[Say It!] A Collage of Memories
By Nusrat Osama
The writer is a pioneer of two schools and a college, and retired as Principal of a prestigious school in Karachi. These days she is contemplating writing down her memoirs.
Stored in the deepest shelf of my heart, memories of my childhood are the treasures that I have been walking around with way too long. Today, when I pulled out the treasure I was struck by the liveliness of my memories, a sense of my childhood. I am not a seasoned writer and may not be able to do justice to those gems. But I am cutting and pasting the memories of my life like an amateur artist trying to work on a collage.
Freedom, innocence, play, fights, competitions, losing and winning, make- belief battles, we had everything in our childhood. What a golden period it was. There was a novelty and ingenuity in our games.
Dad was the Command Controller in Military Accounts and as so transfers and postings took place often – sometimes Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi or even Peshawar. Huge bungalows were allotted to him by the Government, bungalows that were far too big for our requirement. We were six small children living in big rooms, large compounds and courtyards, with our lives centered on studies and play. There was no television, or computer or video games. All six of us were somehow good in studies; hence study time was devoted only to do the homework. There was no concept of tuitions or tutor. The older siblings went to dad for any problem with school work and the younger turned to the elders.
Dad was an avid reader and needless to say that we had scores of story books. Every time he went on an official tour which was usually often, he would bring books for us. One reason we siblings are good at both English and Urdu language was these books. We had our own library in our house, where we would lend books to each other for ‘one anna’ per day (the coin being used in those days). The books were registered and the name of the borrower written down. The amount thus collected was used to buy more books or if fancied for buying ice creams or lollipops.
The ingenuity of reading these books was that we use to enact them. A story was selected, characters were distributed and many afternoons were spent learning dialogues. Our activities heightened during summer vacation when our cousins visited us or we went visiting them. Sometimes elders were also invited to watch the play. Two children would hold a bed sheet as a curtain which would literally drop when the play started.
I remember a very interesting incident. Two close relatives, an uncle and a cousin were staying at our house. For some reason both always appeared to be at dagger ends with each other. Anyway, we children decided to enact a play based on a story ‘Jehangir ka insaaf’. The characters were distributed; uncle being the eldest chose to become Emperor Jehangir and the cousin became the ‘faryaadi’ (the caller with a complaint). We the children were given the parts of darbaans and prince and princesses. The story was something like this that there is a bell in the palace of the emperor and a faryaadi comes and rings it. The emperor listens to his ‘faryaad’ (request) and gives a historic verdict.
The scene was set, a rope was hung at the entrance of the room and when it was pulled one of us would say ‘tun tun , tun tun’. When the play started, the faryaadi cousin rang the bell, a durbaan came and said, ‘Who is it?’, here the faryaadi instead of saying who he was started singing a sad filmi song. (Now this was not part of the play) The Emperor‘s face twitched into a smile and he said in his most dramatic voice ‘Durbaan! Go and see why this cow is bellowing’. Hearing this cousin’s face turned red, he stamped his foot and went out. The drama came to an abrupt end and no amount of pleading brought him back to do acting again.
Another very enjoyable past time was cooking. ‘Hund kulia’ as we called it (hand kulia means a small cooking pot). In those days cooking used to be done by burning wood or using kerosene. One of us would ‘procure’ pieces of wood from mom’s store. A stove would be set up in a far corner of the courtyard, by placing bricks in U-shape. In this activity we would ensure that one of the servants was included. Most of the time we would cook ‘suji ka halwa’ or ‘aaloo ki tarkari and rotis’. Suji ka halwa was the favorite but it also meant stealing sugar and nuts etc., hence aaloo ki tarkari was the usual dish. The end product of burnt hands and watery eyes would be a half cooked halwa or tarkari that tasted heavenly.
Cycling was an enjoyable sport. We could easily get bicycles on ‘two anna per hour’ rent. The servant was sent to get the bicycles on rent and the whole afternoon we would cycle madly in our own courtyard and ground. Bruised elbows or knees could not deter us. In fact the more anyone had bruises more gallant he/she was.
During long winters of Rawalpindi or Lahore, when outside activity would be limited, we used to play with dolls. I was good at stitching and I could make lovely clothes for the dolls. ‘Gurya ki shadi’ was thus inevitable. One sister’s gurya and another’s gudda were to be web in a grand function. An empty ghee tin would become the dhol, we would sing songs and dance and imitate all that we had seen in the marriages of our relatives. The brothers would also play their parts. They would either be drivers for our dolls or one of them would become the ‘qazi’. The nikah would be solemnized and the bride would go from one doll house to another…only till the two sisters fought and one demanded her doll back along with the dowry.
All these memories are so real and vivid and such an integral part of me that it is difficult to break away from them. Our pleasures were simple. Outings included witnessing the march past and parade on national days, going on picnics with family or a movie on special day. Eids were days to be celebrated with all religious fervor (the rate of eidee was revised every year) Ramazan was month of literal ibadat, we would wake and pray at all holy nights and all of us together would recite durood sharif 10,000 times every Friday. Our parents were very supportive of our activities; in fact we would hold ‘bait bazee’ competitions. Mom and dad would make teams, three children would be in mom’s team and the other three in dad’s team… and we would spend hours and hours learning the couplets of Iqbal, Ghalib and others from our Urdu text books and other books.
At times when I recall the childhood of my children I find a lot of change in how they behaved and played and even more different is the childhood of my grand children. But of course when they grow up and write something like this they would say the same of their next generation.