I feel humbly privileged to have been born in a family known for wielding either a sword or the pen. One of our distant kin was the great writer A. R. Khatoon - my mother’s aunt through a complicated relationship. Our homes in Lahore were on Lawrence Road and Queen’s Road in a manner that they were almost back to back with a strip of open ground in between. Interestingly enough, the male members of our families were a happy lot with a penchant for playing practical jokes on unsuspecting people. The leading lights in this activity were my late father and the venerable lady’s sons and sons in law – all adults with successful careers, who went through life believing that the child inside them should never be held captive.

Much of our daily evenings were spent on the Lawrence Road premises playing table tennis, listening to a budding young man (who later became a famous play back singer) as he rendered wonderful melodies or just being a nuisance around the house, while the ‘pranksters’ huddled, to select their next victim.

The nineteen fifties and sixties were a time, when air conditioners were far and few and people spent summer nights outdoors, sleeping on beds shrouded in mosquito nets. It was one such moonless night that a visiting relative was rudely woken up to see his bed surrounded by four masked figures with oiled torsos, wielding naked swords. It was the petrified state of the victim that forced the ‘dakoos’ to unmask themselves and reveal their identities. It turned out that the props for the escapade including the family swords, had been provided by my dad. It was indeed commendable that the episode was taken in good humor by the effected relative and the entire family had a good laugh over it for months to come.

On another occasion, my father decided to teach one of our watchmen a lesson. This individual had developed the habit of sneaking away and taking a nap on duty. That particular night, asleep when he should have been awake, the man touched something furry sharing his bed. Still half-awake he peered through the darkness to find a black hairy beast with a hideous face sleeping next to him. The next minute our domestic staff quarters were up, as the man ran out screaming to slump in the courtyard in a near apoplectic state. A little later our cook appeared carrying the ‘beast’, which was nothing, but the stuffed skin of a calf used to encourage its mother to ‘let down her milk’. The stuffed carcass had been placed beside the sleeping man by my dad to excellent effect, because the individual (who was never told the truth) refused to enter his room after dark, preferring instead to make his nightly rounds with remarkable diligence.

My mother often regaled us with the pre-independence story of how one of our domestics wrapped in a leopard skin was made to hide in the shrubs lining a mountain path in Dharamsala (a popular hill station in the Himalayas). The victim, known fondly as Butt Sahib, was a close friend of my grandfather and visited the latter’s house every evening with his wife for a cup of Kashmiri tea. On this particular day and after inducting Mrs. Butt into the conspiracy, the latter’s departure was intentionally delayed using one pretext or the other, so that ‘the leopard’ could get into position. Both my grandparent, his younger sibling and my mother accompanied the couple on the plea that it was late and there were rumors of a rampaging leopard in the area. As the small party reached the designated spot, there was a commotion in the bushes, which parted to reveal, what appeared to be a leopard staring right at Butt Sahib. Pandemonium ensued to end abruptly as the victim folded up, crumbling to the ground unconscious. With the prank now taking a serious turn, Butt Sahib was speedily revived and told the truth. Full marks must be awarded to the man, for he burst into laughter and demanded compensation in the shape of a daily dinner for one month, which included his favorite dishes.

Stories like the ones told here are now a thing of the past. Life and times have changed leaving no time for families to indulge in such activities. Gone too are the people, who were targeted and accepted having become the victim in good humor (even laughing at themselves). It is no wonder therefore that people of my generation remember those days as part of a golden era, where relationships were lasting and good humor aplenty.