I never saw my father as a young man. I was the 7th progeny in the family and my mother the second wife. His first wife had died when he was only 27. My mother claimed that she was only 14 at the time of marriage. Marriages were done at an early age and by the time I grew up, he had almost retired. He used to be sick and ailing, doing little work in the house or in the shop leaving everything up to his elder son. I, however, did see his very impressive large black and white portraits from his younger and better days. The portrait showed him in churidar and sherwani – tall, fair, and handsome. I was told that at one time he owned a horse buggy with a full-time driver in partnership with a friend. My mother told me that my Dad after coming from his wholesale flour shop, would change into a fresh outfit every day of the week and then, move out with his friends in the horse buggy. No wives ever accompanied them. Their place was in the house. My mother seldom got to ride in the buggy. It was meant only for my father and his friends. It was an established system which all women had come to terms with.“Where did they go?” I asked.“Perhaps to the Mianmir ki Nehr (Canal) outside the city or to have fresh air or a drinks. I never questioned him,” she replied.

Women seldom asked questions about men's outdoor activities. There was no security in marriage for them. Men could do no wrong especially the rich. There was no Hindu Code Bill then, and even a Hindu could take any number of wives without qualms. There was no system of divorce in the community. Most women were not educated enough to support themselves and were left to fend for themselves if their husbands abandoned them. Or, they co-existed in a corner of the house with the favoured wife.

However, the women were compulsive gossip-mongers. Usually around 5 PM in the afternoon on long summer days, women came out of their house and sat on the ‘thada’ (an outer platform extension) of their house. They sat in groups talking about the events of the day, vegetables cooked, quarrels in the family, rifts among women and scandals of men and women, in hushed tones. They promised not to tell anyone but needless say, they repeated the gossip to anyone who cared to listen – and the other party conveyed it to the next person. More women from the neighbouring houses would join them to exchange notes with remarks like “Anything new happening, dear sister?”Another round of similar conversations, similar whisperings! There was endless drama and entertainment in the narrow lanes of a Mohalla. As I grew up behind the city walls and played hide and seek or games of cards with the children of my age, we too whispered about the various characters and what was happening behind the closed doors.

One woman had a great appetite for quarrelling with neighbours with her very loud voice using the most abusive language every time. Perhaps she had no better way to keep busy. She wished death to all relatives of the rival party. She had a knack of taking the complaints of her children to the mothers of other children. Since we were 8 siblings at home in those days, our mother was a frequent recipient of this woman’s complaints. My mother was totally exhausted dealing with these charge-sheets. My elder brother found a way to rescue her. He hung a broken shoe from our balcony. The shouting lady followed by half a dozen of her little of children came to have a slanging match and saw the hanging shoe. The shoe was made to dance from a distance indicating that we did not care. She continued visiting us for a few days but never received a response other than the dancing shoe. Thereafter, we never saw a repetition of her drama, at least, in front of our house. I realized later that this was the favourite past-time of some ladies in the street and a way of spending time, energy and perhaps getting some attention. In the afternoon, some slanging match was always on for everyone to see or hear – only the parties changed.

Another old woman used to pass by our street daily. One day, one of us gave her a name – Mai Aluwarian (the name of a spicy mixed vegetable curry). Her response was fantastic as well as hilarious. She loudly abused the child who gave her the name and also his friends, relatives and the parents who brought him into this world. As she slowly quietened, we again called her “Mai Aluwarian” and it continued till she lost her voice. I had no idea why she continued to pass through our street on a daily basis because this became a daily affair. We children awaited her arrival and the shouting match which ensued, created hilarity among us all. For us, children, it was some kind of drama. We devised many ways of uttering “Mai Aluwarian” including musical tones. One day, no one noticed her coming. Seeing no one shouting at her, she protested “Is everyone in this Mohalla dead?” Apparently, she too enjoyed her daily performance.

There were a few more characters that we children used to tease. One was a devotee of Lord Rama and the other of Lord Krishna. To Lord Rama devotee, we would greet with ‘Jai Sri Krishna’ (victory to Lord Krishna). He would start abusing us and our parents for bringing us up so badly and the abuse continued till he lost his voice. To restart it, all we had to say was Jai Sri Krishna again and the tape recorder started. We did the same to the devotee of Lord Krishna except the greeting changed to ‘Jai Rama’. His dictionary of abuses was very rich. We used to see another old man coughing while brushing his teeth every morning. The sound he produced resembled the word “Hongkong”. One day, a child called him “Lalla Hongkong.” The response was immediate. The old man was generous with the choicest of abuses for people who produced such rowdy and filthy kids. We were overjoyed with the response and it became a daily morning drama for us kids. Life on the streets of Lahore was a constant drama of fun and entertainment.

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