Ghosts of the past
Visiting Murree after so many decades I found it had lost its past luster.
Even so I felt that I was still ‘its child’ …
By Yash Pal Sethi
After visiting my ancestral home in Rawalpindi, we went to Bohar Mohalla via Ganga Rad di Gali. A large, ancient banyan tree that used to be there has since been uprooted. Moti Bazaar was mainly for ladies now. I saw some signboards in Urdu (which I could of course read) warning: “Khatoon jeb-katro se bach ke raho” (Beware of women pickpockets).
As we returned to Raja Bazaar via Kabari Bazaar, a jeep halted and the driver asked me “Urdu Bazaar kithey ey”? I guided him easily. Ahmed was astonished that I could tell the way to a place he had not taken us to so far.
The next day, Ahmed’s nephew drove us to Koh-Murree. It took a little less than two hours, going straight up to Mall Road near the General Post Office. During British times, no vehicles were allowed beyond the bus-stand. The few private vehicles then had to park at before the town boundary. The Bus Stand had been moved elsewhere too. Mri as we used to call it was a cantonment area and a British battalion used to be stationed here. There were big stores, restaurants and ballrooms on the Mall Road for the British rulers.
There were two recreation spots at either end of the Mall Road — Kashmir Point where we would go to picnic under the groves, and Pindi Point, a favourite for evening walks. In the evenings there used to be a great rush on the Mall Road. The long well cleaned broad stairs at GPO and GPO at Pindi Point were resting places after the walk. They had lost their glory.
After parking the car we went to the lower Bazaar (now known as lower Mall). This used to be the main shopping centre for Indians. We lived on the first floor, in the centre of the bazaar. It was a holiday and the bazaar was closed. I took my son and Ahmed’s nephew straight to our building. There was a footpath shop near the stairs of our residence.
The shopkeeper overheard me explaining the plan of the building to my son. It is in the same condition, he
said, adding that our building was still known as “lohey walia di building” (building of the steel guys). The residence appeared disused. I showed my son the back of the building with its broad adjoining stairs connecting to the street five stories below.
I had started my schooling in 1935-36 at Government Primary School, Murree, now known as Allama Iqbal Model Primary School. I wanted to take my son there. I remembered crying because I did not want to go. It was about a mile down the road but my son seemed tired or not very interested so I dropped the idea, something I still regret.
I took them down to the lower bazaar to pick up the Link Road for Mall Road, from where we walked to Pindi Point. On the left there were Defense offices and on the right, old bungalows. I remembered an incident one Sunday long ago. I was strolling alone on the Mall and passed a bungalow opposite this spot. I plucked a peach hanging over the fence and a young English girl shouted at me in a furious voice. Throwing the peach, I had run home breathlessly, fearing that I was being chased.
Since it was just afternoon, there was no rush at Pindi Point. A few hawkers were selling small gift items by the roadside. I told my son how sometimes we used to walk or hire a pony to go around the hillock, and rest at the stairs of the Post Office. A little further the road curved around the hillock. This was the actual the Pindi Point from where at night we could see the twinkling lights of Rawalpindi. There was a new ropeway that our host took to get down and come back.
Visiting Murree after so many decades I found it had lost its past luster. Even so I felt that I was still ‘its child’ unmindful of the realities that it was now in another country.
Before dusk we were back in Pindi. Our hosts took us on a round of Islamabad, Gordon College and Murree Road. I tried to find my School (DAV) on Murree Road, opposite the Holy Family Hospital but could not find it in the dark.
By now we had already decided to miss the Lahore match as we were more interested in seeing some more places that we had lost due to Partition. On our fourth day in Pakistan Mrs. Ahmed packed some fruit, cold drinks and cookies and Ahmed took us to Taxila Museum, Mughal Garden at Wah and Panja Sahib.
I had visited Panja Sahib thrice as a child. Visiting it again reminded me of a foolish adventure when I was about eleven years old, studying in class six at Rawalpindi. I was asked to accompany my relatives to Panja Sahib but though I wanted to go, as an immature boy, I refused. I thought that they would insist on my going, but they left without me, putting an eight anna (half rupee) coin in my palm.
After they left, I told my mother that I wanted to go with them and ran to catch up with them. But by the time I reached the station the train had left. I should have returned home but in my foolishness, I marched toward Hassan Abdal (Panja Sahib) on the railway track.
Just before the next station two shepherds stopped me, threatening to kill me as a ‘Kafir’ (non-Muslim). I begged for my life and lied that some relative had died. Ultimately they spared me and let me go. The next station was Golra and I decided to stay there and catch the evening train back as the incident had shaken my courage and boldness.
(To be continued)
The writer is a retired banker born in Rawalpindi in 1931. He studied in Murree, Malakwal and at DAV High School, Rawalpindi. He lives in Yamuna Nagar (Haryana), India.
This three part series is adapted from his posts to the Aman ki Asha Facebook group.