Lahoris of my generation will remember a white colonial style building on the Mall, a little distance from Regal Intersection towards Charing Cross. This was the home of the daily Civil and Military Gazette or C&MG, a daily English language newspaper founded in 1872 and finally closed on August 31, 1963. The most notable thing about the C&MG was its Assistant Editor, the celebrated writer and Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling, who worked here from 1882-87 before moving to the larger sister publication – The Pioneer from Allahabad.

Mr. Kipling (not to be confused with his equally celebrated father J Lockwood Kipling) was more Lahori than some Lahoris themselves. His pieces (both verse and prose) about life in colonial British India, were (and still are) descriptive gems that have no parallel to date. My passionate love affair with these treasures began as a young boy, when my grandfather presented me with a paperback version of Kipling verse. For days after, I went around the house reciting lines from ‘Gunga Din’ – the army ‘bahishti’, who fell to a sniper’s bullet, while fearlessly moving around giving water to his regimental wounded. Now a ‘bahishti’ or ‘maashki’ is a water carrier - a common sight of my childhood days. The word ‘bahishti’ is perhaps a derivative of the man’s evocation, which included slaking the need of the thirsty (a good deed which could improve one’s chances of strolling in the Garden of Eden). The word ‘maashki’ in all probability originated from the water skin or ‘mashk’ that was slung across a ‘bahishti’s’ back.

Our ‘bahishti’ was a lean, short statured individual by the name of Hanif. The daily act of carrying a filled water skin slung diagonally across his back had produced a permanent stoop in his posture. Hanif Chacha could be seen every morning and evening walking along our drive and courtyard sprinkling water and irrigating potted plants. Permanent exposure to moisture may have shriveled the skin of his hands, but it did nothing to diminish the smile that always adorned his face. He would indulge in horseplay and drench me with a well guided stream of cool liquid, totally oblivious to my mother’s admonishments. Alas one does not see water skins or water carriers anymore, and neither does one hear the word ‘bahishti’ or ‘maashki’ during conversation.

A mutation of the water carrier was a character usually seen walking the streets of Lahore City in summers and during the Muharram Processions. He too dispensed chilled liquid, but did this through a long curved spout attached to a metal ‘hammam-like’ container carried on his back. His call of ‘Thanda Thaar’ would echo down the narrow streets of the old walled city, drawing both young and old for a sweet drink made out of sandalwood.

Another character that has virtually disappeared from sight and vocabulary is the ‘nain’. The word symbolizes the female version of the ‘nai’ or barber (which is alive and well). The ‘nain’ was a professional match maker and every family worth its name had its own version of this female. She carried a lot of ‘punch’ with the women of both families and her word was taken as the final authentication that led to wedding festivities. While the ‘nain’ did the match making, her husband stood by ready to cook the wedding feast. This was one husband and wife team that made a packet out of every successful match.

Our ‘nai’ and ‘nain’ were good old Hassan Din and Amir Begum. While Baba Hassan was a genial and simple character, his better half was a terror for us. She was a perpetually cross individual, who could freeze you with her icy stare. While we would run circles around Hassan Din, it was Amir Begum that we avoided as much as possible. It was however a different story with my mother, aunts and grandmother. To these female matriarchs, Amir’s word was law.

As one returns down memory lane, one spots other characters amongst the dappled shadows – characters made extinct by giant leaps in technology and lifestyles. This week’s piece is but a humble effort to bring two such figures to life. Maybe, the coming weeks may see some more being dragged into the limelight for wherever modern lifestyles may take us; these individuals will remain unforgettable.