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Sialkot is in the news again. For the wrong reasons. As an alumnus of Sialkot, let me cast some light on swinging Sialkot of the 1960s. My father was posted in C.M.H. Sialkot. After doing matriculation from Lahore, I moved back with the family and joined Murray College, 1st year. At that time Dr Thomas was the principal. His daughter, the comely Tina Thomas, was quite a delight. Eventually, our group banded together to become the ‘cool’ guys of Sialkot. Masood Hassan (now deceased), the famous journalist who eventually settled in Lahore. Mohsin Shah (now deceased), son of a political big shot, joined the army. Became a POW. Shumail Wahid, a Bon Vivant, and later a star social swinger of Lahore. And Shahid Farooqui. There were other groups. The gals had their groupings. All our group had girlfriends. Some serious. Some flirtatious. Meet-up was not a serious problem. Sialkot Club and the large Company Bagh across from the club. Masood had a Vespa scooter (or was it a Lambretta?) Shahid and Shumail had occasional use of family cars. I got about on a bicycle. At the hit parade on Saturdays, hosted by Edward Carrapiett in Karachi, many requests would be from Sialkot – poor souls pledging undying love.

The cantonment area was calm, secure and plaid. I remember one occasion — it was a Sunday. Maj. General Attiq Ur Rehman was GOC (later Governor of West Pakistan). Gen. Rehman and wife, Fareeh aunty, were lunching at our house. During the meal the bat man (also known as orderly) came in and told my mother that Raheel bebi is nowhere to be found. Raheel was my sister. Six-year-old. My mother panicked. General sahib told my mother “Salma appa, relax. This is an army cantonment. Nothing can happen to a child.” The meal continued. Afterwards Raheel was discovered sitting on the roadside by the gate, chewing sugarcane from a vendor. Ever since, Raheel has been a disrupter. Every Saturday a movie was screened at the Garrison cinema. The latest Hollywood offering. People would flock in – by foot, bicycles, tongas. The GOC would arrive in his large American car, gifted under SEATO or CENTO. Girls galore. Dressed to kill. Smiles exchanged. An occasional talk (no cell phones). One Colonel would arrive with two wives – one on each arm. Cone shaped paper containers with peanuts. Coke at 8 annas. At the end of the cantonment was the Lal Kurti bazaar (all old cantonments had this). Unknown to people today, outside Sialkot there was a locality called “Bara Pathar” (12 stones). This was the largest Christian community in Pakistan. There was peace, harmony and mutual respect.

The Sialkot Club, a grand colonial relic, was active. Officers would play tennis mornings and evenings. It had the standard billiard room, the teak bar and stools. And a large wooden floor ball room. It would also serve as a badminton court. Outside there was a huge sports ground, probably equivalent to two football fields. The bar man (known as Abbdar) would make sure we received our due rewards. Chips and tomato sauce (not fries and ketchup). Payment was by coupons.

In the city area of Sialkot, the center was “Drum Walla Chowk”. Roads from the Chowk branched out. The commercial area was called Trunk Bazaar. The upmarket locality was ‘Paris Road’. Actually, named after the famed European city. Colonial houses, water fountains, long winding driveways. And of course, the Convent School in the Cant area. Any event here drew great crowds – be it a drama performance or Meena Bazaar. Once at an event my senior friend, Mirza Qamar Baig, got into an altercation with another boy. I was waiting on the sidelines, but fireworks did not happen. Qamar went on to become a top-notch federal secretary and ambassador.

As a management historian, I was actively following Sialkot’s recent progress. Airport, airline etc. What do the stars portent?

(The writer is a former Executive Director of the Management Association of Pakistan)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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