Profile: High life, Lahore

This article was originally posted in Dawn

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Soaked in the golden age of the ’60s, Lahore was an island of hedonistic pleasure. For teens who had yet to say goodbye to the loss of innocence that perforce visits every adult when real life issues strike, ours was a fairytale existence. Who can forget ‘Mr Chips’? With his bagful of packets of chips he would pop up from every corner of Anarkali bazaar to accost you. His voice, 50 years later, still rings in my ears. The channa chaat at Bano Bazaar had to be eaten after mom would finish with her petticoat and blouse matching with the saris she’d tote around.

A play at the Alhambra was like being a part of the cast; a cricket match at the Gaddafi Stadium was like a fashion parade; we all had our favourite cricketers whom we fancied, my poster boy being Ijaz Butt (don’t go rolling your eyes, he was quite a looker then); ice cream at Chalet on the Mall was like sitting in a Swiss cabin with a school buddy (mine being Zenobia Khurshid, now Mrs Akhund, and Nasreen Muzaffar, now Mrs Iqbal); book browsing at Ferozesons on the Mall with my two older brothers was a trip to wonderland and textbook buying with parents at Imperial Book Depot was a growing up activity, each new school year signalling a march towards maturity; orange juice binging at Hall Road in winter was a drink from heaven; grocery shopping at Tollington Market lent its own colonial aura and jiving at the Gymkhana (Lawrence Hall) if one was lucky to find a partner, well let me continue…

Teenage Ball was an annual winter affair at Lahore Gymkhana Club, the building also known as Lawrence Hall. With promises made to be goody good, permission to attend would be reluctantly granted by parents who ensured that big brothers went along to keep an eye on their kid sister. But big brothers being big brothers had their own conquests to tend to while forgetting about me and my cousin Kaye (that was her nickname) now Mrs Imran Ahmad. While popular Kaye would be on the floor, yours truly, awkwardly attired in an ill-fitting half coat (that’s what they were known as then) with a bulging behind packed in a sack shirt (the fad in the 60s) would be sitting like a wallflower waiting to be asked to dance.

‘Teddy boys’ that’s what the St Anthony crowd were called. The late Shahid Rehman was our Rock Hudson. Girls liked him. Others like Munir Akram (our ex ambassador to the UN) Dawar Shaikh, the late governor Punjab Salman Taseer, aka Billo for his blue eyes, and Sunny Saeedudin (son of Brigadier Saeeduddin) were the regulars at ‘mixed’ teenage parties which, while other teenagers attended, were a no-go area in our household. Among girls, the talented and beautiful Naveed Rehman stood out as all-rounder. She was a student of Queen Mary College. We were next door at the Convent of Jesus & Mary. Our head girl, Syeda Abida Hussain aka Chandi, was a stunner.

As alumni, each year she’d return for a summer break from her finishing school in Switzerland and she’d be invited to talk about her experiences. It was awesome. As a rare embodiment of beauty and brains, (with wealth thrown in) Abida’s taffeta dresses and smooth delivery brought about a lively sense of happenstance. We all wanted to copy her.

Ah! The movies of those times. Plaza, Regal and the Odeon cinemas were our watering holes. During intermission, we’d recognise our friends from school — Lahore was so cliquish in those days, it still is till today! As teenagers, we easily related to movies featuring teenage love affairs like Splendour in the Grass starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty whose story of sexual repression, love and heartbreak played havoc with young minds like ours. Peyton Place was another sizzler. The exposé of the lives and loves of the residents of a small town in the US where scandal, suicide and moral hypocrisy hid behind a veneer of pretentious living introduced our impressionable minds to the American way of life. Lolita was another bombshell. (The government film censor board must have worn blinkers then!)

Magazines like Playboy and True Romance had already ‘educated’ the teenagers of Lahore about the ‘birds and the bees.’ But it was the American movies that captured our attention about teens across the Atlantic. We considered ourselves liberated (not in the sexual sense though) but America appeared downright promiscuous. Alongside the adult stuff, one still stuck to reading Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer, Daphne du Maurier’s haunting love story ‘Rebecca’, the Bronte sisters and of course Jane Austen. We had already graduated from Enid Blyton mysteries.

On balmy nights we’d sit and listen to Noor Jehan or Farida Khannum or Iqbal Bano sing Faiz at the open-air theatre in Bagh-i-Jinnah. On one such event, a senior official shushed a lady who was rather loud. The lady, wife of a senior bureaucrat, turned around to slap him. The news spread quickly. Yes, Lahore had its scandals hitting it all the time. That’s what made the place so ‘sexy.’

Foreign dignitaries, including emperors, empresses, queens and first ladies visited Lahore. After empress Farah Diba of Iran came, we teased our hair into a beehive hoping to have a ‘Farah Diba bouffant.’ Memorable was the vying for attention by US First Lady Jackie Kennedy and her sister princess Lee Radziwill from president Ayub Khan. He must have appeared a conflicted man, having to choose between two ethereal beauties.

Fashionistas, the devoted followers of fashion alongside their lesser trendy sisters, the hidebound ladies of Lahore learnt firsthand how women (Jackie and Lee) across two continents, dressed and lived a life celebrated for being direct, free-spirited and open.

The rich and stylish culture that the 60s embraced still makes Lahore the heartthrob of Pakistan. Nasir Kazmi’s verse says it best: Shehr-e-Lahore, teri raunaqain dayam aabad: Teri galyon ki hawa khainch ke layi mujh ko. (O city of Lahore, may your lights never dim; It was the breeze of your streets that pulled me back).— Anjum Niaz

2 responses to “Profile: High life, Lahore

  1. loved it every bit still can relate to so much even though im in my 20s presently

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