The Faqeer

imageI have not been back to my school building for close on to thirty years now. The building where I spent eleven of my formative years and where my name was so diligently chiseled into the wall of its bell tower. Not sure why I did that, but suffice to say I have not looked at that piece of art for decades now. So what seems meaningful at one moment in life, becomes pointless at another. However, those school years formed very strong memories, which I have regularly recalled most of my life.

This particular piece is not about any philosophy or reflection. It is about the recall of one such memory from my school days. That I have not thought about it for several decades, makes it unusual, as I remember much trivia quite regularly. Nevertheless, this particular memory is about an encounter which happened daily for almost a decade. And when I do describe it, there will be many of my school fellows who will recall this one.

In those days, the main gate of KGS senior school opened onto Depot Lines, which was one way at the time, going towards Empress Market and TramPatta Road (as it was called; Trams were used in Karachi till 1975). One would get in the car, go to the Empress Market, turn left, across and then turn left onto Mansfield Street. Past the Fire Station, which is still there today and onwards towards Bandar Road (MA Jinnah Rd today). I think Depot Lines and Mansfield St traffic flow has been turned around and flows in the opposite direction nowadays.

It was a route used by most who were going to PECHS. In those years DHA was just commencing and many of us resided in PECHS. So, as we proceeded down Mansfield Street, we had a flotilla of KGS cars with us, just after home-time. We would hit the Capri Square crossing with Bandar Road and after waiting for the traffic lights (strictly followed in those days) we would turn right and proceed down Bandar Road towards our PECHS destination.

This Capri traffic light, one always hoped would be red. For one sole reason! The cry of ‘Allah hi Allah’ was infectious and so part of my life. I would wait for it expectantly every time. There he was, the most important Faqeer in my life. He wore a patched colourful robe, with a few big deep pockets. The string of beads were many and hung around his neck and wrist. Partially balding white long hair, flowing white beard and eye brows. He was ageless. I saw him there in all those years. A ‘chimta’ would be in his hand and he would form a beat with it and keep chanting ‘Allah hi Allah’. We all knew the beat and tune and would chant ‘Allah hi Allah’ with him. Many times one of us would give him some money. He was so much a part of our lives.

Time moved on and 1976 arrived; I moved to Clifton and stopped taking that Capri Square route. I was driving myself by now and went down the Trampatta Road, quite in the opposite direction. I never saw my Faqeer again. Infact quite forgot about him. Such fickleness quite astounds me. My memory has played fast and loose and betrayed my more human self. Till today! Out of the deep reaches of my mind popped up the chant of ‘Allah hi Allah’, with chimta beating in the background and a white haired face swimming in my mind. Alas too late I suppose, as the Faqeer (my Faqeer) would have gone by now to a more permanent abode.

On such little moments are lives made. A Faqeer chanting his slogan, is associated with a Karachi which will never exist again. Of a life simpler, less demanding and more fun. Of days and friends and teachers and parents and faqeers who are all gone or changed. Its all a bit melancholy, but then why am I smiling at these memories? I hope my Faqeer is granted maghfirat and Jannah by Allah (swt). He was an inspirational part of our lives for a decade. Allah bless him.

*picture of a sufi, from oldindianphoto.in

Old Karachi, a string of memories from days gone by

I am solely motivated to write due to the Facebook site “I sure want my old Karachi back”. The sadness and nostalgia among those who have lived away for long was too painful, not to put something down of memories, so that they can at least feel some happiness in expressed memories.

This is my own diary of memory and is not a catch all. A period spanning the 60s and to mid 70s. My existence revolved around Grammar School, the hawkers, the eateries, some cinemas and a few sporting memories.

Beginning with the area of central Karachi, school was a place of bliss, due to friendships mainly, not so much studies. It revolved around a break, when we consumed a Coke and Pattie, the taste of which has never been replicated. Home time and hawkers collected outside. There was the Tek wala…gooey sticky stuff, out of which was carved features of a bird, or a musical instrument. Great taste. Sometimes there would be the jungle jalebe and badaam guy also. Perhaps a bit of gol guppa too.

If one could not be picked up from school due to transport problems, a couple of us would walk down to Empress Market and Trampatta Road. There were wonderful gunnay ka juice and lassi walas to quench ones thirst in the summer. Amazing prices also. In Ps 50 all would suffice.

Till March there would be athletics practice at Webb Field (now Macro) and my neighbors and I would traverse through the lines area to get to the ground. We used to live in PECHS Block 3, so it must have been a good mile plus to walk. This routine was highlighted by a stop at the faluda cart. No faluda has ever tasted like that cart had on offer.  The tukh malanga in the faluda – for the uninitiated, the black seeds – were great to keep us cool through afternoon practice. On the way back regularly one would meet the Pathan with the bakery sandooq. For a very low price, we would sample his cakes and pastries.

Later at night, Karachi used to come out in those days and a lot of activity was on offer. You would see a lot of people at parks like Polo Ground or Hill Park. Then there was the trip to Clifton. Memory faded yet recalls the cry of “chana choor garam”…a spicy, dry concoction made out of chana. Clifton was different and the sea used to almost come to the Kothari Parade. Sometimes one would go into Playland and have a few games of pinball. The Makranis used to play fuzzball and were the masters of it.

On the way back one would stop to eat at various places. Bundu Khan is premier in my memory. It used to be crowded. But there are others. I remember ABC restaurant and the Chinese fare given, which is not like anything I have eaten again. James Lee (owner’s son) used to be in my class, so maybe I am biased. Have vague memories of Burns Road, with its dhaga kabab and sheer maal. Also at times it was nihari, though I am not sure who we would go to, A Waheed, A Malik or Sabri… Sometimes it would be Hotel Farooq and its chicken tikka. In later years Tariq Road surfaced (called Commercial Area in those days) and there was food at Café de Khan, Tung Nan, Silver Spoon for kabab rolls and there were some great Bengali stuff at Mishti Mukh (from memory, could be wrong). First time I had shaundesh there.

As we grew older and were able to drive, we would go out of school a few times, based on our relationship with the guards. Remember two highlights of these trips. Eating daal kee puri at Commissioner Office, across from Trinity Church. It’s now become common, but in those days it was rare and the best. Then there was Chullu kee chaat, in Soldier Bazaar. This guy used to cook the chaat to where it became almost like haleem. One piyala was a meal in itself.  Rarely there was Shezan or Café George in Saddar. Both would be quiet in middle morning and the tea and cake piece were out of this world, especially if you know you are bunking maths. Pride of place was Sunday afternoon, when sometimes one would get jalebe, samosa and dahi phulki from Fresco, near Pakistan chowk.

In cinemas, I always liked Bambino. In later years Capri became better and newer. But there were others. Rex and Rio on Victoria/Elphi. Palace at Metropole had great movies. Saw Blue Max post exams in Class X, and also My Fair Lady in 1970 at a late night show. Have vague recall that I saw Hatari at Palace also in 1964, but then I was very small then. We also had the phenomenon of the Drive In. Don’t remember any of the movies, but it used to be exciting to go there, on the Dalmiya Cement Road. I remember seeing a crazy movie called Walking Tall late at night, at Capri with a couple of friends. Going to a movie was always exciting and is totally unlike our download culture now.

Lastly sports. Besides the school stuff there was a lot going on in National Stadium. Test matches were few and far between, but first class used to abound. Remember Hanif scoring 190 in a match in 1970 after he had retired from tests. We would go down and entry was free and maybe 500 people will be there to watch. When it came to test matches it was difficult. Tickets were not easy and the facilities stretched. Saw Mushtaq being run out for 99 – there were 3 “99s” in the match – vs England in 1973. Also a sad match when Hanif retired in 1969.

The culture was free and one could move around without fear. No go areas were non-existent and people laughed and enjoyed themselves, besides getting on with the serious business of earning a living. There were nightclubs and discos (I was too young to see these!) and those who went were allowed to and no one threatened anyone else’s existence. This was a city in harmony and at one with its inhabitants. We as a city were not rich, but we lived together and were a larger community. One prays that those days come back to us again and our new generation can live like we used to.

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