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Baba would keep the reins taut, allowing the horse only a gentle, steady, rhythmic trot all the way to the school. —Dawn archives
Baba would keep the reins taut, allowing the horse only a gentle, steady, rhythmic trot all the way to the school. —Dawn archives

I don’t know who found him, or what even his name was, but we called him ‘Tangey Walay Baba’, or at times, just Baba.

We met on a freezing morning, when he came to pick us up for school. ‘Chalo! Chalo!’, he shouted, knocking on our door with the wooden handle of his horsewhip. My sister Sheba and I came out slowly, shy and hesitant, and climbed onto the tanga.

We lived next to APWA School and were the first passengers; others would join on the way as we rode to our school, the Presentation Convent in the Cantonment of Jhelum.

The tanga was shared by three or four other people. But I can only remember the two pleasant girls who were daughters of the District Commissioner, and who lived in a nice big house detached from those around it, with a front garden bordered by an immaculately trimmed hedge of green bushes.

They were older than us, probably in the sixth grade, whereas I was in the second grade, with my sister a year behind me. I would move to the front to make way for the girls, who sat behind in the carriage with my sister.

Baba looked very old – ancient in fact, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that he was only in his 50s. He had a grey moustache but no beard, sad deep-set eyes and a world-weary expression with a tinge of frustration, as if he had not been dealt a good hand by fate.

I noticed that he was wearing only a thin, white cotton kurta (shirt), white shalwar, white cotton turban around his head and a coloured thin cotton chaadar (shawl) wrapped around his body; hardly adequate to protect him from the icy winds which was cutting us to the bone. Baba asked me a couple of questions, which I answered nervously. Then he fell quiet, concentrating on the journey, using the reins cautiously, while keeping a lookout for pedestrians trying to cross the road or cyclists attempting to push forward way ahead of us.

Bacho, bacho’ was his familiar refrain, but I can’t remember him swearing, although swear words are very much a part of the Punjabi conversation.

He loved his horse, a well-fed brown colt. We liked it too, but Baba would only let us touch his neck and not the face, in case he bit our hands. Baba would keep the reins taut, allowing the horse only a gentle, steady, rhythmic trot all the way to the school.

We journeyed on neat roads bordered by painted white stones placed at regular intervals, leading to ‘Chawani’, the unpolluted suburban neighbourhood dotted by pine trees.

The only time he let his horse charge forward was on the stretch of Railway Road near Naz cinema, going uphill to the intersection with the old GT Road, with Zeelaf and another hotel across the road on either side. Once the ascent was achieved, it was back to the usual clickety clock.

On reaching the school, Baba would rest his horse and get his feed out in a bag, while watching us cross the road over to the huge school playground.

In the afternoon, when we finished, he was there again, along with many other tangey walas waiting for their regular passengers, occasionally waving to announce his location.

Baba had a handsome young son called Bashir, who was an un-commissioned soldier in the army, like scores of other young men from poorer families. Whenever Bashir came home for the holidays – which was only for a few days – he took the tanga out instead of his father, which was fun because Bashir made the horse sprint, not just on the ascent near the cinema, but all the way to school, overtaking all the other tangas and making us breathless with excitement, experiencing a chariot race.

‘Did Bashir make the horse run yesterday?’ Baba asked me one morning.

‘Yes’, I replied, without considering the repercussions.

‘He has picked up an injury’, he said, pointing to the horse.

‘I told him not to make him run, but he never listens,’ Baba remarked angrily.

‘Actually it was not that fast...,’ I tried to backtrack, but he remained unconvinced.

Bashir did not turn up for the next couple of days, but did appear after that, as his father probably forgave him. He raced the horse again and this time, he let me hold the reins!

I remember sitting next to Bashir and overtaking the other tangas. I don’t know if I had been bribed, but I did learn to keep a secret. When Baba asked me the next morning if Bashir had sprinted the horse, I lied. Then Bashir left the city after being posted in Rawalpindi.

After six months, I asked Baba when his son would return again.

‘Why do you ask?’ Baba was curious.

‘Oh, just wanted to know,’ I said. The real reason, of course, was that Bashir made the journey to school so much more exciting.

‘We have been trying to get him to come back for a few days, so we could marry him, but is unable to get any holidays.’

‘Ah’, I mumbled in sympathy.

A few days later, when I asked Baba if I could hold the reins, he not only refused but also admonished me for asking.

‘You are too young yet. Driving a tanga is not easy; the horse does what you instruct him to do. One wrong move and we could all fall in a ditch. We could even be killed.’

He then thought for a while and said that he would let me hold the reins once we reached the school and the tanga was stationary.

‘Don’t pull! Just hold,’ he instructed.

One time, my mother, sister and I went to Peera-Ghaib (a neighbourhood on the other side of ‘Company Bagh’) to find a bricklayer for our house, when we found that Baba lived close by in a small modest house.

The house had a small square space in the middle, where the horse was being fed. He asked us to come in for tea, but we left in a rush to find the builder.

Although Baba was not a conversationalist, he did demonstrate a dry sense of humour at times. I was once singing a song, ‘Chal chaliye, duniya de us nukrey / Jithe banda na bandey di zaat hovey (Let’s go to that corner of the world where there is no other person, no other soul).’

As I repeated the lyrics, ‘chal chaliye’, Baba turned around and asked, ‘Ki karan (what for)?’ with a hint of mischief in his eye.

It must have been around the end of the fifth grade when I got a bicycle and was allowed to pedal to school instead of taking the tanga, thus saving Rs10 a month, which was significant in those days, especially as my father was jobless. When Baba was informed, he was not amused.

‘Why is a 10-year-old boy pedalling to school six miles away?’

Meanwhile, Sheba continued to go on the tanga.

Then at the end of grade six, we left the school and the town to relocate 1000 miles south in Karachi, where dad had finally found a job, after nearly three years of searching.

I didn’t see Baba before I left and returned to Jhelum only occasionally in the early years, but never got around to meeting him. I do vaguely remember seeing him on his tanga on a couple of occasions; I had waved at him once but he didn’t notice it.

His eyesight was already failing at the time he used to take us to school, and with time, it must have deteriorated even more.

Many years later, I did once visit my grandma for a couple of hours, and was disappointed to find that there were no tangas in Jhelum anymore – the Municipal Committee had decided to phase them out and replace them with auto-rickshaws.

I thought of Baba and wondered what happened to him, his horse. He was too old to learn to drive. Did he learn any new trade? How did he earn a living?

Unfortunately, there was no time to investigate as we were in a hurry to attend the passing out ceremony of my younger brother in the army.

In June this year, nearly four decades after having left Jhelum, and three decades since moving to England (where I now live), I was on the phone with my mother in Karachi. She told me that she had seen Baba soon after my graduation in 1986, and had informed him that her son had become a doctor. Baba was delighted and said that he wished he could see me.

He never did.

‘Is he alive?’ I asked, without thinking.

‘No, he died many years ago,’ my mum replied.

Suddenly, I felt a surge of emotions and found myself overwhelmed by the warm nostalgia of yonder years; the gentle Baba, whose life and livelihood revolved around taking us, little children as we were, safely to school and back, every day without fail.

I feel humbled that he wanted to see me. Perhaps, he wanted to tell me about his failing eyesight or his painful knees, or maybe it was more than that. Perhaps, he felt proud that he had contributed to my journey in becoming a doctor.

I wish to express my gratitude to Baba for his kindness, for remembering me and for taking me to school, for looking after my sister and I, and being part of those early years of my life, which flew away too quickly and without any opportunity to meet again.


Author Image

Jamshed Bashir graduated from Dow Medical College, Karachi and currently works in Liverpool, UK, as a Urologist.


The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (54) Closed



Tanweer Khan Oct 15, 2015 02:27pm

Thanks Jamshed for a wonderful and warm story.

My own family background is from the Sarai Alamgir area - although my family moved to the UK in the 1960's.

Thank you for bringing back memories of all the times I have been back to Pakistan.

Fezan Oct 15, 2015 02:39pm

Good, old Pakistan. We all have such stories. So nice of you sir for sharing.

Iqbal Oct 15, 2015 02:41pm

Interesting and emotional story. Thanks Dr. Bashir for sharing it. I am sure many reader will have similar experience. You story just took me out for a long journey, 40 decades. And those of us who left for western countries many many years ago have more sentimental connections.

Nisar Oct 15, 2015 02:50pm

@Tanweer Khan Good to see another reader from Sarai Alamgir.

Nisar Oct 15, 2015 02:59pm

There is so much Pakistanis living in the West can do for their country, my background is from Sarai Alamgir, and there is so much we can do. I for one have taken things in my own hand and trying to make my neighbourhood into a model ward, where education, health and cleanliness is provided free of charge. I am privileged to have been from one of the oldest families from Sarai, so my attachment is linked with the family to my home town, I want to give something back. There is only so much the government or organisations can provide. Old cultures, folk behaviour and general history is worth holding onto. My plan in the next few years is to organise a folk/cultural show in the Sarai area.

KARACHI WALA Oct 15, 2015 03:00pm

Most of us go through the journey of life without cherishing small joyful things the life has to offer. We are either too young to realize or with the passage of time become too busy. A captivating story nonetheless.

Huzaifah Oct 15, 2015 03:39pm

With tear in my eyes, I was think how honest and committed people was had 4 decades ago.

Amer RAO Oct 15, 2015 03:43pm

I am from Gujranwala and we had very good experience with Tangey Walay's. Last few monthsI was travelling New York, Canada and Paris. I noticed they have horse rides, close to all major tourist location. In Pakistan we should bring back these rides for tourists. We can create lots of jobs.

Usman Oct 15, 2015 03:43pm

AOA

i was to much occupied with what writer was trying to say, as i feel , i was the one who was in the Tanga, and i miss baba, Thank you so much for the post and just making us / me realize how important things and relations are, we do not realize their importance when they are around us,

we must love and give full respect to everything what we have,

usman Oct 15, 2015 03:48pm

Can i pay my regards to the writer in person

can i have his email id or etc

kahkashan Oct 15, 2015 03:52pm

very nice narration

Samir Oct 15, 2015 03:57pm

An inspiring tale told with much tenderness.

Kiani Oct 15, 2015 03:57pm

For a moment but i have just lived in 80's in my village in AJK. Thanks for sharing!

Hasnain Oct 15, 2015 04:14pm

Thanks for sharing this wounderful story. so nice of you dear .....

max Oct 15, 2015 04:58pm

Dr bashir Thanks for sharing the nostalgic moments of good old and pure Pakistan. You have repaid part of your debt by writing this piece.

Haroon Nisar Oct 15, 2015 05:10pm

Very nice recollection. Thanks for sharing it Dr Bashir

AHA Oct 15, 2015 05:10pm

A beautiful memory. We all have some sweet memories from the good old days when Pakistan was a safe and peaceful place to live in.

Premendra Mukharjee Oct 15, 2015 05:22pm

Till sixties we had 'Ghora gari' horse carts in Dhaka. Most of these carts were in Purana or old Dhaka. But these were gradually replaced by rickshaws and three wheel taxi, known as 'baby taxi'. I miss these horse carts but definitely rickshaws are more environment friendly and clean. Many rickshaws are seen nowadays in Oxford Street in London for its environment friendly character.

jimmyali Oct 15, 2015 05:25pm

Wonderful story a

Muzzammil Sabir Oct 15, 2015 05:25pm

Thanks Jamshed for a warm and wonderful story. It does make you take back a step and look at the bigger picture. People are a bigger asset than the materialistic things that we chase all our lives! Having said that a balance has to be stricken - 'mianarawi' is the best policy!

ZQ Oct 15, 2015 05:50pm

I live in Karachi but spent my early childhood in interior Sind. I, along with my brother was used go to the school by Tanga, we called our tangewala "MAMA" and he was the same caring personality. Its been 25 years now and its seems a distant past now, but indeed a joyous past.

Mahmood Oct 15, 2015 06:24pm

You lighten up my memories of Jhelum. I studied at Cantt Public School from grade 6 till 9 during early seventies and lived in Jhelum Cantt. I remember all road,, hotel and cinema you mention.

Mahmood Oct 15, 2015 06:29pm

Your lighten up my childhood memories of Jhelum. I studied at Cantt Public School not far away from Convent School during eraly seventies and lived at Jhelum Cantt. I used to pass your school every on way to mine and remember all the road, hotel and Cinemas you mentioned.

Imran Rizvi Oct 15, 2015 06:36pm

Lovely story Jamshed. I am from Jhelum also. Also an expat like you, UK 22 years and now in Germany for the last 4 yrs. My Family home is on Shadab Road, at the edge of Peera Ghaib. You would have gone all the way up on Civil Lines and passed by the places you mentioned. Its a pity they don't have the Tangas anymore. My kids loved the ride when they visited for the first time in 2003. Since then have gone back a number of times but no Tangas. My wife also went to Presentation Convent.

Hamaad Oct 15, 2015 06:38pm

This story took me back to my childhood and made me remember my commute to school. I shared my ride in our car with my siblings, 3 other kids and a school teacher from the neighborhood. We were packed like sardines but had much fun.

SURJEET SINGH Oct 15, 2015 07:25pm

This story takes me back to our beautiful pre-partition days in Jhelum - I remember the tonga rides as this was perhaps the only transportation mode those days. I have very fond memories of my visits to the Cantonment, where my father was the army recruiting officer during the second world war days. How clean and well kept the area and the roads were at that time.

Dr. Siddiqui Oct 15, 2015 07:47pm

There are thousands of successful people from South Asia living in the West who owe their success to the combined efforts of so many ordinary people like "Tanga wala," and yet these "successful" people never find time to do anything meaningful for the ordinary people while they are alive.

What good is remembering a "Tanga Wala" when he is no longer in this world!

On another note, like ZAB and his talented cousin destroyed the cultural heritage of Karachi by removing Trams, Shariff brothers appear to be in hurry to remove Tangas from the cultural landscape of Pakistan!

What a shame! What a pity!

Mahmood Oct 15, 2015 08:18pm

Your lighten up my childhood memories of Jhelum. I studied at Cantt Public School not far away from Convent School during eraly seventies and lived at Jhelum Cantt. I used to pass your school every on way to mine and remember all the road, hotel and Cinemas you mentioned.

Hasan Rabani Oct 15, 2015 08:54pm

Difficult to comprehend that after years of medical studies and changing cultures, you still managed to keep intact details of this story, which I am sure is underneath dust and derbies of time and events much more appealing and flamboyant. I call it a story because, there is a clear and concise video footage of your narrative in my mind. Each word or may be two, conjured up a mental image. Well written and well balanced pouring of emotions within the story. Like Iranian movies that I so love watching. Thank you very much Dr.Jamshed Bashir Sahab for making us "the Pardesis"shed a tear or two for ..........

Moazzam Oct 15, 2015 09:01pm

This remind me my childhood.I used to take tanga in my early schooling in Sukkur(Sind) I move to Canada long time ago, but Sukkur and all old good past related to that beautiful city is still in my memoir. Thanks Jamshed for recalling old memoir.

Hasan Rabani Oct 15, 2015 09:13pm

@usman Try looking him up on Facebook, Linkedin or twitter

ayub Oct 15, 2015 10:04pm

Tanga is my favourite mode of transportation. I would prefer Tanga over any other mode. Travelling in Tanga is cheap, pleasurable, delightful, and entertaining. Tanga carriage is part of our history and culture. Unfortunately this mode of transportation is disappearing rapidly. I very vividly remember school age when I used to ride in Tanga to reach my village from the city on weekend. We need to recognize and protect this traditional mode of travelling.

Rana Arun Singh Oct 15, 2015 10:35pm

Touching story! Seems I traveled back to my childhood in India. Thanks Jamshed.

Muhammad Junaid Javed Oct 16, 2015 12:25am

Hi, Such a nice and cheerful story about this tangy wala. It gave me a great pleasure reading about this journey i wish you could have seen him in his last days or only if you could do any more for him. childhood memories are always cheerful.

Kamran Oct 16, 2015 12:30am

I am from Jhelum and can relate to this very well because I personally experience hill of Naz cinema, and still remember the days when I was in grade 1 and 2 and have to sit in front of Tanga during winter. Good memories

N. Rahim -- Toronto Oct 16, 2015 12:50am

Thank you Dr. Bashir. You took me to my younger days of Lahore where we used to ride the Tanga from Samnabad to Anarkali and other places. My younger sister who would normally ride with my mother at the back, use to squeeze up with some kind of fright and passion as another horse pulling a Tanga would often come very close to her face! Those were very good days. Wish I could go back. Never went back to Lahore after 1971.

Rev. Eldrick Lal Oct 16, 2015 01:08am

Thank you very much Mr. Bashir for acknowledging the "Baba" who were so faithful in taking care of children while transporting them on his Tanga.

Akhlesh Oct 16, 2015 02:41am

Thank you, Bashir Sahib. Your reminescence has a deep meaning: Acts of kindness should never be taken for granted, but one must acknowledge as soon as possible.

Sheikh Waqar-ul-Hassan Oct 16, 2015 03:29am

Very nicely written.

Tahir Chaudhry Oct 16, 2015 04:46am

Thanks for sharing. Very nice.

CK Oct 16, 2015 04:54am

Dr. Sahib, Thanks for sharing that interesting story. I am thinking from another perspective that since your graduation in 1986 until 2015, it would have been greater if you would proactively have contacted him to enquire about his health. Sorry that opportunity is lost now. May be a great learning experience for future with people who have contributed to your success. Thanks. CK.

fahad malik Oct 16, 2015 07:23am

i am delightful to MR. Jamshed for share a quality story with us.

rudraiah rajasekhar Oct 16, 2015 07:28am

What a wonderful narration of a young boy's memories of his schooldays. I am amazed at the tenderness shown towards tongawallah, it brought tears in my eyes and tightening of my throat from emotion. I am from Bengaluru in India but I am living in USA for last forty years and this made me very nostalgic for my younger days.

sheba Oct 16, 2015 08:42am

@usman Jbashir@gmail.com

nyla Oct 16, 2015 09:11am

Such cherish able memories!

Sania Ahsan Oct 16, 2015 09:35am

Jamshed Sir, thank you for reminding me the memories with my tangy wala Baba.

Emran Oct 16, 2015 09:38am

Wonderful narration of dancing memory provoking words...:-)

Arslan Rahat Ullah Oct 16, 2015 09:44am

Good one. Wonderful tribute to humans around us. Keep it up !

Salman Oct 16, 2015 10:00am

emotional. alot of people contribute in making one person successful and one should always remember those. well written.

raghu Oct 16, 2015 10:18am

tears tears and more tears rolling down my cheeks ...........what a sad story...

ak Oct 16, 2015 12:14pm

For us it was the rickshaw puller, Bhagwati Prasad. What an honest and hardworking man..

Frhad ASlam Oct 16, 2015 03:45pm

Great.. this is the reality of life,, we don't know , when and where our relationships vanish..but our souls always felt those..

Farhad Aslam Oct 16, 2015 03:47pm

Great.. this is the reality of life.. we don't know when and where our relationships vanish.. but our souls always felt them.

amjad_husain@hotmail.com Oct 16, 2015 06:28pm

@usman

I would like to do the same as I lived 5 minutes from Apwa school and that tanga would have to pass our house. I am the same age as the writer. Amjad Husain