Rummaging around some old boxes containing junk, I stopped and stared at the small round terracotta object - now discoloured, cracked and dust laden. Suddenly, the scene around me changed to a time long, long ago. I saw a small boy looking eagerly up at his grandfather, as the old man extracted a gaily coloured disk from his pocket and handed it over to the child. I decided there and then to dedicate this week's column to all the little boys of yore and their playthings, which have disappeared from toy rooms - replaced by the winds of progress and change.
The terracotta disc in this story was known simply as the phirki. It was usually about two inches in diameter with a tiny spike protruding from the base appearing as if a small flat disc had been placed on top of a golf tee. The surface of the disc was gaily painted and adorned by concentric groove. A piece of twine was wound round the base below the disk and a deft horizontal movement of the fore arm and wrist sent the phirki spinning rapidly on the floor in gyroscopic motion.
Another phirki always caught our attention at events like Mela Chiragan. This was made from a square piece of coloured paper and resembled a flower with four open petals and an equal number folded inwards and secured centrally to a piece of cane. As we ran up and down the house (much to the consternation of our parents), the wind set the flower spinning on the same principle as that of a windmill.
We called it the dhol gari or the ‘drum wagon’ for want of a proper name. It was tiny drum made from paper stretched over a circular cardboard frame. The drumsticks were made from two pieces of cane, fixed ingeniously to another frame mounted on a pair of wheels. A string attached at one end and pulled along behind us activated a gear wheel type system that alternately moved the drum sticks up and down to beat a rapid tattoo on the drum.
The pakha was a tin propeller with a central hole that was launched from a metal wand like thing made from a pair of closely intertwined wires and a moving sleeve. This 'launch pad' was inserted into the propeller, which rotated its way down to rest on the sleeve at the lower end. The contraption was then held at a slight upright angle and the sleeve pushed upwards to launch the propeller up and away. We discovered that attempts to catch the rotating blade in flight were detrimental to our fingers. Much to our disappointment, the pakha was ultimately made persona non grata in our house.
I remember that rural visitors to our family often gave us colourful figurines of kings and queens, horses and animals made from some brittle, but hard material that tasted soapy when bitten. Caught one day in the act of tasting, what appeared to be a 'king', a ban was imposed on bringing these toys to our house. It transpired that these figures were fashioned out of material that had qalmi shora or ‘saltpeter’ as its main ingredient. I am still not convinced that this was so, but have often fantasized as to what would have happened if I had tossed 'a member of the royalty' into our fireplace.
Passing through Anarkali in the days of yore, one often came across life sized green parrots sitting immobile on a cross-like arrangement of small bamboos. I always resorted to unsuccessful emotional blackmail in order to acquire one of these birds, but got as far as only touching them. Made from green tissue paper and stuffed with saw dust, these creatures were works of art in their own category and must have provided inexpensive fun to many a child.
I have just been told by one of my children that some of these 'lost objects' have been put on display at a folk heritage museum in Islamabad, so au revoir till next week dear readers, as I am off to once again feast my eyes upon some forgotten playthings from my past.

n    The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.