The garden could be seen from afar because of its profuse greenery and the blooming pink and white ‘kachnar’ trees lining a high brick boundary wall. It had been planted with loving care by two brothers and named deferentially after their father. Walton road in those days was a single narrow strip of asphalt linking Lahore Cantonment with Ferozepur Road and the village of Amarsidhu. The area around this walled garden was broken ground, covered with prickly bushes that produced delicious berries and dotted with ponds of water that abounded with a small variety of fish, some snipe and an occasional flurry of migrating teal.

A deep silence broken only by an occasional military vehicle or birdcalls pervaded the area during the week. It was on certain days however that a rumbling sound was heard coming closer from the direction of the cantonment, soon resolving itself into a long line of small (by today’s standards) tracked bren gun carriers, belonging to a Baloch Regiment, out on their monthly exercise. Weekends was a time, when some individuals could be spotted strolling amongst the ponds in search of snipe, a bird that appeared after a while on the table of a beautiful yellow house inside the garden.

The high walled enclosure did not subsist on mangoes alone, but was known for its oranges, guavas, ‘falsas’, vegetables and many other varieties of fruit. These products were lovingly raised, harvested and displayed at the annual agricultural fair in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) with the two brothers returning triumphantly bearing several trophies. These two enterprising men were my maternal grandfather and his younger brothers and the place they had so lovingly laid out was called ‘Haider Bagh’.

Weekends at this eden-like premises were a riot, as the family and other kin got together and much time was spent in the water tank under the big cataract emerging from the tube well. This water was warm in winters and icy in summers and everyone dipped in, irrespective of age. Winter evenings were spent around bonfires as tall tales were told and anything that could be barbequed was roasted over an open fire.

It was but natural that with so much fruit around, ‘Haider Bagh’ had its share of feathered thieves. Families of parrots headed straight for the guavas as smaller birds played havoc with anything they could peck on. No amount of air gun toting youngsters or scarecrows could keep these free loaders away, until one day there appeared on the scene, an old man wearing a quilted waistcoat and a discolored ‘lungi’ A cloth bag was hung round his neck and the top end of a catapult peeped out of a deep pocket of his waist coast or ‘bandi’. We discovered that the heavy bag contained perfectly rounded earthen pellets approximately half an inch in diameter. The man’s kit was completed by a short ‘huqqa’ carried in one hand.

It didn’t take long for everyone to call this individual ‘Chacha’, which later changed to ‘Chacha Gulel’, with reference to the catapult. That evening the family held a heated discussion on the feasibility of hiring someone with an ancient ‘weapon’, when modern technology i.e. air guns and fire crackers had failed. It was but natural that some of the more adventurous of our uncles placed wagers on the success or failure of the frail looking man.

We were awakened next morning by a strange howling sound that reverberated amongst the trees, followed by flocks of birds taking off in panic. Hastily donning proper attire, we rushed to see an unforgettable sight. The good ‘Chacha’ was standing under a tree that was festooned with parrots. As both adversaries were assessing each other’s capabilities, the old man placed his ‘huqqa’ on the ground and cupping his hands to around the mouth uttered a sound that sent shivers down our spines. The chattering amongst the leaves suddenly fell silent as a handful of round missiles were extracted from the cloth bag and shot at the birds with amazing rapidity and accuracy. Two birds came plummeting down, while the remaining flock took off immediately.

A week later, much like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, ‘Chacha Gulel’ had amply justified his calling, by ridding the garden of the birds that did damage to the fruit. The amazing thing we noticed was that none of the song birds or those that did not fall in the category of pests, ever left the farm. It was thus that the magician with the earthen ammunition and the catapult became the hero and was treated as such by everyone. He did his rounds with utmost diligence becoming a nemesis of fruit eating feathery creatures and passed away at a ripe old age of ninety in the comfortably furnished room that we had provided him in one corner of his domain.