 odd (very odd) souls and its length and breadth would give someone trying to swing a cat the biggest cramp in the neck; but it is the largest district in the country – resulting from the addition of Tehsil Shakargarh severed from the district of Gurdaspur at the time of Partition – so that the rail journey to cover its 140 kilometers end-to-end takes all of seven hours and more. It is only about 120 kilometers from the political capital but it has no direct rail link with it; one of the two circuitous routes covering the excruciating journey takes all of five hours. It is an important industrial centre and earns a sizable portion of revenue for the country’s coffers; and yet it has no airport (Zhob, of all places, has one), or a decent hotel for the visiting businessmen and cricketers. It has produced a religious scholar, Maulvi Ibrahim, who was an acknowledged world authority of Hadith, but it has no religious school or centre. Ant to crown it all, right smack in the middle of it all, squats the ugliest man-made structure one can ever witness anywhere on the face of the earth, a so-called fortress which an idiotic ruler built by scratching the earth from around this flat face of the earth … And yet incredibly, for over 2,000 years, the people of this town have walked round this atrocity.” But I am sure Rafiq does not mean all of what he has written. In the heart of his hearts, I have little doubt, back in the green English town where he lives, he must miss this “atrocity”, otherwise why would he come back as often as he does?
There is endless parroting of Iqbal’s name and how proud Sialkot is of its great son. I don’t believe a word of it, because were its people really proud of Iqbal and their city, they would do something to clean up its streets, cleanse its waters and make its air breathable again. If there is a city council, it is doing something else and if there is a health officer, he is probably in bed with one of the infections he must take some responsibility for spreading. Sialkot may never have been and wasn’t perhaps among Punjab’s most elegant cities but it was a highly livable one. It had clean and evenly paved roads where potholes were the exception rather than the rule. The roads were sprinkled with water and swept every morning around daybreak. The drains, open and uncovered though they were, and no Venetian canals by any means, were kept free of blockages. Traffic was regulated and even students took care not to ride their bikes without a light. The air was clean as was the water. Some said it was the sweetest in the Punjab and was only matched by the water of Peshawar. All that is now a memory.
But to go back to earlier times, Murray College it was where Muhammad Iqbal sat at the feet of the revered Maulvi Mir Hassan who taught Arabic and Persian. It is said that when a title was to be conferred on Iqbal, he said, “You should first honour my teacher.” Maulvi Mir Hassan was given the title of Shamsul Ulema. He indeed was the “sun of scholars”. Today, one sees all these fake, largely ignorant, unread and self-promoting Sheikhs and Maulanas and wonders where savants such as Maulvi Mir Hassan have gone. And how has the city honoured Iqbal? Just one example should suffice. The main roundabout is called Allama Iqbal Chowk but it is more popularly known as Drummaan wala Chowk because the roundabout is marked by upside down painted drums (unless they have been removed since I saw them last). In the middle stands an obelisk which used to have an eagle on top but it fell down during a dust storm which was just as well because according to Syed Nazir Hussain Shah, “It looked more like a kite than an eagle.” I am not sure if it has been put back on. One hopes not. The story is that it was supposed to be fashioned out of a precious metal but one of the deputy commissioners of the city felt that the precious metal should better remain with him rather than the bird.
There is a sign in Urdu next to the topless obelisk that warns against the sticking of handbills. However, such is the respect felt by the city dwellers for the Poet of the East that the base of the obelisk is covered by a hundred stickers. Some of them call for the “immediate implementation of Islam” (as if it was a martial law regulation), while others advocate the candidature of this or that person to this or that office. Commerce is not far behind because one finds posters recommending the magical properties of a certain soap, hair oil, herbal remedy for male inadequacy, incontinence or the “mistakes of early youth”. Iqbal lies dead eighty miles away in the city of Lahore, quite unmindful of what the city has done to itself and its residents in his name. No wonder, his son Javed Iqbal has never visited Sialkot in the last half century. One can see his point: Lahore is Lahore, but Sialkot is not what it should be.
A story is told of a mysterious visitor who appeared on the street in front of Iqbal’s childhood home one day and when asked who he was looking for, replied, “I am looking for Iqbal.” “Well,” said the Sialkoti who had accosted him, “you should be quite clear which Iqbal you are looking for. Let me list them for you. We have, Bala Dabgar, Bala Chakkar, Bala Malkaan da, Bala Dancer, Bala Garbagewala, Bala Dabbi, Bala Attack and many others. As for Dr Muhammad Iqbal, Poet of the East, he has been dead since 1938.”
Among other things that have disappeared from Sialkot is the lovely Connley Park, renamed Jinnah Park after independence, though the famous annual tournament continued to be played under the old name: the Connley Cricket Tournament. So many clubs used to have their practice nets in the park and there were two full-size cricket grounds next to one another. That is all gone because some years ago, a mindless deputy commissioner decided to build an ugly cricket stadium on the site that is only opened when there is a major match to be played. For the rest of the time, it is kept locked and no one is allowed to play cricket there. So, it is no longer cricket’s nursery but its graveyard and the deputy commissioner, who is long gone, is its sexton-in-chief for life. And this in the city where the man who dreamt of a state called Pakistan was born.
On a clear day in Sialkot, if you stood on a rooftop, you could see some of the temples of the city of Jammu. And you always saw the mountains, including Devi’s mountain where Hindus from all over India used to come once a year for yatra. There was always something nice and reassuring about Sialkot. Those of us who had moved to other towns always looked forward to returning to Sialkot because it was home. The moment your feet touched the ground, you knew you were on your own bit of turf. It was a nice comforting feeling. Even now, when I do not live there nor do I have any friends to speak of in the city, my blood begins to course through my veins a little faster as I approach Sialkot.
The people of Sialkot are very enterprising, perhaps the most inventive, the most versatile in the country. Wherever in the world you go, you are bound to run into a Sialkoti. I have personal experience of that, as have so many others. The sport goods industry started in Sialkot because an English sahib found himself with a broken tennis racket – or was it a cricket bat – and since an immediate replacement was not possible, he asked a local to repair it. The man did a perfect job. That at least is the myth. The Sialkot sports industry had taken birth. The Sialkotis can make anything you ask for. For example, the suburban village of Kotli Loharan, which is now part of the extended city, is full of miracle workers. It is said in Sialkot, “Give them anything, anything at all and ask them to copy it. When you get it back, you will not be able to tell the copy from the original.” Sialkot now figures among the world’s better-known surgical instrument-making centres. Most of the great surgical instrument makers have a Kotli Loharan connection.
Many of the old Sialkot haunts of our day are gone. The Amelia Hotel is still there but it only rents rooms or maybe it doesn’t even do that any longer. We used to spend much time there drinking tea and listening to music on the radio in the mornings. The four brothers who ran the place were all geniuses. Ijaz, “Jajji” the eldest was fond of music and a few drinks in the evening, sometimes afternoon. He had blue eyes; he was always smiling quietly. He died when very young of a massive heart attack. I don’t think he could have been more than thirty-five, if that. It was a terrible shock to all of us. The hotel without him was not quite the same for a long time. But we never stopped going and after some time got used to Amelia without Jajji. Of the three younger ones, Agha Murarak Ali is alive and well but I am not sure if he still plays the violin. He used to tell us, “This Mukesh that you like so much sings out of a cemented throat.” In Punjabi his words were, “Sur toon kambakht saaf tey siddha lung janda vay.” The wretch, he just walks straight over the note. And he was right, though we were all rather fond of Mukesh at the time because of the lovelorn and romantic songs he sang and the situations they were associated with in the movies. When I got to know a little more about music, I realised that Muhammad Rafi, whom we used to call a bit “bazari”, was a perfect “gayak”, even greater than K.L. Saigol.
Agha was a wonderful violinist and played at all concerts held in the city. He had tremendous passion for music and I for one attribute my lifelong addiction to music to time spent in his company. Riaz, the third brother, who was our age, was a photographer extraordinaire. He had taught himself to take pictures and the walls in every room of Amelia Hotel had Riaz’s pictures, complete with calligraphed bylines hanging. The youngest brother was Sufi who was a master angler. Every Sunday, he would get on his Quickly and go fishing. There was nothing he did not know about the art of angling. He knew where the fish were and what was the best way of baiting them. He was also a lucky man because we never heard him talk of the “one that got away”. He used to bring them right back. The really big ones would be kept in the hotel fridge for a day or so, so that they could be shown to sceptics.
Park Café – always called ‘Kay-fee’ – in the cantonment was a gathering place with a lawn where we would go in the evenings. It also had two billiards tables at which most of us could be found when we should have been doing more useful things. That place was boarded up years ago and the lovely lawn where Rahim Bux used to serve us tea and freshly made fish and chips is now a sort of dump. The great department store, Goolam Kadir and Sons, the biggest in Northern India before independence, closed down in the seventies because of property divisions and disputes between family members. The Maharaja of Kashmir used to shop there.
Iqbal died in 1938 but he has not been forgotten. He lived in the Mohalla Kashmirian between Do Darwaza and Chowk Pasroorian. The cobbled backstreets where he played as a boy have not changed much since his days. Across the narrow road that runs in front of his home, on the other side but on a higher plane, stands the old Shivala which mercifully was spared the rampage let loose against Hindu temples under the patriotic fervour of those in power then in the aftermath of the razing of the Babri Mosque by frenzied BJP ruffians and religious fanatics in India. It was the same logic that led to the Hindu-Muslim holocaust at the time of independence. Iqbal’s poem ‘Naya Shivala’, in particular its imagery, I have always liked to think, was inspired by the one across the road. The burnished brass at its top still catches the first rays of the sun, as the young Iqbal must have seen them do. He wrote: ‘Sooni parri hooi hai muddat se dil ki basti; Aa ik naya shivala iss des main bana dain.’ (For long, my heart has been desolate: Let’s together raise a new temple in this land of ours.) Ironically, Iqbal’s dream remains even farther from fulfilment than when he wrote these lines.
The haves of Sialkot have left the city. Most of them have moved to the cantonment where land prices now touch the sky. There is street after street of pillared palaces, built mostly with money which should have gone into the public coffers but did not. They have abandoned the city to those who do not have the means to move out and build a home with pillars. Others who have been unable to afford the cantonment or Chhauwni’s land prices, have built houses at the city’s other extremities. If you are returning after some years of absence, you may have to ask for directions as you approach the town.
Sialkot was not always a city full of uncleared filth or blocked gutters. Before independence, it had the reputation of being one of the cleanest in the Punjab, in fact in Northern India. My earliest memories of Sialkot date back to those years. While it is quite possible that a child may not really notice dirt, I recall old, narrow cobbled streets that looked clean. We would come from Jammu every now and then to visit my mother’s family. Her uncle, Malik Fazal Elahi lived with his family in Tanchiwala Mohalla, called that because of a huge overhead water tank on stilts that may still be there. This strange structure on its criss-crossing legs of steel rose high in the air, gray and shrouded in mystery. I think I last saw it sometime in the 1970s and it did not look that massive as I remembered it.
But perception of size is relative to how old you are. To a child, who sees every object in relation to his own tiny size, everything appears big and imposing. A friend of mine who returned to Jammu thirty years after independence, went to see if his family’s old home in Mohalla Mast Garh still stood. He remembered that in front of the house, there used to be a big rock which he had always wanted to climb but never could because to him it was like a small mountain. He says he could not believe his eyes when he saw it after all those years. It was really quite small. I had the same experience when I returned to Jammu in 1983. The streets of my early childhood which I had always remembered as spacious, were so narrow at points that I had to stand aside to let a man pass.
The pre-independence Sialkot visit I remember most clearly was in early 1947, six months or so before the departure of the British and the establishment of Pakistan. There were green Muslim League flags flying everywhere and big posters on the wall with the Quaid-i-Azam’s picture. I also recall being taken to Green Café by Nazir Malik, my mother’s first cousin and uncle Fazal Elahi Malik’s son, who was a staunch Muslim nationalist and called himself a soldier of the Quaid. He worked in the government-run Ordnance Clothing Factory but he did not let that stand in the way of his convictions. That was how the Muslim youth in India was at the time. The Muslim League had fired their imagination and they dreamt of the day when they would be free citizens in a country of their own. Had they known what hard times awaited them and how their ideals would be shattered, they might not perhaps have been so enthusiastic.
Bha Nazir, as I called him, was a reader of the newly brought-out Pakistan Times which had been founded by the Quaid-i-Azam, though financed and produced by Mian Iftikharuddin with Faiz Ahmed Faiz as the first editor. I brought back from Sialkot heaps of Muslim League handbills and a tiny green Muslim League flag with a picture of the Quaid on it which I pinned to my shirt and wore all the time like a medal won in a competition.
However, it is the cantonment where “it is at” now. This is also true of Lahore and so many other of our cities. Once the exclusive home of the soldiery, the cantonments. have now been civilianised. Why don’t they make a law that anyone who decides to live in a cantonment should also furnish an undertaking that in the event of war, he would volunteer to pick up a gun and march out to meet the enemy, leaving his Honda Accord and his pillared palace behind. That seems to me to be the only way to rid these places of their present occupants. It is another matter that these are the same people who at the first rumble of a tank or the first gun report in the distance, would jump into their cars and drive at breakneck speed towards, not Wagha, but Gujranwala.
But to return to Sialkot, not everything is gone. A few of the old landmarks are still around as they once were. The great Gothic Cathedral in the cantonment still stands where it has always stood, and it stands intact.
On a crossroads, also stands the monument built by Col. Commandant Charles Rankin, CBC, MG, DSO, Commander of the Sialkot Brigade from 1920 to 1924. It is evident that it has been properly cared for, an accomplishment for which all Station Commanders who have served in Sialkot in recent years deserve our gratitude. A slab of white marble, framed in red brick bears the following engraved message, ‘And an highway shall be built and the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.’ An arrow points to the plains of the Punjab. And the inscription reads, ‘Yonder lie the scorching plains whence dust riseth as smoke from a furnace.’ Another arrow points towards Jammu, and beyond that, Kashmir. Jammu is less then thirty miles away, though it could as well be thirty million miles because nobody from here can go there. The text reads, ‘The land whither you go is a fair land of hills and green valleys and clear running waters.’
God bless Commandant Col. Rankin who, no doubt, is in one such land now.
How our family came to settle in Sialkot is now part of the story of millions of families who were forced to migrate from one country to the other because of the criminally ill-planned and, as subsequent evidence produced against the British has shown, ill-intentioned and maladroit division of a country which was the size of a continent. The enormity of the upheaval and trauma of partition becomes even more shattering when one lets the fact sink in that not even one leader or administrator had the vaguest forethought or inkling and, in some cases, concern for the human costs and consequences of partition. Some transfer of population was, of course, foreseen, but the colossal scale on which it actually happened came as an utter shock to everyone, including those who were presiding over the destiny of the people of the subcontinent. History offers no parallel to what happened to millions of people on either side of the dividing line drawn so arbitrarily and so treacherously, at least in the Punjab, by the British and their wonder boy Dickie Mountbatten who should have been tried on a charge of genocide. To this day, there is no exact count of how many perished during the communal upheaval on a primeval scale that preceded and followed partition.
In August 1947, our family was in Srinagar, Kashmir. My father Dr Noor Hussain, being deputy director of the Jammu and Kashmir State Medical Services, spent summers in Srinagar and moved to Jammu in winter with the Durbar, Jammu being the royal winter capital. He had also served as Maharaja Hari Singh’s personal physician for several years and was greatly liked and respected. He was a special favourite of Maharani Tara Devi, a winsome woman who came from ordinary stock but had caught the Maharaja’s fancy. I remember 14 August 1947 vividly and the green and white flag of Pakistan flying jauntily from the central post office building on Srinagar’s famous Bund that straddled the banks of the River Jhehlum. Hundreds of people stood there admiring the flag. It was an uplifting sight. The Pakistan flag had been raised since the communications of the State were now Pakistan’s responsibility. How long it flew there, I do not know but it must have been taken down when the State’s fraudulent “accession” to India was secured by Sheikh Abdullah in collusion with Jawaharlal Nehru and under the benevolent care of Dicky Mountbatten.
We always went to Jammu through the Banihal Pass, an incredibly exciting and hazardous journey. Particularly terrifying was the point where the bus passed through what was called Khooni Nullah because of the scores of accidents that had taken place there. Passengers would begin to recite prayers as the bus lurched forward over the road’s uneven surface. However, every year, this silent, baleful monster exacted its bloody toll in several human lives. I am told it has now either been bypassed or made safer with the straightening of the road. In 1983, when I went to Srinagar for the first time after 1947, I flew from New Delhi and it took no more than thirty minutes to land from one city in the other, a journey that in the past would have taken nearly three days by road. It is true that in our own lifetime, we have seen miracles happen.
In 1947, by October the Srinagar-Jammu road had been closed. It could not have been because of the weather as bad weather did not normally set in until several months later, but on account of the riots that had already broken out, of which we had had no inkling in Srinagar. There were all kinds of rumours, though. The Poonch uprising had already taken place where Muslim members of the Maharaja’s forces had revolted, aided by a large number of ex-servicemen who resided in thousands around the area. Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan was one of them and reportedly fired the first shot in what is now seen as the start of the Kashmir liberation war. The first bands of tribesmen had already entered the state with rag-tag Pakistani irregulars bringing up the rear. When one looks back, one realises what a fatal mistake that was, as it gave India the excuse it was seeking to annex Kashmir.
However, since we could not go to Jammu via Banihal, the only other option open to us was to take the Jhehlum Valley Road via Rawalpindi, a much longer route but the only one available. One fine October morning, we left our flat off Srinagar’s Residency Road and hopped into a green Packard that my father’s close friend Col. Nicholson who had settled in the breathtakingly beautiful Lolab Valley had lent him. The Colonel died in Kashmir and, in accordance with his will, was buried in Lolab. His widow left for Britain where I visited her in Oxford when I went to England for the first time in 1968 to cover the Commonwealth Conference for the Pakistan Times that I had joined a year earlier after finally resigning from the service of the Government of Pakistan. The green Packard which my brother Bashir drove most of the way was returned to Srinagar though I have no idea how that was achieved because by the end of October, there was a civil war situation in areas along the Jhehlum Valley Road. I think there was a Kashmiri driver who had followed us who took the car back. We spent a night at Rawalpindi in the Circuit House and next morning we took a train for Sialkot. When we arrived at Gujrat, I found slain human bodies all over the platform. Non-Muslim men, women and children had been massacred for the greater glory of Islam and to celebrate, as it were, the birth of the new state of Pakistan. I also remember groups of scruffy-looking Pathan tribesmen milling around the station. They were on their way to Kashmir to wage jehad. Perhaps it was these very “liberators” who had done the killings on the train carrying those people towards Lahore.
My first impression of Sialkot when we arrived there was unsettling. It was a ravaged city and although, by the time we came, the Hindu and Sikh population had either left or been killed, their presence hung like a dark, invisible pall over the streets, homes and bazars. Most of the Hindu mohallas had been all but burnt down. Homes lay abandoned with their doors swinging forlornly on their hinges. Household articles and objects the rioters had found of no use or value lay scattered everywhere, on the street and inside the homes. There were also pictures and papers, old books, clothes, toys, images of gods and goddesses who had failed to come to the aid of their devotees. The scene was ghastly. I remember going into an abandoned Hindu home in the Dharowal mohalla which used to be almost entirely Hindu. It was scary. There was not a soul in there, only swinging doors and open windows and littered floors. The most disturbing and by far the saddest things that lay scattered everywhere were children’s toys. I do not think I have ever seen in the years since anything so desolate, anarchic and disturbing and I have no desire to see anything like it again. Freedom had come to the subcontinent but at what cost! And why had the innocent suffered? There were millions to whom freedom had brought nothing but death, ruin and dislocation.
My father was absolutely certain that these riots and upheavals would not last long and we would all be moving to Jammu any day. It took him a long time to come to terms with the fact that we were now refugees and we were never going to get back to Jammu or Srinagar. Some days after our arrival, those who had managed to escape their killers in Jammu began to arrive in Sialkot. They told harrowing stories. Most of the Muslims of Jammu had been brought out in batches on military trucks but instead of being taken to Pakistan, they had been driven towards Samba where armed men were waiting for them. Thousands had been massacred in cold blood, including old men and women, and even children. One of the qaflas or convoys that had left Jammu on a Thursday had been entirely annihilated. I do not think any people from that one survived except those who were left for dead or who hid themselves under piles of bodies. The only happy event of those days that I remember is that Dilawar Khan who had been with our family for nearly twenty years – he came from Kishtwar where my father was medical officer and where he had taken him in as a helper around the house – had survived. Most of his travelling companions had been killed but he had made it because of his youth, physical strength, courage and, in the end, luck.
In those days, refugees simply moved into homes they found without an occupant, and there were plenty of those. We did not want to do that, mainly because my father still thought of Sialkot as a temporary stop which we would leave once things had “settled down”. We had kipped in with Chacha Miran Bux, my father’s uncle who lived in Mohalla Islamabad. He was one of the most immaculately dressed men I have ever seen. He had spent most of his working life in Rangoon where he ran a smart tailoring and outfitting business. He was never to be seen in anything but a sharp suit, wearing highly polished leather shoes, an expensive silk tie and a fez on his head. He cut a dashing figure. He lost one of his sons in the 1947 holocaust. His name was Nazir. His wife and children lived with Chacha Miran Bux.
My father was finally persuaded by my mother to get ourselves a house. The one we found and where we lived for many, many years – it still stands but is in someone else’s possession after our entire family moved out of Sialkot one by one – was on Paris Road, a fashionable area where rich and fashionable Hindus once lived. It was a good road then, tree-lined and broad enough for what traffic there was. In the early years of independence, there were not many cars in Sialkot and we more or less knew which car belonged to whom. Right in front of our house which had three storeys and a very nice garden at the back, stood a Hindu millionaire’s folly which was called ‘Pillar Palace’. It was a huge place with hundreds of pillars and it always reminded me of an elaborate wedding cake. It was all white and in moonlight it was a splendid sight. When I saw it recently, it looked weather-beaten and a little sad. The various families that lived there had done little to preserve or repair it. The magnificent front lawn had been ravaged and divided among the various owners of the property. We are not preservers but despoilers and destroyers. Another magnificent place owned by Sardar Ganda Singh that was entirely made of red brick, was turned over to the rehabilitation department which did to it what it did to the refugees it was supposed to help. The most wonderful home on Paris Road belonged to the famous barrister C. Roy. It became the official residence of the sessions judge. Next to it stood a two-storey home where lived an old gentleman by the name of M.A. Khan who drove an old pre-World War II car and who had a lovely daughter we all used to long to catch a glimpse of. There was a belief among some that Khawar Malik who rode a maganificent Harley Davidson motorcycle had something going with her. Maybe he took her on secret rides on his great machine on moonlit nights.
Another beautiful pink-orange mansion became the residence of Chaudhri Ghulam Abbas, the Muslim Conference leader and a great fighter for the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The only property on Paris Road which belonged to a Muslim was the one that stood next to the Abbas house. In it lived my friend Khwaja Mahmood Anwar, son of Khwaja Hakim Din, one of the sport goods manufacturing geniuses of the city who ran the great Oberoi sports factory after independence. In the end, that fine place fell a victim to litigation which utterly destroyed it. Further down the road, going towards Bhed Bridge, built over the seasonal stream called Bhed, if you took a left turn, you came upon two enormous homes, both owned by Hindus. The government took them over and turned them into the official residences of the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police. And now that we have no deputy commissioners – thanks to Gen. “Gorbachev” Naqvi’s “reforms” – I suppose it is in the possession of the District Nazim. Another very nice home close to the bridge had been turned into the city’s employment exchange. There was a large sign outside saying ‘Daftar-e-Roozgar’ which we always wanted to rewrite as ‘Daftar Gham-e-Roozgar’ which proved at least one thing. We had recently read Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Naqsh-i-Faryadi - Tujh se bhi dilfareb hain gham roozgar ke. (Even more enticing than you, beloved, is the business of day-to-day life.)
Puran Nagar was where many of my friends and I lived. Kalim and Nasim Akhtar lived at the back of our house. Salim Ahmed Malik who was called Salim “Scott” after Sir Walter Scott because of the novel he was going to write (instead he went into geology and moved to England in the 1960s where he still lives) also lived in Puran Nagar, as did Abdul Waheed “Parwana”, Dr Aziz Kash, Fazlur Rehman Malik “Maana”, Waheed Ahmed known as Waheed “Kailash” and several others. The Hazir clan also lived in Puran Nagar and Paris Road at the same time as the large home had an entrance on each side.
One of our inseparable friends from those days was Syed Talib Hussain Jaffrey, universally called Talib “Bhaiyya”. The family came from Shahjahanpur and ran the city’s leading stationery store called Shahsons. There were many Jaffrey brothers, at least two of whom worked for the Ordnance Clothing Factory. They all later moved to Wah near Rawalpindi when the cantonment was established there and with it a major ordnance facility. One of the brothers, older to Talib, was Shuja Bhai who always had a paan tucked in a corner of his mouth. It was rumoured that one of the toughest fighters in the city by the name of Mohammad Amin “Meena” (who originally came, like us, from Jammu) was under Shuja Bhai’s orders and could be deployed if and when the need arose. Talib loved to play cards and often lost. He was madly in love with the actress Geeta Bali and I remember that when the movie Albela came to Sialkot, Talib Bhaiyya went to see it at least a hundred times. On one occasion when he forced me to go with him, the gatekeeper said to me, “Can’t you keep him home?” He knew everything about Geeta Bali whom he called Miss Bali. It was strange that he married a girl called Iqbal who was called Bali. Talib Bahaiyya’s other passion was international affairs. He had an amazing memory for facts and could rattle off dates and names from history without getting one of them wrong. After we left Sialkot, I lost contact with him but he kept in touch with my elder brother Bashir. He had become a lecturer in political science and served many years in Sindh and parts of the Frontier province. He is no longer around but time spent with him all those years ago I have never forgotten.
When we left Srinagar I was in the ninth class. In Sialkot, I joined the famous Government School which stood next to Murray College. I sat for my matriculation examination as a private student and passed with a second division, the only examination in which I scored a second division. I think the first person I met in Murray College was Irshad Hussain Kazmi, who became the finest Urdu debater of his or any other generation. He took me under his wing, already a senior, being in second year, and filled my admission form for me. Another boy who joined the same day as I did was Nawaz Shahid or "Nawaja Teela" or Bertie Wooster. His family made music instruments. In the column that required the applicant to list his caste (I hope they have done away with that nonsense now, but unlikely as caste consciousness has had a big comeback in Pakistan since Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s days), Nawaz wrote ‘music’.
Irshad Kazmi died in 1995 in Sialkot, without fanfare, quietly. That was the city where he was born and where he spent his early years and to which, in the end, he returned. Of all things, he died of a snakebite, not immediately on being bitten, but many months after. The venom had caused fatal damage to his system. Back in the Murray College days, if someone had suggested that Kazmi had been bitten by a snake, everyone would have asked if the snake had died immediately or some time later. Kazmi was a fine poet. The Sialkot of those days had quite a crop of poets. There was Taab Aslam, Asim Sehbai, Asghar Saudai and Munir Roomani who was with us in college but I never heard of him after we passed out. I never even read anything by him except what he would publish in the college magazine. He just seems to have disappeared. I remember a poem of his about going to the train station to see off his beloved. As the train starts to move out, his heart begins to beat faster, in rhythm with the engine. That part of the poem went like this: ‘chuk, chuk, chuk (that is the train); dhuk, dhuk, dhuk (that is Munir’s heart)’ then as the train gathers speed, ‘chuk, chuk … dhuk, dhuk’ and then ‘chuk, dhak, chuk, dhuk, chuk, dhuk). And then it is gone and there is silence.
One of Kazmi’s friends –older and colourful – was the poet and journalist Manzoor Anwar Qureshi who later moved to Lahore and worked several years for the Jang newspaper. Kazmi lived in a winding street off Beriwala Chowk – where the great Hamid Khan and Prof. M.A. Naseer also lived – just off College Road, which has been probably renamed Shahrah Subedar Samandar Khan Gulzai. I remember that Kazmi and I went to an intercollegiate debate held at Government College, Lyallpur, since renamed after the late Saudi king whereas it should have been named after my friend Zahid Sarfraz if not Farhat Mahmood.
But to return to the debate: Kazmi was preceded by a very pretty girl from one of Lahore’s colleges of which we small-town boys were always in some awe. She had spoken very well and hers was a difficult act to follow. Kazmi walked up to rostrum, shook off the curl that always overhung his brow, waited for the slow handclap that had started to die down a little and in his rich and ringing voice, he read the famous Ghalib verse: Balai jaan hai Ghalib uss ki har baat: Abarat kya, isharat kya, adda kya. He brought the house down. Kazmi spent many years at Lahore’s Law College and walked out with a degree in the end, but his heart was not in law: it was in journalism and advertising. He worked first in Karachi and then in Lahore for many newspapers and magazines and his poetry continued to appear in literary journals. He had the gift of holding the attention of even the most raucous of audience at a mushaira. He had a wonderful voice and the distracted look of a poet. He never published a collection which is such a pity because he was a fine poet.
One of the most memorable Murray College characters of our days was Israel “Izo” Massey who now lives in London where about twenty years ago I attended his wedding. The wedding party rode a topless double decker bus to the church which was just as it should have been because Izo used to go around on a bicycle with a little plate at the back which said ‘Caution. Left-hand Drive’. Once Zamurrad asked him if he had read Dostoviesky. “Zamurrad, you know very well that I do not read Urdu Books,” Izo replied. Izo’s father was headmaster of the Scotch Mission High School in the cantonment and they lived in front of the great cathedral where his younger brother Nanna played the organ. We used to go to Izo’s house to play cricket and even Gulli Danda matches. The Massey brothers were quite something else. There was David and Illo and Bha John who was in the army. The youngest was Tom, the only one who still lives in Sialkot. David called Baby died many years ago, as have Illo and Bha John, a major in the Pakistan army. Their only sister Mary who became a doctor, had left Murray College when we joined it.
She married Captain Robin Aftab of the Pakistan International Airlines.
Ain Adeeb, a couple of years my junior, whose given name was Muhammad Abdullah was both a poet and a short story writer. Once he was hauled up by a traffic policeman for riding a bike without a light. ‘What is your name?” asked the policeman. “Ain Adeeb,” he replied. “Don’t play any tricks on me. I am not inviting you to a mushaira; I am going to write you a ticket,” the policeman said. One of Adeeb’s inseparable companions was Abdul Waheed “Parvana”. His work would appear in the college magazine off and one, courtesy Adeeb as A.W. Parvana could not have written two words even if his life had depended on it. One of “his” stories called Sofa which was the name we had given to a well filled-out girl called Shamim was carried in the college magazine, much to everyone’s amusement, though not to Shamim “Sofa’s”.
A few years ago, my friend Akhtar Mirza wrote to me in Washington that on an impulse, one day he had driven to Sialkot from Lahore and found himself in Murray College. He had returned there after thirty-five years. “Everything has changed,” he wrote, “The hockey ground is covered with uncut grass. The tennis courts where Prof. C. W. Tressler – Pakistan tourism and minorities minister Col. Sushil Tressler’s father – used to play every other afternoon is like a tropical jungle. The chapel, which like all chapels always looked a little melancholy, now wears a forlorn and abandoned look. I walked through the verandas, touched the trees under whose shade on golden winter days birds with long red tails used to dance, but found only squirrels rummaging around for food. ‘Abandoned gardens are fated to get squirrels as their gardeners’, goes the Punjabi proverb. And it is true. That is your Murray College today.’
I wondered at the time why Murray College should not go to seed when so much else in Pakistan had done so. But then I thought, perhaps it could be made an exception, if for nothing else, then for the sake of Iqbal and Faiz who studied there and that great savant and teacher, Maulvi Mir Hassan. Also for the sake of Chacha Muhammad Din who sold oranges in front of the main gate. His entire life was spent there. When Faiz was a student, Chacha was selling oranges and when years later Faiz came to preside over a debate, he was still selling oranges. The two embraced. Chacha later said that Faiz still owed him money but he had decided to let that debt of honour go.
Chacha Muhammad Din had been there for as long as anybody could remember. Generations of students had passed their recess period eating his oranges or other fruits of the season. He also made wonderful “lobia”, a spicy and sour mixture of the boiled, kidney-shaped tiny-sized lentil. Chacha remembered everyone’s name, even of students who had left the college twenty or thirty years ago. When I joined, Chacha was already gray. Perhaps he was in his fifties or even sixties. When you are fourteen or fifteen yourself, you have no sense of how old those older than you are. Even a person of thirty looks ancient which is no surprise because being thirty means he is twice your age. Chacha was short and thin and he wore his hair short. He always had plenty of time for those who were his favourites. Chacha’s credit was not extended to everybody, only to those he approved of. If Chacha was willing to sell you a cup of “lobia’ when you could not pay for it, that meant you had arrived. To be in Chacha’s good books was a privilege.
Once, one of our classmates by the name of Shah Din threw some dish water in Chacha’s eyes. He said it was just a prank and he was only teasing Chacha. So angry and in such pain was Chacha – since the water had been used to clean the cups in which he served his famous “lobia” - that cursing Shah Din to high heaven, Chacha rushed across the road, ran through the front gate into the college and burst into Mr Scott’s class, telling him in no-holds-barred Punjabi what Shah Din had done. Mr Scott put down the book from which he was reading, listened to Chacha with great patience and concern, calmed him down, asked him to go wash his face with clean water and promised to punish Shah Din. If I recall, Shah Din was suspended from classes for a couple of weeks, as well as fined. Chacha was treated by our teachers as an asset of the college and he would often put in a word for some unfortunate student who had been too harshly treated. Even Mr Tressler was willing to listen to Chacha.
But I have my own Chacha story. We were much taken at the time by the movie Babul which starred Dilip Kumar, Nargis and Munawwar Sultana. One scene in particular had taken our fancy. Dilip Kumar takes off his hat, flirtatiously places it on Nargis’s head and blows smoke in her eyes. It was all very romantic. Inspired by that, but forgetting that I was not Dilip Kumar and real life was not a movie, I playfully blew smoke in the eyes of a girl called Nasim one day as she was on her way to Green Room, which was what the room set aside for girls was called. We were not allowed to go in there or even hang around it. She turned right back and rubbing her eyes walked into Mr Scott’s office (he had an office at his residence and one in the college) to report my misdemeanour. Mr Scott was not pleased and after giving me a dressing down – which he was always uncomfortable doing – told me that he was going to punish me for what I had done.
The news that I was in trouble with the principal spread quickly and since everything that happened in the college was immediately reported to Chacha, this one was no exception. A little later someone brought me a message from Chacha. I was to go and see him, which I did right away. He asked me what the trouble was and when I told him, he said he knew the girl’s father – only then did I learn that like us, he was from Jammu – and he would take me to his home in the evening. I was reluctant to go, but Chacha said I should just leave it to him. “I will get it all sorted out, don’t you worry,” he told me. In the evening, he took me to the girl’s house. I first had to wait in the street while Chacha went in. Later, I was called in and I said I was sorry but it was just a prank. The next day, Nasim went to Mr Scott and said she wanted to withdraw her complaint. Mr Scott said if that was what she wanted, it was all right by him. That was Chacha. He was everybody’s Chacha. And he was as great an institution as the college in front of which he spent his entire life selling oranges and spiced lentil.
A few years after Akhtar wrote, I went to Sialkot and it was late evening when with two friends, I stopped in front of the brick building where I had studied for six years and taught for three. The front gate was open and there was no watchman around. He was probably watching TV or he had gone to his second job which, thanks to our national social security “safety net”, everyone now needs to survive. The main hall named after Maulvi Mir Hassan was in a state of disrepair: a poor tribute to a great man. There were signs of structural degradation everywhere. The classrooms were in bad shape. The L-shaped block that used to house the much-dreaded office of Prof. Tressler, the bursar’s establishment, the staff room, the chemistry and biology theatres and the science labs looked dirty and shrunken. The two hostels looked just about ready to collapse, especially the older one that fronted the hockey ground. A new set of classrooms had been built but they were ungainly. I did not go into the library because it was locked but I wondered what it looked like now. Prof. Arthur Mowat had catalogued the books in the rich and extensive English literature section personally. There he would sit for hours on end, writing their names and their Dewey Decimal numbers in his neat, careful hand on index cards. For a moment I was glad Prof. Tressler, Prof Mowat and Rev. David Leslie Scott were not around to see what had happened to the college they used to tend so lovingly like a garden.
Murray College was established in the closing years of the 19th century by the Church of Scotland which ran it also and ran it well. Then came Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s so-called nationalisation of privately run educational institutions and Murray College, along with other missionary-run schools and colleges such as Forman Christian and Kinnairds at Lahore and Gordon at Rawalpindi were taken over. They have now been denationalised but with the exception of Kinnaird, in such a shambles have they been left that the original owners do not want them back in the shape they are in. I do not know what the latest state of play is; perhaps they will take them back and restore them, but I very much doubt it.
My friend Rafiq wrote in the same piece from which I have quoted earlier, “Scotland and Sialkot are like chalk and cheese, poles apart. You may think long and you may thing hard before you will find any one aspect in which the two regions may have anything in common. It is by an almost superhuman feat of the imagination that one can comprehend a small band of people born and bred in the comparative comfort of Bonny Scotland, deeply moral and ordained to the Christian ministry, each one of them possessing an intellect of the highest order and educated to the highest levels of excellence in one of the five ancient universities of their country, to leave their home and live and work without recompense except for what will be barely essential to keep their and their families’ body and soul together, 7,000 miles away beyond seven seas in a strange land to educate the people of a town very different from theirs and not for one day or one month or one year but for a hundred years. Living here they must have missed hundreds of thousands of things of their country but none more so than perhaps the hills and mountains where they and their families were raised. The nearest in Sialkot to anything resembling a hill came into existence in the 1920s in the name of Mount View Hotel which had no mount and no view within miles of it – like the Greenwood Street concocted by some exporters to gloss over a vestige of greenery nor the sign of a wood in sight there. But just outside the garrison town at the crossroads is a giant milestone announcing that Sialkot is 0 miles from here and marking the place where the hot plains of the Punjab end and the hills of the Himalayas begin. And here if you can face north and lift up your eyes, as the psalmist, long ago, singing the Song of David, Psalm 121, did in a different time and place (I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills), you will witness on a clear day the most magnificent view of the hills forever cloud-cupped, a view which strikes in the onlooker the awe and magic of all things eternal. And it is perhaps here that these missionaries might have felt something akin to the feelings of home and one can imagine one of them one day standing at this spot gazing unto the eternal hills up in the north and being moved enough to carve verses in a milestone and erect it here as an enduring testimony to what he felt that day.”
When I joined Murray College, we still had a number of Scottish teachers. Rev. David Leslie Scott, an angel of a man, was principal and Prof. Arthur Mowat taught us English literature. A true scholar with great insights, he had taught at Calcutta before independence but it was our good fortune that he had come to Sialkot. The other day, my friend Rafiq sent me an article Prof. Mowat had written for the college magazine on Shakespeare’s dramatic art. Here is a snatch from it. “In order to be intelligently appreciated, Shakespeare’s art must be properly understood. A Shakespearian play was not produced for modern stage conditions. It was not ‘realistic’ in stage-setting, plot, or even language. It did not observe pauses between Acts and Scenes and thus did not furnish the audience with an opportunity to check the consistency of its component parts. It was a continuous, poetical play performed on a bare, intimate platform-stage within the limits of two and a half hours and conforming to the stage conditions recognised in Shakespeare’s time.” This could as well have been from one of his lectures because that is the way he spoke when he taught. I can hear his voice. He was absolutely brilliant. Prof. Sirajuddin was one of his great admirers and Prof. Mowat always said that Prof. Siraj’s notes to a poetry textbook called The Stream of English Poetry were first rate. I don’t think the two ever met.
Prof. Mowat was a man of tremendous scholarship, a devotee of Wordsworth whom he considered among the greatest of poets, and of Shakespeare. He was always to be seen in winter in gray flannel trousers and a tweed jacket. Every morning, he would bike all the way from Bara Pathar to the college, a distance of no less than five miles. At the time, I was much taken with Swinburne and found poems like ‘When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces …’ quite irresistible. Prof. Mowat would say, “You would outgrow that sort of thing.” He was right, though I would never have believed it. I once asked him if he had thought anything of having spent his life teaching ignoramuses like us. Would he not have rather stayed back home and taught at one of the great English or Scottish universities? He replied that this was what he had decided to do early on in life and he had never looked back, nor did he have any regrets.
When I came to Murray College in 1948, the memory of its legendary principal John Garrett and the philosopher William Lillie was still fresh in people’s minds. Garret had consolidated the college and made it one of the finest in Northern India. Dr Lilliewas a man of great learning whose book on ethics may still be required reading at many universities of the world. Rev. Scott’s father was principal in the early years of the last century and Mr Scott was born in Daska. He spent almost his entire life in Sialkot. His only absences were the time he spent every few years on furlough in Scotland. He married another Scottish missionary, Mary, and they had three children, Peter, Margaret and Agnes. In winter, Rev. Scott would take some of his smaller classes on the lawn with the students sitting crosslegged on the grass and he standing against a chair with a book in hand. Peter would sometimes appear through the bushes on tiptoe and make faces at the students. He was always caught by his father as someone or the other would burst out laughing at Peter’s antics.
We had some wonderful teachers. There was our English professor, the very handsome and elegantly dressed T.S. Dutta who had converted to Christianity, having been born a Hindu. He lived in Puran Nagar in a rented house right behind ours which faced Paris Road. He always had a shy smile on his face and I never heard him raise his voice at any student. He would bike every morning from Puran Nagar to the college, the bottoms of his well-pressed trousers being carefully tucked in with a clip so that they wouldn’t get tangled up in the chain which being greased was the ruin of anything caught in its teeth. I can still hear Prof. Dutta read in his soft, lilting voice the lovely and tragic love poem The Highwayman. ‘And the highway man came riding, riding, riding, riding to the old Inn door’ to meet the landlord’s ‘black-eyed, red-lipped daughter’ Bess who is tying a love knot in her dark black hair. In the end, Bess kills herself to save her lover. But the Redcoats get him anyway.
It was during my third year that Eric Cyprian came down from Lahore to join the English Department. He had been chased out of there, it was clear, by the intelligence establishment which has always been particularly virulent in the Punjab. Cyprian was a life-long, card-carrying member of the Communist Party, whether it was overground or underground. He had seen the other side of the jail wall and police lockup several times in his life. He had gone to England in the 1930s and returned with a degree in English lit. I am not sure whether he joined the Party while he was in England or whether he did so on return. However, until the end of his life, he remained a “comrade” and a proud one at that. He may have come to the relative obscurity of Sialkot but the operatives of the intelligence agencies – often called Kar-e-Khas walay – had not removed him from their watch list, with the result that there was constantly a man or two keeping an eye on Prof. Cyprian. Sometimes when he would ride out of the college on a bicycle, we would see that on his carrier was perched the plainclothesman on duty. This was mystifying until somebody told us that since the poor fellow assigned to keep an eye on “this dangerous communist” was always without a bicycle, Prof. Cyprian had offered to give whosoever was on duty a ride so that the poor bugger would not have to run after him or concoct some colourful story as to what the suspect Cyprian had been up to.
Prof. Cyprian was always smoking a pipe and he had a deep, grating voice. He was a brilliant teacher and he detested the establishment, all establishment. It is no small wonder that he was ever able to hold down a job. He used to live in the college hostel, of which he had been appointed superintendent. The hostel residents just loved him because he never interfered with them. If they were out for the night or playing cards in their rooms for money, he would leave them alone. There was one condition: they had to be reasonably well behaved. As long as they did not make a racket or get into physical fights, they were welcome to do whatever they wished, though within reason. It was sometimes said by the more conservative of the college staff that Prof. Cyprian had given much too much leeway to the students, but if Cyprian heard such criticism, he never gave a damn. His method of teaching was also quite different. What he wanted to do was to encourage his students to think, write and act creatively. He never preached Marxism as such but he encouraged the students to ask questions and not to accept anything as the revealed truth unless they were satisfied that it was so. He did not believe in rote learning either. I think anyone who studied under Prof. Cyprian gained intellectually and became conscious of things other than the prescribed textbooks.
Prof. Cyprian went as suddenly as he had arrived. We learnt one morning that he was gone and he had not gone alone. With him had gone a certain married lady with grown-up children. This was quite a scandal and a rather an un-Christian one. Where they had vanished, no one had any idea. However, some time later, we learnt that they had got married (she had, of course, duly obtained a divorce). They lived happily together until her death. A couple of years later, Prof. Cyprian remarried, this time a Muslim. What was most astonishing was that he converted to Islam and was named Ijaz Cyprian. When he died, I remember writing an obituary with the caption: ‘Ijaz Cyprian is dead: long live Eric Cyprian.’ Prof. Cyprian was one of the founders of the Shah Hussain College, Lahore. His last years were spent in Islamabad where he worked first at the newspaper Muslim and, when that closed down, at Pakistan Observer. His work on classical Punjabi literature – though he came from U.P. and Punjabi was not his mother tongue – is highly regarded by those whose opinion on the subject is respected. In him, Pakistan had a true revolutionary and iconoclast who remained loyal to The Cause when most others had thrown in the towel.
One of the most debonair of our teachers was Prof. M. A. Naseer, M.A., which was how he would always write his name. He was a poet but he taught mathematics and was never to be seen except in a smartly-tailored suit. Being very fair, he looked quite dashing in a navy blue suit. Even in summer, he wore suits, though some of the teachers, such as Khwaja Abdul Latif, donned bush shirts to be free of the discomfort of a tie and a jacket. Not Prof. Naseer. During muahairas, organised in the college or the city, he would always be asked to read his poem about lighting clay lamps and letting the flowing river take them away. The refrain of the poem which ran into many stanzas was ‘Diyee jala ke mein darya kau saunp deta hoon’ (The clay lamps that I light, I consign to the rive). Another of his poems that we all knew was about watching the crowds walk past him on a scented summer evening in Murree, the one hill station in this part of the Punjab that the British liked. The opening line was” Murree ki sham jaag uthi. (Murree’s evening has come to life). He left Murray College in 1956 to teach at Lawrence College, Ghora Galli, Murree. It was he who made it possible for me to get a year’s teaching stint in 1958 at that wonderful school in the hills as assistant master of English. The principal of Lawrence College was John Flecker, brother of the famous English poet James Elroy Flecker who wrote The Golden Road to Samarkand. (We travel not for the trafficking alone/By hotter winds our fiery hearts are formed/For lust of knowing what should not be known/We take the Golden Road to Samarkand). James Flecker, who joined the British consular service died in 1915 at the age of 31.
Before I return to my memories of Murray College, I should narrate what happened at my first meeting with Mr Flecker. I had been selected and was asked to report in the first week of April. I sent a telegram to Mr Flecker from Sialkot that said “Reaching on …” The first thing he said to me was, “You don’t reach, you arrive.” He also told me in the same meeting that you do not chalk out a programme, you chalk out a tennis court, nor is there such a thing as “pin drop silence”. The correct phrase is, ‘It was so silent you could have heard a pin drop.’ These three mistakes I have never made since that day, though I see them being made all the time in speech and writing in Pakistan, no less than in India.
Back at Murray College, Prof. Amanullah Khan Aasi Ziayee Rampuri taught us Urdu and was a classic representative of UP gentry. When he first came, he was clean shaven but in time he grew a beard. Some years later, he joined the Jamaat-i-Islami and stayed loyal to the party until the end, a matter of some regret to me at least because he was too tolerant a person to have joined what is essentially an obscurantist, fascist party, pretending to promote a vision of the future but dragging back those who follow it into a medieval world of make-believe.
Our other English teachers were Prof. Mathur who came from Madras, if I recall, Dr Khairullah who later became principal and learnt Hebrew to better understand the scriptures. He had an impish sense of humour and had he taken to acting, he would have made a great comic actor. He knew more about etymology and the origin and structure of languages than anyone in our part of the world. Late in life, he moved to Canada which was where he died. On the annual sports day, Dr Khairullah used to do a running commentary on the proceedings which had everyone in stitches. One of our seniors, Mukhtar Bhatti, who was once given a sound shoe beating by a rather unkind fellow girl student, who was not amused by his being at her heels all the time, was named JKW by Dr Khairullah. The acronym stood for ‘Jutian khan wala’ or he who gets a shoe-beating.
Prof. Tressler was the college’s great disciplinarian. One roar from him was enough to freeze the blood of even the most incorrigible troublemaker. He used to say, “In this college, you may go Scott-free but, by God, you will not go Tressler-free.” He was a history man and had gone to the University of Allahbad where he had won his hockey and tennis colours. He used to cycle every morning to college, as did most others. Some walked and a couple came by tonga. I do not remember any of them owning a car or a motorbike. The scooter had yet to be invented. Our teachers were simple, poor and utterly contented.
The students were terrified of Prof. Tressler. They would come to a dead stop at his sight. One stern look from him would turn the worst prankster into jelly. Kalim Akhtar, my friend from Jammu and my classmate, was one of Prof. Tressler’s established sycophants. Once he said to him, “Sir, you are the father of discipline.” ‘Repeat it,” Mr Tressler said with obvious delight. Even when Prof. Tressler was being kind, his tone remained stern. One day, by some ill chance, a tonga found its way into the college through the front gate. This was strictly forbidden. Kalim who was hanging around the gate immediately rushed to Mr Tressler’s office to report the infringement. The great man was in a kinder mood that morning. “O’ tell him to go away,” he said casually. “But, sir he has defied your standing orders (In Urdu the words were: magar sir uss ne aap ke qanoon ko thukraya hai.) Mr Tressler roared, “Throw the bugger out!”.
I can see Mr Tressler standing at one end of the hockey ground surveying the scene. He could smell a troublemaker from a mile. Spotting a suspect at the other end, he would scream, “You!” Everyone would stop dead in his tracks. But the troublemaker knew he had been nabbed. “Come and see me in my office,” Mr Tressler would holler. His office was the last place any student wanted to be asked to visit. Mr Tressler rarely punished or fined students, but he would give them such a going over that they kept their noses clean for the next few months at least. Once a girl student (Mr Tressler told me this story himself) complained to him about a certain fellow who was pestering her all the time. Mr Tressler summoned the offender and suspended him from classes for a couple of weeks. She came a few days later with another complaint on the same lines. The fellow was collared and sent out of college for two months. However, when the same girl returned a few weeks later with another complaint, Mr Tressler rasped, “This time, young lady, you are to go, because it is you and not the boys who are the problem.”
Khwaja Abdul Latif taught economics and cut a dashing figure, tall, handsome and, by all accounts, a ladies’ man. His sons, Rahat and Wajahat were in the college at the same time as I was. Rahat, or Raata, who was my classmate and the captain of our cricket team, left while we were still in the second year, to join the army. He rose to be major general. He was sub-martial law administrator of Rawalpindi and overall in-charge of the Central Jail where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979. There are many stories of how he assaulted the deposed Prime Minister in his cell one day, but I do not think they are true.
However, he did nothing to make the last days of Bhutto easier on him.
Wajahat, who was two years my junior but my close buddy, went to Government College, Lahore, took a degree in psychology, returned to teach at Murray College for a couple of years before joining the army as a psychologist on the selection board at Kohat. He spent several happy years in the early 1960s teaching at the Sind University in Hyderabad before sitting for one of those civil service examinations that earned him a slot in the Police Service of Pakistan where he stayed until he retired as a Grade 22 officer, the highest grade a civil servant can reach. I have always felt that he should have remained a university teacher but life is like that. You end up doing things you may not have wanted or may have wanted but would have been better off doing something else.
Prof. R.C. Thomas, who like Mr Tressler was from Allahbad, was head of the science faculty and taught botany. He was a superb tennis player and an Allahabad university blue. He was also said to be partial to drink but none of us ever saw him inebriated, though our only concept of inebriation was derived from the movies where anybody with a few drinks in him was obliged to walk about unsteadily, slur his words and finally fall flat on his face on the floor. When Mr Thomas spoke, his head would shake involuntarily. When Rev. Scott gave up the principal’s office and agreed to stay on just as a professor, the Mission board chose him and not Mr Tressler to be principal, something that nobody could understand or agree with because Mr Thomas was simply not cut out to run an institution. His daughter Promilla was quite a girl and the cynosure of more than one pair of eyes. She went to Government College, Lahore, for her M.A. in English. She was a natural to be picked up as a helper to an MGM unit led by famous director George Cukor who came to Lahore in 1953 or thereabouts to shoot a movie with Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger based on John Masters’ book Bhowani Junction. She also appeared in some of the crowd scenes. She married an Englishman who worked for the British Council, Lahore, as did her younger sister, the very pretty Robertina or Tina, who, following in big sis’s footsteps also married an Englishman from the British Council. In the process, she broke a number of hearts, but what of it! That, after all, is life. I think she was the girl friend of my younger brother Masood’s friend Mohsin Shah, son of our neighbour and well-known Punjab politician Syed Murid Hussain Shah. The crowd my younger brother Masood hung around with was made up of Zakaria, Mohsin, Shomail and some others whose faces I remember but whose names I do not. These fellows had their own world of cricket, books, movies and, above all, pursuit of even the faintest romantic possibility.
Prof. Vincent Amrit Das came to the college to teach psychology and became a good friend of ours. His brother Vivian was our classmate. Prof. Das stayed long enough to become principal of the college. He came to the University of Texas to get a doctorate, married an American and took her back. She was a fine woman and met a tragic death in Sialkot when the iron she was using short-circuited in their home. Prof. Das moved to the United States though after he retired from Murray College and now lives in Illinois. He never remarried. He used to tell us as students that the best way to win a woman’s heart was to put her on a pedestal and just when she thought you were going to look up at her in adulation, just cut her cold and walk away. “What will happen then?” I asked. “She will come running after you,” he said. I wasn’t sure then and I am not sure now if the Das Formula for Ladykillers works. I would say if a girl appears to show some interest, the smart thing is to cash in on it. Formulas only work in the labs, and not all the time even there.
One of the most popular figures in Murray College was that of our physical training and sports teacher Captain Moti Ram. There used to be all kinds of stories about his special brand of English. I never heard him say that but the boys swore that when he got annoyed with a student during a class, he would tell him to “meet me behind the bell”. He was always said to be fond of the expression, “Do, do, not do, what goes of my father?” He was a handsome man with a gray head. One student once asked him, “Master ji, were you out all of last night because I see a lot of frost on your head?” Master Moti Ram replied, “Son, you just wait for some years and you will have the same frost on that pretty black head of yours.”
These were wonderful people who loved their work though they could have barely managed to survive on the little they earned, they looked content. Our librarian was Babu Lal Din who had two assistants, Mr Daniel and Sadiq “Kana”. Sadiq was not really one-eyed really but had something the matter with his eyes, hence the name. Two of Babu Lal Din’s daughters, Hafeeza and Rashida, were in college, as was his son, Riffat. A new library was built while we were students and it was Prof. Mowat who catalogued books in the English literature section. Babu Lal Din would be in his high chair as you entered and behind his gold-rimmed glasses, he would watch all those who came and all those who went out, especially the latter because he did not want any of his books pinched. Actually, there was very little of that. We were an honest lot. If you were on Babu Lal Din’s right side, you could always expect special attention from him. If there was a book you wanted and it had a long waiting list, Babu Lal Din could always put you ahead of the rest with a wink. My father was fond of him and I remember a particular afternoon when the two Lal Din girls came to visit us. I was glued to the radio in the same room, listening to test commentary coming out of Calcutta with the Maharaj Kumar of Vijaynagar or “Vizzy” chortling his way through the play and Omar Kureishi saying “my word” every few minutes. I used to write the score in a book, ball by ball and could not afford to be disturbed when I was listening to the commentary. Those were pre-television days. I remain an ardent radio listener. Radio can bring you things. TV cannot. Effectively done, radio is a thing of the mind.
Emmanuel Gill who was several years our senior and a lecturer in English at Murray College while we were still students, became a close friend of the whole gang by the time we were graduating. He was cool and laid back and he wrote fine English poems. He was made to marry under pressure from his family. The woman was a doctor and a few years older than him. Gill had absolutely no intention of staying married to her. He was also planning to go to England to try his fortune there. The only quick way of getting out of his Christian marriage was for him to convert to another religion and he did exactly that. So technically, he was a Muslim for some days. In other words, to borrow one from the great Pakistan Air Force wit Squadron Leader “Lala” Muhammad Afzal, if in the past Gill was drinking like a good Christian, now he was drinking like a bad Muslim. Gill flew to England in the Spring of 1954 and never returned to Pakistan. He sent me a few letters from there in the beginning which were really rejection slips from various magazines to whom he had sent his pieces for publication. He finally settled down to teaching. When I went to Paris to work as the Pakistan embassy’s press attaché in 1972, I managed to find Gill in London. In 1973,he came to see me and we spent two or three days lounging around Paris. He had not changed but seemed to be very much into jazz. After that there was no contact. Word of his death reached me somewhere in the early 1990s. The year I forget. He had married an Englishwoman who had died some years earlier. I am told they had a daughter Julie who lives in London, where, I have no idea. Gill had an acerbic wit. Once Izo Massey said to him, “Gill sahib, you know all Gills are Sikhs.” Gill took a long drag at his cigarette and replied, “Izo, I can be a street sweeper but Sikh I am not.”
One of Gill’s poems – for which I thank my friend Rafiq – is called Fantasia Emancipated. This is how it runs: Fantasia they call her/So fanciful and fantastic/Her view so elastic/on Deity and ethics/Ugliness surrounds her/Horror all around her/Yet glory has so found her/To Deity and ethics/So prim and so pertinent/So full of sweet sentiment/And conscious of her commitment/To life and society/That chappie in white/With a forehead so wide/he is very inelegant/And his eyes so bright/He is much more intelligent/Than my dog so bright/In the head he’s light/When out of his element/I like him a lot/Though his head is rather bald/For his arguments so hot/On Deity and ethics.
The Christian community of Sialkot played a pivotal role in the life of the city. It was the foreign Christian missions that had set up the first modern schools there. Both Iqbal and Faiz went to the Scottish Mission school. Murray College was one of the most highly-regarded educational institutions in this part of India through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. So many well-known people were associated with it. The late Chief Justice of Pakistan, Muhammad Munir, taught there and had to leave under some kind of a cloud. Iqbal Singh who wrote such a wonderful book on Muhammad Iqbal, and later, on Amrita Sher-Gil the painter, graduated from Murray College, as did the Indian journalist Kuldip Nayyar (who was born a Sikh) and whose father, Dr Gurbakhsh Singh, ran a clinic in Trunk Bazar. The family also lived in the area in one of the back streets. Kuldip’s sister, Khwaja Mahmood who graduated from Murray College in 1944 told me, also was his class fellow. When Kuldip Nayyar came to Pakistan for the first time after independence to interview Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (I was Mr Bhutto’s press secretary at the time), I made it possible for him to go to Sialkot, something he had longed to do for years. In Murray College his inseparable friend was Khwaja Shafqat Ali, Wajahat and Rahat Latif’s cousin. They all lived in one large family house in Mohalla Imam Sahib. The house still stands there and members of the family still live there.
Another great institution run by missionaries, who also ran the American Memorial Hospital on Paris Road, was the Christian Training Institute (CTI) in Bara Pathar, Sialkot. CTI produced some of Pakistan’s finest basketball players, including Wallace Badruddin “Walli”. In our time it was headed by an American missionary named Mr Foster and the headmaster was a popular and dynamic person by the name of Lal Moti Lal. Some of our best friends were Christians. There was the great Massey clan: Izo, David, Illo, Nanna and Bha John. Then we had the soulful and artistic Francis Xavier who came from the village Sahowala near Sambrial about 15 miles from Sialkot. He wrote poetry, sang and played the harmonium. He was involved in a rather exciting event later when he ran away with a girl from the college named Zia Batool who came from one of the well-known Syed and Shia families of the city. They got married and stayed married for many years. It was quite a scandal but nobody lost much sleep over it. In fact, the general attitude was, “Good for them.” That was the sort of tolerant and good-humoured atmosphere in which we lived. We used to celebrate Christmas with the Massey family. By the time we would get there on Christmas eve, David “Baby” would be happily drunk and insisting that we all take a swig. Many of us would attend the morning service at the chapel at college, sometimes to be able to sit close to the girls but nobody minded. I do not remember one occasion in all the years I was at Murray College when there was a single incident involving a religious dispute. This sort of thing is hard to imagine in the hate-saturated atmosphere of today’s Pakistan.
Yet one more of the memorable teachers of the time was Dr Jamsheed Ali Rathore, whose brilliant son, Tajammul Rathore, who had scored a runaway first in philosophy from Punjab University and who had later gone on to get a degree in English, committed suicide for reasons no one has been able to fathom. Dr Rathore was a man of great piety. He also had a thing about Iqbal and used to say that if Iqbal was a PhD, so was he. If Iqbal was a student of Maulvi Mir Hassan, so was he. And if Iqbal was a poet, well, so was he. So what was all that fuss being made about the man! Dr Rathore had taught Mr Scott Urdu which was why he always addressed him as Doctor Sahib. Dr Rathore used to feed Murray College’s ants every day by sprinkling rice around their colonies. Prof. Maulvi Muhammad Din Bhatti, the great college wit, was not impressed. “Look at the amount of sin Jamsheed is stockpiling! Not only does he waste rice but he is also responsible for the murder of millions of ants because the moment he leaves, the crows move in and pick up both the ants and the rice they were trying to squirrel away.”
Maulvi Jamsheed Ali Rathore was not without a sense of humour. One of my classmates, Rana Muhammad Akbar, wrote out the entire story, plus words to the songs, of the runaway hit Barsat in his Persian test. He was awarded 20 out of 100 marks. When we asked Maulvi sahib why, he said, “Hard work must be rewarded.” He followed a strange ritual when he entered the class. He would stand in one corner and recite some prayers under his breath, his eyes closed and his chin touching his breast. Then he would go to the other corner and recite some more prayers. The he would sit in his chair on a raised wooden platform under the blackboard and “take attendance”. Unlike other teachers, he did not call out our names or roll numbers. We had to do it in the order in which they were inscribed in the attendance register. While all of us always called out in English, one of our mates, Jonathan K. Mall, invariably would do so in Punjabi. The class would burst out laughing every time that happened but Dr sahib never took any notice of it. Jonathan was duly marked present. Off and on, someone who was on the lam would have one of his friends call out his roll number, pretending to be him. Without exception, Maulvi sahib would catch the culprit. The worst punishment was, “Stand up on the bench and remain standing, till told to sit down.” He would not drink the water from any of the college taps. His supply would be brought to him by one of his favourite students. It was considered a great honour. He was greatly devoted to Imam sahib, the great saint of Sialkot and people have sworn, that after Dr Rathore died, that they would see him near the shrine.
Dr Rathore’s younger son Tahammul was our classmate and bright, but he was not like Tajummul who was a true intellectual. Tahammul went to the Hailey College of Commerce in Lahore, as did several of our friends, got himself a degree and went into banking. In Sialkot, he was known to be a “rather close” friend of Qurban Ali, universally known as Bana who operated the projection machines at the Minerva Talkies which was close to our college and in the next block from Tail Ghar, or the courtesans’ quarter where the most famous of them all was called Sardari “the well-stacked one”, she being rather generously endowed in that area. The Sialkotis felt comfortable with such names. I am sure her real name was Sardar Begum. After the Tel Ghar was swept off the street in another ill-considered and periodic “moral cleanup” drive, she moved to Lahore’s Mohni Road, behind Hira Mandi, where she became one of the better known madams of the city. If one of her clients claimed a Sialkot connection, he was sure to receive a “discount”.
Khwaja Fayyaz Mahmood would always evaluate female looks on his “Mai Daro” measure. He would say, “If I found this at Mai Daro’s kotha, I wouldn’t part with more than thirty rupees, if that.”
Bana was in some ways the most frequently cursed character in Sialkot because whenever during the screening of a movie, the lights failed or the film snapped, there were immediate catcalls from the audience in the front of the house which could at best be described as somewhat disrespectful to Qurban Ali Bana’s mother and sisters. In fact, Bana was the generic villain for anything going wrong in any of the city’s three cinemas. In the 1960s, several new cinemas were built on Commissioner Road which linked the city to the cantonment. But in the fifties, the fourth cinema was in the cantonment. It was called the Garrison Cinema and was built during the Second War, if not earlier. It showed English language movies for the most part and was patronised by army officers and their families. We would bike our way there off and on to watch a movie which we knew would never make the city where English movies were shown but only now and then.
Tajammul Rathore had a set routine. He would leave home in Mohalla Kashmirian in the early evening, walk through Adda Pasrurian, Do Darwaza, Trunk Bazar and make his first stop at Amelia Hotel, where he would stand against the counter of the small stand Agha Mubarak (called ‘Aspro wala Jinn’ behind his back) maintained at the entrance. Only the elect were permitted the liberty of standing against the counter and chat with Agha. Tajammul Rathore was among those privileged to stand against the stand, as Muhammad Zakaria, my younger brother Masood’s buddy reminded me in a long, nostalgic message from Italy where he has lived for nearly thirty years. From Agha’s tiny storelike stand, you could buy perfumes, toiletries, “fancy goods” like silk handkerchiefs and neckties and cigarettes. Others who were welcome to stand there and chat with Agha and exchange notes on the latest music – Agha played the violin and played it beautifully – included Arshad Majeed, who was to marry the tomboy sweetheart of Punjabi (and later Urdu movies) Musarrat Nazir, Khalid Pal, Riaz “Qibla” (called that because he would always address everybody as ‘Qibla’ or respected sir), Zamurrad Malik and myself.
Tajammul committed suicide, but why? nobody knows to this day. He could have been no more than thirty-six or maybe a year or two older. Though we never talked of philosophy for the simple reason that I knew nothing about it then, as I know nothing about it today, we talked a good deal about literature. He was a man of few words and would listen more than he would talk. There would always be a shy smile on his lips. He would shave every third or fourth day and I never saw him wearing a necktie. In winters, he would have a woolen scarf with a blue and black Tartan pattern thrown around his neck. It was always the same scarf and perhaps the same tweed jacket. His walk always ended at Bhed da Pull which was the geographical end of Paris Road where we lived. There he would stand for a long time against the railing with whoever happened to be with him at the time. Mostly it was his friend, Shoaib bin Hasan. Off and on, it would be Ahsan Pal Khwaja whom he liked. I would tag along off and on as well. Sometimes, he would drop in on his way home to chat with me. I would take him to my room which had a separate entrance from the side of the house (used off and on and on lucky days to smuggle in girls).
Tajammul once asked me if I had ever read Kipling’s ‘The Way through the Woods’. I hadn’t. “Read it,” he said, “it will leave you spellbound.” This is the poem he was referring to: They shut the road through the woods/Seventy years ago/Weather and rain have undone it again/There was once a road through the woods/Before they planted the trees/It is underneath the coppice and heath/And the thin anemones/Only the keeper sees/That, where the ring dove broods/And the badgers roll at ease/There was once a road through the woods/Yet, if you enter the woods/Of a summer evening late/When the night air cools on the trout-ringed pools/Where the otter whistles his mate/(They fear not men in the woods/Because they see so few)/You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet/And the swish of a skirt in the dew/Steadily cantering through/The misty solitudes/As though they perfectly knew/The old lost road through the woods/But there is no road through the woods.
Zakaria, my brother Masood’s friend, wrote me from Naples after I sent him the short memoir of Sialkot I had published in the Lahore weekly The Friday Times near the close of 2001, “Those names have triggered a million memories. Mohalla Kashmirian, Do Darwaza, Chowk Pasroorian, Shivala, Chowni, Akhtar Mirza, Chacha Muhammad Din, Prof. Tressler, Rev. D.L. Scott, Tajammul Rathore (his regular evening walk to Ped da Pull (that we used to call Trent Bridge) via Paris Road after a short stopover at Agha Mubarak Ali’s little store to buy fags and exchange a few or no words, depending on who knows what), Drumman Wala Chowk (Whisky Shah, Malik and Sons and the group of thoroughbred Sialkot elite sitting in a circle at Burmah Shell petrol pump in front of Amelia Hotel smoking and gossiping with that typical earth smell in the summer evening moist air after the passage of the mashki, the water-sprinkling man, N.Q. Khwaja, Abdul Hamid Khan, Khalid (Khallo), Hamid (Hammo), Babar, Jahangir Jango (Jhangex Mattha to us), Riaz Ali “Photo By” (apart from his landscapes decorating Amelia Hotel’s greasy light blue walls, do you remember his craze to photograph pitiless kites with their menacing look, feasting on dead cows, donkeys, dogs etc.?) Park Café (always called Kay-fee), Rahim Bux the waiter (‘Zakaria sahib, don’t say that the chutney is not hot enough. Wait until tomorrow morning. Swear you will howl. You will eat your chips without chutney for the rest of your life.’), Ghulam Qadir and Sons (the fantastic bread – double roti – and the savoury fruitcake one bought there). All those names bring back some memories and make me relive perhaps the best part of my life without visiting Sialkot. It is so strange. I miss Sialkot most of the time, but once I am there, I would rather leave soonest. Our Sialkot is dead. Its old glory is buried forever because Chacha Muhammad Din is no more around, selling oranges in front of Murray College main gate.”
Zakaria has mentioned Park Café. That was our hangout when we were not at the Amelia hotel or playing billiards at Grand Eastern Hotel in the city, a successor to the single billiards room at Shabeena Hotel where every game had a bet on it. The Sialkotis were gambling men and loved games of chance on which money could be put. But the game of billiards and Sialkot need a more extended account which will be found at the appropriate place in this memoir, which is what I have chosen to call it. Park Café was next door to Ghulam Qadir and Sons that the British used to call Goolam’s. The Park Café had two billiards tables, one good one and one bad one. They had put a table tennis table on a floor above. We were always hanging around there to play billiards. The regulars included Nawaz Shahid “Teela” (which he no longer is), Wajahat Latif, Zamurrad Malik and myself. Others came in the evening and we would sit on the lawn and drink tea, thanks to the hospitality and abiding good humour of the greatest waiter in the city – or elsewhere – Rahim Bux. He came from UP but had lived in Sialkot for very many years. He had a walrus-like moustache which gave him the appearance of an ageing but graceful Rajput nobleman. “Rahim Bux!” we would shout as we would gather around one of the tables in the lawn, sometimes as many as eight to ten of us. He would appear in the door which led into the café, take a look at his regulars, count the numbers, make an allowance for those who he was sure would be coming along soon enough and bring us piping hot tea. Our favourite snacks were the famous Park Café fried fish and chips with plenty of tomato ketchup and chutney. I have never had chips which were tastier. Rahim Bux never had to be told what we wanted. He just knew. I have no idea how long he was been dead or if he had any children and where they are. All I remember is that he served us with great love and humour and for that God will bless him.
The locals who played there – and by locals I mean those who lived in the cantonment, unlike us who all came from the city on our bicycles, riding double and sometimes treble – and who were mostly from the Ghulam Qadir family, included, in fact were led by Shaukat Sheikh, the most brilliantly artistic billiards player I ever saw, with the exception of the splendid Aga Saadat Aly. There was Sheikh Ghulamullah who hit hard and accurately and most of whose games were played against his friend Agha sahib, whose full name I have, to my shame, forgotten. Agha sahib was a tall and handsome man who was a serious amateur classical musician. He once told me about Raag Bahiroon Bahar which he said was one of the most beautiful in classical repertory. And it was and it is. There was also Sheikh Siddiq whom we called Siddiq “Jhoota” behind his back because most of his charming stories about earlier days were, well, not entirely rooted in fact, or so they appeared to us. He was a wonderfully warm human being and a handsome man who spoke in a soft voice and always had a story to tell. What did it matter if they were not always true? They were harmless, anyway.
Though I never got to be the local equivalent of Minnesota Fats, God knows, I spent enough afternoons and evenings watching billiards being played. In Sialkot, where I first got acquainted with the game, there used to be a table at Shabeena Hotel around which I could be found most of the time when I should have been in college or the library. The Shabeena was run by Mir Muhammad Ali who had a sign on one of the walls that said it was forbidden for those who fancied themselves as members of the gentry and those who were without funds to enter this place. That sign said everything you needed to know about Mir sahib’s establishment. All games had bets on them, both by the players and by those who were watching them from the only bench the tiny basement could afford. The city’s big time card players were often to be found in Shabeena placing big money on small games. Some of them even attempted to play but when one of them damaged the green baize of the table with an ill-aimed cue, Mir Muhammad Ali put an end to that nonsense.
Mir sahib also had that famous picture of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah playing billiards with a cigar tucked in his mouth. “If it was OK for the old man, it is OK for me,” he used to say. So in that sense the Quaid was seen as the patron saint of the Shabeena establishment though had he been alive and had he come to know what went on there sometimes, he would have rushed in with the vice squad to close the place up. Shabeena Hotel was never raided by the police because of Mir sahib’s connections and general goodwill in the city, but it was often invaded by irate fathers and even distraught wives in search of their loved ones who had been missing for long hours. It became such a common occurrence that we stopped taking notice of these enraged men and sometimes women. Once Mir sahib said, “A sign is soon going up on that wall banning the entry of fathers, wives and the like to this establishment. They should stay where they belong.”
As a young man, Mir sahib once told me, he had run off to Bombay because he was smitten with Waheedan, a star of the early Indian cinema. The length of her hair was legendary and the young Muhammad Ali wanted to see her and, even more than her, her hair. He sat outside her home for several days until one morning, Waheedan, curious to know who that young fellow was, asked her Pathan watchman (all watchmen guarding Bombay movie studios and the homes of movie stars used to be Pathans, and may still be) to find out why he was camped outside her home and what it was that he wanted. All the love-lorn young man from Sialkot wanted, Waheedan was told, that she should appear at the window, let her hair down and allow him look at her for as long as he wished. And that was exactly what Waheedan did. She also had the watchman persuade Muhammad Ali to return home to Sialkot where, she had it conveyed to him, his parents must be worried sick. Mir sahib said to me one day, “What sort of a country is this that we have got! In my day, young boys used to have a city to run off to: Bombay. Where can they run off to now?”
Shabeena Hotel actually belonged to a former post office official by the name of Zafar Khan. He was either under suspension from his department or had been sent home permanently, as far as I recall. The money with which he had acquired Shabeena Hotel was, well, to put it mildly, not quite earned in the normal course of service. Zafar Khan was fond of fast cars and fast women. Can a man ask for more! One of the first Buicks brought to the city was his. It was a splendid looking car which we used to greatly admire. He then changed it to a Pontiac, if I remember correctly, another magnificent piece of work. I think it was a convertible and off and on, one would spot one of the Khan’s lady friends in it. However, Zafar Khan who was a very nice man indeed, ran out of luck at some point and was arrested. This was a great scandal in the city. Those who always rejoice at the misfortune of others would wag their heads and make such predictable observations as, “Well, what else did you expect? It had to happen one day.” I do not know what happened in the end. Like all such investigations in Pakistan, this too must have come to nothing. A nephew of his, Iftikhar Khan, one of the most handsome young men I have ever cast my eyes on, in Pakistan or elsewhere in the world, was a good friend of mine. He joined the Pakistan International Airlines as a steward and here and there I would run into him. I have no idea where he is now, though he is not in Sialkot otherwise somebody would have told me.
The two wizard billiards players in Sialkot were Muhammad Yunus or “Ustad Khamb”, “khamb” or feather because he was thin, and Shaukat Sheikh from the cantonment. Shaukat was a touch player while Yunus was a fierce stroke player, hitting the ball with great power and deadly accuracy. Off and on, we used to get pros from other towns to play against Yunus and Shaukat for serious money. There was one birdlike character from Rawalpindi who once came to Sialkot and stayed several weeks. He wiped everybody out, until in a decisive, marathon, all-night encounter, Yunus divested him of all the loot he had collected in the previous weeks. The Rawalpindi pro’s name was Saranga, if I remember. There also used to be a table at the Officers Club in the cantonment where we would go once in a while, courtesy one or the other member. One could also be guaranteed a glass of draft beer from the bar. I never played billiards after I left Sialkot but the passion we all felt for the game still lives in memory.
Some great characters used to hang around the city’s billiards tables. The first table to come up was the one at Shabeena Hotel and when that establishment closed down, one was set up on Railway Road close to the artificial limb-maker A.F. Ahmed’s factory. That one was raided by the police and closed down. Perhaps the owner had forgotten to pay his “monthly” to the law. Then Khwaja Nazir Ahmed, Prof. M.A. Naseer’s elder brother, who had been in the hotel business in Calcutta – now Kolkotta – opened the Grand Eastern Hotel, named in honour of the famous one in Calcutta I suppose. There he set up three tables on the ground floor and that was where most of the city’s billiards players hung out. I particularly remember Ibrahim “Thekedar” who was a fine player and who used to talk to the balls. After executing a particularly deft in-off stroke, he would stand in front of the pocket for which the ball was intended and coo to it with such loving entreaties as, “Aa ja meray bulbul dey bachhay.’ Come right in, my little nightingale baby. His opponents were not amused and at their urging, the house finally adopted the rule that it was forbidden to talk to the balls. Sialkoti billiards had its own terms. For instance, if you managed to pot the red and your hand ball as well in the same pocket, it was called “gurdum kapoorum”.
Another character often to be found at billiards tables was Sanaullah who once lost the entire pay packet of his office to Ustad Yunus “Khamb”. The game ended well past midnight. Sanaullah left, much distraught and when Yunus stepped out on the street, he was waylaid by none other than old Sanaullah. “Your money or your life,” he screamed. Yunus gave him the money without hesitation because it was his anyway, though won fairly. Since Yunus was the most outstanding player in town, you only played him if he gave you a “start”, which meant that whereas you had to notch up only twenty or thirty to win, Yunus set himself to score a hundred or even a hundred and twenty. Nine times out of ten, Yunus won because if he managed to get his initial shot right and put the balls in scoring positions, he could go on to make what were called “breaks” or shot after successful shot. We did not see Sanaullah for some time after the Yunus assault episode but before long he was back. All had been forgotten or mentioned only when he was not around. He never played Ustad Yunus again. Abdul Rehman or “Manna Bagga” was another fine player and could even beat Yunus on a good day. He was called “bagga” – fair in Punjabi – because he was exceedingly fair. I think he lived in Mohalla Rangpura and may have been a Kakkezai Pathan of whom there were plenty in that neighbourhood.
It is strange how one’s life is intertwined with places as much as with people. Our Sialkot was inextricably linked with Amelia Hotel where we spent hours and hours drinking tea, listening to music and meeting friends. If things exist in some dimension exactly as they once were, I would like nothing better than to walk into Amelia one cold but sunny winter morning and ask Lal or Benny for a special tea with double milk and a piece of crisp buttered toast. I would also ask him to raise the volume on the radio that was always playing Radio Ceylon at this time in the morning so that I would better hear Lata Mangeshkar singing her heart out.
One of the Amelia regulars, Qazi sahib – never knew his first name, now that I think about it – used to say, “I am going to ask Panditji. Panditji, keep Kashmir, just give us Mai Lata.” It may not have been a bad swap but what Madam Nur Jehan would have done to Miss Mangeshkar, I hate to think. The Madam did not fancy competition. Amelia was founded by a lady whose name was Amelia and who was very much around. It was run by her sons, all four of them, whose talents were as varied as were their looks.
Also around was Mian Fayyaz, who was Hamid Khan’s classmate at Murray College and, consequently, of Faiz. He was a tall, stately man who served as the city’s excise and taxation inspector. That meant all the hooch outlets were under his direct control. He was not into cricket but he was very much into cards and a regular drink with friends in the evening. The Murree Brewery agency in the city was held by Faqir Syed Nazir Hussain Shah popularly known as “Whisky Shah” though nobody could have dared say it within Shah sahib’s earshot. He was – and remains – a gentleman of great dignity and class. He came from the famous Syed family of Faqir Khana in Lahore. One of his direct ancestors was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s prime minister. Shah sahib who played cricket well into his forties and used to bowl at good medium pace, played for the City Club. Shah sahib was in the British Indian army during the war as a young man and he had seen active service in Greece. There he had married a Greek and they had a son. I don’t know if she ever came to Pakistan, but if she did, she must have left soon after. However, Shah sahib kept in touch with his family in Greece and would also visit them every few years. I recall that when I was in Paris in 1972 through 1973, once or twice I sent some money to his son on behalf of Shah Sahib as at that time, there were several restrictions on foreign exchange remittances from Pakistan.
Shah sahib’s liquor store in the city stood next to Amelia Hotel. A curtain separated the front of the shop from a small backroom where only a select few were admitted and even fewer allowed to take a drink. I was always in his good books and was, as such, always welcomed affectionately, as was Khwaja Mahmood Anwar, Hamid Khan, Malik Ghulam Nabi, Syed Asghar Ali Shah who was lord and master of the city’s principal goods carrier station on Paris Road. Others who were allowed beyond the curtain included Abdul Salam “Bata”, Sheikh Mohammd Iqbal a.k.a. “Balla Dabbi”, Mian Fayyaz and some more. Shah sahib was very particular about people. He was also blunt. If he did not like someone, he would tell him so and even refuse to sell him any liquor and, under no circumstances, on credit. Sometimes, he would allow cards to be played too but regular game sessions were held at other places, including N.Q.’s home on Kutchery Road and a couple of other places in the city. It was out of the question for juniors like us to join the game because we simply did not have enough money. Zahoor Ahmed Khilji or “Jhoora Brownie” was Shah sahib’s shop assistant but as a volunteer. He was one of Shah sahib’s trusted ones.
A person of whom I always think with great nostalgia and affection is Malik Ghulam Nabi (uncle, I discovered many years later, of Zahid Malik, editor and publisher of Pakistan Observer). I have seldom met anyone with a subtler sense of humour than the old Malik. He was a contractor and was often running after held-back payments from government departments, the fate of all contractors in Pakistan. Once he brought a friend along at a big game of flash organised at N.Q. Khwaja’s house. Neither this friend nor Malik Ghulam Nabi won a single hand. The goddesses who preside over games of chance were not smiling on those two that evening. His friend had a peculiar habit. Whenever the player to his left got to deal the pack, he would ask him to let him “cut” the pack each time he completed a round.
Since in the game of flash which is only common, it seems, to India and Pakistan, every player is dealt three cards, he would insist on cutting the pack three times. The party took a pause for food and sat down again after a “cut for seat”, meaning each player picking out a card and the one with the highest card deciding what seat he wanted to occupy. Gamblers are superstitious people and believe that cards sometimes go to a particular spot or seat and not to the player. It just happened that Malik Ghulam Nabi’s new spot was to the left of his friend. For the first time that evening, Malik won a hand – though there was not much money in the kitty – and as he shuffled the cards and got ready to deal, his friend cut the cards. After he had dealt one card each, his friend wanted to cut again. Malik put down the pack and said to Khwaja Mahmood, “Mahmood, you know the crow picks up the cake of soap with which the woman of the house is doing the day’s washing. Now do you think that bastard needs the cake of soap to wash clothes. No, it is just a bad habit, just like my friend here who must cut three times. May be that is why today’s game has caused our financial ruin.”
Hamid Khan was always to be found between certain hours at Amelia. He would sit at a table that in Germany would have been called a stammtisch or the table reserved for special customers. Hamid Khan who had a fine ear for music was one day sitting sipping tea and listening to something on radio. He had a spoon in his hand and absentmindedly he would gently hit the saucer that a man sitting next to him had in front of him when the singer hit “sum” or the note on which she had begun. After Khan sahib had hit two “sums” without being conscious of it, when the man protested. “What do you think you are doing?” he asked. Hamid Khan took one look at him and said, “You can go sleep with your mother but nobody is going to stop me from hitting ‘sum’.”
The intellectual, business and artistic life of the city of Sialkot was centred around Amelia and there was always a generous, loving welcome and a hot cup of tea for those who were considered “family”, among which I was always lucky to count myself. If you had no money, which was often the case, you could eat and drink on credit and pay when you had the money. Good friends who were also good customers were never reminded that they owed. Amelia was our hangout, our “Left Bank” in Sialkot.
Like all good things, it too has gone to ruin, though it still stands there, a sad reminder of the way it once was and of the people whom it offered its love and generosity without asking any questions.
Everyone thinks his contemporaries were remarkable and everyone may be right. However, during my time at Murray College and Sialkot, there indeed were some extraordinarily gifted people around, the most extraordinary by far being Zamurrad Malik. He came to the college when I was already in my third year. After an initial period when we from the backwaters sussed him out as he had lived in Lahore and knew so many people we had not even heard of, we became friends. Our circle was made up of Mehdi Naqvi, Ain Adeeb, Khwaja Mahmood, Qaiser Shirazi (known as “six hankies” since he actually carried about that number on his person), Irshad Hussain Kazmi, Saeed Tabussum (who was a marvellous singer, good enough to have sung for the movies), Izo Massey and Akhtar Mirza,. Zamurrad had the most fantastic theories. For instance, he used to say that every third word in the Concise Oxford Dictionary meant “genus of fish”. If you don’t believe it, you can look it up, but speaking for myself I have no doubt that Zamurrad Malik was right and I don’t need to look it up. Every third word in the Concise Oxford Dictionary must mean “genus of fish”. Who knows why! Maybe every third thing in this world is genus of fish, which may partly explain why there is so much fishy business on this earth.
Zamurrad Malik had a theory about everything, from poetry to astrology to kite flying to existentialism to revolution to tea drinking – especially tea drinking – to playing billiards. He could read palms, work out a horoscope, decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, read and write Gurmukhi, quote at random from any of Freud’s books – and accurately, what’s more – explain the inner workings of the Kremlin, recite Punjabi mystical poetry, speak for hours on impressionist painting and why Picasso was different from a coconut, count the names of books that most people swear they have read but haven’t – Zamurrad had – and where to get a hot cup of tea in the middle of the night when everything was boarded up. Tea was to him what absinthe was to Henri Toulouse Lautrec, except that Zamurrad drank far more tea than Henri ever drank absinthe. Had they met in Paris at the turn of the century, they would have taken to each other like long-lost brothers. What is more, Zamurrad may have spun out a few theories about painting that would have floored Lautrec. There is no question but that Zamurrad was a true Bohemian spirit.
It is a shame that he died after showing no signs of an ailment and while still in sound health, of a heart attack, in one of his favourite places, Lahore’s Mall Road. And he died in front of a bookshop too, the International Book Service, once the haunt and permanent headquarters of that prince of Lahore’s boulevardiers, Sardar Muhammad Sadiq. Although this is not about the Sardar but Zamurrad, one can’t let Sardar’s name pass without recalling that he had once advised an emotional, chanting group of young hotheads that if they really were on their way to liberate Jerusalem, they might get there earlier if they proceeded via Beadon Road.
Zamurrad had come from Montgomery – which was how he knew Munir Niazi and Majid Amjad – but he had spent time in Lahore’s coffee house and its literary dives. And he knew men like Anwar Jalal Shamza, Moeen Najmi, Ahmed Pervez and his mad genius of an uncle, Michael, who could draw a perfect circle with his eyes shut. Zamurrad knew them all and there we would sit, all small town boys with big romantic ambitions, our mouths half open, listening to Zamurrad’s amazing stories. Whatever he did, there was a degree of excellence about it. He wrote a hand of such perfect beauty, both Urdu and English, that had he done nothing else but calligraphy, he would have had to do little else to prove his extraordinary talent.
One by one, as time passed, we moved away from the city, chasing our elusive futures in this or that corner of Pakistan. Zamurrad stayed and began to teach, first at Murray College, then at Jinnah Islamia College which was run by Anjuman-i-Islamia, Sialkot. When Prof Eric Cyprian, Manzur Ahmed, Amin Mughal and other comrades-at-heart and stalwarts of the West Pakistan College Teachers Association founded the Shah Hussain College in Lahore, Zamurrad moved there. He was a superb teacher of English and even a more superb Punjabi poet. In between, he had married his college sweetheart Zarina (whom he called “Major”). How many people really get married to the first flames of their youth? Like him, she also is gone and, of his children, one is in touch only with his daughter Qurratulain who is married to a very nice young man. She lives in Mianwali from where Zamurrad’s family of Awans came. His eldest son, Imdad from his first marriage to a cousin that did not last long, once phoned me from New York in 1996 or 1997, saying that he was there driving a taxi. He said he would keep in touch but hasn’t.
My cousin Shahid Malik recalled for me some years ago his first encounter with Zamurrad. Shahid, who now reports for BBC in Lahore, had come from Wah, which had no degree college at the time, to Sialkot which, in his father Nazir Malik’s (Bha Nazir) view, was a safer place for the moral health of this young man with dangerous ideas than Rawalpindi that was only 30 miles away. Shahid had to get into one or the other of the two city colleges. “Not to worry,” declared Mian Amin, another cousin of ours, “Malik Zamurrad is a friend. There hasn’t been a teacher like him since Maulana Abdul Hakim Sialkoti.” And with Shahid in tow, they set out in search of Zamurrad Malik. He was found (which is where they should have looked to begin with) in a dimly-lit corner of the Jinnah Islamia college tuck shop. He was smoking a Cavendar (he had changed to this brand when Scissors or ‘Qainchi’ disappeared from the market) with the remains of a “half set” of tea in front of him. Do they still serve “half sets”?
When told that the young man had a high first division in his intermediate, Zamurrad frowned, saying he had a prejudice against all those with first divisions. However, to prove himself wrong, he agreed to give the eager-looking youngster a test. “Translate these three sentences into English,” he ordered. The three sentences were: Tum ussay kiss hud tak jantay ho? Apni qameez ke button band karo. Wo apna kaam khatam kar chukka ho ga. Shahid got all three right, while secretly thanking God that Zamurrad had not asked him the English names of various vegetables. They became friends for life. Zamurrad never distinguished between his students and his friends, something that college management fuddy duddies frowned upon.
Zamurrad published only one book, a collection of Punjabi poems, called Ki Likhaan. It was published after he died by Fakhar Zaman who had become his friend. There never has been a second edition. Qurratulain, Zamurrad’s daughter, told me in 1999 that Fakhar Zaman has a large number of Zamurrad’s unpublished poems that he refuses to either publish (unless he has published them under his own name) or return. I should have asked my Lawrence College student Farooq Adam Khan “Halakoo” while he was the Big Honcho at the National Accountability Bureau in Islamabad to nab Fakhar Zaman and throw away the key until he produced Zamurrad’s missing poems.
Here, anyway, is one of Zamurrad’s poems, marred only by my tawdry translation. It is called ‘News’:
The TV is now silent/It’s only her lips that move/Her head and neck register the words she mumbles/Her eyes blink/ She goes on reading news/But the TV remains silent/For once I follow what she says/I look at her face and I know what she says/She has no voice, so her eyes can’t turn truth to lies or lies to truth/The line between friend and foe exists no longer/Today, her eyes are her own eyes/I look into them and I know what they’re saying/What you, I and the rest of us are saying/We who are sick to death of news.
Two people with whom I spent a lot of time were the brothers Kalim Akhtar and Nasim Akhtar, both now dead. We all came from Jammu and there was thus a natural affinity between us, our families having known each other for many, many years. Jammu, the summer capital of the Jammu and Kashmir State, though Punjabi and Dogri-speaking was not an extension of Punjab, as many seem to think today, but a city and a people with a style and way of life all their own. The Muslims were a minority but a gifted and vibrant minority. They all hung together and everyone knew everyone. Kalim and I were in primary school together. It was called Master Dadoo da School and we would sit on floor mats and intone sums and learn the alphabet. One of our teachers Master Allah Rakha like so many people of Jammu came and settled down in Sialkot after partition. However, the vast majority of Jammu Muslims was massacred in October 1947. The state-sponsored caravans or “qaflas” that were supposed to take them to the safety of Pakistan were set upon by armed men in a pre-arranged conspiracy. Few survived. The older women were killed, the younger ones abducted, including the daughter of Chaudhri Ghulam Abbas, one of the first among the Muslims of the State who fought for the rights of his community. But Jammu is another story and an untold one. This is not the place for it.
The majority of the Muslims of Jammu city and province who survived settled in Sialkot because at the time, most were of the opinion that these riots and communal disturbances would pass and people would go back to their homes. It simply could not occur to anybody that the line drawn across the map of India also marked the permanent separation of the two peoples as well. We always believed that we would go back where we had always lived. In that sense, ours has been one of the greatest human tragedies in history. And for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, there has been no closure since their fate continues to hang in the balance while India and Pakistan fight wars and when they are not fighting wars, they prepare for the next round. There were many camps around Sialkot where refugees from Jammu and the adjoining areas were made to live for a number of years after independence. One popular belief in Sialkot was that every woman on the prowl in the city was a Jammu wali. The people of Jammu took this sort of snide commentary on their morals with a good deal of humour and tolerance, virtues for which they were always known.
Once I recall running into someone at Shah Sahib’s Whiteways shop who asked me where I was from. When I told him I was from Jammu, he said something very funny in Punjabi, “Wah Jammu walio, jad de aye wo, sadian vi twadiyaan wangoon chalniyaan shurru ho giyyan nain.” While the flavour of how he put it in Punjabi is impossible to translate, what it roughly means is, “Bravo, you who come from Jammu. Ever since you arrived, our women, taking a cue from yours, have also begun to hit the street.” This sort of wit is very Sialkoti which is perhaps why the old saying: Sialkoti, haram di boti. Sialkotis are born rascals.
Kalim and I joined Murray College together. Nasim who was older to Kalim was still in Srinagar and came to Pakistan somewhere in 1949. We used to walk to college, as we both lived in Puran Nagar, through the green fields that lay at the back of our mohalla. For the most part, those fields are now gone and have made way for ugly housing. In other countries, houses are built so that those who live in them are protected from the harsher aspects of the weather. In Pakistan – and Sialkot is a microcosm of the country – houses are built according to some weird reverse airconditioning formula. They are guaranteed to trap the heat in summer and in winter keep the sunlight from warming those who reside in them. Kalim was always a writer and he wrote in Urdu and he wrote almost exclusively on Kashmir. The first biography of Sheikh Abdullah was written by Kalim though in his boyish enthusiasm, he built him up as a great freedom fighter when the fact is that if there is one man who is responsible for the misfortunes of the people of Kashmir, it is none other than Abdullah. He cannot be forgiven. His son, and even his grandson, are carrying on the Sheikh’s despicable mission. They remain Indian lackeys and they have proved that there is something to be said about the existence of the genetic code.
My lifelong friendship with Akhtar Mirza was formed at Murray College, though he was about three years junior to me. His father, Khan Bahadur Muhammad Din who in Bombay had set up a successful waterproofing and construction business in the 1930s was a well-respected figure in the city, which he visited every year. He was one of the engineers who had helped build the Sukkur Barrage. One of the engineering processes that he pioneered still bears his name and is used to this day. He was a village boy but he was born with the determination to succeed. He built up a fortune through hard work at a time when few Muslims had any money or any interest in callings other than the most menial ones. He used to tell his children that the most important thing in life was to apply oneself and to never give up. Akhtar was and is a photographer and in those days when few people had a camera, he used to go around with a Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta 35 mm camera with which he took superb pictures. Since everyone in Sialkot invariably earned himself a name, Akhtar was called either “Super” or “Kanta”. The farthest anyone of us had ever been was Lahore, more often than not to see a movie which we never expected to make Sialkot or, if so, not early enough. A group of us went to see Barsat at Rivoli Cinema some weeks after it was released. The Rivoli was owned by that debonair cricketer Aga Saadat Aly’s family and run by his mother, a most remarkable lady. We also travelled to Lahore to see Julius Caesar, From Here to Eternity and India’s first technicolour movie Aan with Dilip Kumar, Nimmi and Nadira.
Akhtar’s brothers Iskandar and Salim, the first one older than him, the other younger, also became my good friends. Iskandar Mirza was a very stylish and colourful person. He was dark and handsome and wore T-shirts and cardigans that were a rarity in Sialkot. He lived in Karachi and often went to Bombay, as did Akhtar. We would be regaled with stories of the great city and of its movie studios and actors and actresses. At the time, one of my greatest desires was to go to Bombay of which I had a very romantic mental picture. I also felt drawn to Bombay because of Saadat Hasan Manto who had once described himself as a “chalta phirta Bombaii” – a man who carried Bombay with him wherever he went. I was not to get to Bombay until 1981 and when I did get there, I was a bit disillusioned. It wasn’t the way I had imagined it, though I stayed at the famous Taj. It was depressing to see that the squalor of endemic Indian poverty and homelessness was within a block of that great and glittering hotel. The drive from Santa Cruz airport to the city had also been depressing because of the succession of shanty towns through which the taxi passed. The high point of my Bombay visit was just one. I finally met Qurratulain Hyder who has remained a great friend to this day.
My classmate and close friend during my third and fourth year was Rafiq Shah who always signed his name, and does to this day, as M. Rafiq. He was also in Prof. Mowat’s B.A. English honours class which he passed with distinction. Of him, Prof. Mowat once said, “He writes English like an Englishman.” This is was not meant to be derogatory of those who did not because Prof. Mowat was incapable of even thinking of making such a supercilious slur. What he meant was that Rafiq never used any Anglo-Indian or Anglo-Pakistani-isms that have made us the butt of so many Peter Sellers type jokes. It is a fact that most of us write and speak English as if it were a dead language. We continue to use expressions and phrases, particularly idioms that we love, that no Englishman would be caught dead using. Rafiq wrote in a simple and spare manner and had a feeling for the language and an amazing grasp of its grammar and structure. He taught English at Murray College at the same time as I did and stayed there until he went to England in the 1960s where he is well and happily settled, though he visits Pakistan at least twice if not thrice a year.
Murray College was perhaps the only college outside Lahore which ran M.A. classes in English. However, to sit the examination, you had to go to Lahore. Rafiq and I went to Lahore together for our M.A. final and stayed at my brother Bashir Ahmed’s father-in-law, Khwaja Muhammad Iqbal’s house in Model Town. He was secretary of the Model Town Society and had been a fine cricketer, like his other brothers, in his day. His youngest brother Khwaja Bashir used to open for City Club in Sialkot with Khwaja Mahmood Anwar. While Mahmood was well over six feet, Bashir was very short and they always looked a bit funny when they went in to open for their side. It was impossible to dislodge Bashir or to tempt him into making a false or risky stroke. There he would be doing what we called his “thip, thip” and he would be there at the end of the day with maybe twenty runs on the board.
From Model Town, Rafiq and I would take the excellent Model Town bus service to the Punjab University in front of Kim’s Gun to sit for our papers. When the examination was over, we were so relieved that we were practically jumping around like a pair of frogs who have had a dose of Three-X rum. We picked up our books and went to Urdu bazar to hawk them. We were not able to sell all of them but we did sell a few. I do not remember how much money we made but it could not have been much. However, in those days, even a little money went a long way. What is more we were content with little and grateful for what we had. By the way, it never occurred to us what we would do if we failed. Rafiq and I, barring some breaks brought about by distance and lack of knowledge of each other’s exact whereabouts have remained close and can read each other’s thoughts, such is the empathy that old friends can develop. Rafiq today in my view has the most complete and mind-bogglingly detailed and accurate information about the Indian and Pakistani film industry. He has been at it for years though I only learnt of it less than two years ago. It is quite amazing how much he knows.
Being an old boy of the college, I was offered a lectureship in English and I gladly returned from Lahore where I had taught for about six months. The average size of the class was over two hundred and so short of space the college was that the classes used to be held under tents. In one of my fourth year English writing classes at Murray College – called composition groups – was someone who became one of my closest friends in the years to come. His name was Khwaja Fayyaz Mahmood whom Rehmatullah Rad used to call “Khwaja Khanzeer” or Khwaja “Khin”, but of course behind his back as prudence demanded. Years later, when I was working at the Pakistan Times and living in Temple Road in a rented room, someone suggested to Rad that the Red Cross was asking for blood donations and Khwaja Fayyaz being a roly-poly fellow should be asked to donate some. Rad said, “I wouldn’t advise that because anyone who is given a transfusion of blood donated by Fayyaz will find himself in a happy state of drunkenness instantaneously, because there is more of 3-X Hirjina Rum in Khwaja’s veins than there is blood.”
Fayyaz would never come to my class and twice a week, I would duly mark him absent. He lived in the hostel and ruled the place. He kept late nights, played cards, took the odd drink and was not to be messed around with. The hostel superintendent had wisely decided to befriend rather than discipline him. I was told that I was better off with Khwaja Fayyaz out of my class than in it. Finally, I sent him a message that we should meet. I was curious to see what sort of a character this fellow was. We met in the hostel tuck shop or canteen. He was short and fat, almost square and his hair was short-dropped. He offered me a Gold Flake cigarette and we drank tea. Then we began to chat and I took an immediate liking to him. He said he preferred to befriend teachers rather than get bored saying yes sir, no sir to them. He also offered me a drink any time I desired one. In front of other students, he would call me Professor sahib but when we were together, I was KH to him. I left Murray College, went to Murree’s Lawrence College for a term and from there to Cadet College, Hassan Abdal before joining the income tax service, having by pure accident come first in the countrywide competitive examination held by the Federal Public Service Commission in 1958 to Finance and Other Services.
When I came to Lahore, Khwaja was at the Department of Political Science at the Punjab University and living in the Law College hostel, a classic place where most of the residents were not students. It was also one of Lahore’s better-known card-playing places. The game was Flash or “teen-patti’. Khwaja was very much into cards. When Khwaja moved out, he suggested that we share the top-story flat of his cousin Sheikh Bashir in Old Anarkali. We lived happily together for over a year until I moved out of Lahore. But we remained friends all through. It was always my attempt to get Khwaja a nice job but it never quite worked out. He was with Lever Brothers for a while, then with PIA at Faisalabad. His time in PIA had familiarised him with airline jargon. Once he told me that he was supposed to be meeting a girl but she turned out to be a “no-show”. When I was at Pakistan Times, we used to meet practically every day. At one point, we also rented the portion of a house in Gulberg’s Mini Market in 1967 and part of 1968. A year later, I left for the United States but with Fayyaz my contact never broke. I always think of him and along with him of my other friend of those days in Lahore, Sheikh Asghar Latif, Justice Maulvi Mushtaq’s cousin whom we used to call Asghar “Krim”. He too has “joined the majority”, as Abdul Qayoom “Hello” is fond of saying.
One of my great Sialkot friends was Abdul Salam “Bata”, called Bata because for a few years he worked for the Bata Shoe Company. He was what can only be called “one hell of a guy”, a true ladies’ man if there was one. He could produce a woman out of thin air and in the most unlikely situations. During the 1960s, he was running the Waldorf Hotel in Lahore’s Gulberg Market. The hotel belonged to his sister whom we all called Apa and who was one great lady. Her husband, T.M. Sheikh, who was one of Pakistan’s most dynamic executives, rose to become head of Bata East Pakistan when he was barely forty. It is a shame that he died of kidney failure when he was only forty-three. This hotel was one of the greatest rendezvous points in the city and you were always certain to run into the most unlikely persons in the company of, well, easy going ladies who had come to keep them company of an afternoon or evening from the city or even from out of town. It was one happy place. Occasionally, there would be visits to the premises at unwelcome hours from spoilsport minions of the law. However, they were seldom permitted to disturb the establishment’s honoured and until that hour, happy guests. Bata was a past master at dealing with such intruders.
It has never ceased to amaze me how the Pakistani police has been interfering with the good life of citizens in utter and complete violation of the law with impunity for so long. I must also confess that my brothers in profession, the akhbarwalas, at least some of them from certain sections of the Urdu press, have gleefully printed stories of police raids for the titillation of their readers (of whom I do not think much). There was one senior superintendent of police in Lahore, the late Sardar Abdul Wakil Khan, who had vowed to clean the city of all sin. The number of girls whom he pushed into the clinker was large as, no doubt, were the prayers for a befitting end to this self-styled chief inspector of morals. Since he is now on the other side, I wish him well, but he made a lot of Lahore’s young blades and their companions unhappy. May Allah deal with him as He considers fit. I mention Sardar Wakil Khan because Bata’s hotel was on his hit list.
The house that stood next door to ours in Sialkot was called Lachman Niwas and had been built by a rich Hindu family on the eve of partition. And though it has since been given a very Arabic and Islamic name, it was to the credit of the Ghulam Muhammad Hazir family that the original name had been left in place. The Hazir family was very much from Sialkot and came from Mohalla Rangpura where most of the cousins still lived. Hazir sahib had done very well as a contractor with the British Indian army during the war and the family was settled in Dehra Dun. He had four sons, the eldest being Mazhar, followed by Nazir who was universally known as N.Q., Zulfiqar, Taufiq and Shahbaz or Sheedo. Sheedo joined Murray College the same year as I did but left soon after to join the army. He rose to the rank of brigadier in the army aviation corps and died around 1980 while well below fifty of some incurable disease, probably cancer that John Wayne called the Big C.
Our hero was N.Q. who led the cricket team we had all joined, Hassan Gymkhana, which had its own separate nets at the other end of Connley Park. We were the “other team’, our rivals being the much older and far stronger City Club presided over by Abdul Hamid Khan and Babu Fazal Karim and containing a whole truckload of six-footers in Khwaja Mahmood Anwar, Mushtaq Mirza “Shako”, Mohammad Sadiq, Agha Sarfraz, Agha Mumtaz, and Mohammad Yusuf (called Yusuf “Goot” because though he never agreed, he chucked). Our team had a lot of useless youngsters like me but it also had the brilliant all rounder Shoaib “khabba” or left-handed who played against the MCC. He was a delight to watch, both when he was batting and when he was bowling his medium off and leg breaks. N.Q. was a character beyond compare. He kept wicket and was a good middle order batsman. He it was who gave some of us our first taste of Scotch, the brew which, to quote Saadat Hasan Manto, inscribes in one heady moment the words ‘Long Live Revolution’ as it races down your gullet. N.Q. was Hazir sahib’s favourite, and his spoilt son. Nothing was too good for him. He was one of the most handsome men I have known and he had a heart as big as the old Connley Park. He also had a tremendous sense of humor.
He was totally unself-conscious and he was capable of saying just anything in front of anybody. While N.Q. was tall, his father the venerable Ghulam Muhammad Hazir was quite short. Once N.Q. told us that if his father did not have a beard, he would look like his son. Another time, he walked into the clinic of Dr Bashir Ahmed and in the presence of about a dozen patients, after saying “excuse me”, placed his whaddoyacallit on the table right under the gentlemanly Dr Bashir’s nose. “There is this little pimple that appeared out of nowhere last morning at this most inconvenient place, so take a look, doctor”. Dr Bashir, blushing to the roots of his hair, stammered, “Khwaja Sahib, please not here, let me take you inside and we would take a look.” “But you can take a look at it right here,” N.Q. insisted, quite unmindful of about a dozen people, all trying to turn their eyes away from the sight and going red in the face while trying not to laugh. Khwaja Mahmood, N.Q.’s cousin, used to say that whenever he heard N.Q. utter the words “excuse me”, he held his breath because you could never be sure what N.Q. would say or do. In fact, N.Q.’s more outlandish acts or remarks were invariably prefixed by “excuse me”. Zulfiqar, N.Q.’s younger brother who was called General Jullo was of a less fair complexion than his other brothers which induced N.Q. to ask his mother one day, “Now tell me the truth. Is Jullo really Ghulam Muhammad Hazir’s son?” That was N.Q., very much N.Q.
We used to be invited to play against Officers Club in the cantonment, something we always looked forward to because of the tea break which used to be the high point of our visit with cucumber sandwiches and cakes of all kind. The Officers Club team was almost entirely made up of serving army officers, some of them British. There used to be Brig. Packwood who belonged to one of the Punjab Regiments. After he retired, he stayed on. He died in Lahore and is buried there as far as I know. There was also a Capt. Rowe who used to bowl leg breaks. There was also one officer (Capt. Shamsie I think his name was) who played for the Services team later. The Officers Club used to have a turf while in the city, we were still playing on matting. The first time I played on turf I realised how differently the ball behaved after being pitched. You needed to move in quite another way and readjust your sense of timing. Whenever there was a match at the Officers Club, deck chairs would be laid out around the boundary line where spectators who always included women would watch the play and even clap when a good shot was played or someone lost his wicket.
Another cricketing figure in the city that I sometimes think of was Mirza Bahar Beg who was such a great enthusiast that he had formed his own team, the third one in Sialkot, the other two being City Cricket Club and Hassan Gymkhana. Mirza Bahar Beg had gray hair and must at one time have played cricket because he knew a great deal about it. At the nets, he would carefully watch his players and tell them what it was they were not getting right. Once I heard him tell a strong, bull-like youngster who, we later learnt, was a weight lifter, “Son, cricket is a game which requires technique, not brute strength. If brute strength alone could make a man a cricketer, why, Gama Pehlwan, the world wrestling champion, would have been the greatest batsman in the world.” I also once heard him give this priceless advice to a talented youngster we used to call Deepak Shodan, after the Indian cricketer, “Listen, remember just this one thing. The ball that pitches at good length, play it with your foot forward; the one that falls short, play it on the back foot.” I think better advice to a batsman could not be given.
Another of N.Q.’s younger brothers was the poet Taufiq Rafat who died in 1998, having suffered a nervous breakdown several years earlier. Taufiq was a quiet person. There can be no question that he along with Kalim Omar and Makki Kureishi was the only genuine English language poet Pakistan can lay a claim to. When his younger brother Shahbaz Ghalib “Sheedo” died, he wrote: His wife gives me/one of his old shirts/U would like to think/they are being used, she says/He was tall and heavy/The shirt hangs loosely/on my smaller frame/but where it touches the skin/it will not be shaken free.
Taufiq married Rehana Pal, the most beautiful girl in Sialkot. She was my friend Ahsan Pal’s cousin and we used to pine for her. What a splendid figure she cut as she walked down the street, tall and utterly self-possessed and uncaring and, I am sure, unaware of her smashing looks. They had many children together and by all accounts it was a happy marriage. I asked Rehana, whom the family called Haani, after Taufiq died if she had ever asked him why he had stopped writing poetry. She said she had and in answer he had said, “I can’t seem to be able to put things together.” His name will live because he found a true Pakistani idiom for English poetry written in Pakistan. As Athar Tahir said, he took English to a new creative and imaginative terrain. This is an achievement only major poets have the gift of making. In my view, the best poem about Pakistan is by Taufiq. Written in 1971 after the breakup of the state, he called it ‘Pakistan’ and here is how it goes: Child and mother, I loved her/before she was born, and again/I call her my green one/in a panic of despair/A cripple at twenty-three/she has limped to the edge and now/stares blindly at the sea/Who are these secretive men/harnessing her where she stands?/Do I see feathers in the air?/Do I smell wax on my hands?
Those of us who were into books – and most of us were – would also hang around Maliksons, Sialkot’s only news agents. It was also a bookshop which used to carry both English and Urdu books. The Lahore newspapers used to be in the city by daybreak and would be delivered all over town by hawkers riding bicycles. Old Malik sahib who had started the business in the 1920s had five sons, the eldest being Hyder Malik who used to run Modern Book Depot in the cantonment, the only bookshop there. It still remains where it once was. One of the sons, Aslam, was my classmate, but my close friend was the one older to him Iqbal Malik who died in 1993 of a heart attack and whose sunny personality and hearty laughter I have seldom found in any other. It was at Maliksons where my friend Zamurrad bought the beautiful John Middleton Murry edition of John Keats’s collected poems that he later lost to me in a chess wager. This was ironic because he was a far better player than I was. He read books on chess and knew both the Indian and the European systems. It was from him that I first heard the name of the legendary player from Sargodha, Sultan Khan, who is listed among the game’s great maestros. His patron, Sir Khizr Hayat Khan Tiwana’s father who is known in Sargodha as “Sir sahib”, took him to England where he dazzled London with his brilliance.
Iqbal Malik was also the Sialkot correspondent of the Pakistan Times for many, many years, and later also of the Associated Press of Pakistan. He also used to bring out a newspaper of his own in Urdu called Hamdard-e-Pakistan. He died of a heart attack while on assignment at the local women’s college. It was his heart that gave up of which he had plenty. I was abroad when it happened. A friend wrote that Iqbal went suddenly. Just slumped to the ground and said, “God will make it all come right in the end.” He was tall, handsome, fair and blue-eyed, as were the other brothers. Prof. Meerza Riaz, one of the great Sialkot wits, once said, “All of Malik sahib’s sons look like a collection of laltains (which is what lanterns are called in Urdu and Punjabi).”
Maliksons was managed by Iqbal. It was at this bookshop that I bought my first books in English. I still have somewhere Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English that I paid seven rupees and twelve annas for. A lovely edition of Maupassant’s collected stories that I picked up at Iqbal’s urging, I was only able to pay for in four installments. I lent the book to someone some time later and never got it back. It was also from Maliksons that I bought Margaret Mead’s Growing up in Samoa (though I never read it) and J.W.N. Sullivan’s life of Beethoven. It is really amazing that in the backwaters of Sialkot, we had access to such books. But then Sialkot was always a city where people read books and wrote them. We used to spend a lot of time at Iqbal’s bookshop, marred only by the occasional appearance of “burray” Malik Sahib who actually used to sit upstairs from where he ran his little empire. He was a tall and austere man who always wore a Peshawari lungi or turban, a headdress that is truly noble. One day as he walked into the shop, Prof. Riaz Meerza said, “Malik sahib, there is more dust on the picture of Jinnah sahib that hangs on the wall than there is on his grave.” Malik sahib looked at Iqbal, “How many times have I told you jackasses to dust Jinnah sahib every morning!”
Maliksons played another important role in the life of the city. The matriculation, intermediate and B.A. results announced by the Punjab University in Lahore were obtained by Maliksons a day before their publication and proclaimed from the upper story which had a balcony, by one of the sons after the student who had sat the examination had deposited a rupee for the information downstairs. His name and roll number would be inscribed on a chit which would be carried upstairs to be checked out from the result sheets. It was amusing to hear, for instance, “Roll Number 7341 Muhammad Iqbal: Fail.” Muhammad Iqbal, roll number 7341 was, of course, not amused. Details as to what division those who had passed had secured were not available at that point, only the fate of the candidate: pass or fail.
Another regular at Maliksons was Prof. Asghar Saudai who wrote the famous tarana around 1946: ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya hai, La Ilah-au-Il-Lillah’. So was that delightful man Tasawwar Kirtpuri, the poet and journalist who also once ran the most unsuccessful poultry business in the city. There were quite a few things Tasawwar had tried, including screenwriting. When he was running his failed “murghi-khana”, to an army major’s wife who was going on and on about the tiny size of the eggs he had sold her, he finally said, “Begum sahiba, I don’t know how to put it more delicately, but were I to try to make my bird disgorge larger eggs, it would involve grave physical consequences for them.” Tasawwar’s maiden screenwriting assignment did not result in the film actually being shot and released but I remember a couple of lines. The situation, as Tasawwar narrated, is that a lecherous landlord is eyeing the budding maid who works around the house. He gives her a lecherous look, then turns to his gardener (this scene takes place in a garden) and asks, “Khillay huway phool pe kis ka haq hai, Ramu?” The gardener who like most servants in such movies is called Ramu, answers, “Jo tor lay maalik.” In English, the lines would be: “Who has the right to a flower in full bloom, Ramu?” “He who plucks it, master.”
Ijaz Malik was another friend who, a refugee from Batala, chose to settle down in Sialkot. He was called – as was to be expected, behind his back – Ijaz “Bagri” because of his personality and looks. He was tall and dark and he talked in the upper register. He used to be with either the irrigation or the public works department but the two had parted company rather early. Ijaz was doing different things at different time, including travelling abroad for a sports goods exporter. One when I was in Lahore, I got Ijaz a small loan from the United Bank Ltd. since I knew the manager. Some time later, the Bank asked me to intercede with my friend as none of the agreed repayments had been received. When I raised this delicate matter with Ijaz, he said, “Are you out of your mind? Who with any white matter in his head would repay a bank?” In the end, I suppose Pakistan’s most sought-after head of account called Bad Debts found itself with another entry. The moral of the story is: don’t lend money and don’t ask anyone else to do so, either, for anyone.
Ijaz, who was a great fan, friend and admirer of Chaudhri Anwar Aziz, Pakistan’s most astute political strategist after Mian Mumtaz Muhammad Khan Daultana – at least in my opinion – had given Ijaz yet another name: “ghappar qainch” which is a tortoise in Punjabi. If there was anyone Ijaz admired, it was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, many of whose great speeches and passages from his writings, he knew by heart and would recite on demand. Ijaz believed that the partition of India was a mistake. Once he said that the subcontinent had been “done in” by two Gujarati Kathiawaris. “Who?” someone asked. “Gandhi and Jinnah,” he replied. He was not surprised by Pakistan’s inability to settle down. He used to say, “This was only to be expected.” He also used to say that had India not been divided, the Muslims would have been a formidable minority with tremendous clout. But the Muslims of the subcontinent had been divided while the non-Muslims had been unified in one solid block. Ijaz was not optimistic about the future of the country. There is enough reason to feel that way for anyone who cares about such things. His death in 2000 took away one of the most colourful personalities of the city.
The streets which lay at the back of Paris Road were collectively called Puran Nagar. Before independence, it was exclusively peopled by Hindus and Sikhs who, of course, were all gone when we moved into our house. Their homes had gone to – or been allotted to, as the term went – to refugees from East Punjab and Jammu. Some wily locals had managed to sneak in too though they had no business to be in occupation of those properties. It has been said that if a single progenitor of corruption in Pakistan were to be identified, it would have to be the Department of Rehabilitation which was set up to deal with the millions of homeless people pouring across the border into the new state of Pakistan. A similar department was created in India but it completed its work in a few years while in Pakistan the Rehabilitation Department ran on for over twenty years. False and inflated claims were filed and approved because money changed hands. Once a claim was approved, the applicant was given a claim book that he could hawk for a profit. That was one door through which the locals were able to gain possession of properties abandoned by non-Muslims in 1947. They would buy a number of claim books and get the house that they had their eye on.
Few of the people from our time are around. Many moved years ago to other cities, at home or abroad. Even more have gone on a longer journey from which even that slippery rascal Houdini was unable to return. With Khwaja Mahmood Anwar’s death a couple of years ago, one of my last secure links with Sialkot was snapped. N.Q. Khwaja is gone and the great Abdul Hamid Khan, the doyen of cricket, died years ago. He had also gone to college at Murray and about the same time as Faiz. He used to bowl a mean off break which the entire world, except the bowler, swore was the result of a murderously suspect action. Naturally, he could turn the ball at 45 degrees or less. He used to say, “Anyone who bowls a lesser off break than mine is not a bowler and anyone who bowls a bigger one is a nut.” He had never missed a single important match played at Lahore since he was a young man. He never married because he was wedded to cricket and chess. Marriage and its offshoots would have interfered with cricket, so he had decided to stay single.
The Khans of Beriwala Chowk were to cricket what the Barrymores in another world and another time were to acting. Hamid Khan, whom N.Q. Khwaja, the most colourful cricketing personality of the time, used to call ‘Pagal Khan’, a playful description only the irreverent N.Q. could have got away with, was in turn called N.Q. ‘Jungi’. Jungi being mad in a Bertie Woosterish way. The entire Khan family was made up of cricketers. Hamid Khan’s nephews, Khalid, Hamid, Babar and Jahangir were all fine cricketers. Khalid Khan who was Skipper Kardar’s contemporary or a couple of years younger, could have played for Pakistan had he devoted himself to the game more seriously. He was a natural. Aftab, Hamid Khan’s brother had played in NICA which was what the Northern India Cricket Association was called. After Pakistan, he played for the Services XI for many years. But more of him later.
Of Hamid Khan’s nephews, Khalid or Khalo could easily have played for India, so good he was, but people say he lacked application. He was at Murray College but moved to Prince of Wales College, Jammu, at the urging of Sheikh Rashid, the popular professor whose passion in life was cricket. Sheikh Rashid was killed during the 1947 bloodbath by, it is said, one of his Hindu students, such were the times. Khalo later came to Islamia College. He practically looked like a Greek god and was as stylish in the execution of his strokes as Nazar Muhammad, Pakistan’s great opener with Imtiaz Ahmed whose career came to a tragic and early end when to escape Madam Nur Jehan’s jealous husband’s goons, he jumped from the window of a place of assignation and landed on his arm. He never played cricket again. Love costs, and sometimes heavily. Khalo’s eldest brother was Maqbul Javed though everyone called him “Boola”. He was a fine all rounder but did not play representative cricket. He had a dry, acerbic wit which he often matched with that of C.A. Hamid, alias "Meeda Guddi". C.A. once said that if Boola spat on a patch of green grass, it would immediately catch fire.
C.A. was a man who did what pleased him. He was also sure to do exactly the opposite of what he was advised to do. I recall a particular match for which he was told to open the innings. C.A. was not an opener and was being sent as a sacrificial lamb or “qurbani ka bakra”. It is a given in cricket that you do not square cut as long as there is shine on the ball which makes it swing. If you do, you will either be caught in the slips or bowled neck and crop. C.A. said he did not buy that at all. If one timed the stroke correctly, one could cut or chop the ball no matter how much shine it had. C.A. said those who said you could not cut a ball should watch him square cut Ajmal Malik from Gujranwala who could bowl at great pace. It was Ajmal Malik whom C.A. faced that morning as he went in. Ajmal Malik was called “Cyclops” or simply Ajmal “Kanna”, since he was one-eyed. It was a cold morning and the grass was still dewy. We watched the encounter from the boundary line, holding warm cups of tea. Ajmal Malik walked to the start of his run which was a full twenty-two paces, turned and came in. C.A. after taking guard had moved well outside the leg stump with the object of executing his promised square cut. The Pride of the City of Wrestlers, “Cyclops” Ajmal, already a rising star, came in like a freight train, bowled short and in a wild arc, the ball swung away, only to be gathered somewhat precariously by the wicketkeeper.
C.A. stood perfectly still and when he was sure that the ball had been gathered, he shuffled his right foot a few inches towards the slips, raised his arms high in the air, holding the bat as a matador holds his cape. “Well left,” we screamed. It was another matter that he had gone into the text book motion of leaving a ball alone or doing a “well left” after the ball was already in the wicketkeeper’s hands. The next three balls were also short and rose menacingly outside the off stump. C.A. left them all well alone, striking the classic well-left pose as many times. The last ball of the over fell at perfect length. It was the kind of delivery that can only be kept from doing grievous harm if the batsman puts his head down, shuffles his left foot forward and brings down his bat slowly, respectfully and absolutely straight to block the missile from going where it has been intended to go. C.A. did no such thing. He leaned back, brought his bat down at a radical angle to square cut, but laws of physics being laws of physics, it was not to be. C.A. lost his middle stump and one of the two bails had to be retrieved from the boundary line. The other could not be found. Perhaps it had flown to Gujranwala which, after all, was only forty miles away.
C.A. would come to the cricket ground riding a bike from Kashmiri Mohalla, a bike that was always without brakes, C.A.’s feet being his brakes. His kit was always unique. If his shirt was white, his trousers were bound to be khaki and if his shoes were freshly “blancoed”, his shoelaces had to be brown or black. C.A. first ran off to Bombay in 1946 to become an actor but returned to Sialkot after a year. We heard that C.A. had managed to break into the movies but had decided to return home for some time. In Sialkot, he made one “movie” but that was directed by N.Q. Khwaja to test his new 8 m.m. movie camera. C.A. played the villain who tries to decamp with the heroine (Promilla Thomas, Prof. Thomas’s daughter, but more about her later). The hero was Inyat Khwaja, who thereafter was known in the city as Hero or “Naita Hero”. However, C.A.’s heart was not in Sialkot. It was in Bombay where he eventually returned, never to come back. My friend Akhtar Mirza says C.A. has died. He learnt it from his eldest brother Fazal Karim who never came to Pakistan and stayed on to manage the business their father had set up.
I often think of C.A., especially when I watch someone make a square cut. I also think of C.A.’s ingenious theory that you can cut the new ball perfectly as long as your timing is right. I am sure on a perfect day, in a perfect world, it is perfectly possible to execute a perfect square cut with the new ball swinging away. I believe it can be done because C.A. said so and I like to think he was right.
Hamid Khan’s brother Major Aftab Ahmed Khan was a superb all rounder. The eldest, Aziz Khan, had also played cricket. He married the handsome Indian screen actor Al-Naseer’s sister, a statuesque beauty. Aftab could turn the ball both ways, making full use of his great height and a very large pair of hands. In fact, so large were his hands that when he held the ball, it seemed to shrink several times. He took a short start and came in at an angle. Aftab was quite a batsman, going in at number six or seven. He was at Murray College in 1933-34 when, it is said, he was noticed by the great cricket organiser, Colonel Aslam, who took him to Islamia College, Lahore, for which he performed brilliantly in 1935-36, helping it defeat Government College in a historic encounter in which he scored a hundred runs and bagged twelve wickets. After the match, the entire Islamia College team was taken in procession through the streets of old Lahore. All the players were carried shoulder high by the jubilant crowd of students with Aftab, the hero of the day, being carried the highest. He went to Aligarh University from Islamia College and helped the University beat the Punjab University for the famous Rowlinton-Baria Trophy in December 1939. Thereafter, Aftab became a professional with the Maharaja of Patiala’s famous cricket team which already had two of his cousins, Agha Mumtaz and Agha Sarfraz playing for it. Agha Mumtaz was one of the most attractive stroke-makers that I have seen and Agha Sarfraz – who was to become an accomplished Sufi in later life – was a deceptive googly bowler.
My friend the later Farooq Mazhar, the doyen of Pakistani sports writers who covered eight Olympics and every major hockey tournament in the world from 1965 for the next thirty-eight years, once told me that Col. Aslam was never depressed after a defeat. He would say, “That is one less defeat I was fated to face in life.”
With the exception of Jango, who after living many years in Saudi Arabia and the American Midwest settled in Lahore, the rest of the clan moved to Wah, which is less than twenty miles from Rawalpindi. Boola and Hamo have retired and made the once-placid village, but now a fair-sized, town their home. One brother Tahir Khan “Taro” died some years ago. His great passion in life was pigeons. Hamid Khan never left Sialkot and died, still single, in the late 1980s, if I recall rightly.
As mentioned earlier, Sialkot used to host one of the best-known tournaments in this part of the subcontinent called the Connley Cricket tournament. It used to be played around Christmas time and it continued to be held well into the late 1960s. There was no cricketer of note, before or after independence, who did not play Connley. It was there that I first saw Skipper A.H. Kardar, who had just returned from England (he scored 49 quick runs), Imtiaz Ahmed, Maqsood Ahmed “Merry Max’, Miran Bux, who became the oldest person to play a test match at 47 and many, many others, including Syed Wazir Ali and Syed Nazir Ali, both of whom had played for India. I don’t think the tournament has been dead for many years.
One of the great cricket characters of the city was Ustad Muhammad Shafi who was allied with the City Cricket Club and who gained local immortality as the world’s most dicey umpire. He could not be made to raise his finger for love or money if the appeal was directed against one of the local lads. In the West Indies, he would have been lynched, and then some more for keeps. It was Ustad Shafi, known behind his back as Shafi “Bagla” because he did look like a stork, being tall and fair with a long nose, who after having spontaneously said “well held” as the batsman, a local lad, snicked one which the keeper held by diving to first slip, turned down the appeal with a firm “not out”. The fielding team could not believe its ears. One of the players said to Ustad Shafi. “Ustad, that snick was even heard in Gujranwala.”
Ustad was also not averse to indicating to a big hitter from the local team that the next ball was going to be called. If you are facing a spinner and you know that the next delivery is a no ball, obviously, you are going to step out of the crease and get ready for the big one. Once a batsman who had been given out LBW when in no way was he covering the wickets as the ball hit him on the pad, said to Ustad, “I am not out and the whole world knows it.” “You are out and that is what the scorebook will say. Years later, it is the scorebook people are going to believe, not your stories.” Wise words those. When Ustad was standing, the local lads could do nothing wrong, including the known chuckers. A Lahore team which was skittled out by Hamid Khan and Yusuf “Goot” went back and printed a protest letter in the Pakistan Times captioned ‘Stoned at Sialkot’. The great Lahore cricket character Sharif “Charcha” of Friends Club said to Ustad Shafi after a match, “Muhammd Shafi, jud mein tainoon takna waan, te meri akhhan dey wich khoon uttar aanda wey.” (When I see you, so angry do I get that blood flows into my eyes.)
The most endearing thing about the people of Sialkot is their sense of humour. They are also adept at giving people nicknames. Offhand, let me recall a few. There was, of course, the dodgy umpire Ustad Mohammad Shafi “Bagla”. Then there was Shafi “Botel’, called that because when he laughed he sounded like a soda water bottle being popped open. And there were the two famed fighters, Basheera “Gheesi” and Chaudhary Qudratullah “Qujja”. I once saw them fight each other and I have no doubt they could have knocked out any of the martial arts experts that we see in the movies. They did their fighting the good old way with no punches pulled and no quarter given. A beggar who was not quite all there used to be known as Balam “Coconut”. Why, I don’t know. And there was another character called Manna “Warrant”. A friend of my father’s, Mian Bashir, was known in the city as Bashir “Cobra” and there was Mian Asghar “futta-fut”. The name was well deserved because he talked at about the same speed as a Kalashnikov spits out bullets. Our friend the movie director Khwaja Sarfraz was known as Sarfraz “Kala” because he was fairer than a European. There was Mooda "Chura", called that because he was mean and tight-fisted. One of my younger brother Masood’s friends was known as Billa Botany. I also remember fondly Zahoor or “Joora “Brownie”. He had acquired the name because of Café Brownie, a new tea place close to Drumman wala Chowk. As you came in, you were greeted by a pretty Anglo-Pakistani girl whom everyone called Miss Bownie. Zahoor had a crush on her and he used to hang out there a good deal, hence the name. Once it was said Miss Brownie told Zahoor, “Joora, tum dil chotta na karo. Ek baby hum tum se bhi lai ga.”
The girls who were in college with us also had names. One of them, given her girth, was known as “Sofa”, another who was short and impish was often referred to – and not too charitably – as “Burmi Badawa” or the Burmese imp. Yet another was called “Jeep”. She was short and plain and rolled like the vehicle she was named after. A girl named Salim – not Salima but Salim – was called Salim “Genius” for some reason. Another one who looked rather rustic was called “Daultay” though her real name was Mumtaz. She was with us in the first year. The other girl was Sarwat who, being extremely, thin was referred to as Sarwat “Chooyee” or Sarwat the little mouse. There was also the lovely Parvin Gul with whom I was romantically attached who was called “Teelo”. Then we had Katherine D. Mall who had lovely brown eyes and a pert nose. She was Katie to all of us. Some years ago, I ran into a young girl who worked at my brother’s advertising agency in Lahore. The moment I saw her, I knew she was Katie’s daughter. And she was. I am sure the girls had their own names for the boys but what they were, we did not know. I think I was called “Chitta Kukkar” or the white rooster.
The prettiest girl in the college was Shaukat Qureshi. In fact, three of the sisters were there at the same time, the eldest being Khurshid and the youngest being Anwar. The family came from Malir Kotla. While the other sisters were not bad looking, they tended to be short. I fear in later life they must have put on more than a bit of weight. Anwar was quite pretty too but it was Shaukat of whom everyone was enamoured. She was in our class but belonged to the medical group. It was rumoured that Munawwar, one of our classmates who was from out of town and lived in Puran Nagar, had managed to make some progress with her. He was a quiet fellow and he had a great deal of charm. He used to wear colourful bush-shirts which looked good on him with his brown skin and dark eyes. We never asked him in so many words if what was rumoured about Shaukat and him was true, but everyone felt rather envious of him. Now that I think about it, I think they may at most have exchanged a few words and may even have dared to meet somewhere for a few moments. Love affairs tended to remain largely platonic in those days. If it was indeed true that Munawwar had had some success, then the line in the poem included in Bridges of Song, our intermediate English poetry text, was correct. “He took her with a sigh,” it said of a quiet stranger who came from nowhere, never said a word to anyone and succeeded where others had failed.
Shaukat’s declared and quite public admirer was our classmate Nisar Ahmed who came from the neighbouring town of Narowal. He was known as Nisara 137, that being his roll number in class. I remember mine. It was 156. Nawaz “Teela” was 163 and Kalim Akhtar was 339. Nisara was madly, inconsolably in love with Shaukat Qureshi and he had told us often that he was going to do something about it. She, of course, in her imperious way just ignored him, as she ignored everyone else, except perhaps Munawwar, assuming those stories were true. We never thought much of Nisara’s declarations that he was going to do something about it. However, he surprised us all. One morning when we arrived for our classes, the big news in the college that Nisara 137 had been expelled by Mr Scott. By the afternoon, this had been confirmed. And what had he done? Well, he had waited in the street in front of Shaukat’s home one evening and as she had turned the corner, he had jumped forward like a cat, shouted “Shaukat” and thrown his arms around her. She had pushed him aside and rushed through inside to safety. Next morning, she had gone to Mr Scott, told him what had happened and what Nisara 137 had done. Nisara was summoned; asked if it was true and when he had said it was, our kind-hearted principal had said in his characteristic style, “I am afraid, we have to punish you.” Nisara disappeared for some weeks but was readmitted. From then on, the rest of us did look at him with a certain amount of admiration because what he had done, none of us would have had the courage to do. Think of, yes, but do it, no.
Many years later, Shaukat Qureshi who had become a doctor came to work at the Combined Military Hospital in Sialkot cantonment. Nawaz Shahid “Teela”, who had also been a secret Shaukat Qureshi admirer, and I decided that we should go to the hospital and meet her. After all, we had been class fellows though she had never shown the least interest in any of us. We ascertained her duty hours and waited outside the hospital for her to come out. When she finally emerged, we walked up to her and said hello. She just walked past us as if we did not exist. I thought that was a pretty poor show of good manners. After all, it had been more than ten years since we had left college and she could have exchanged a few pleasantries with us. Some time later, Nawaz went abroad and sent her a postcard from Rome at my suggestion. The postcard had only one line that I had drafted for him. It said, “From the Eternal City, I send you my love eternal.” Of course, nothing came of it. I have no idea where Shaukat is or what happened to her. She had lovely eyes and her skin glowed. She was a looker but as the Germans say wozu or what is the use!
All of us were in love with one or the other. Zamurrad was in love with Zarina whom he called Major. He eventually married her. Ain Adeeb had a thing for Nusrat Hashmi, whom he married. All four are now gone, resting in peace in a place where there are no partings. One of the senior girls who came from Pasrur was named Cora. She was dark but she was quite lovely. She was supposed to be the girl friend of Safdar Butt who was three years our senior. I used to long for a girl called Nasim but never could muster courage to speak to her. For a while, I was called Khalid Hasan Nasim. She went to the medical college in Lahore but what happened to her or where she now is, I do not know. Her father was a watchman at the Ordnance Clothing Factory in the cantonment and the family lived in a two-room attached quarter. Some of us would often go there and sit across the road on a low brick wall for hours, hoping to catch a glimpse of Nasim, but we never did. I am quite sure she knew we were out there.
Sialkot has more millionaires today than Gujranwala has flies. And I am happy to report that, finally, they have decided that since the government won’t do anything for them, such as build them an airport, they are going to do it themselves. A project with external collaboration is already well underway.
Perhaps the people of the city will also spend a bit of time and some money to build befitting memorials to two of its greatest sons: Muhammad Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz