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By: Rashid Zia Cheema
This photo of an intersection in Rawalpindi Cantonment was taken in the early 1960s by a foreigner working at Mangla Dam Project.
Question for Quiz # 1. Can you name two roads of Rawalpindi Cantonment which cross this Chowk?
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By: Rashid Zia Cheema
I have some nostalgic memories of Rawalpindi. I first passed through ‘Pindi’ in 1963 while going to Murree where our family spent the whole summer vacations. Pindi was a sleepy town in those days and the only prominent roads were The Mall and Murree Road. Then I spent my summer vacations in Islamabad in 1966 when my father was constructing his house near Poly Clinic. I used to come to Saddar on Walji’s Volks Wagon micro bus. It was my first encounter with Pindi Cantt. The next short visits were between 1967 to 1971 staying with my uncle who was a surgeon in Holy Family Hospital.
In Nov 1971, I again passed through Pindi Cantt while going to ISSB Kohat and coming back. Later in the same month, I along with some Course mates boarded on a Rail Car from Lahore and arrived at Rawalpindi railway station. We had lunch in a restaurant at Haathi Chowk, Saddar and then booked a wagon and reached PMA, Kakul.
I really got acquainted with Pindi Cantt when I landed in Army Avn School Dhamial in 1975 for helicopter training. Avn Mess is still near Cheering Cross on Peshawar Road. In the evening, all the students used to go to Saddar almost daily on a taxi or on foot to see a movie, eat out or just roam around on Bank Road and adjoining streets.
Going down the memory lane, I recall many more activities. Bank Road was a hub of activities in the evening for all Army officers. One could invariably find one’s Course mates and unit officers there who came to Pindi from all over Pakistan for an interview in GHQ or waiting for PIA flight and clear weather for onward move to Northern Areas. Some were attending course at Signals School and many were on their way to attend courses in Murree, Abbotabad, Nowshera, Risalpur, Cherat, Peshawar, etc.
We used to have cone ice cream from a machine located on Bank Road near its intersection with Kashmir Road. We often ate Dahi Bhallay from a vendor in front of National Bank of Pakistan (behind Cirose Cinema) or at a shop in Chotta Bazaar, Saddar. A tikka-kebab shop in Baoo Mohallah was frequently visited (Does it still exist?). After that, fresh lime with soda (Available in front of Cantonment Hospital), was a must for digesting the BBQ stuff. Occasionally had tikka-kebab from Rose Restaurant adjacent to Cirose cinema. Also had ice cream from Super on Bank Road whose owner was a bald man (Does anyone remember his name?). Some times we went to Lalkurti and had paan from a shop whose owner became famous after appearing in “Zia Mohy-ud-Din Show”. His paan varieties had very strange names. One such variety was called “Unn say na kehna“. Used to have Hunter Beef from Broadway Bakery. In those days Hunter Beef was readily available in ordinary bakeries in Saddar and even in Lalkurti. I don’t remember going to Flashman’s Hotel or Silver Grill. Very rarely, we visited Intercontinental Hotel (Now Pearl Continental) and that too to have only tea or coffee. We didn’t have that kind of money to have dinner there. On most of the occasions, we “fuqras” went to the swimming pool, sat on pool side chairs for a while and came out without having anything. Reason?…..No money.
We went to see classic English movies in Plaza, Odeon or Cirose cinemas, all located in Saddar area. On weekends, we always went for the last show (9 to 12). On other days we preferred 6 to 9 show.
I still remember the lush green lawn of Pindi Club, as late as 1975, having cluster of pine trees. Its gates opened on The Mall and there were no Plazas facing The Mall (It is now engulfed by “concrete jungle” of plazas). I also remember the British era cane chairs spread in the sprawling lawn which was surrounded by tall whispering pines. We used to have crispy French Fries served with Tomato Ketchup and a steamy hot cup of tea/coffee. Some of the students (No names) used to enjoy Draft beer in antique silver Beer mugs and had roasted peanuts. Beer was not my forte but I used to play hell with peanuts and most of them were fed up of me. Who can forget the Tambola organised in the old Ball Room which had a wooden floor? The Snow Ball often carried hefty amount and everyone was eager to get the prize.
If you go to Pindi Club before lunch time even today, you will find a jolly group of old timers sitting in the lawn and having tea and gupp-shupp. They are still maintaining the old tradition, cane chairs or no cane chairs.
“Yeh mein nay koun say taar chairr diyye hain?” Sorry, I was just carried away. “Yaad-e-maazi aazaab hai ya Rab!”
I remained in Pindi Cantt from 1975 to 1980. I again came back here in Aug 1993 and haven’t left the city for the last 19 years. I have fully enjoyed each day of my stay in this city.