What does a senior citizen want from life?
I am 67, which makes me a senior citizen. What do I want from life? I regret the fact that in my youth there were simple pleasures that were available in this country but such has been our history as a nation that those pleasures are no longer available. They have vanished.
In my teens I could take a bus to Rawalpindi, spend a few hours in Saddar, drop in at the London Book Company, buy a few books if I had the money, see a good English film at one of the three movie houses that were there in Saddar—Odeon, Plaza and Ciros—and take a late night bus back to Chakwal, tired, blown out and moderately happy.
I was too young and too unprivileged to go to the ‘Pindi Club but I had vaguely heard that such a place existed and that it was a watering-hole where army officers gathered for their usual in the evenings. When the winds of piety blew across the face of the republic ‘Pindi Club lost its watering-hole status and became another army mess.
When Gen Raheel Sharif was army chief I heard there were plans to redo the old club into something or the other and I wrote that it should be preserved the way it used to be. Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, then heading the army’s PR wing, called to tell me that Gen Raheel wanted the club to be preserved in its old form. But whatever may have been done to the building how would anyone restore its lost spirit? Would glasses clink of an evening and would army officers crowd the bar as they were accustomed to do in the old days?
The army and for that matter all the services are now more pious institutions than in the decadent times we usually associate with General Yahya Khan and his merry cronies. Now they are more into patriotism and real estate. There was only one defence housing society in those days. That was in Karachi and it was a housing society, like any other society of its kind. Now, Allah be praised, that one society has mushroomed into several others. And since they have constitutional protection via acts of parliament from societies they have become ‘authorities’ with their own statutory powers.
Saddar Rawalpindi is now little better than a nightmare. The old cinemas are gone; the bookshops are gone; the cafes and teahouses which used to be there are gone. The old Shezan restaurant has disappeared. What is now the PC used to be the Intercontinental and its bar in those days of sin and forbidden pleasures used to be full in the evenings with not a place to stand around the bar…especially during that hour of unadulterated joy, the ‘Happy Hour’, when prices were slashed by half. Now you enter the PC and you feel a depression descending upon you.
Flashman’s at a walking distance from the PC was also a place to go to. Now it’s all dead, the old haunts which reverberated with the sound of laughter and good cheer having all vanished, the nation as a whole having turned to the paths of piety and salvation.
There was no Afghan jihad in those days, no security barricades on roads, no high fences around buildings and few people in Pakistan knew what a Kalashnikov looked like. In Gen Ziaul Haq’s time the Pakistani nation was instructed by its then masters to take up the banner of the Afghan jihad. The nation was also told that it was not sufficiently Islamic. It had to become more Islamic. Islamisation was proclaimed as a national goal.
Whether anything changed for the better as a result of those efforts one thing is for sure: the national atmosphere became thick with Islamic rhetoric. The Urdu phrase ‘guftar key ghazi’—ghazis of conversation—captures this best. There was no one to beat us when it came to talk about and verbal commitment to Islam.
Why talk of Saddar Rawalpindi alone? I go to Lahore a lot. The Lahore I am familiar with is the Mall and areas adjacent to it. As a teenager I remember what this stretch of road was like. There were teahouses and restaurants from the area next to the Lahore High Court up to that part of the Mall where are now located the PC and the Avari. The Shezan, Lords, Indus, Gardenia used to be full for tea in the afternoons. Well dressed folk would walk on the pavements. As the shadows of evening fell the scene would shift from these teahouses to the several watering- holes which would start filling up with their special clientele. Imagine spending the late afternoon in lazy talk and then repairing to your favourite saloon.
Thinking of those times I wonder what blight came upon Pakistan. All those restaurants are gone. The Indus is still there but it is a far cry from the spendour of its bygone days. All along the Mall today you find nothing except second-rate clothing and shoe stores. There is a splendid bookshop at the Regal Chowk which has a good collection of old books. That’s about it—no art galleries, no music hall, no nothing. So one is left to one’s own devices. Call up the permit room…aficionados would know what that means. It’s all private entertainment or private partying, or private mujras. The public space for entertainment no longer exists, and our urban spaces are the poorer for that.
If I had my way I would travel to Lahore and ‘Pindi by bus and use taxis for moving from place to place within cities. I think it is important to lay stress on these things because if we can’t see to it that meters are put on taxis, and we can’t regulate the running of rickshaws in our towns and cities, and can’t clear the garbage from our streets or reduce the amount of plastic which forms part of this garbage, and have to contract out municipal cleaning to Chinese and Turkish companies, then it is foolish to think that we can perform bigger labours and turn Pakistan into a developed country.
We are a military power of sorts, having a bigger defence establishment than many countries far richer and better placed than us. We are a nuclear power. We make our own tanks and fighter jets and this is no mean achievement. But why can’t we fix smaller things? Why can’t we run our cities better?
I read five newspapers every morning. When I am finished there’s nothing to remember in them. Why isn’t there more poetry, music and beauty in our lives?
Courtesy : Dunyanews.tv