It was a balmy September morning – a morning that seduces minds to wander through realms of fantasy. There was no day dreaming however for many, in the Senior Cambridge Class of 1965, as final exams were two months away and extracurricular escapades throughout the year had nibbled away time that should have been well spent in the company of text books.

There had been a brief moment of excitement that morning, when one of our class mates, who lived in the Cantonment spoke of being rudely awakened sometime past midnight, by the consistent noise of military vehicles heading towards Batapur and Burki. Another event that had caused a stir was the ‘wastebasket upon the door’ act engineered by the class prankster, which had gone wrong and mistakenly spilled its contents on Ma Harris (for that is what we affectionately called our class teacher – a spinster, who had said goodbye to her native England and dedicated her life to education in Pakistan). It was halfway through her geography discourse that we were jolted by two deafening explosions. Iron discipline defeated panic as Miss Harris walked out of the room, to return with the news that war had broken out between Pakistan and India and the school was closing for an indefinite period.

Ten minutes later, pedaling for home, I saw a throng of people milling around the famous Maula Bukhsh Paan Shop, which sported a radio set to attract customers. This time however, it was not Mohammad Rafi, but the President of Pakistan Ayub Khan’s voice addressing the nation in a stirring, short and historic speech, that drew them to the spot.

As I reached home, I began discerning a faint rumble resembling distant thunder coming from the East. With mounting excitement I discovered that this was the sound of our artillery guns firing at the enemy. It was on that day that I saw Lahore citizenry divided into two distinct categories. There were those, who packed up their valuables and fled to what they considered safer places and then there were Lahoris like us, who refused to even consider leaving the city, when it needed us most. History will be the judge of which out of the two displayed the true spirit that embodies the great ‘City of Gardens’.

As night approached, the sound of guns grew more distinct and distant flashes lit up the horizon. We sat glued to the radio listening to news and ‘patriotic songs’. It was this very evening that a call for blood donations, civil defense volunteers and first aid workers was broadcast. I can still recall the manner in which Lahoris responded to this call. Next morning long lines of men and women, old and young, stood patiently in front of the Civil Defense HQ, Red Cross Building and Hospitals. A horde of men (and some women) armed with whatever they could lay hands on, were checked by Military Police near Jaure Bridge at the junction of the roads leading to the border and requested to return home. Obsessed by the spirit to do something (anything) the City of my birth rose to the occasion and swamped MP Checkpoints leading to Wagah, Burki and Kasur with food and gifts.

We found ourselves dressed in the grey and khaki uniform of the Civil Defense Organization wearing ranks commensurate with our education and skill sets. It was on the second day of the war that we began our training at a make-shift Civil Defense training center established in the Don Bosco School near Railway HQ. Mornings were spent acquiring rudimentary skills in First Aid, Fire Fighting, Rescue and Bomb Disposal, while nights saw us carrying out tasks such as patrolling roads in our designated sector, acting as Duty Officer at the Sector Command Post set up in a school at Regal Cinema Intersection or manning the Air Raid Siren on top of Fatima Jinnah Medical College. It was this last duty that was most sought after, as one could actually see artillery gun flashes from the high vantage point. It was also during these nights that we met military vehicles returning or proceeding to the battle front and our morale rose higher as we heard how a small, but well trained army had not only halted the enemy juggernaut, but taken the war to his home across the border.

To those, who were born after the 1965 War, accounts such as this may sound ordinary, but to those who experienced those seventeen stirring days and felt the surge of synergy generated by the nation and its armed forces, the ‘Guns of September’ will always be a cherished and unforgettable memory.