Some traditions of old Lahore appear to have disappeared along with the callously perpetrated demise of trees and turf in the ‘city of gardens’. One of these traditions was the ritualistic welcome accorded to the onset of the monsoon season.
As grey clouds heavy with moisture piled themselves into towering columns heralding rain and plunging the city into cool shadow, families set up coal and wood burning stoves on rooftops, in ‘barsaatis’ and verandahs. Next woks were cleaned and filled with oil in preparations for making ‘pakwan’ or snacks. The most popular of these were the ‘pakoras’ or dumplings made from spiced chick pea flour. The whole family excitedly gathered around the stove and watched in mouth watering anticipation as the ladies fried the dumplings. It is needless to say that the spicy snack disappeared as soon as it was removed from the wok.
Another traditional food for the ‘rainy day’ was a ‘roti’ made from finely ground chick peas kneaded with ordinary wheat flour and flavored with salt, red pepper and finely chopped onion. This ‘bason ki roti’ was usually taken with yogurt or dips made from hot spices, garlic, mint and coriander.
Another ritual religiously followed by families was the setting up of the ‘jhoola’ or swing. The families in the old city did this using the trees that adorned the central courtyard of most large houses, while others made do with any convenient structure available to them. The lucky ones who lived in the suburbs had a varied choice of trees out of which the ‘pipal’ was the most popular choice because of its thick spreading branches.
The stringing up of the swing was an elaborate procedure. First cushions stuffed with old cotton wool were wrapped round the tree branch chosen to support the contraption. Then a thick rope was looped around the branch and over the cushions to hang in a loop, a few convenient feet off the ground. Next a search was made for the last year’s wooden seat with notches cut at both ends. This was fitted over the loop and you had your ‘jhoola’ ready.
Our ‘jhoola’ was no exception and the huge ‘pipal’ tree in the yard served its purpose well. We however had an added attraction in the person of a very old retired domestic. ‘Baray Mian’, as he was respectfully called, relished acting as the official swing master and regaled us with monsoon related songs rendered in a manner so as to scare away every bird in the area.
Another activity under the overcast sky was a picnic to ‘Kamran ki Baradari’ which in the 50s was on the far bank of the Ravi and accessible through a metalled road from the direction of Shahdara. These picnics were planned and executed on the spur of the moment. Everyone would pile into cars and stop briefly en route to buy Lahore’s famous ‘Chikar Cholay’ and ‘Nan’. Kamran’s pavilion in those days was the most popular picnic spot for Lahori families and one was apt to find the green lawns of the garden around the structure dotted with table cloths and families enjoying themselves.
A wary eye however, had to be kept on children as the river flowed right next to the turf which sloped down to the water’s edge. One also had to be careful of quicksand, patches of which could be clearly seen fringing the banks. I have personally witnessed what this treacherous piece of ground could do to anyone careless enough to step into it. The victim in this case was a stray dog looking for scraps thrown to it by visitors. It was lucky that he was pulled out with great risk to its rescuers.
Sadly, the mad rush to make ends meet, economic deprivation and the destruction of Lahore’s tree population have all combined to make these traditions more or less extinct. Maybe, this piece will rekindle the urge in at least some Lahoris to revive the welcome their elders once accorded to ‘the life giving Barsaat’ and perhaps one will once again hear little voices happily ‘singing in the rain’.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
Taken from: The Nation