The way it was

From his vantage point in London, Shoaib Bajwa recounts his uncomplicated Lahori childhood for his young daughter

The way it was
My grandparents were from Punjabi zamindar families. My late father Salim Nasir Bajwa the youngest son of his parents, married Shahida Naseem Hundal. I was born and brought up in Lahore, at a time when a child’s routine was a settled matter. Dinner at 8 and bed at 9; 9:30 if you were ambitious. Respect was the most prized virtue and the family’s reputation and values were our priority, far more than owning a fancy car.

The naan kebab/BBQ at Zakir Tikka or Shanghai Restaurant’s ‘Chinese cuisine’ occasionally was simply joy and kept us going for months - having a bottle of coke with chips, mini market ka burger, bun kabab and bun samosa with Pepsi (glass bottle, of course, which you had to return) at school or Rocco ice cream were rare treats. We absolutely loved club sandwiches and of course the unbeatable sizzling Chicken Manchurian. Services Club ki chicken chops, GoGo’s famous cone ice cream, and if permitted, a movie evening at Services Club was a dream coming true!

Mid 1980s: Family holidays in Murree

Skipper and Jubilee were the ‘cool’ chocolates. We expected our relatives, visiting from abroad to bring us Toblerone, KitKat and Snickers. Hico’s praline, Chaman and Paradise Liberty had the best ice cream; I remember vividly when Rocco came out, we went out as a family to try it, it was a whole other experience. And of course, the ice cream trips to Yummy’s 36 and Gelato in Fortress Stadium were nothing less than going to a Michelin star restaurant in Paris. We ate whatever Ammi made for dinner or we ate nothing at all - vegetables had to be eaten and dessert was only for special days when we had behaved ourselves. A 7-up after dinner at Rahat Bakery or Main Market was also an indulgence and the ultimate journey of discovery was Maula Baksh’s paans on The Mall.

I was probably the last of my siblings to have a regular ‘Tanga’ (horse carriage) for school journeys. Rarely would one see cars dropping off only one child at school; there were family or neighbourhood car pools with many kids per car. Having hot, salty bhutta or kulfi outside the school or college was a routine. As soon as we reached home, we changed into our ‘home clothes’ and were ready for lunch — home-made garam roti with bhindi or daal gosht or aloo gosht along with salty lassi (in the summer). Two vilayati cows were brought in from our village so that the growing family could have fresh milk, butter and malai - there was no such thing as ‘multivitamins’ for us, and certainly no gyms. Terms like ‘pasta’ and ‘pizza’ were alien to us. Lunch was followed by a series of house chores and then homework and playtime till dinner.

Our house had a rotary phone with a cord, 3-minute phone calls to aunts and uncles in other cities were scheduled post 8 pm at a discounted price, connected through an operator.

We did not have Apple TV, we only had PTV and later STN/NTM channel. If you were fancy, you owned a dish TV and became the talk of groups and you were popular. On TV, we watched Popeye, Tom n Jerry, Pink Panther and Thunder Cats. Other popular favorites included Six Million Dollar Man, Chips, Little House on the Prairie, Knight Rider, Air Wolf and Mind your Language. We played music via tape recorders and walkmans and then disc players, a dream come true! Listening to Nayara Noor, Tina Sani and Jagjit Singh with our parents created fond memories and taught us to appreciate fine melodies. Pop music was shunned as ‘shor sharaba’ and the VCR and Atari consoles were kept away from us as a of ‘waste of time’. Knowledge was gained through books and elders.

Mid 1990s: Family Eid in Lahore

Then came college, and Tom n Jerry was replaced by The Bold and the Beautiful; Baywatch and Santa Barbara became a rite of passage for boys of our age and ushered us into an ‘enlightenment’ of sorts. Sports and play were an all-inclusive activity, anyone and everyone was invited. We played badminton, football and cricket with the kids, drivers and cooks from the entire neighbourhood. We came home with street dirt and the stench of sweat, but it was worth it. In the house we played games which are unfamiliar to today’s 13-year-old; Ghar ghar, Chupan Chupai, Tilo Express, Yassu Panju, Ludo, Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk, Name Place Animal Thing and so many more. We frolicked in the rain, caught frogs and earthworms. If someone had a fight, they were friends within a week or so, it was simply brushed aside. Staying in the house was a punishment. And how can I forget summer evenings - trying to land twinkling ‘jugnus’ in our palms. There are no jugnus – fireflies – to be seen anywhere in Lahore now.

At weekends, we would visit a bookshop to rent a novel or every few months, parks like Jallo and Changa Manga, for us it was as thrilling as 6 Flags. Occasional visits to meet relatives were crucial and exciting. Every Eid involved a meticulous putting together of clothes and shoes and of course, the right socks, everything had to be planned, and that was the excitement.  Liberty market was Oxford Street and Fortress Stadium was Piccadilly for us, their very mention sparked joy. The best holidays were those spent with the whole family, sometimes a stay at Murree’s Kashmir Point in the summer. All the cousins snuggled in one blanket, not even one willing to sleep.

We watched our mouths around elders because one slight slip and word would get around so fast you would live to regret it – chacha, phuppo, mamoo, khala were all extensions of our parents; if you misbehaved, you would really get it. No one was to be referred to by name, including the house help, it was either uncle, sir, miss, bhai, baji, or something along those lines. And at any cost, we did not answer back. We were taught to work hard and work honestly in every sphere of life, because this was the only path to a successful and respectable career.

When I tell all this to my daughter, she says, “Baba, this is a different time, and we enjoy different things, and you cannot compare the two.” And while she is right, it is also disheartening to see the dichotomy between what is now and what was then; perhaps all generations reminisce about a lost past, a simpler time. Often unknowingly, I find myself mirroring my late father’s actions. Despite my playing badminton, table tennis, captaining the school hockey team and playing regularly for the school and university’s first Cricket X1, my Abba could not help but compare me to his days, for he would bicycle miles to play football matches against other districts when he was young. And much like my daughter, perhaps I too, would have told my Abba that there are no good or bad times, they are simply different times.

Shoaib Bajwa is CEO of a London based Geo-political Due Diligence and Strategic Advisory firm, CTD Advisors. Write to him at