One day, my locality, 'Kucha Barian' was stunned by the loud voice of a lady which shook the calm of all the 'honourable' denizens of the Mohalla.

She was married into a well off family, some twenty years back. She had two older brothers-in-law living in the same locality with prosperous shops and high standards of living. Her husband had been slowly losing his eye sight and was jobless for years. They had five children. Apparently, with no other family willing to support her financially, she resorted to going out during the day to other 'honourable' men in the area to make some money on the side. She took these 'excursions' wearing gaudy clothes on one pretext or the other like the demise of an uncle or the marriage of a niece. It seems, all other neighbours in the street, knew of the secret encounters she had with other men.

One day, some lady in the Mohalla provoked her by referring to her 'lack of morals'. Her response: she roared, “Yes, I am selling my body. I have two rich brothers-in-law rolling in wealth (she named them). They fully know that their brother is almost blind and has no job. Did they ever come to ask me how do I feed my children? They do not live very far. Their wives avoid me. Their children hate my children and do not even recognize them.” She continued, “Do I let my family starve and die? Tell me fellows. I ask you, beseech you. You, honourable men and women of this street stare at me, whisper when I go out and make vulgar remarks. But no one helps and expresses a word of sympathy. Tell me, how do I feed my family?”

As a result her roar and scandal, the 'honourable' men and women of the street did assemble one evening in a meeting. They deliberated over the issue and came to the 'wise' conclusion that the woman had become 'a shameless whore' and needed to be thrown out. But, they could not take any action as she and her family owned the portion of the house where they lived so they ended up continuing with the situation as it was.

I could imagine the boredom of the young and beautiful women in the Mohalla. They had no place to go except funerals and weddings. Husbands had no time for escorting the women of the house when they wanted to meet their relatives. Our street was inhabited predominantly by shop-keepers and shops those days never closed till 10 or 11 PM at night. There was no weekly holiday for shops - shops did business as long as their neighbour remained open. So some of the women found other escapes. I used to witness a young handsome student of Government College, Lahore creeping through the window of the neighbouring house where the beautiful young wife of a rich cloth merchant lived.

The young man was the son of the richest Babu (clerk) on the block with a very nice home. The Babu got a princely salary (in those days) of one hundred rupees a month. His Baithak (the Indian style sitting room) had carpets on the floor to sit. He had recently installed in his sitting room a ceiling fan which was exclusive to his house and for visitors to admire. Earlier, he hired a servant to manually move a cloth fan hung from the ceiling when he sat in court with other friends in the evening. It was an open house in the evening for visitors from the area seeking his advice, guidance or plain gossip about the affairs of the city or community. Although my eldest brother, who too became a salaried Babu, was a frequent visitor to the sitting room in the evening, I, a child yet, was afraid to enter.

The son of the 'Babu' had acquired a new motor-cycle, the only one of its kind in Shahlami Gate's narrow streets. The engine roared when the vehicle was started and we all knew when he was going or coming. It was a subject of discussion and we loved to watch him riding his new motor-cycle. I saw this young man called Om Prakash often jumping the wall to see the married woman. I had heard some older boys talking about the romance of the young Romeo with the beautiful married woman aptly called Savitri He seemed to be treated as a 'hero' in our conversations. However, no one mentioned this openly. Only the husband was unaware, because the honourable men who lived in this street whispered such matters into the ears of each other with the condition, “I am telling this only to you, keep it a secret.” I guess, the husband finally got to know because six months later I saw carpenters blocking the window from where our lover-boy used to find access. Simultaneously, the wall of the top floor was unilaterally raised ten feet by the cloth merchant blocking young Om Prakash's access to his wife for ever. This construction too was the focus of gossip for many days.

Across our house, there was a rich, not so young but attractive widow with two young school going sons. Her husband, who had outlived two wives, died when she was only thirty two. She found a lover in one of her departed husband’s grown-up nephews who conveniently lived in a house next door. He was a frequent visitor to the widow at times staying for the night. The romance was no secret from the neighbouring folks but the woman called the nephew 'her eldest son'. The chowkidar who was paid by all of us to guard our street, would visit my mother (who often lent him money without interest) and tell her spicy stories of widow’s escapades in detail. My mother heard these with great interest and took even more delight in broadcasting to others. We, children, were not supposed to know about these things and were sent out but in those crowded quarters, we found ways to listen in. The story was retold several times but there was no copy-right claimed, everyone attributed it to someone else.

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