Saturday, 17 October 2020

Puppu Darling Of 3 Temple Road (Part 2)

What you read in part-1 of this story was only half of what Puppu did. He did much more, as we shall soon see. Before proceeding further, some amazing facts require mentioning about Temple Road where our house has stood since the 1930s.

An historic road

Temple Road was named thus to honour a Sikh Gurdwara built in the memory of the sixth Guru, 
Har Gobind (1595-1644), whose reign, known as the ‘Gurdwara Chhati Badshahi’ (the sixth reign), lasted for thirty-seven years.

Emperor Jahangir (1569-1627) arrested Guru Har Gobind’s father, Guru Arjan, Mian Mir—the Sufi friend of the Guru—lobbied for a royal pardon, whereas ultra-orthodox Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi cheered at the execution of ‘infidel Arjan’. In the years to come, the son would fight four wars against the ‘oppressive tyrannical foreign rule of the Mughals’.

Until recently, the above facts remained unknown to me, and when I complained to my mother for keeping mum, she replied in an exceedingly relaxed tone, “Haw-hai. You never asked me!”

There is no denying, we Pakistanis take great pride in memorising exaggerated romanticised tales about invading foreigner Muslim Generals yet suffer from collective amnesia at the mention of indigenous heroes of resistance who belonged to other faiths.

This is Radio Pakistan

Mr Chaudhry Bashir Ahmed and family lived two flats away from us in number four. The gent worked for Radio Pakistan, popularly known as raydway station. I feared one day Mr Bashir would place a skinny hand over my shoulder and soberly announce: This is Radio Pakistan. The sad news read by Bashir Ahmed.

Mr Bashir had just stepped out for some fresh air that day when Puppu took to imitating Radio Pakistan’s famous newscaster, Shakeel Ahmed, whose legendary news bulletin, broadcast during the 
Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, went thus:

“Abhi abhi khabar aee hay keh Pak Fizaya kay bambaar tayyaron nay Halwara kay hawai-adday par hamla kar kay dushman kay bohat say jahaaz tabah kar diaye…”

(The news just received: Pakistan Air Force’s bomber aircraft attacked Halwara airfield and destroyed many airplanes of the enemy…”)

To hear what Shakeel Ahmed sounded like, click HERE.

I cannot say with certainty if it was Puppu's loud public singing or this particular prank which made 
Mr. Bashir ignore his natural vocal talent by never arranging for an audition at Radio Pakistan.

Mr Bashir’s three sons never associated with the ‘riff raff’—in plain words: all the boys of our lane 3. One of his sons, Farrukh Bashir, was known as Chutki (finger snap). He received seven-years of 
sitar lessons from Ustad Sharif Khan Poonchwaley and eventually became a producer at Pakistan Television Corporation.

Several decades later on 11 March 2008, terrorists launched a massive suicide attack on the Federal Investigation Agency’s office located on Temple Road. Mr. Bashir was at home when the deadly shock-wave caused a door-frame to fall over him; within weeks the head injury brought his life’s bulletin to a sad end.

Where art thou, Ejaz?

There lived a few docile boys on lane 3 but one named Ejaz took the proverbial cake. His drill-sergeant daddy suspected the precious boy habitually escaped to the jungle outside, and to check on the whereabouts, he frequently yelled, “Ejaaaaz!”

No matter what the location, the dutiful son immediately responded with an equally loud and reassuring, “Aaya jeeee!” (coming).

Puppu soon began to take special delight in copying the two hollers. Whenever Ejaz walked by, Puppu called, “Ejaz!”, and the omnipresent boy-chorus of lane 3 responded, “Aaya jee!”.

Giggles naturally followed but Ejaz never reacted to what was life’s observable fact.

Many years later I found Ejaz in Jeddah working as a ground staff member for the Saudi Arabian Airlines. Whenever we met, he tried to convince me with a vice-like handshake that yesterday’s pussycat was a macho-man.

Ramzani drummers and postmen

Although Muslims generally relied on mechanical alarm clocks to wake up early for fasting during the month of fasting (
Ramadan), drum-beaters made the scene more musical for the faithful.

Puppu could not outdo the drummers because they arrived at a time when both man and beast enjoyed deep sleep. We never found out if Puppu got up to please The Almighty with 
fasting or preferred chasing after pretty film heroines in dreamland.

Each drummer marked an area in whose streets he played a large drum (dhol), and repeatedly paused to give loud pious calls: “Roza-daaro, utho, roza rakho” (O, those who will fast, wake up for fasting).

entitled believers to religiously exceed their bellies' natural capacity by speedily consuming oily parathas dipped in gravy dishes. The activity abruptly ended when a nearby mosque's mullah announced from a loudspeaker: “Khaana peena band kar dein. Namaz ka waqt ho gaya haaaay!” (Stop eating and drinking. It’s time now for prayers).

Soon afterwards, a deafening call for congregational prayers woke up the very young from deep slumber. My mother thought the sound level was ‘enough to wake up the dead in the nearby Miani Sahib graveyard’.
Shell-shocked by the call, children woke up to enquire from sehri-fatigued mothers, “Bhaoo aya?” (Has a djinn arrived?).

They were told, “Nahin! Allah Mian kehtay hein so jao!” (No! God says, go to sleep).

The festive Eid day arrived at the end of Ramadan to thank God for liberating starved stomachs. After the morning Eid prayers, the first to appear in the neighbourhood would be the drummers. Looking fresh and attired in brand new clothes, they collected cash gifts (Eidy) from those whom they had dutifully roused for thirty consecutive early mornings.

A few days before Eid, the postmen a
stutely indulged in postal blackmail by not delivering letters. On Eid day they arrived wearing patent khaki uniforms and upon receiving cash Eidy, respectfully handed over a letter or an Eid-card as if it had dropped from heaven that very moment.
The transgender dancers

Puppu was an advanced amateur singer who laughed off all competition except the professional dancing transvestites known as khusraas, heejraas, and Khawaja-saras. They magically appeared at people’s doorsteps in small groups to dance and sing on festive occasions, such as, the birth of a child—especially that of a son.

Boys who dared to insult faced vile curses which oozed from a khusra's mouth. Hearing swear words sometimes sounded better than music. The lads eventually discovered that the ‘Ph.D,’ label assigned to them by the oppressed was not the abbreviated form of 'doctors of philosophy' but rather pakkay haraam day (Punjabi for: positively born out of wedlock).

To provide musical accompaniment, the two-piece band of the eunuch khusraas used a battered 
harmonium and a punch-packed dholak. They clapped more boldly than qawwali-singers, danced more wildly than mad dervishes, stomped the feet harder than soldiers to activate the musical brass anklets (ghungroo), and sang popular songs at a volume which silenced the ‘hello, testing, 1-2-3-4’ of the nearby Hall Road’s loudspeaker vendors.

Living in a ‘trans’ world

At 6 p.m., a giant called black-and-white television 
woke up to hypnotise the colourful population. Before regular transmission commenced, viewers were free to stare at the static insignia of the station to find meanings where there were none, and listen to a short non-raga melody which droned in the background for several minutes.

Much like a book read from cover to cover, viewers stared at the television from 6 p.m. until the 
‘brain programming’ ended at 10 p.m. when the Pakistani flag fluttered on the screen to the tune of the national anthem. Pondering over its incomprehensible Persian lyrics worked better than a sleeping pill.

Unbelievable as it may seem now, there was no television on Mondays but we had live transgender-vision that featured khusras in flashy makeup.

During short performances the onlookers showered the dancers with bank notes which they efficiently stuffed inside pairs of pointed chest-mounted money-bags.

mpared with adult eyesight, children always see things differently. Precocious boys noticed that the members of the third gender frequently adjusted something under their dupattas; that something was liberally-padded fake femininity inside pointed brassieres that were fashionable during the 1960s. Since today’s fashionistas are—ooh la-la—so concerned about global-warming, terrorism, and pandemics, this pointed fashion stands no chance of returning.

Those were my wonder years. A naughty aunty described a brassiere thus: “Beta, these pointed fabric bowls are sown together; one is for salan (gravy) and the other for roti (bread).

Such sensitive information increased my appetite and put me off regular dinner plates until the truth behind the undergarment lay itself utterly bare.

The bored housewives of our lane always carved out time for khusra-shows. My mother still fondly recalls, “Oh, how joyously the khusraas danced at your birth! Even several years after that event, the same dancers continued to appear at our doorstep to bless you!”

Today I feel positively blessed by not only both the sexes but also the one that lies in between, and which appears to be benefiting from global mainstreaming efforts.

Mrs Davey takes a direct hit

In 1969, the movie, ‘Nai Laila, Naya Majnoon’, was showing at the Plaza cinema hall across the Charing Cross police station on Queen’s Road. The heroine was Nasima Khan from Dhaka—then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. The comic hero was 
Syed Kamal—perceived as ‘Pakistan’s 'Raj Kapoor’.

For this film, a Pakistani composer efficiently copied Muhammad Rafi’s song ‘O Hasina Zulfon Wali Jane-e-Jahan’ (Teesri Manzil, 1966) and turned it into a duet: ‘O Meri Mehbooba’. Puppu meticulously copied the parts of Ahmed Rushdi and Mala Begum, and sang for our listening pleasure.

One beautiful Sunday morning Puppu sneaked out on uncle Ajji’s 
1961 model Vespa 150 (VBA). This Italian 150 cc scooter was immensely popular in those days because its front design guarded the legs, a flat area between the rider and the handlebar accommodated a child in standing position, a small compartment stored personal items, and a spare tyre on some models graced the rear of the passenger seat.

I was then in class-IV. On a fateful day my teacher, 
Mrs Davey, affectionately known as ‘moti mem’ (fat lady), was seen returning after having attended the Sunday service at the grand church of St. Anthony's High School on Lawrence Road.

From a distance, I heard Puppu singing ‘
Tu Hay Laila Nai, Main Hoon Majnoon Naya’, a hit from ‘Nai Laila, Naya Majnoon’. As he passed by, the head moving from side to side, he changed the vocal radio station to the duet ‘O Meri Mehbooba’.

The translation of the male singer’s part:

O my beloved!
Tell me, what has happened?
From garden to garden, like a butterfly
Where do you fly off to?

The translation of the female singer’s part:

What shall I tell you has happened?
My heart is lost
Is it you?
Who has stolen my heart?

It was too late to warn Puppu. Oblivious of pedestrian traffic, he crashed into Mrs Davey’s hindquarters. The lady, built like a 
Sherman tank, did not fall but Puppu and the scooter did.

The singing suddenly stopped. The Vespa’s accelerator revved up as Puppu tried to maintain a grip over it. The engine produced a wheeeeeooonn sound and fainted after several mechanical hiccups. The rider lay flat on the back in the dust of the unpaved road of our locality (mohalla), and the dark sunglasses rested diagonally across over a face that had the potential to launch a few civil Vespas if not a thousand non-existent ships of Pakistan Navy.

Mrs Davey understood all the Urdu that had until then oozed out of Puppu’s very Punjabi mouth. She was nobody’s imaginary beloved (mehbooba) but there was reason to believe she imagined herself a butterfly (titli).

Red in the face and foaming liberally at the mouth, she shouted, “You loafer chokra-loge, don’t you 
bloomin’ see where the hell you’re goin’?”

Chokra is colloquial for boy, and loge for folks. Such words coming out of an Anglo-Indian mouth took on a derogatory meanin
g. Nobody called a decent boy from a good family chokra.

Puppu apologised profusely. The 
45-rpm record (tawa) of his tongue got stuck, “Auntie! Aa…aa…auntie…aa…aa…auntieeee!”

“Shut up! Idiot!” she thundered like the heroine in the song that Puppu was singing a while ago.

With the sunglasses now hanging from one ear, Puppu got up to dust his clothes and then, perhaps out of sheer innocence, did the same to Mrs Davey’s rear end.

“Bugger off, you rascal! Don’t you bloody do that!” she screamed.

Clayton, Mrs Davey’s eldest and wildest son, having heard the clamour rushed to rescue mummy in distress; he sounded like another stuck record, “Mummy…mum…mum…mummeeee!”

The aunteeee-mumeeee duel ended in a quick draw after Clayton took pity on Puppu’s apologetic face that was by then redder than a ripe tomato.

It was rumoured Mrs Davey complained to Puppu’s father and uncle Ajji. In the weeks that followed, our singing sensation suffered a ban imposed on aimless Vespa rides, and demotion to the rank of foot soldier (paidal march).

A hero without a heroine

Puppu was a hopeless romantic at heart, in love with God knows who. None claimed to have seen him broadcast ballads for a beloved perched over a terrace. He teased none of the neighbourhood ‘sisters’, stayed away from every precocious maid-servant (nokarani), and never stooped to having a sweeperess (chuhrijama-daarnibhangan) cure his aching back.

Puppu sang because he was a nightingale, a rare rose without thorns. These qualities endeared him to the members of the fairer gender who understood he was not a threat to modesty or chastity.

Sometimes when my jovial mother saw the 
crooner pass by the window with a hit song on his lips, she enquired, “Puppu darling, where is your puppy?”
Interestingly, there lived two sisters in the house next doors, Puppy and Nanni. They were just beginning to take classical dance lessons. Years later they joined 
Pakistan International Airlines as airhostesses.

On a serious note, my disciplinarian father saw Puppu as a leader of all loafers ('lofaron ka sardaar')—a title gladly bestowed upon the undesirables those population he suspected was rising rapidly.

Fade to black

Several decades later I met with Puppu’s real puppy. His wife and children were at the funeral of Mirza sahib’s son, Shah Jahan, who lost the battle of life to cancer.

Old neighbours had by then mostly moved to foreign lands to take oaths of allegiance to faithfully serve other governments. Shah Jahan’s younger brother, naughty Raja, was a British national.

Puppu’s family lived in some corner of Lahore where our singing sensation met a quiet end. It remains a deep regret that I was unable to pay my last respects to a man who filled with so much music the hearts of the entire population of Temple Road’s lane 3.

The gloomy atmosphere at Shahjahan’s funeral did not prevent old neighbours from talking about bygone times and characters. Puppu’s children were clueless about what their deceased father meant to the old neighbours, and thought I was joking when I narrated several funny episodes from his life. It was this meeting which prompted me to write about Puppu for posterity.

Viva Puppu!

By today’s elitist standards, my childhood might seem strange and deprived but it was culturally super-rich. Life today in the 
DHAs and the Bahria Towns of Pakistan is quite dull. The moneyed children of generation-X live in sanitised ‘gated communities’ and like farm-chickens, seldom experience rough-and-tough desi life.

Today's affluent ladies prefer going shopping with armed guards in humungous vehicles. The teenaged sons of rich daddies drive expensive sports cars or ride noisy super-bikes that cost millions of rupees each. None wait or save to buy anything because everything is available on-line or on credit.

Courtesy of Puppu and other daredevils, I experienced the swinging 1960s under liberal laboratory conditions which produced 
street-smart children with naughty genes. Within the walled city of Lahore, you will still find such youngsters.

Religious texts indicate that God Almighty possesses hosts of angels who sing His non-stop praises. Puppu is resting right now but I am sure he will one day be gainfully employed in heaven to make only 
holy joyful noise.

An urban dictionary defines puppu as someone who is ‘typically mean, smells bad and looks funny’. The Puppu I knew was nothing of the kind. If you looked at different human races living in so many lands, each will have its own version of a darling Puppu who might be living just around the corner.

- - concluded - -

© Tahir Gul Hasan, 2020

To enjoy part-1 of this story, click HERE.


Nosheen Sajjad. said...

Zaberdast... you are a true story teller who ties with his words. Again you took me in my childhood memories. Your expression is so powerful k while reading i was visualizing (places, people,vespa), smiling, feeling & then lost with your memories... your humour is great. I'm fully impressed, how you hooked with ur writing skills.
Zaberdast Tahir bhai... keep it up .
Regards ❤

Tahir Gul Hasan said...

Noshi, thanks for thoroughly enjoying these trips down memory lane No: 3.
It's very important for me to pen them for posterity.
Stay blessed.