Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The spirit of Lahore

Bookmark and Share

Sugar and spice and all things nice. That is what Lahoris were always made of. But let me ramble. The year was 1968, it had been a great monsoon and in September the mid-morning sun was sharp and clear but it did not hurt. My friend Sajid and I stood on the pavement outside Tollinton Market (yes, there was a pavement in those days) watching the world go by as we talked of the weather.


Sajid said, ‘The power of summer is broken.’ Translate that into Punjabi for that is what we spoke. A man walking past overheard, paused, turned around and came up to us. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It’s broken. It’s broken into two. And I’ve seen it; it’s lying on the far bank of the Ravi.’ In Punjabi he said, eyes wide and wagging his finger, ‘do totay hoya ai, do!’ And having delivered his piece, he turned around and marched off and the two of us burst out laughing.

Or there was the time when an out-of-Lahore family went shopping in Anarkali (Liberty did not exist then) and having done their business, the lady of the household was leading this young paa ndi (the carrier you could hire for large loads) with a huge bundle of towels on his head. Two passing Lahoris espied this and said one to the other, ‘Yar, lagda ai aina day ghar tay luma hi nahana dhona rehnda ai.’ Roughly translated: Seems they are a bit excessive with their bathing.

But the cream of the crop is the one narrated by an-ex Kinnaird College student. Back in the early 1970s she and a friend were walking through Anarkali, one limping with an ankle tied up in a crepe bandage and the other with her wrist similarly dressed. An elderly gentleman, hookah in hand, sat outside a store regarding them as they approached. As they came abreast, he shook his head and said, ‘Huc ha. Lattan vi toot gaiyan, tay bavaan vi toot gaiyan pur ghar beh kay chain nahin jay aanda.’ Roughly: They’ve got fractured legs and fractured arms, but they will not remain at home.

That was the ramble that I just had to do to tell all you new age Lahoris what you don’t even know about this wonderful city and how her sons and daughter behaved. You, who have forgotten to smile at a stranger’s quip, have lost the culture of the city you claim as your home. The witticisms were just that: witticisms. There was never any vulgarity or an attack on one’s person; on how dark or bald one was. That was not what Lahoris did. Gujranwala perhaps would have been famous for that.

But the story that needs telling begins sometime in 1957 or thereabout for I was then five and that is the time I can easily recall. For her sartorial requirements my mother had two places. The one was Feroz Din in Mclagan Road and the other Latif in Dhani Ram Street just off Anarkali. And Anarkali was the haunt of this rather smallish man who I imagine was no more than a couple of inches more than five feet. He had a chunky and rather kindly sort of a face with a slightly lop-sided smile, was always dressed in white trousers and a matching shirt – both clean but somewhat the worse for wear.

On one arm he dangled a bulging cloth bag as he ambled around the then rather uncrowded Anarkali. His call was, ‘Babyeeeeeee!’ And his merchandise was potato crisps in sealed paper bags with the legend ‘Baby Chips’. My sisters and I and later when my brother Imran was old enough to handle the crisps never missed any chance to wheedle our mother for at least one helping per head. Like so many other children of that time, we were pretty well-known to the Baby Chips-walla – and that is what we called him.

Then we grew up. Rauha, the eldest, married and went off to live in Karachi, my brother and I had other pursuits. Only Noshaba continued to visit Dhani Ram Street with mother, but we seldom ever asked after the chips-walla. Occasionally, passing through Anarkali or Dhani Ram I would run into him and exchange a pleasantry or two. In 1972, home on leave from the army when Rauha was visiting from Karachi, the four of us were together in Dhani Ram Street after a very long time. It was now somewhat more crowded, but still not the madhouse it has turned into now.

Above the general din of the street came the cry ‘Babyeeeeeee!’ It was as if we were electrified. And sure enough, there he was. The same easy amble, the white attire, the chunky face now rather more lined, the head with fewer hair and even those mostly grey. But the cheer in his lop-sided grin remained. The only difference was that the one-anna packet that we got back in the early 60s was now twenty-five paisas. (Remember, we went metric in 1962).

Something happened thinking about which even today mists up my eyes. The chips-walla, whose name none of us ever knew, recognised us. No surprise there for he had seen us growing from little children into adults. But when he saw Asiya in my sister’s arms, he was beside himself with pride and joy. He lavished my three year-old niece with bag after bag of potato crisps. My sister protested, but our nameless chips-walla would have nothing of it. He kept saying ‘Baby kha lay gi.’

And when my sister tried to pay him for what we had got, the good man simply refused. My sister persisted but he remained adamant: there was no way he was taking any money for the gift he had lavished upon us, his old customers.

In 1974 our chips-walla still had worn-out clothing on his body, he was now much older than when we had first seen him in the late 1950s. Obviously there were responsibilities he had to work hard to meet. Yet this good man possessed that largesse of the spirit, regard for an old acquaintance and a kindness of the heart that was beginning to ebb away out of the collective mass of humanity that we called Lahoris.

That was the last time we ever saw him. In 1980, a couple of years out of the army and living in Karachi, I was visiting Lahore when I went looking for him. Some store-keepers remembered him, some did not. But no one knew why he had stopped coming. One casually remarked that he may have passed on. Our chips-walla had been a virtual fixture in Dhani Ram Street, yet when his time was up no one fretted about his sudden disappearance; no one attempted to ask what had befallen him.

But the four of us, now ranging in age from from fifty-eight to sixty-seven, think of him. We think especially of his munificence upon seeing my niece for the first time. That was the spirit of Lahore and the chips-walla was imbued with it without end.

Related: Lahore that I grew up in was a great place, Who Owns Lahore? Lahore, not Paris

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

15 Comments:

At February 11, 2014 at 12:28 AM, Blogger tuba hussain said...

It made me fall in love with lahore all over again :)

 
At February 11, 2014 at 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

me too. also with the writer.

 
At February 11, 2014 at 10:41 AM, Anonymous Akram Malik said...

I think Liberty Mkt was there even in 1968.

 
At February 11, 2014 at 11:56 AM, Blogger Jalal Hameed said...

Yes I remember this chips wala as whenever I visited Anarkali with my mother, I used to buy chips from him - an unforgeable character

 
At February 11, 2014 at 12:33 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Jalal. Men like this chips walla were icons of the Lahore you and I grew up in.

 
At February 15, 2014 at 1:34 PM, Blogger Sagheer Awan said...

A touching tribute to Baby Chips Wala. I read this fine piece today when I was depressed and down by listening and reading about taliban and stuff. Thanks a lot sir Salman rashid.

 
At February 15, 2014 at 2:04 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Sagheer, glad your spirits are uplifted. I'm still depressed from all the news of the doom around us.

 
At February 16, 2014 at 10:13 PM, Anonymous Adnann said...

Salman:

Your remembrance of the old Lahore almost brought tears to my eyes. Wonderful writing. I always enjoyed your articles in Express Tribune and will be surely looking forward to reading more here at this blog.

 
At February 17, 2014 at 9:11 AM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Adnann, you almost wept. I actually do.

 
At February 18, 2014 at 8:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No more. That Lahore is no more. The problem is that I still love it. On of my fav character is Iqbal who sells Shwama in Cav Ground near Khalid Masjid. When ever I go to him to eat, he says he will not charge because I am his oldest customer. I pay up but love when he says that. I feel the relationship, a bond. Also he updates me about his family and ask me about mine.

 
At February 19, 2014 at 6:50 AM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Anonymous, Shwarma seller Iqbal is a character to write about. How about we meeting there one day? If you go to 'About' at the top, you'll find my contact details. Please email me.

 
At November 10, 2015 at 2:01 AM, Blogger Mehriene Qureshi said...

This made me so nostalgic for the old Lahore . The chips wala and his cry is a story I've told my children many times. Thank you for immortalising him in your blog. May he rest in peace

 
At November 12, 2015 at 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely. It's all connected, people and places. Take your heart out of either one and a city becomes entirely something else.

 
At November 13, 2015 at 9:17 AM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Mehriene, if you remember the Dhani Ram Street chipswallah you were blessed to be born and growing up in Lahore that was still a beautiful place. My greatest sorrow is that I neglected to look for him in the 1980s when I could have still found him.

 
At November 13, 2015 at 9:29 PM, Blogger Lahore Chitrkar said...

Wah maula ki yad karaya..

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home




My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days