A stroll down the memory lane- Pindi Saddar
Updated: Jan 10
During the Times of the British Raj inmost cantonments, there used to be specific names for various markets. There used to be a market named after the Royal Artillery which was called the Royal Artillery Bazaar. Or in short RA bazaar. The standard of shops in this bazaar used to be low and it was mainly for soldiers or other ranks (ORs).
In Rawalpindi, there was a market reserved for the redshirted soldiers also called as Laal Kurti bazaar. The standard of shops in this bizarre was slightly higher and therefore I presume that this was reserved for the junior commissioned officers or maybe for the British ethnic soldiers.
The market where the officers and their families used to go for shopping was called the Saddar bazaar. The standard of cleanliness here was higher, the size of the shops larger and the merchandise sold was for the upper middle classes.
No where this distinction was more apparent than in the garrison city of Rawalpindi where I spent my formative years of life.
Our house was located not far from the Saddar bazaar which was within an easy range of my bicycle.
In Rawalpindi Saddar, on Adamji road if you are driving towards Hathi chowk, after crossing the Kashmir road, the road veers slightly to the right side. Right at the start of the bend in the road, on the right side there used to be a music shop called ‘Electrohome’. The shop proprietor was in his 40s. Tall with curly jet black hair and on his face there was always a stern expression. Whenever I had to buy a music cassette I used to buy it from this shop as the place was quite close to our house.
In his shop there was a big and powerful musical system. The shopkeeper usually used to play quality songs so that the sellers would get some incentive to buy his merchandise.
Now I only used to get 50 Rs as a monthly allowance and this was barely enough to pay for one pre-recorded cassette every 30 days. This however would not stop me from going and browsing the various musical cassettes available in the shop. I would look at the various collections from the Indian, Pakistani or Western singers. Marvel at the variety which the shop would offer for classical and semiclassical music and when I could not be helped, I would reluctantly ask for a particular cassette to be played. The shopkeeper (knowing that I was a rare buyer) would grudgingly take the cassette out and start playing on his powerful musical system. A minute or so would be barely enough when he would ask me quizzically , ‘Theek hay?’ If I had money in my pocket I would dare to say no and ask for another cassette to be played because I knew that in the end of this exercise I’m going to buy some from him. If I had no money, then I would only say, ‘has the new Abba cassette been released?’, Knowing fully well that Abba only released cassette once a year in those days.
Electrohome music shop used to be behind that tree
It was in this shop that I listened to Kishore Kumar’s version of
Mairay naina savan bhadon
around 40 years ago.
This of course is a beautiful composition and when I listened to the immaculate sound of Kishore on powerful and quality music system - the musical notes and the effect of singers voice just got imprinted on my heart. Up to this day, the Lata Mangeshkar version of the song could never gain its place in my heart. Although it is said that when the music composer RD Berman composed this tune which is based on raag Shivranjani and he played the tune for Kishore Kumar for the first time, Kishore got so apprehended by the high technical requirements of the tune that he plainly refused to sing it. After a lot of cajoling and requesting he agreed that Lata ji should sing the song first and because Kishore was a good mimic, he could try and copy Lata’s version. So as the legend goes Lata ji recorded the song and Kishore Kumar kept on listening to her version for almost a week. It was only after listening to the masterclass recorded by Lata ji that Kishore got the confidence of recording his attempt. But such was his genius and he sang it so beautifully that if you listen to it even today you tend to stop doing whatever you’re doing and have to pay your full attention to the masterpiece.
Barson beet gay
Hum ko milay bichday
Bijury bun kay Gaggan pay chumki
Beetay samay ki rekha
Main nay tum ko daikha
Mun sung aankh micholi khailay
Aasha aur niraasha
Phir bhi maira mun pyaasa
I listened to this, as I said, almost 40 years ago and even today when I listen to the recording, I feel that I have been teleported to that shop in Rawalpindi’s Saddar some 40 years ago.
Across the road from this shop on the crossing with Kashmir Road, right next to the ‘Servis’ shoes shop, there used to be a stall of a street vendor who would be selling mango juice. He used to serve his juice in big stainless steel glasses. On a big container again made of stainless steel, he would be storing his juice with lots and lots of ice. On the front of his little cart, there were big yellow mangoes decorated - sort of guarantee that his juice was the ‘real thing’. It certainly was not pure mango juice - more like a squash but I used to love it. A glass only used to cost a single rupee and you could get to enjoy this huge glass full of sweet tasty luxury. I would ‘park’ my bicycle and then would enjoy the big juice glass watching the world go by. Good old days.
Where do I find such thirst quenching soul fulfilling experiences now?
Messy gate in 1900
Riding on my bicycle towards Messy gate there was the narrow street of Chota bazaar where the shops were crowded together and it used to be the best place to buy household stuff mainly for the womenfolk. Veering towards the right side from Haathi chowk, the road would proceed on towards the railway station. But just after Haathi chowk on the right side at the corner of Babu mohalla there used to be a barber. His shop was quite small and there were only two people working in the shop. The shop proprietor was a middle aged gentleman who had neatly parted long grey hair. He looked more like office worker than a barber and was immaculately dressed in neat shirt and trousers. He almost always had a cigarette in his mouth. When my father would take me and my brothers for our monthly haircut, he would start of the haircut by lighting a fresh cigarette. He would take a puff or two and then would put the cigarette in a glass ashtray. For the entire duration of the haircut, he would then not touch his cigarette and I would observe the cigarette ash getting longer and longer as it would then slowly break off settling at the bottom of the ashtray. I always used to wonder that why does he bother and why does he waste so much of the cigarette. The shop had lots of copies of coloured magazines like Time, Newsweek, Life or 'Cheen Ba-tasweer'. While we were waiting for our haircut, I would like to flip through the magazines and learn a thing or two about the current affairs.
It was in this shop when on a 1979 morning, I listened to the super smash hit song of film 'Qurbani' sung by Nazia Hasan ‘Aap jaisa koi’ for the very first time. The song was being played from a shop next door and the shopkeeper playing it would let the song run and then as soon as it finished, he would rewind the cassette and start all over again. The catchy beat and the music along with the enchanting sound of the young singer captivated us and we kept on wondering that ‘who was she!’. She of course later on became the pop princess of the subcontinent and unfortunately left us all too soon.
On my last visit to Rawalpindi Saddar, I went to see the hairdresser’s shop. Unfortunately it wasn’t there anymore and the same shop now houses a mobile phone accessory store.
Life changes I suppose. It is only this change that is permanent. People come, people go, places change their nature and appearance. Only memories remain.
The barber's shop used to be where there is now Rehan telephone sale and service (2019).