Daily Times: Sunday, August 20, 2006

Lahore Lahore Aye: Some more memories of old Lahore

By A Hamid

Before Pakistan, two English language newspapers used to be published from Lahore: the Civil and Military Gazette and The Tribune. The latter was housed in Bharat Building across the road from Mayo Hospital. It later became the office of The Pakistan Times and Imroze. On Abbot Road, where Imroze was based for some time, there used to be a large printing press which was allotted to the journalist Mian Muhammad Shafi “Meem Sheen”, after its Hindu owners left for India in 1947. This press stood next to Nishat Cinema (I think it was called Kapoor Art Press) in a large single-storey building, fronted by a covered shed, a part of which was the Imroze office.

Maulana Charagh Hasan Hasrat was editor of Imroze and was to be found in a corner room at one end of the shed, a bamboo curtain hanging over his door. There would the great man be, working in the light of a table lamp. The editorial staff of the newspaper included Saeed Kirmani, Syed Sibte Hasan, Abdullah Malik, Hamid Akhtar and Shakoor Ahsan. One part of the shed was occupied by a transport company. Mechanics trying to fix a faulty engine were a common sight. Because the same roof housed a newspaper and a transport company, sometimes it ended up creating hilarious situations. A workman would burst into Hasrat’s room and announce, “The driver of 2638 wants a new tyre.” The Maulana would look up and say in his perfectly accented Urdu, “What did you say, Maulana?” He called everyone Maulana.

Civil and Military Gazette was based in a long veranda-like building that has now been turned into a shopping centre. Zahoor ul Hasan Dar and I used to go there to chat with Shibli BCom, who was the paper’s commerce editor. Rudyard Kipling had edited the C&MG back in the old days and a commemorative plaque used to remind everyone of that. In the next block to the Civil, the photographer S Rollo had his studio, his neighbours being a Chinese dentist and two Chinese shoemakers. The dentist specialised in gold teeth. The dentist and the shoemakers remained in business for several years after independence but no one knows today what happened to them or where they went. The next block was my favourite as it contained the Feroz Sons bookshop and the Smith and Campbell chemist store. Agha Babar has recorded in his reminiscences that before 1947, English salesgirls used to work here. It survived until at least the early 1960s. Ibne Insha and I would sometimes drop in there to buy imported perfumes. What is today Feroz Sons used to be a bookshop even before 1947, run by an Englishman.

But let me now go to the lower end of the Mall where Tollington Market stood, selling the finest fresh produce and poultry. The building had fallen into disrepair and the corporation decided that it should be demolished and a modern commercial complex built in its place. However, civic groups rose in opposition to the plan and it was decided in the end that the Tollington Market would be rebuilt exactly as it once was. The task has been nearly accomplished and very nicely too. The Market was built by the British during the Raj for their shopping and, it was mostly frequented by them. I have seen similar food markets in Calcutta and Rangoon. The one in Burma was called Scott Market. Food items imported from Britain were sold there for its regular clientele.

In the block next to Tollington Market stood the Commercial Building with a number of stores that sold mostly imported goods. After independence, the stores, almost all of which belonged to non-Muslims, were taken over by refugees. The movie magazine Director used to have its office in Commercial Building. The magazine was owned by Chaudhry Fazle Haq and Shabab Kiranwi was the editor. An endearing feature of this publication were the delightful cartoons by Shaukat whom everyone called Shauki. Manto used to write for Director as this earned him some of the money he so badly needed. He would come in quietly, hand in his story or sketch – some of his famous Bombay movie world sketches were published in Director – take the money and leave. Those were Manto’s last days.

One block down from Dyal Singh Mansion, if you were walking towards Regal Cinema, was the newspaper Afaq on the second floor of a building. The year was 1954 or 1955 and Nasir Kazmi, Intizar Husain and Ali Sufyan Afaqi all worked for this newspaper. While Intizar and Afaqi were columnists, Nasir was in the night shift. I too had joined the paper but was on the day shift. The night shift in-charge was Qayoom Qureshi who excelled at very quick translation of news stories from English to Urdu. He became my first journalism teacher. Nasir knew nothing about this business but he needed the job. The material that was to go into the day’s edition would be handed over to the calligraphers who would transcribe it on yellow paper. Syed Noor Ahmed was the paper’s general manager. Manto used to write a piece for the Sunday edition. There were special instructions to the accountant that Manto should be paid as soon as he had handed in his piece. One person I remember from those days was a young man named Hasrat who had started a news service called Urdu Press, which was based in Gowalmandi’s Gandhi Street. The “office” was really two cots in a room, on one of which Hasrat sat, writing out stories he had gathered from here and there. He made several copies with the help of carbon paper for all the papers that subscribed to his service. Each copy would be laid out on the cot next to his as if to dry.

Both Nasir Kazmi and I were in the habit of demanding advances from the accountant because we needed money for tea and cigarettes. I always found it far easier to write a piece than to demand an advance. Nasir’s theory was that you should ask for the money right away because the longer you hesitated, the more difficult it became. Once I went to our accountant, seeking an advance of Rs 15 because my grandfather had “died”. The accountant handed me two chits both of which carried the sad news of my grandfather’s demise in my own hand. “You have already killed him twice”, he said calmly.

But those were the days; we had very little, but we were young and our hearts were full of joy and hope. Life lay in front of us like an infinite and un-travelled road.

A Hamid, the distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer, contributes a column based on his memories every week. Translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan


Back to A. Hameed's Page

Back to Column's Page