THE WAY IT WAS: Far away and long ago

Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

I recall in the early sixties sighting a pair of partridges scramming across the dusty road on right bank of the canal. They took to the air only when they felt their space was being too rudely invaded. They flew off towards the mustard fields adjacent to Mian Mir. In those days, how so ever diffidently, we were willing to share space with other creatures

It doesn’t really matter when I was born. Mother tells me that it was after midnight on a cold November night in 1938. Like everyone else, I grew up and had to contend with several schools till I was put in the boarding at Aitchison. The first school I joined was in Bahawalpur. The next school I went was at Kot Kapura, a rather clean and well laid out mandi town in the Farid Kot State. The school not only had spacious well-ventilated classrooms, but several well-maintained lawns and playgrounds.

The third school I remember joining was a primary school in Kasur, where we were required to squat on jute matting. My mother would give me two annas every day, which were theoretically equal to five paisas of today. A student could purchase a number of exciting things to eat in the break and yet there was always money to spare. I remember on one occasion when my grandmother, whom I loved dearly, was visiting us, I bought a terracotta “chilam” for Beybeyjee who had taken to smoking a hookah in her old age. A hooka was regarded a friendly companion and also considered good for the digestive system.

We did not remain in Kasur for long. Once again the furniture and other household goods were carefully crated and this time we were off to Raiwind — the railway junction where one line branches off towards Ferozepur and the other goes on straight on to Karachi.

At Raiwind I used to be cycled to a Mission school. It was here in this school that I for the first time overheard someone converse in English. It gave me goose pimples realising that I was not privy to what was being said and because of the fear of being addressed in “Angrezi”. Later at Aitchison it took me a while before I could come out of my shyness and become willing to engage others in English. Making an error in spoken English was a social disaster, while not knowing how to speak Urdu correctly was considered cute. Speaking Punjabi was out of question and we were reprimanded if anyone ever lapsed into the native tongue. I greatly resented the time when the Pathan boys got away with speaking Pushto and no action was taken against them. I learnt later that it was because the college believed that since these boys hailed from the outlandish frontier regions, they needed to be dealt more kindly. I must however confess that while most of these Pathan boys rather soon and easily learnt to speak Punjabi, none of us Punjabi boys got beyond making fun of their language.

Today when I look back beyond the Partition, I confess that I did not care much for any of the schools that I attended except perhaps for the one at Kot Kapura. Kot Kapura never ceases to revive many memories and feelings, ranging from its tidy green school campus to its tuck shop that served the most savoury “Pouri” and “Chana Bhaji” in the world and to learning the Gurmukhi alphabet. I feel ashamed not to be able to recall at the moment the name of the art master who introduced me to painting for the first time. I started employing the brush later.

I remember the great joy when he walked me into the school art room where my eyes literally got glued to the paintings plastered on the four walls. He was himself an accomplished painter and could work in many styles. A teacher has no business to impose himself and smother the vision of his students. This art teacher besides being an artist was a strong sturdy person who could kick the soccer ball high up in the sky and out of the ground whenever he wanted. There are many other small events, which I cannot recall at moment notice. However I remember accompanying my father for a hunt which his friend Mian Shafi, who was in the transport business, had arranged for the sake of my Uncle Malik Rasheed, who was visiting us from Lahore. We drove off in Uncle Shafi’s truck, which had been relieved from its tiring transport duties to carry us to the state game reserve.

I have never in my life seen such a big herd of deer appear from nowhere and run across the entire range of my vision, before disappearing into the dwarf thorny trees on the left. My uncle, who was supposed to be great shot, fired and then fired again, but couldn’t even get one deer. When politely interrogated later he replied that he was only after the black buck leading the herd. I felt personally let down, but you must admit that he was a sportsman and not a killer. I am aware that there are better fields of sport where a person can excel without having to kill but going for a shoot has its own virtues. For one it provides an opportunity to get away from the mundane every day life. I was never much of a shot, but loved venturing into a territory away from trite, ambiguous city existence.

This was a time that Lahore lived at ease on the Ravi, the time when Ravi also lived. Lahore was surrounded by pastoral surroundings, which are today being carved into ugly housing colonies. At that time, in Lahore, nature and wild life casually intermingled. My Uncle Rasheed, the shikari, had game for supper each day. Just as some gentlemen drive off to play golf, he would daily, without even a dog to walk with him, stride off towards the river. The Ravi flowed at a pleasant distance from Sanda Kalan, his ancestral village. He would usually return at about “Maghreb” with a pair of teals, a mallard, one or a pair of partridges, a dozen or six starling, locally called tilliers.

In those days the rural countryside penetrated into the City from all directions. Most of it comprised of fodder, rows of vegetables and patches of yellow mustard. The Ravi because of its close proximity to its watershed would in the Monsoons without warning overflow and deluge parts of the city. Sanda Kalan, located on its bank was the first to be transformed into an island. The junkyards at Misri Shah would cause considerable amusement because the floodwaters would make their jerry cans and drums float about the vicinity. When the Ravi got angrier every second or third year then it would invariably flow into Laxmi Chawk converting it into a small lake where children loved to navigate its waters in small tubs.

The Ravi flood was an annual feature, which the Lahoris accepted with fortitude and their usual sense of fun. In the sixties an embankment was built to protect the city. Today the tables have turned and it is the Ravi that needs protection. The city has jumped across the “band” and invaded the river reducing it to a drain. The river, which over the centuries provided a rare species of fish, the best to be had with boiled rice, has been dead in it for decades. If a foolish angler were to cast a line today, instead of Khagga — the Ravi Rooster for which the river was famous –, he would hook a plastic bag, which now thrive in its waters.

My maternal Uncle Malik Rasheed has been dead for many years now. How courageously he died without ever complaining about his old age ailments will remain fixed in my memory forever. Today there is no one who saunters towards the Ravi to spot migratory teals, mallards or other water birds. The land speculators have taken over the territory that rightfully belonged to other creatures, which God had created in his wisdom for our benefit and companionship. But who cares.

I recall in the early sixties sighting a pair of partridges scramming across the dusty road on right bank of the canal. They took to the air only when they felt their space was being too rudely invaded. They flew off towards the mustard fields adjacent to Mian Mir. In those days, how so ever diffidently, we were willing to share space with other creatures. Would you believe that once while playing soccer at Aitchison, I kicked the ball, which rolled towards the hedge, and as soon as the ball struck the hedge it caused a hare to leap out and dash across the field? I cannot describe the joy, which it gave us all. It would be nice if humans and other creatures accepted each other with respect.

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is Pakistan’s leading painter. He is a teacher, art critic and political activist. He was awarded the “President’s Pride of Performance” in 1992. He is currently the president of the PPP Punjab’s Policy Planning Committee and Chairman of the party’s Manifesto Committee