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Profile: High life, Lahore

Updated Jun 30, 2013 03:37pm


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Fatima Jinnah among Lahore's socialites.
Fatima Jinnah among Lahore's socialites.

Soaked in the golden age of the ’60s, Lahore was an island of hedonistic pleasure. For teens who had yet to say goodbye to the loss of innocence that perforce visits every adult when real life issues strike, ours was a fairytale existence. Who can forget ‘Mr Chips’? With his bagful of packets of chips he would pop up from every corner of Anarkali bazaar to accost you. His voice, 50 years later, still rings in my ears. The channa chaat at Bano Bazaar had to be eaten after mom would finish with her petticoat and blouse matching with the saris she’d tote around.

A play at the Alhambra was like being a part of the cast; a cricket match at the Gaddafi Stadium was like a fashion parade; we all had our favourite cricketers whom we fancied, my poster boy being Ijaz Butt (don’t go rolling your eyes, he was quite a looker then); ice cream at Chalet on the Mall was like sitting in a Swiss cabin with a school buddy (mine being Zenobia Khurshid, now Mrs Akhund, and Nasreen Muzaffar, now Mrs Iqbal); book browsing at Ferozesons on the Mall with my two older brothers was a trip to wonderland and textbook buying with parents at Imperial Book Depot was a growing up activity, each new school year signalling a march towards maturity; orange juice binging at Hall Road in winter was a drink from heaven; grocery shopping at Tollington Market lent its own colonial aura and jiving at the Gymkhana (Lawrence Hall) if one was lucky to find a partner, well let me continue…

Teenage Ball was an annual winter affair at Lahore Gymkhana Club, the building also known as Lawrence Hall. With promises made to be goody good, permission to attend would be reluctantly granted by parents who ensured that big brothers went along to keep an eye on their kid sister. But big brothers being big brothers had their own conquests to tend to while forgetting about me and my cousin Kaye (that was her nickname) now Mrs Imran Ahmad. While popular Kaye would be on the floor, yours truly, awkwardly attired in an ill-fitting half coat (that’s what they were known as then) with a bulging behind packed in a sack shirt (the fad in the 60s) would be sitting like a wallflower waiting to be asked to dance.

‘Teddy boys’ that’s what the St Anthony crowd were called. The late Shahid Rehman was our Rock Hudson. Girls liked him. Others like Munir Akram (our ex ambassador to the UN) Dawar Shaikh, the late governor Punjab Salman Taseer, aka Billo for his blue eyes, and Sunny Saeedudin (son of Brigadier Saeeduddin) were the regulars at ‘mixed’ teenage parties which, while other teenagers attended, were a no-go area in our household. Among girls, the talented and beautiful Naveed Rehman stood out as all-rounder. She was a student of Queen Mary College. We were next door at the Convent of Jesus & Mary. Our head girl, Syeda Abida Hussain aka Chandi, was a stunner.

As alumni, each year she’d return for a summer break from her finishing school in Switzerland and she’d be invited to talk about her experiences. It was awesome. As a rare embodiment of beauty and brains, (with wealth thrown in) Abida’s taffeta dresses and smooth delivery brought about a lively sense of happenstance. We all wanted to copy her.

Ah! The movies of those times. Plaza, Regal and the Odeon cinemas were our watering holes. During intermission, we’d recognise our friends from school — Lahore was so cliquish in those days, it still is till today! As teenagers, we easily related to movies featuring teenage love affairs like Splendour in the Grass starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty whose story of sexual repression, love and heartbreak played havoc with young minds like ours. Peyton Place was another sizzler. The exposé of the lives and loves of the residents of a small town in the US where scandal, suicide and moral hypocrisy hid behind a veneer of pretentious living introduced our impressionable minds to the American way of life. Lolita was another bombshell. (The government film censor board must have worn blinkers then!)

Magazines like Playboy and True Romance had already ‘educated’ the teenagers of Lahore about the ‘birds and the bees.’ But it was the American movies that captured our attention about teens across the Atlantic. We considered ourselves liberated (not in the sexual sense though) but America appeared downright promiscuous. Alongside the adult stuff, one still stuck to reading Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer, Daphne du Maurier’s haunting love story ‘Rebecca’, the Bronte sisters and of course Jane Austen. We had already graduated from Enid Blyton mysteries.

On balmy nights we’d sit and listen to Noor Jehan or Farida Khannum or Iqbal Bano sing Faiz at the open-air theatre in Bagh-i-Jinnah. On one such event, a senior official shushed a lady who was rather loud. The lady, wife of a senior bureaucrat, turned around to slap him. The news spread quickly. Yes, Lahore had its scandals hitting it all the time. That’s what made the place so ‘sexy.’

Foreign dignitaries, including emperors, empresses, queens and first ladies visited Lahore. After empress Farah Diba of Iran came, we teased our hair into a beehive hoping to have a ‘Farah Diba bouffant.’ Memorable was the vying for attention by US First Lady Jackie Kennedy and her sister princess Lee Radziwill from president Ayub Khan. He must have appeared a conflicted man, having to choose between two ethereal beauties.

Fashionistas, the devoted followers of fashion alongside their lesser trendy sisters, the hidebound ladies of Lahore learnt firsthand how women (Jackie and Lee) across two continents, dressed and lived a life celebrated for being direct, free-spirited and open.

The rich and stylish culture that the 60s embraced still makes Lahore the heartthrob of Pakistan. Nasir Kazmi’s verse says it best: Shehr-e-Lahore, teri raunaqain dayam aabad: Teri galyon ki hawa khainch ke layi mujh ko. (O city of Lahore, may your lights never dim; It was the breeze of your streets that pulled me back).— Anjum Niaz

Comments (50) Closed

shahid humayun makhdumi Jun 30, 2013 05:10pm

yes so true, I did live the dream than, now I am living it in Toronto, Canada for last 40 yrs, did meet Mrs. Kennedy in Peshawar and knew Shahid Rehamal and others well, saw free movies in Regal and Plaza my uncles owned the cinimas and how can I forget all the hangout-Ilived the dream So true indeed, I lived the dream.

Muhammad Aslam Jun 30, 2013 05:22pm

What a wonderful story; It brought tears in my eyes reading about the life, happiness, and pride being a Pakistani and above all a Lahori. People called us "Lahori" when we visited our village.

All the bureaucrats and foreign ambassdors having a dinner at Syed Martab Ali's Palace at the bank of Canal Park Gulberg. Syed Babar Ali used to be star of the party. There are no more Syed Martab Ali's caliber industrialists who have the love of Pakistan and its People. May Allah bless Mrs. Maratab Ali who treated us like her own grandchildren eventhough we had NO blood realations to that noble family. One of our distant relative was Syed Martab Ali's personal servant. Yet, I did not know until I started the Medical school and Mrs. Martab Ali was spending her last days. May Allah shower her and her family with love and mercy. I tried to vist Syed Babar Ali in 2008 and he was not in Lahore or may be guards did not feel I should have the previlage to meet Babar Ali. Where is that Lahore and Pakistan. I miss her very dearly while sitting in a small beautiful hilly town in America.

Mateen Jun 30, 2013 06:14pm

Maybe that's why we don't have it anymore; the rich and the elite enjoying all the good things while the poor were left to rust and face all the problems

Abdul Sheikh Jun 30, 2013 06:19pm

@shahid humayun makhdumI i: This article really shows how the high society of 60s have been able to corrupt the nation of Pakistan. Pakistan is still ruled by this high society and feudal lords who were trained to be Kala Angrez in convent and English medium private schools. They have forced the real talent of Pakistan from middle class families who were trained as physicians and engineers in professional universities of Pakistan and later graduate degrees in the West to stay abroad. Shame on this high society.

Johar Jun 30, 2013 06:28pm

While you all walked in Anarkali and visited affairs a gymkhana club while we rot in the summer heat and studied in the light of carosine lamps in 45 celcius. While your mother bought nice suites and saris and you enjoyed chaat, we barely could have a corn bread twice a day and torn dupatta over my mom head. While you gymkhana, we did not have roof over our heads. While you had nice schools, we sat outside in open sky wrote on wooden and metal pieces. It does makes me think that you all did not care then and your alike do not care now and this imbalance and unfair treatment brought us all down. I do live in Toronto like Shahid Hamayun Sahab and neither miss those days or the current situation in Pakistan. The only thing I miss is my youth. Please you fortunate, think of those unfortunate and do something tangible and bring the best.

Zulekha Soorma Jun 30, 2013 06:29pm

Being one of the generation of the 60's , I fully relate with your article. We had compulsory reading at school and illicit reading of Peyton Place etc with school friends. We got to see movies after our parents had seen them but we would get to know the story through friends whose parents were not so strict. As for parties, since we went to a coed school and the students were also from the upper echelons, we would hear of the rock n roll parties attended by them. We could not attend these parties as our grandmother forbid it. But you could imagine the horror faced by these party goers when they were banned from attending by no one less than our school principal as the GCE exams were very near . The parents were informed and asked not to send their children to such late night parties or face the consequences of the students not being allowed for the exams from the school. Such was the discipline in our school. I am sure you had a rollicking time like we had when we were teens in the 60s. The present confused generation has shallow knowledge and have no attention span because they are used in everything instant like instant coffee with texting and internet as their tools.

umesh bhagwat Jun 30, 2013 07:42pm

it is time to revive the Lahore of the 60s!

Sanator Edward Black Jun 30, 2013 07:46pm

It was thrilling to read the article, thought I had forgotten my time in Lahore in the 60s. As a son of a Canadian diplomat and having gone to local school(St.Anthony) most of the people mentioned in the page are known to me. Lahore was exactly the way described, loved my 5 years there. A beautiful City and great memories always with me. Thank you very much you helped me travel back in time and relive the moments so dear to me thank you again

OldMan Jun 30, 2013 08:02pm

We still miss the times of President Ayub Khan. It used be golden days. Alas! we will never have that peaceful time again.

ahsan Jun 30, 2013 08:06pm

"mr chips". You rekindled our fondest memories. He used to say in a high pitch voice" Baby Chips"..

Javed Talat Jun 30, 2013 08:19pm

And on Beadon Road, Anaar ka juice!! Then, when GCDC was the last word, circling Kinnard College was a rewarding pastime! Ha, ha. And the Chief Secretary used to drive himself, his own private car to office (while puffing on a large pipe hanging from his lips). And young CSP boys looked okay on their Vespa scooters! And, lets remember the roar of the lions from the Chiriya ghar!!

Nostalgic Jun 30, 2013 09:01pm

Yes, "I remember it well" as Maurice Chevalier sang in Gigi, a film that was still all the rage in the early 60s. I remember the test match in Karachi where Ijaz Butt, Pakistan's opening batsman, faced Wes Hall, West Indies fast bowler, like a little David facing a big, bad and strong Goliath. Wes Hall walked with heavy strides to the start of his run, a walk which never seemed to end. At the end of his walk he turned around with a big jump to face the batsman. I remember the screams and shrieks from the girls' pavilion as he did this. Ijaz Butt did them proud, returned the ball with a very straight bat, and played out that fearsome over with skill and confidence. The 60s were golden years, an age of innocence, comparatively speaking. During the 60s I moved to London. Few films have affected me as much as "Splendour in the Grass". On my departed girl friend's photograph, I had written, "My-------, My Splendour in the Grass". And now? To quote the beginning of another hit song of the 60s,

"Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing Where have all the flowers gone? Long time ago............................."

Shahryar Shirazi Jun 30, 2013 10:28pm

Its Sunday 10:28AM here in San Franciso. I just woke up and as a habit checked the dawn website. On the left is the news of Hazara's murder by the (Jhangvi) terrorists. On the right is this article. I wasn't even born when Pakistan was in such a golden state. All blame goes to Zia and indirectly Bhutto also who played along the mullahs and tolerated the Army's islamization led by Zia.

Shaukat Jun 30, 2013 11:06pm

Assalam o Aliekum,those were the days Anjum sahiba when I read your article a sense of love for my beloved city Lahore overwhelmed me.I started remembering all those streets from Anarkali's bano bazar to McLeod road cinemas( I live in New York for the last 42 years).Though I didn't belong to a rich family but I did manage to visit gymkhana for a few occasions, open air theater at Lawrence garden was a treat in summer.I was madly love with Hollywood movies too which Regal,Plaza, Odeon and later on Alfalah regularly played.Entry to Alhamra art council was a little bit out of reach for my pocket but always manage to get in on a pass which I used to get from a friend of a friend. I do not know Lahore is still cliquish or not but on a visit 2 years back I was so saddened to see my beloved city changed for worst,heaps of garbage everywhere and no organized pick up system,no electricity,no water,unbelievable bad traffic where no one stops at red light, old buildings depredating and no one wants to repair them,Tollington market where I used to go to buy Hunter beef once in a while no market anymore, is now some kind of art gallery,no jobs,corruption everywhere. I wanted to cry when I see all these thing but we still have some hope for a bright future.May all Mighty Allah listen to our prayers and give us strength to eliminate all the ills. Ameen.

Muquarrab QURESHI Jun 30, 2013 11:17pm

Lahore Lahore Aye! It still has history, elegance, and will to fight. I can smell its fragrance and it so truly eminates from the words of your article. Thanks for sharing.

TamzaK Jun 30, 2013 11:28pm

@shahid humayun makhdumi: what 'dream'; i'd say a nightmare, which you never forget. this is in the same vein as the marie a saying "if they cant get bread why dont they get cake". I hope such a day comes to pakistan. soon.

Azhar Jun 30, 2013 11:39pm

I wish I'd lived those moments there, but me a product of later times, still enjoyed reading rather living through beautifully portrayed picture of gone days ...

Bakhtawer Bilal Jun 30, 2013 11:50pm

And then we fell the crevice.

Muhammad Farooq Jul 01, 2013 01:48am

nice to know how life was in Lahore in those old good days; nicer still to see the the great lady(Maadar-e-Millat Miss Fatima Jinnah) in the picture. RIP. Thanks to the writer

Jasmine Jul 01, 2013 02:38am

What a wonderful memory. And I think all that "freedom" did not spoil anyone or endanger any immortal souls. Too bad it all had to change. Today one has to watch every word out of mouth. The "thought police" are everywhere. Pakistan has so much to offer and is being hijacked by the radical right. USA, too. Don't allow it. Demand the right to love life and be curious.

Feroz Jul 01, 2013 03:29am

Wonder if the writer ever ventured out of the phony and pretentious Lahore and into the heart of the city, i.e., androon shehr, mainly entering from Bhatti darwaza strolling thru Hira Mandi and walking a most glorious walk all the way to (approx a mile) Masjid Wazir Khan, all this without having too much baggage of feeling like an uppercrust, without actually being one - at least from cultural standpoint and not necessarily by wealth.

ordinary_citizen Jul 01, 2013 03:38am

To me this article reeks of snobbery rather then nostalgia. Paradise created and enjoyed by hundreds at the cost of millions are doomed from the beginning. Reminds me of similar account of comfort and cozy memories by Egyptians as shown in "The ten commandments"

No wonder Pakistan is bleeding today due to decades of indifference of self serving and self indulgent elite.

Chanakya Jul 01, 2013 03:58am

Was there a Gaddafi Stadium at that time? Please get some lesson in the history, before you ridicule yourself.

Kash Jul 01, 2013 04:01am

Who really cares about an elite reminiscenceing!!!

Agha Ata Jul 01, 2013 05:44am

I remember even more colorful period of Lahore in 50s (even after 1947) when Noor Jahan lived in Sheesh Mahal on Davis Road, and some British officers still enjoyed their evenings in Punjab club, next door. Those were the days when some restaurants had dances in the evening for the tea drinkers. One was near Regal. The Jadoo Ghar, (the Free Mason Hall near Wapda House) across the road was still in cession off and on. And there used to be a British style restaurant where Wapda building stands now, the upper story of whcih was the head office of an insurance company and white assembly building nearby, not very far from the posh Flashman Hotel. Police cops directed the traffic. They looked so smart (On the Mall road). There was an air of cleanliness and order all over. Lahore was a modern city even those days. You could see Anglo Indian girls on bicycles going to or coming from their offices, morning and evening. And Anarkali Bazar was full of ladies and men drinking mango juice in the corner shops. Very close to that on the mall, looking at young men and women, you could feel that was a college nearby. Lahore was a city of colleges, and a city of Cinemas, and a city of youths.

Billoo Bhaya Jul 01, 2013 07:39am

I remember the places all too well. Late Shahid Rehman, was a great friend, a Rhodes Scholar and elder brother of Naveed. Shahid was an Aitchison man though Taseer was St. Anthony's boy. At Oxford most of Shahid's scholarship money went to the College Bar where his friends took advantage of his generosity. Some of his Oxford contemporaries are alive and hence I will not name them. I could always count on him keeping the light on even during the dark days of Zia ul Haq. Those were the days.

Muhammad Ahmed Jul 01, 2013 08:44am

Baaji ,Aapa ya Anty, With all due respect, this reality of Lahore remained restricted to privileged and not much has changed since your time. I think people at LGS, LAS and Beacon celebrating Halloween, Holi and all the other festivals seem pretty much in sync with trends of their times. I am trying my best to avoid sarcasm but this reality seems completely oblivious to lives of waiters in Gymkhana serving at your dances or those other deep realities of servants and housemaids. This unfortunately seems like lamenting of an old lady from American south reminiscing about how things were awesome and trendy during those Ball Room dances made possible by help of slaves and maids. People like you certainly make me sick because they tend to dwell in glorious aspects of past without pausing to think about the surrounding help which made it possible. Dawn of Quaid is becoming more like a "She" magazine by publishing such unnecessary nostalgia from socialites.

Susan Koshy Jul 01, 2013 09:22am

Thank you for this beautiful photo and article...I can see how the paradigm had shifted over the years.

Anees Jul 01, 2013 09:50am

@shahid humayun makhdumi: Don't forget to think about the life hereafter.

Raj Jul 01, 2013 01:04pm

I read your article with mixed feelings. I first heard about Lahore during Hindi lessons in school , the words of the protagonast's father warning him to be on his guard against the sins and temptations of (pre-partition) Lahore. I wondered about this 'wicked' city, then the Paris of the sub-continent.

It must have been a swinging city, great if you were rich and connected as the upper class are, not so nice if you were one of the many 'have nots'.

It still holds its spell over Punjabis who fled six decades ago. Someday, I hope to see it.

Lahori Local Jul 01, 2013 01:12pm

Sweet if it were my granny lamenting over her youth on Eid afternoon, but whats with the name throwing "the now this n that" seems like Lahore was and will always remain a little shallow that way! But I get the fact that the world is a happier place when your a teenager...

M U Rehman Jul 01, 2013 01:34pm

The fact that this clique is in control of the country is more appalling.

Mughal Jul 01, 2013 02:52pm

Amazing write up. I am shocked to see what people have become now. Everybody is so conservative in Lahore. Religion is over expressed and most of us have lost their innocence and naivety. People in Lahore have generally considered very devious and honesty is hardly seen. I hat this but it has to be blamed on Zia ul Haq and ZAB.

gary Jul 01, 2013 04:20pm

@Billoo Bhaya:

what a shame! I always thought drinking in the land of the pure was not allowed.

How wrong I was!

Tajammal Jul 01, 2013 04:37pm

@Raj: Lahore is 'still' the Paris of sub-continent not 'then'.

I. Kamal (Nostalgic) Jul 01, 2013 07:31pm

A beautiful thread. To quote the poetess Mumtaz Mirza:

Who kaif meiN Doobay sham o sehar, who Khuld nazaara har manzar Who guzra zamaana, beetay din, kya kya dil-e-naadaaN maaNgey hai

For us expats, the best expression of our feelings is by another poetess, Naseem Syed, in the following verse:

Haryaalee kee khoaj meiN tanhaayee ke shehr basaayey, Tan par sabza chamkay, andar patjhaR naRhtee jaayey, Jab jab taira saja sajeela, hara bhara tan daikhooN Maple! Mujh ko apna zard sa neem bahut yaad aayey.

Naseem Syed now lives in Canada. Hence the reference to the maple tree.

Abr_e_Gurezaan Jul 01, 2013 07:43pm

@umesh bhagwat:

Noble sentiment, but why stop at the 60s? Why not the Lahore of early 1940s that also had a little greater respect for diversity, when many considered Sikhs and Hindus an inseparable part of the city's soul?

Bilal Akbar Jul 01, 2013 08:04pm

It's no longer the same Lahore of the 60s, or Pakistan for that matter. We have, quiet unfortunately, moved towards becoming a much more conservative society.

Threshold Jul 01, 2013 08:33pm

Thank you for this beautiful photo and article

S A Awais Jul 02, 2013 05:47am

@Muhammad Ahmed: Brilliantly put, mate. Couldn't have said it any better. It was money then and money now; nothing has changed! I wish one could give more than 1 thumbs-up on the comment

aj Jul 02, 2013 08:56am

@ordinary_citizen: Yor few lines have more substance than this article and many other articles written about Lahore.

Naren Jul 02, 2013 09:30am

@Tajammal: Oh yes, Paris - Love + Hate = Lahore

fahad Jul 02, 2013 10:10am

Powerfully narrated! I wonder if people from other cities can also write what 60's looked like in Pakistan.

Devil Jul 02, 2013 10:52am

@Tajammal: Paris might get offended ! ;-)

Brig (R) Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq Jul 02, 2013 11:55am

A nice description of the events. I was in Lahore in mid and late 1970s as a student of King Edward Medical College, Lahore. I remeber channa chat of Bano Bazar and other such attractions around Anarkali, Mall Road and old Lahore. The city was full of life, social interaction and elightenment. British Council Library and American Centre provided an academic atmosphere and Literary centers kept us in contact with what developments were taking place in Urdu and Persian literature. City was an oriental city in cultural sense. Music and dramas were our passion and many cinemas on McLeod Road and Lakhshami area with resturants attracted our sight. We spent time in Lawrence garden and occasionally visited Shalamar and Manto Park. People were simple and courteous and life was balanced.

ysk Jul 02, 2013 03:47pm

Lahore is still the same for elite.

You can still enjoy your drink, with better selection available. Parties have gone more crazy and you can mess around as much as you like. You can buy better variety of stuff to show off and drive around in dad's Prado or beamer....maybe its your youth you miss not the cool culture.

It has however changed for the rest of us ...

Asad Jul 02, 2013 04:09pm

High life or decadence, you call.

Mohsin Ali Jul 02, 2013 07:22pm

Brings back memories reading this capturing article. I along with my sisters were part of that golden era. How things have changed decades later!

Mohsin Ali Jul 02, 2013 07:26pm

A well written capturing article. Along with my sisters I was part of that era. Alas, how things have changed decades later!

cameo Jul 02, 2013 08:41pm

I wonder if these elites of the 60s and 70s have any responsibility to share for the current state of Pakistan. These industrialists, civil servants; land owners, who actively supported all kind of ill regimes in order to keep the privileged social standing, while 99.99% of the population remained disenchanted. Or may be I am like many others stranded in a foreign land wondering where it all went wrong and who is to blame