Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Lahore that once was cycle friendly town

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I learned to cycle in 1959. I was then seven years old and Lahore was the most beautiful, the most god almighty wonderful, human and humane and caring city in the entire world. Venturing out of our Durand Road home, I first explored Davies Road (and that is how it was spelled in those days) and Lawrence Gardens where you could take your bicycles right in.

There were perhaps a couple of hundred cars in all Lahore. The streets seemed the widest in the world, horns were heard only once in a while, and the great noise was the throaty thrum of those 600 cc motorcycles driven by teenage boys clad in drainpipe pants and red or dark blue, open-collared shirts with their hair slicked back and their pointed black shoes shined to reflect the sky. Of course, the other sound was the staid clip-clop of the horse-drawn tangas (I refuse to call it a tonga).

No one and no one was in a hurry to run over a seven year-old child on a wobbly rented bicycle. I didn’t even have to be careful – though my mother did tell me to watch the road before letting me loose; other drivers cared. They looked out for me. That was the kind of city Lahore was.

Between 1959, when I learned to cycle and 1961 when I got my first bicycle (a Sohrab), I daily rented a bike from the cycle shop run by this twenty-ish man whose name no one knew and who was universally known as Teeyaan (nasal n ending). His store, where he repaired bikes and rented them too, was on the street that takes off from Durand Road right opposite Queen Mary’s and leads to Mohammad Nagar. A faded black sign with white lettering, in English, said this was ‘Popular Cycle Works’.

On Teeyaan’s bikes I explored my world. After Davies, Lawrence Garden, The Mall and Anarkali I turned east from the front gate of our home. There lay the Locomotive Shed of what was still North Western Railway. The same shed where those dark beauties, the workhorses of the railways, those magnificent steam engines came to roost between hauls across the expanse of Pakistan. On winter mornings I would lie in bed awake in the dark listening to their ‘Wooof-chug, wooof-chug’ as their boilers were fired in the shed.

That was the finest music I had ever heard. That was the first thing I had ever fallen in love with – notwithstanding my simultaneous affair with Marylyn Monroe. From Durand Road on to Kashmir Road that led to the Garhi Shahu bridge, I would go past the Maliks’ house. Now, who does not know Nazir and Aziz Malik whose family owned the nearby Crown Cinema. The brothers went to St Anthony’s and were the musclemen of our school always getting into fights. Their sister Fakhra was my classmate and very close friend in kindergarten at Queen Mary’s. I never saw her after 1959 when I left QM.

Just around the corner from the Malik residence were the houses of the Anglo-Indians. The bicycle ramp on the first one said ‘Miller’. Mr Miller lived, if my memory holds, in the back. In the front right hand apartment were the Highfields. George the father and his three sons Christopher, Julian and Kieth. And the girls, Christine (aka Pixie) and Gillian and Mrs Highfield who played the piano at QM and whose first name I never learned.

As I slowly cycled past, I would hear strains of Louis Armstrong wafting out of the windows of these Anglo-Indian homes. Then I did not know I was listening to the gritty voice of the greatest musician of the 20th century. Now I do and now whenever I turn to ‘Duke’s Place’ or ‘Mack the Knife’ or so many others, I am transformed back to age seven.

Past the Anglo-Indian residences of Garhi Shahu, I would pause on the road bridge over the main line jumble with the Loco Shed just over to the left. And there I’d spend hours just watching the activity in the shed.

Not long afterwards, I started to cycle farther out. Past St Andrew’s High School I turned left and learned for the first time there was a place called Tezab Ahata in the old quarter of Lahore. Even then the name sounded just too chock full of the unknown: Acid Compound. But I could only do so much in those days of my childhood. So taking it a few miles at a time, I returned on subsequent Sundays to go deeper and deeper into the unknown city. Misri Shah was discovered by chance. And then one Sunday, I ended up through Misri Shah under the Do Moria Pull and on Circular Road, realising that the world indeed was round.

From the uncharted territory of Tezab Ahata and Misri Shah, I was once again on Terra Cognita. Up along Empress Road, past Simla Hill I was on familiar Durand Road ground. If I could have understood it then, I would have known what T. S. Eliot meant when he wrote: ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’

Within the year, I was heading ever farther out. Now it was to Elgin Road in the cantonment. We now call it Sarwar Road. With my brother on the frame in front, I pedalled out of our home. Davies Road in those days was not the monster it is now. There were beautiful bungalows from the early years of the 20th century sitting amid spacious gardens with huge arjun and neem trees shading them. As we cycled to its junction with The Mall, we would from time to time be attracted by the droning wing beats of grey hornbills flying overhead. There used to be so many of them.

The entire journey of nearly five or six miles (we had only miles then, remember) would bring us without ever once being threatened by traffic to our aunt’s home. There could have been no better way of spending a Sunday.

And now years later, the child of seven or eight has grown to a bald-headed middle aged man with a paunch. And Lahore the once oh so beautiful city breaks my heart. The culture of the city, a culture of good humour, fellow feeling and hospitality has been swamped by the uncontrolled influx of yahoos from the country. Instead of they, the less cultured and sophisticated new-comers, learning from the superior culture of the big city we imbibed their boorishness and turned into louts.

My cycling years ended in 1971 when I left Lahore to join the army. They resumed in 1995 when we lived in Model Town and I purchased a bicycle again. Things had changed. And drastically!

Driving by car from Model Town to the Punjab Public Library, near Tollinton, took thirty-five minutes in those days. Cycling the same route took, believe it or not, forty minutes. And with my anti-pollution mask on, a darn sight more healthy. I routinely cycled around town.

Now, those were the days that two of my nieces, one after the other, interned with World Wide Fund for Nature. In 1995 with Dawood Ghaznavi heading, there were only a handful of some wonderful youngsters who kept the organisation going. I, mamu, to my nieces, became mamu to everyone else at WWF. And since so few people cycled around, I was looked upon as an oddity.

Then one day my niece Faiza told me Durdana Malik who headed the Communication Department was intrigued by this mamu who cycled. Nearly twenty years have gone by and we are friends with Durdana and Azmat Malik, two most wonderful people.

But with the advent of the misrule of the fool Mush-A-Riff-Raff and the mad availability of cars on easy lease, the number of vehicles shot up exponentially; the roads turned mad – completely without any hope of redemption.

This was 2001. I was cycling along Canal Bank in the vicinity of Muslim Town when I heard the mad careen of a demon wagon behind me, its horn blasting its staccato created by a contact breaker point. A wave of terror swept through my being. What if he hits me at his mad hashish-induced 80 km/h dash? I got off the road on to the unpaved shoulder.

That was the last day I went cycling for work. I now cycle for exercise in the morning and sometimes for chores nearby. Much as I would like to cycle into town, I am terrified.

Related: What makes Lahore so special

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

19 Comments:

At March 14, 2014 at 12:58 PM, Blogger Rafay Alam said...

We need to bring Critical Mass to your neck of the woods!!

 
At March 14, 2014 at 1:45 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

That'll be extra great. But anywhere in the vicinity of Model Town is good for me. Although like to be cycling very, very early in the morning. Say the word and I'll join Critical Mass.

 
At March 14, 2014 at 10:55 PM, Blogger omarali50 said...

You reminded me of a couple of memories that may seem strange to people now. I was not yet a Lahorite and visited my uncle in Model Town (from Pindi). There was a cycle repair guy on a corner a mile away and I asked him if I could rent a bike. He said, sure, told me the rate (some ridiculously low amount) and gave me a bike. I returned it a few hours later. He did not know my name, he had no clue where I lived and there was no collateral of any kind. Just a kid in shorts (knickers in those days) who probably did not look like a bicycle thief to him.
When we lived in Lahore cantt (off Harike road) at age 10, I would take the bike to the end of the airport runway and just sit there in the fields and watch planes take off and land. I could have cycled right on to the runway. On holidays I would sometimes bike all the way to BRB canal and check out the bunkers (this was soon after 1971, so there were lots of those around). At one ack-ack position near the airport, they invited me in to show me how the gun works.
Oh well, things change. We get older. Maybe that is all it is..

 
At March 15, 2014 at 6:38 AM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Omar Ali, thank you so much for this beautiful, heart-warming story of the bicycle man in Model Town. that's how it once happened. I remember wandering around the runway with my cousins in the early 1960s. We were one day 'arrested' and brought to the airport manager's office who told us to get lost.. I'll use your own words: 'Oh well, things change. We get older. Maybe that is all it is.'

 
At March 16, 2014 at 10:35 AM, OpenID beenasarwar.com said...

Loved this post. When you started cycling in Lahore was probably around the same time as my mother did. As a teenager, she traded English lessons to their servant boy for cycle lessons from him! We really need to fight to make our roads more cycle- and pedestrian-friendly.

 
At March 16, 2014 at 11:14 AM, Anonymous Tariq Malik said...

"With my brother on the frame in front..." That which you call a frame, we named it "Danda." We get older no doubt. Marvelous piece!

 
At March 16, 2014 at 11:19 AM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Hi Beens! Rafay Alam is fighting his lonely fight to make Lahore a cycling city, but with the way Pakistanis look at everything, I cannot say it will ever happen.Cycling is for the poor, How much we have lost because we are sick in the mind.

 
At March 16, 2014 at 2:18 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

That's right, Tariq. that is what we did indeed call it. Things change.

 
At March 16, 2014 at 9:00 PM, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

What to talk of cycling, even walking is impossible today. City is changing with each blink.

 
At March 19, 2014 at 11:13 AM, Anonymous Tariq Malik said...

And then there were techniques to the pedal. First, it was Qanchee, then Danda, and finally the Gaddee (seat) even if your feet never reached down enough. For added "phatphatee" (sound) effect, one would attach a balloon to the rear chimta. Boy, 'twas fun!

 
At March 19, 2014 at 12:05 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Oye hoi, Tariq! What a memory, The phatphatee sound with the balloon! But I never went qainchi or danda. I hired a small bike to learn gaddee straight off. Fell once into my father's rosebushes and got a lesson of my life!

 
At March 22, 2014 at 12:08 AM, Blogger Jamshed B Ahmad said...

Great.

 
At March 22, 2014 at 12:08 AM, Blogger Jamshed B Ahmad said...

Great.

 
At March 22, 2014 at 10:21 PM, Anonymous Hammad Nasir said...

No, Salman sb, we are now too old to cycle now in Lahore, but yes, in our childhood and youth, we used to cycle a lot. in Sweden, more than any other European countries, i have seen people using cycles for all their chores in the radius of 5 km. more than that, they use public transport and in the extreme of the cases their own cars!! we are the opposite!! sadly.

 
At March 22, 2014 at 10:23 PM, Anonymous Haroun Rashid said...

My most prized possession thru school years was my Raleigh Trent Sports. Five of us friends used to always cycle to each others homes and also daily together to Aitchison from Gulberg for afternoon sports.

 
At March 22, 2014 at 10:27 PM, Anonymous Naweed Harooni said...

Salman, I used to cycle from my home in Nabha road,Old Anarkali to Govt.College & then to UET, Mughalpura for my Engg. degree, for straight five years, rain or sunshine!

 
At March 22, 2014 at 10:29 PM, Anonymous Muhammad Omer Khalid said...

I am thinking about buying a cycle.

 
At March 22, 2014 at 11:12 PM, Blogger nazar rathore said...

Nostalgic

 
At December 15, 2016 at 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also stopped cycling for the same risky reasons and gave away my bike. It is no more safe to ride a bicycle in lahore anywhere even if you have all the safety equipment installed. for all riders.... ride safe....

 

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