Pindi – The landscape of his childhood
(Androo-e-shehr – Inside Anand Bakshi’s village Pindi.)
A Tribute by Rakesh Anand Bakshi to the pind (village) of Anand Bakshi.
The earth does not belong to man. Man can belong to the earth. Even though he cannot possess her, she will possess him. Pindi meant that to Nand (Anand Bakhshi). Until his golden years.
Her memory remained a mystical and mysterious connection to his past. There was not a night, three decades later, when Nand, by now Anand Bakshi the lyricists, did not speak fondly with nostalgia of life back then in is beloved Pindi. Describing his rural childhood pal, Pindi, with the affection one reserves for things special but lost forever.
Androo-e-shehr – Inside Nand’s Pindi.
Jamun trees. They built doors from their insect repellent wood, but even if a teenager stepped on a branch, it was likely he or she would crumble to earth like the fruit free falls on ripening. The sweet-sour jamun fruit did not remain elusive for agile and light footed Nand. He would climb the highest branches, adjusting his weight carefully, his friends cheering him on in greedy anticipation of the sweet sour big and juicy fruits of his nearly foolhardy labor. Ironically, decades later, when this same child would not reside in any apartment beyond two stories higher, out of fear of greater heights. The Jamun trees grow as much too, going up to three stories too. The grape fruit trees was also as hard to pick from, and was another target of the children’s summer joys. The Plum bushes were another target of the children s gourmet ambitions.
Pine trees were aplenty. Banyan trees that must have been more than a hundred years old were aplenty. Under these benevolent timber giants, the children rested, distancing themselves from the hot midday sun, before setting off home for lunch with his Mohallah-dars, neighbourhood pals.
Meals were served on a dining table, unlike the traditional system of service on ground using Durrees, carpets using “Dastar Khwans” the long Mats.
In the early evenings, many flowers of many varieties attracted a variety of butterflies, which attracted children. Nand too chased them to hold them by their colorful wings and after having admired their beauty would set them free. Five decades later, when his son Rakesh purchased a cage with the most beautiful pair of love-birds, from his saved pocket-money, Anand Bakshi set them free. Reason – you have not lived under foreign rule so do not know the value of freedom. No caged birds nor fish, not even tethered dogs, were allowed to be kept as pets at home.
Autumn would arrive with the fragrance of dry leaves. These carried colors no artists can match on man-made canvas, This was another vivid memory because Nand could describe her colors even three decades later. Including the bakery items also sold in big tin boxes by the on-foot vendors.
Chittian Hattian was connected with its surrounding areas through a network of narrow, labyrinthine streets, and strangers walking around on their own could easily get lost there. Because the only traffic possible was pedestrian and bicycles, children had a field day playing on safe streets right outside their homes, with their mothers keeping a close watch on them from windows and verandas.
Knitting was a hobby and joy of the household women and kept them indoors. Bangles, hair clips from Bambai or Dilli, woollen yarn and muslin cloth was sold house to house by sellers operating out of a single tin trunk, balanced precariously on his head. They were identified by the metallic yard-stick in their hands. Nand was fascinated by the variety of goods, of all sizes and shapes and colors, inside one trunk. Magical. Buffaloes ferrying water on leather bags across their backs from water tanks and wells in the vicinity to the house of the rich Europeans or Indian Sahebs.
Salted Kheera placed on ice blocks, Dahi Balley were the children’s favorites. Tikka-Kebabas were the local favorite with the elders. Late night people would visit shops to drink hot sweet milk served in glazed earthen huge cups, and salted or sweet “Lassi with perhas” a drink made with curd and dehydrated milk (Khoya). One anna Roti and Daal mufft (free) was a common fare in many restaurants. Halwa puri, mutton nihari and channay were rare treats on festive days.
A landscape of religious tolerance, Muslims would pray before dawn, and the Hindus/Sikhs would visit their temples/gurdwaras to pray post dawn. Each of them would recite their prayers aloud, be it the Gita (aarti), the Koran (aazaan) or the Granth (paath), and no one took offence to another’s beliefs. Communal flare ups were very rare. There was respect for all. Hindu-Muslims-Sikhs mingled during both happy and sad occasions. All festivals were equally celebrated, even that of Christians. All types of festivals of Muslims and Hindus/Sikhs and Christians were celebrated with great pomp and show under competitive attitude. The main Hindu festivals were Dusehra, Diwali and Basant. The main Muslim festivals were Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha and Eid Milad-un-Nabi. A big attraction for all communities was burning of three big Statues of Hindu gods during Dusehra. People gathered in thousands to see the function. There was a tradition of sending sweets and special dishes to Mohalla –dars neighbours on nearly every special occasion.
Almost all the buildings in Pindi were lighted with candles and “Diyas” on Diwali and the whole town was lit with dim twinkling lights all the night. Special kinds of sweets were prepared on Diwali. One such sweet was Channa Murghi, very small round balls prepared with caramelized milk. The Diwali being distinctively observed was seen in the densely Hindu pockets of the population like Arya Mohalla, Bhabrha Bazaar, Naya Mohallah, Chitian Hatiyan. Child birth at home was common, so Daees, mid-wives, were respected professionals and delivered babies of all communities.
There was a tall clock, gharhyal, whose bell would chime by the hour and helped people nearby tell time. The further people went from the clock the more audible was the ring, fascinated Nand. Water carriers (Mashkys) was another fascinating sight for a child. Mitti ka tel (kerosene) lamp posts dotted streets and filled with oil daily and lighted in the evenings.
Hindu traders were in majority and financially much better off than the others. Sikhs were second to the Hindus. Muslims were mainly farmers/tillers and dominated in the military, Police and in Civil Courts services. The Hindu/Sikhs were the biggest property owners in Pindi. A telephone connection was a sign of high status. The Bakhshis had one.
Tongaas and a few Buggies were the sawari available for well to do families, otherwise bicycles or on foot were the means for travelling for the common man. Phillips, Hercules and Raleigh bicycles were in use. Ford, Chevrolet and Mini Austin cars, Nanda Bus Service, Pindi Bus Service were other means of private and public transport. For Muslim ladies a bed sheet was fixed on the back side of the Tongas as “Pardah” to cover the seating so that they were no more visible to the public while travelling. The Tonga Kootch-wan (driver) would charge four annas per trip for longer journeys. Import of bicycles was not allowed, the locally made bieks were popular and Nand prided in owning an imported bicycle when he arrived in his teens.
Railway was the only comfortable transport service, with 1st Class, 2nd Class, Inter Class and 3rd Class compartments. The common people could not even think of travelling in 1st or 2nd Class compartments. Only the Indian/British Army officers used 1st class, whereas all the other rank British would travel in the 2nd Class.
Road-side Chinese-acrobats, snake charmers, comedians, medicine men (mustanad Hakeems) selling his cures at two annas, Hakims of all nationalities running their Matabs (Clinics) and the Pansaarys (Pharmacists) used to sell herbal medicines. Dentists with just a chair and tongs as tools of trade occupied footpaths under banyan trees, like the barbers and tea sellers, monkey-tricks, wild bear-tricks, magicians, weight lifters were other sights were part of Pindi’s mauj-masti for children. A skinny bony man lifting a stone far beyond his capacity was another road side attraction. Nand loved the syrups the herbal pharmacists sold, Sharbat Banafsha, Sharbat Shahtoot, Sharbat Falsa, Sharbat Anaar, Sharbat Bazoori, In later decades Rooh Afza, a rose syrup remained a family favorite for the Bakshis for over three decades.
Rose, Nishat, Imperial and Plaza were popular cinemas. The Imperial Cinema in the city area of Rawalpindi was initially a theatre also. There used to be mobile theatrical companies too, that toured the country.
Another form of entertainment, beyond women folk family members singing, on marriages and child births was the dancing/singing by the eunuchs. They provided music entertainment for the home ridden women folk and were looked forward to during such occasions. One more form of entertainment was, there was a sect of persons who used to memorize the entire ancestries of the gentries. When asked to narrate, they used to stand on one leg and start narrating the names of fathers/grandfathers/great grandfathers/great great grandfathers and in many cases, they used to go on naming the 10/15 generations in one go.
All India Radio had started transmitting dramas, talks, discussions, music, children programmes, and religious programmes by 1940s in Rawalpindi. Restaurants and tea shops began playing the radio to attract more customers. Phillips, HMV, Midwest, Minerva, Westinghouse, Murphy were famous brands, and the family owned a Murphy and a Phillips radio, along with owning a gramophone player, the only one on their street. Mohalla-dars would come to hear his father play Saigal’s songs. “Jo Radio Sunta Hai woh duniya se be-khabar nahin” was a common phrase Anand Bakshi remembers it from his childhood days, and may have applied to reading books when he told his son Rakesh– One who read a new page a day is truly alive.
Nand’s favorite were the Hindi music programs. He would not sleep without hearing his favorite Hindi music program. As he grew older into his teens, Saigal, Rafi and Mulesh were to become his first favorites. During early 1940s the film songs were started in their midday transmissions, which proved to be great entertainment especially with “Request Programmes”.
The price of gramophone records was Rs. 3 each; and price for a set of discs for complete dramas used to cost Rs. 10-15 depending upon the length of the drama, which was recorded on more than two/three discs on both sides. During 1920s these discs were only one-sided, and were very heavy in weight with 3-minute recording; but during 1930s the quality improved with recording on both the sides with a diameter of 5 inches. Later “LP” (Long Play) records were introduced with bigger size long-playing time. When he carried his mother’s photos with him while leaving his place of birth, he alone carried a record of Saigal too. Music too was so precious to a boy leaving his homeland at 17.
The dramas of Agha Hashar Kashmiri and Munshi Prem Chand were modern and liked very much; the fables Laila Majnu, Heer Ranjha, Shireen Farhad, Sohni Mahiwal, attracted hundreds. Hindus had their own groups that performed religious dramas Ram Leela, Mahabharat, Banbaas (Ramayan) in the evenings. The stage would be set at a height and the public would sit on ground on Durrees, and Petromax gas lights were used to illuminate the chowk.
There used to be the Fauji Drama Sabha, in the Army during British times. These drama units were mobile and kept visiting their units in various cantonments posted in far-flung uninhibited areas. Many decades later Anand Bakshi and Sunil Dutt visited and performed at Indian Army functions for free to entertain Indian jawans at border areas.
Radio and cinema were the two largest sources of mass entertainment. Unknowingly, Nand had already set his eyes on them, as he was already singing Saigal’s songs and playing the banjo when he was in his teens. Kamla Jharyia, Indo Bala and Begum Akhtar were popular singers then and one would hear any one of them if one walked across any bazaar.
There used to be mobile cinemas on wheels going round the streets showing short cut movie films (“TOTAY”) or fixed slides, Bioscopes. They were small oblong boxes fixed on four small wheels; with two or three magnifying glasses fixed on both the sides for the viewers to see through, with a hand projector fixed on one end and one square foot screen on the other side of the box. Children used to enjoy a lot after watching the “show”, after paying one or two paisa as tickets.
This may be just a fraction of all that Nand must have experienced, because, in his 40s Anand bakshi had attributed a large quantum of who he turned out to become eventually to his childhood spend in his earlier motherland – Pindi. However, a tragic event awaited little Nand, much before he could take his first step into his preteens – his closest play-mate home-mate being snatched by the hands of fate. Maybe she was too lovely for Earth to keep for long.
– Rakesh Anand Bakshi. (To write this, to do justice to the formative years Anand Bakshi spent in Rawalpindi from 1930 to 1947 I have borrowed material liberally from various other people, various sources, material I do not own copyright to, people who have written about their experiences growing up in Rawalpindi of 1930’s 40s, to be able to recreate my own faint memories and those of our relatives alive today.)