Look Back Gently

By Alys Faiz

 ZAB and ASB which brother did one love more?  A.S. Bokhari came into our lives, married life that is, earlier just after Independence when he was Principal of Government College, a very prestigious job which gave us, particularly all the children, the run of his large house and beautiful garden.

In those days we lived just opposite what was then Radio Pakistan, fifty yards or so from Government House (back entrance mind you), twenty yards from Masud Khaddarposh’s house and bang next door to the American Consulate.  Imagine what good company we were in – we never misused it either.

It was common enough to look over the balustrade of my upper story apartment and see ASB crossing the road from the Radio Station to eventually climb our stairs.  He would wave, even yell out, he was one of the few who could get away with it, mount the stairs, greet and talk.  I knew then that there would be what young people call now; buttering up; and that Faiz, Chiragh Hasan Hasrat and perhaps Majeed Malik would be off after dinner to drive nostalgically to the Canal or gardens to talk poetry and of old times.  One didn’t mind, the main things in those days was a little happiness after the traumatic experiences of the massacres during Partition, and a little happiness meant a great deal when the future was so problematic and one hoped desperately that all would work out well for Pakistan.

Our upstairs apartment was large and airy, well built, it is now probably a Social Welfare outfit, large terraces back and front and altogether a very desirable residence for a hundred rupees a month.  You mounted the back stairs, which were really the front, on to a wide roof space area, where flowerpots and small trees had been arranged to compensate for the garden one missed so much.  Through a corridor into the front terrace and a long wide verandah, where we flung down ‘chics’ during the summer months at the risk of our necks.

ASB and Faiz had a sort of communion which cannot be described.  ASB was one of the few people who could make Faiz really laugh, there were not many, but their humour shared was humour contagious!  It was to his apartment that our parents came after the war.  First to Delhi and then to Lahore to see a son-in-law for the first time and two grand daughters who had been but names.  So here my parents met ASB.  He would drop in the evenings and engage my father in all kinds of light conversation, race horses, cards, the London weather, Indian food – any subject under the sun made my father’s face light up, because ASB had a way of ways with him.

My mother and father were perpetually perturbed by the number of guests who would turn up to stay without prior notice, particularly relatives.  They would return from a tonga-ride which they loved so much, to find cots spread out along the corridor.  What?  Yes, guests.  So many?  More coming.  I was the same when I first came to India to set up house, then I slowly but surely began to take them in my stride.  My mother never quite grew accustomed to it – neither did my father.  He would sign and say, “Rather you than me”.

We were always in financial straits.  One day my father came with us to the bank and when he found the Manager admonishing me for being overdrawn without knowing about it, he was flabbergasted.  Don’t you keep up with what you need?  We have so little and so many demands.  He talked to the Manager, took out his neat package of travellers’ cheques and made me solvent.

But one of the most memorable evenings of all was when ASB danced with my mother.  He was humming a song, an old-fashioned one.  I guess to awaken mother’s memories.  She joined in.  Then ASB got up, bowed, ever so slowly and with a great deal of dignity said, “Shall we dance”?  and that veverable mother of mine, and that not so-old Principal of the Punjab’s principal college, waltzed round the room.  Oh memories sweet!

But it hasn’t ended; Haroon and Mansoor are there after all, and this year in a most delightful profession gesture, Mansoor, through the EMI, produced the Zia-Faiz cassette.  Hence this relationship lives, and Salima still remembers the first man who said, ‘I love you’ – it was ASB.  She was very, very young.