Saturday 5 September 2020

Puppu Darling Of 3 Temple Road (Part 1)

Once upon a legendary lane of Temple Road, there lived a musically gifted young boy named Puppu. As the resident-singer of the amazing area of Lahore where this writer was born and raised, Puppu’s sole joy in life was being full of it.

Singing in the lane

Growing up without the luxury of air-conditioners, we Lahore-conditioned children knew how to deal with sizzling summers when the mercury kissed forty-five degrees Celsius. The ventilators of the sixteen-foot high ceilings of my missionary St. Anthony’s High School and all public offices kept the temperature bearable inside.

Once when I complained during an electricity breakdown, my father encouraged me with a unique revelation:

“Hell is hotter but those who do well at studies will go straight to heaven.”

To me, having heavenly friends in a hellish missionary school was a slice of heaven.

Heated evenings brought restless Puppu out of the hole. With the shirt’s three top buttons open for ventilation and a proud display of a chest that was beginning to show traces of manly hairiness, he paced up and down the lane like an unfortunate lion caged at the Lahore Zoo (Chirya Ghar, 1872). During incessant rains, our singing prince rolled up to the knees the leg openings of the trousers and turned into a croaking monsoon frog (tarrata hua barsati maindak).

If one asked Puppu a question, he preferred replying with a song but was equipped to outdo any woman associated with the business of chatting. The genius was four years older to me; the difference felt monumental. I do not recall ever seeing his parents. He did have an uncle called Ajji, and a younger brother named Puttu; the latter walked with clenched fists and thumbs sticking out as if ready to hitch a double ride.

Alumni of taat-school?

I suspected Puppu played hooky thereby avoiding sticking his nose in a book. He never carried a schoolbag, never spoke of stressful studies, and probably attended the school of hard knocks were homework and classwork were unknown phenomena.

Was he old-school, no-school or a student of an unknown school of thought? From the razor-sharp mind of my father oozed another quotable gem:

“If Puppu were to aim for higher education, he would go to cow college to become a danngar daktar!” (veterinary doctor).

Interestingly, the College of Animal Husbandry (established 1882) was nearby and when I asked my mother about it, she lay bare the truth behind my father’s quote:

“Any man who studies at that Ghora Haspitaal will become an animalistic husband”.

In naturally-selected parts of our family, satire and humour evolved much differently than an ape that turned into Charles Darwin.

Snack-time all the time

Shopping for meat and vegetables at the nearby Safanwala Chowk was Puppu’s daily chore. With a plastic basket (tokri) swinging in the air and the duet, ‘Ae Baharo Gawah Rehna’ (Saiqa, 1968), on his lips, our home-spun Elvis Presley could get a vendor to sometimes hand out gratis smaller portions of the commodities. The money thus saved enabled him to snack on HICO choc-bar—when he felt Divinely privileged like the English—or lick creamy local ice-cream (malai-wali kulfi)—when he thought himself a local (desi).

He had other seasonal choices as well: water chestnuts (singharay), roasted corn (makai kay danay), sweet potatoes (shakarqandi), or sugar-cane cubes (ganderian). The juiceless remains of the last-mentioned item he ejected from his mouth at regular intervals like a lion urine-marking his territory in the wild, except that he did it while singing the lyrics that sounded mmm…mmm… slurrrppp… aannn…oonnn... slurrrppp…

In November of 1964, Lahore became the first Pakistani city where black and white television arrived with a big bang. The preferred modes of entertainment suddenly rearranged themselves in this order: television, radio and Puppu.

The youth was a walking radio station that required no electricity to broadcast, presented more variety than Radio Ceylon’s Binaca Geet-Mala, and outshone the dull Urdu Service of All India Radio. As if amused by the punctuality of the BBC, Puppu came on the air without ever synchronising his body clock with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.

Matters of faith

In an older storyThe Things I Did For Mrs Davey, I described what our residential area looked like but providing additional details will be of immense historical value to mankind.

We were blessed with a mosque at the end of our lane. It was financially supported by Mr Zameer, a large gentleman who drove a bluish grey Mercedes Benz, owned the famous Syed Bhais Private Limited Company that manufactured electricity meters for WAPDA, and later became the proprietor of a cinema-hall (Sanam) located at the junction of Queen’s Road and Ferozepur Road. As his neighbours, we felt honoured to increase his bank-balance by always paying to watch films.

Puppu normally wore shirt and trousers but come Friday and his holiness (hazrat) donned starched white shalwar-qameez and a cotton cap to look seriously religious.

The mosque’s prayer crier (muezzin) was a very old toothless gent called Baba Natthay Khan. After each prayer, the Barelvi Baba led the faithful to sing loud and lengthy praises of the Prophet.

During winter, he wore a full-face woollen cap (kann-toap) and thick socks. To earn extra money, he knitted woollen accessories for others.

Whenever Puppu saw Baba Nathay Khan, he teased with ‘Baray Miyan Diwanay Aisay Na Bano’ (Shagird, 1967) or sang the provocative ‘Mujhay Dunya Walo Sharabi Na Samjho’ (Leader, 1964). The irritated old man reacted by labelling him the devil (Shaitan).

Not many congregated five times daily to pray but the mosque—thank God for Friday—attained a greater 'house full’ status than the local cinema-halls. Less religiosity of those days kept the mullah-genie firmly inside the Rooh Afza bottle, and newspaper advertisements of whisky did not endanger any faith in any way.

Opposite the mosque lived a few Christians families; none were converted by any proselytiser from Raiwind. Interestingly, two attractive young European missionaries, who bicycled all over Lahore to sell their version of salvation, did make unsuccessful attempts to convert my mother into a Jehovah’s Witness. Their illustrated story-book is still in my possession and shows harmless doves, Mr and Mrs Adam, having an apple-pie party with the wise serpent playing the host.

Mr Jinnah’s double

Puppu’s loud singing was considered ‘disturbing’ by a quiet old neighbour, Mr Ashraf Falahi, who was a colleague of my father.

The old bachelor was a walking talking copy of Mr Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Occasionally he told the boys just one thing using just one finger out of twenty:

“Be thankful to God for giving you Pakistan. You don’t realise how bloody the partition of India really was.”

Whenever Puppu saw Mr Falahi, he switched to singing ‘Aay Qaid-e-Azam Tera Ehsaan Hay Ehsaan’. This always made Mr Falahi smile and temporarily enter the boy’s name in his mental good book. No sooner did Mr Falahi vanish out of sight, Puppu reverted to airing what my father labelled ‘loafer-type of songs’.

Merry go round the ‘two-ell’

Behind the mosque stood a tube-well—pronounced ‘two-ell’ by the poorer children. It was enclosed within a brick-structure and supplied water to the entire community. Whenever the two-ell malfunctioned, an elderly plumber called Mistry Jee from lane 5 and his sons, Mushtaq or Khushnood, were sent for repairs down the dark spiderweb-laced steps.

Right between the mosque and the two-ell existed not the land of the fairies but rather the water-bearers (maashkees, bahishtees) and the laundrymen (dhobees). The first group washed everyone’s dirty laundry in its backyard (dhobi-ghat) while the second lot supplied water in sheepskins during severe water crises.

An old toothless fairy (dhoban) did our laundry at the per-hundred rate (sainkara). Nothing could beat on Eid day the feel of her hand-pressed China silk (Boski) shirt worn over a fully starched (kalf, maya) cotton shalwar (latthay ki shalwar).

At the lane’s dead end, less affluent neighbours occupied smaller houses which, until a few decades ago, housed the servants of Khan Bahadur’s family (Mr Zameer’s father). In one such humble dwelling lived the boy whose name graces the title of this piece.

As for Mr Zameer’s children, they studied at the elitist Aitchison College on The Mall Road and never mixed with us because we misspelt it ‘H…E…sun’. The rest of us mixed freely amongst ourselves to attain the heights of delightful street-smartness.

Winter ogle Olympics

Winter evenings were always great fun. Staying inside meant dealing with fatherly rebukes but stepping outside involved playing hide and seek as all-weather children.

Some boys preferred staying indoors to consume pine nuts (chilgoza) with the ladies at home but the bolder ones stepped out with pockets loaded with peanuts (moong phali) that helped them go almost totally nuts.

To remain warm-hearted, the older boys indulged in an activity that was much hated by super-strict fathers: congregating at the locality’s gateless entrance under a Ficus Religiosa (Pipal tree) for an irreligious activity: chatting while watching passer-by girls.

The oglers were experts at casting sideways glances who possessed eyes that auto-focussed and panned to follow chosen subjects much like a movie-camera, wore sneaky smiles, employed better-than-Wi-Fi mental communications, and charged their loving hearts faster than modern cell-phones.

The boys had an endless variety of terms of endearment for the watched: chooza (a young chic), dana (grain), tota (a piece), afat (trouble), cheez (a thing), maal (merchandise), mashooq (beloved), popat (pretty doll), chikni (smooth), shay (thing), dame, etcetera.

Puppu fan club

Puppu was gifted with a loud voice that seemed suitable for a military parade ground but it was the melodiousness that saved him from becoming a cadet. While singing duets, he expertly imitated female singers’ parts, and for tunes that required yodelling, he did a better job better than the Swiss.

Sometimes he thought of himself as Rajendra Kumar sans Babita while singing ‘Aa Meri Rani Lay Ja Chhalla Nishani’(Anjaana, 1969).

When he sang ‘Aasman Say Aya Farishta’ (An Evening in Paris, 1967), he thought he was Shammi Kapoor ogling at a bikini-clad Sharmila Tagore.

Puppu’s greatest feat was singing the duet ‘Chand Zard Zard Hay’ (Jaali Note, 1960) that featured some amazing whistling in it; he did all three parts to perfection.

Nobody ever physically checked Puppu if he had an off switch—today they have a name for it: OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). We wondered how the family dealt with him at home because he strolled at the oddest hours with a head held high, singing mostly Muhammad Rafi’s Indian movie hits such as ‘Khoya Khoya Chaand’.

When he sang the ohhhhh part of ‘Khilona Jaan Kar Tum To Mera DIl Tore Jatay Ho’ (Khilona, 1970), Mrs Davey’s pet dog, Nehru, joined in with a loud aaooooo.

The little ones loved it when he sang the inspirational ‘Nanhay Munnay Bachay’ (Boot Polish, 1953).

Of mothers and sisters

In the dim street lights of winter evenings, Puppu’s breath became visible steam as he started an unstoppable musical programme accompanied by finger-snapping.

Vendors appeared with pushcarts lit by bright pump-action gas-lamps and shouted, “Karari rayori…mong-phali” (crisp sesame seed confectionary and peanuts). At their heels came sellers of boiled eggs whose familiar sales pitch was, “Aanday, garam aanday” (hot eggs).

One evening when a beauty passed by, Puppu’s song-memory evaporated and he uttered the unthinkable: “Aanday, garam aanday”.

Offended, she swiftly turned around but slapped a boy who was not the real culprit. Later, a laughing Puppu pacified our wounded soldier by awarding him an edible gallantry medal: garam aanda.

Watching the watchers

At the lane’s fiery gate, a younger boy like me only played the role of a neutral U.N observer who noted that the idle watchers got countless evil eyes from the fairer sex but miraculously caught no eye diseases.

I had, until then, neither studied male philosophy nor female logic and, therefore, found incomprehensible the popular question which occasionally slipped off an irritated girl’s lips:

Tumharay ghar maen koi maa behan nahi hay?” (Don’t you have a mother or a sister at home?).

Nobody ever answered; they collectively suppressed their smiles because all had over-protected female relatives at home.

Things have changed since then. Now this ‘objectionable sexual harassment’ is a punishable offence that makes top dogs lose their tails because of occasionally unsubstantiated accusations of the ‘me too’ kind but the street romance of the 1960s did lead sometimes to happy marriages and happier children.

- - to be concluded - -

© Tahir Gul Hasan, 2020

Coming soon: Puppu Darling Of 3 Temple Road (Part 2). Do return to this space to enjoy Puppu’s pranks and to find out why he was called ‘darling’.


Urdu words and sentences explained

  1. Taat-school: an ill-equipped school for poor people which does not have any furniture and where the students sit on jute-mats placed on the floor.

  2. Ghora Haspitaal: ghora is horse and Haspitaal is hospital.

  3. Ae Baharo Gawah Rehna: O spring season, bear witness

  4. Baray Miyan Diwanay Aisay Na Bano: O old man, don’t be mad this way

  5. Mujhay Dunya Walo Sharabi Na Samjho: O people of the world, don’t take me for a drunkard

  6. Rooh Afza: A famous summer drink whose name means, that which refreshes the soul

  7. Aay Qaid-e-Azam Tera Ehsaan Hay Ehsaan: O great leader, it’s all (meaning creation of Pakistan) a favour from you

  8. Aa Meri Rani Lay Ja Chhalla Nishani: O my queen, take my ring as a souvenir (of love)

  9. Aasman Say Aya Farishta: an angel has come from heaven

  10. Chand Zard Zard Hay: the moon is red

  11. Khoya Khoya Chaand: the moon (appears) so lost

  12. Khilona Jaan Kar Tum To Mera DIl Tore Jatay Ho: You break my heart thinking it’s a toy

  13. Nanhay Munnay Bachay: a very small child


Tahir said...

Tahir, I read your article on Puppu Darling Of 3 Temple Road. Masha Allah.. it was well written and contained good old Memories of your past. I appreciate, your writing skills and effort. Keep up the good work.

Tahir Gul Hasan said...

Thanks Tahir bhai, for shocking me with your appearance after eleven years AND a kind comment.

Your area has already been mentioned in an article I wrote about Amrita Sher-Gil. Please visit:

Syed Iqbal Haider said...

Dear Tahir,

A very good read indeed. Although my childhood wasn't spent in Lahore, your expression has made me live in those times. The songs you have mentioned also take you back to the sixties- the golden age of music. Looking forward to the next part.

Best Wishes.

Warm Regards

Tahir Gul Hasan said...

Huzoor Iqbal sahib, many thanks for the DROP. Your adulthood, if not the childhood, is indeed being spent in Lahore. Enjoy while you can.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tahir,
Humor is a great way to hook readers, no matter the subject. Your perspective is refreshing. Your outlook on life is amazing. You always know how to find that silver lining ��
Your new article Puppu Darling of 3 Temple Road, is very delightful, admirable, exquisite and enthralling. I really liked the way you wrote about your beautiful memories of golden days of Lahore.
There are countless reasons that justify why Lahore lovers say “Lahore Lahore Hai”.
Though I am a pure Karachite, but I also love lot of things about Lahore ��
How do you keep being so funny and making everyone laugh? I’m impressed!

Best wishes for your next article.
Your No #1 Fan��

Tahir Gul Hasan said...

Dear NUMB-HER 1 fan, thanks for your in-puth. You're much too kind with your appreciation. Could I have some more?

You asked me, "How do you keep being so funny and making everyone laugh?". Don't tell my secret to anyone: I tickle myself before going to bed, laugh in my dreams, and then wake up to make the world laugh. Any objections? Please don't sue me, oh please don't!

Anonymous said...

A trip down memory enjoyable read.

Anonymous said...

OMG Tahir!
You are too funny…
I think, when God was handing out all the talent, he gave you a big chunk of it, didn't he? Cause once again, I would like to appreciate your creative writing style and awesomeness.

You're brilliant. Or maybe I'm brilliant because I know you through your work?
Best regards,
Your No # 1 Pankha

Joyce Hansen said...

Hello Tahir. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Puppu. You are a storyteller. Even though I don't know the Urdu words or how to pronounce them or all of the cultural references, it didn't matter. You brought the place and the people to life with your vivid details.

This reminds me of the neighborhood I grew up in in New York City--specifically the Bronx. The neighborhood characters, the poor families and more well-to-do families--by rich American standards we were all poor. The boys on the corner eyeing the girls who walked by. And every neighborhood worth its salt had a configuration of Puppu.

Thanks for the writing lesson, my brother.

Joyce Hansen

Tahir Gul Hasan said...

Joyce, thanks for your most kind compliments! Letting me know how YOU grew up and what was Bronx like are very interesting things for me.
Seems like all those NOT born with silver spoons in their mouths share somewhat similar life experiences.
We may be separated by the Atlantic Ocean but then there's no Atlantic that can separate people.
Your inability to fully enjoy Urdu means now I must do what I've never done before: add footnotes that explain the Urdu words I sprinkled all over the article. That means, you'll have to re-read the article! Ready?
Finally, I have a theory: Puppu lives in different forms in all races and in every country. Agreed?
God bless, sista.