Retiring from professional life and crossing the threshold into the category known as ‘Senior Citizen’ is like sailing into uncharted waters. After decades of following a nine to five routine (which may extend in many cases to a nine to nine one), the ‘senior citizen’ finds himself or (herself) with ‘so much time and so little to do’. The wise ones from this category turn to activities they could ill afford, while building careers because there was little or no time to indulge in anything else, but work. There are a few, who look at aging from the wrong perspective and just give up. There is however, one compulsive streak that appears in all ‘senior’ individuals irrespective of who and where they are - nostalgia. I am a senior citizen, who passionately adheres to the notion that aging makes one look distinguished and should not impair the capacity to be active (in a relative sense), but I too am not immune to moments when nostalgia over takes me, transporting me on trips through time. These are moments, when a rush of memories surface centering on events or individuals.

One of my most unforgettable characters, who I shall refer to as MZH for the sake of privacy, was married to my mother’s first cousin. He was a colorful figure, well known to residents inside Mochi Gate, where he had his home. He was always nattily attired and in spite of a prosperous paunch, clothes hung well on him. Three things set him apart from our other relatives – his rakishly tilted Jinnah Cap, a gun belt draped across his chest with a holstered Webley & Scott at one end and last, but not least, his smoking style. This featured a cigarette tucked between his pinky and ring finger and the smoke inhaled through an opening in the fist, while ash was discarded by clicking the thumb and index finger. He often visited us on Sundays and then accompanied my Grandfather’s younger brother lovingly referred to as ‘Chotay Nana’ to a newly launched ice cream restaurant at Charing Cross. There were some days when I accompanied the duo. It was during one such visit that on arrival, my uncle took off his gun belt and placed it on the table in full view of the staff. ‘Chotay Nana’ was surprised, when on calling for the bill, the management did not present one, saying that the amount was on the house. It was my grandfather, who realized what was wrong and had the weapon reluctantly returned to its customary position. No sooner this was done, the bill was presented and we hastily left the restaurant to avoid further embarrassment.

Humayun Sahib was an aviator and instructor in the Lahore Flying Club that was co-located with Lahore’s commercial airport at Walton. He and ‘Chotay Naana’ had been friends from their boyhood days and this relationship had extended in time, to our families. I have very fond memories of a handsome man wearing a flying suit of the nineteen forties design, complete with a fleece lined jacket and leather helmet, standing next to his biplane, very much like my favorite storybook character ‘Biggles’. My first ride (much against the wishes of my mother) was in the open rear cockpit of this double winged aircraft. I have since then, flown hundreds of times, but none of these trips have even come close to soaring in the open cockpit of a pre Second World War aero plane.

He would be driven up our drive in a Tonga carrying the barest of personal luggage, but loaded with goodies from his extensive farm lands near Lyallpur (now known as Faisalabad). Shahamand Khan was tall, wiry with a deeply sun tanned face adorned by a graceful hennaed beard and long hair (known as ‘pattay’). His dress was a spotlessly white cotton ‘Kurta’ and ‘Dhoti’, a huge white ‘Pugri’ and on his feet, a pair of well-polished plain leather ‘Khussas’. The goodies accompanying him were a generous supply of ‘Sarson ka Saag’, maize flour, conveniently shortened pieces of sugar cane and ‘Sattoo’. I have no idea, how he and my grandfather had met and taken an instant liking to each other, but their friendship was exemplary. My mother always addressed him as “Shahamand Chaacha” and we reverently called him “Shahamand Naana”. It was only once that my mother mentioned that he and his family had migrated from India in 1947 and had toiled day and night to turn a tract of barren land into something productive. This unique individual spoke little except, when in the company of his dear friend. His silence was attributed by many to the loss of his near and dear ones during the trek to Pakistan.

These three diverse characters are amongst many that vividly parade across my mind as I sit musing over years gone by. I also know that this wave of nostalgia will soon pass and I will once again be immersed in emails and work as proof that aging is in fact a state of mind.

 

The writer is a historian.