Growing up in the 1960s

31 Aug 2019


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

KEY members of the current civil-military ruling elite seem to have a very simplistic, one-dimensional view of Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s so-called Decade of Development (1958-68) and have more than once eulogised the 1960s as the country’s golden era.

I started school in 1964 and my earliest memories are from that period — of the 1965 war. Contrasting today’s Karachi to the mid-1960s, my own personal memories are very pleasant, to say the least. We used to live at 262-B Ingle Road (currently M.R. Kayani Road) not far from the Karachi Press Club and opposite where the Coast Guard Mess was built much later.

Although I did not have a watch and could not have timed the journey, it could not have taken more than seven to eight minutes to reach ‘Barri Phuppo’s’ hutted home in Pakistan Quarters and, if that, 15 minutes to get to ‘Chhotee Phuppo’s’ Paposhnagar flat. Visiting our father’s sisters was painless.

Imagine doing that journey today and you will be filled with the horror of traffic, pollution and endless hours on the road. From our Ingle Road home my elder siblings would walk to watch films in Capitol, Rex and Rio cinemas; or head in the evenings for a soft drink or ice cream to the Topsy snack bar just off the Musical Fountain, opposite the Governor’s House, a mere five minutes away too.

Since we were not far from Elphinstone Street (Zaibunnissa) and Bohri Bazar, my mother always catered for extra people for lunch, as often, just as we sat down to eat, some friends or family would arrive loaded with shopping and demanding to be fed.

Looking at the statistics, the economy grew healthily. So, was everything really hunky-dory?

Admittedly, I was too young to understand the meaning of moving neon signs of dancing women outside many establishments around the area where we lived, but big sign boards and banners with images of belly dancers and cabarets were quite unambiguous.

There were night clubs galore. Lido opposite Karachi Club; one in Palace Hotel whose beautiful building and dome were felled to make way for the Sheraton; another in the Imperial Hotel just across the PIDC Bridge from the then Intercontinental Hotel and, of course, one of the most famous ones in Central Hotel Building.

Sometimes our evening entertainment included driving to Saddar on the road from Cantt Station to one of the several milk shops to order tall glasses of milk with almonds and pistachios. On many an occasion there was commotion on the opposite side as early starters left one of the bars there in a jolly mood.

Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa recently said he recalled from his childhood in the 1960s a time when cinemas were packed, as were the mosques. Driving around in what I feel was the vicinity of our centrally-located home, even the night clubs were bursting at the seams.

Looking at the statistics, the economy grew healthily in the 1960s. So, was everything really hunky-dory? Let’s try and look at a slightly broader canvas than one that existed in the mind of a six year old.

Although our parents shielded us from bad news, I recall after the rigged election which saw Field Marshal Ayub Khan defeating Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah to proclaim himself president for another term, the military ruler’s son took out a victory procession in Karachi, which had supported Ms Jinnah.

My window into what happened in that Gohar Ayub Khan-led victory march in and around Gujjar Nala, Nazimabad, came via some photos of the dead and injured as well as the gutted huts in Urdu newspapers, and also that my parents went to hospital to visit Uncle Afaq (retired Col Afaq Husain) who was stabbed when he tried to talk sense to the victorious marauders.

If this was the beginnings of the ethnic strife in Sindh, the decade also saw one of the most serious sectarian attacks in Theri Hasanabad (near Khairpur in Sindh) in 1963. Shia mourners returning from a majlis-procession were fired on by terrorists, and more than a 100 were killed.

I remember the war too, when we were once asked to leave our KG-I room hurriedly in order to reach the trench that had been dug outside; I also have a vivid recollection of our father, a military officer, going on classified missions all through the 17-day war and beyond.

Much, much later we learnt that he was flying abroad in a PIA Boeing totally emptied of seats wherever Pakistan could procure ammunitions and/or parts from for its weaponry including PAF and Navy assets. It is true that during the 1965 war Pakistan’s reserves were abysmally low.

Much has been written/said about that war by some of its heroes such late Air Marshals Nur Khan and Asghar Khan among others for me to comment on. But as a child I was completely euphoric that we had decisively won it. It was so many years later that one heard of Operation Grand Slam.

The 1960s was also the era of crony capitalism built on largesse doled out by the US because we’d agreed to become a satellite state during that terse period of the Cold War. Remember the shooting down of the Badaber-based (Peshawar) U-2 spy plane over Soviet Union?

Much wealth was created but it remained concentrated in a few hands, 22 families to be precise. There was no attempt at redistributive justice, which led to a powder-keg being created. Similarly, the second rate treatment of the Muslim nation’s Bengali majority was like lighting a fuse to a huge bomb.

Recently, I saw a few photos of Ms Jinnah campaigning in the then East Pakistan, and guess who was besides her? Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. Could a fair presidential election (via Basic Democracy members) have altered the course of history?

We can eulogise the 1960s all we want, but should never forget that this is where most of the seeds of the 1971 tragedy were sown. And this was the decade where Pakistan more or less institutionalised dispensing with civilian supremacy.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2019