I have often been told that deep inside my urban exterior there exists a rustic rural soul. I cannot argue with this opinion as this condition is perhaps hereditary for I have felt the presence of a similar spirit in my late mother and her side of the family. The resultant blend of the two lifestyles has provided me with opportunities to savor both cultures in an extraordinary manner.

Our house on Queen’s Road was a pre independence structure surrounded by a spacious compound. It was this space that allowed my maternal grandfather to indulge in his rustic disposition. We grew rice in a small patch of ground and provided friends and family with fresh vegetables from a well-kept kitchen garden. Freshly harvested citrus fruit was available to us in abundant quantities and we had the benefit of a pair of dairy cows – all of the above, right in the middle of urban Lahore.

My mother, who attended the ladies club meetings on a regular basis, would have shocked her ‘urban cultured’ friends if they had seen her milking the cows, whenever our designated domestic help was ill or on leave. I often asked Ismail, our cook and cow tender to let me prepare the animal’s evening feed or ‘gotawa’ in a stone trough, known as a ‘khurli’. We had homemade yogurt, cheese and butter – the last mentioned item extracted by my mother through a rigorous exercise involving a wooden frame, a belt like contraption with wooden toggles at both ends, a wooden mixer known as ‘madhani’ and most important of all a large pot bellied terracotta vessel called a ‘chaati’. It was logical that where there was fresh butter there was an ample supply of butter milk or ‘chaati ki lassi’. This is how salted ‘lassi’ became and continues to be an indispensable part of our lunch menu during the summer season.

We looked forward to another delicacy that became available soon after one of our cows had calved. This was the lumpy milk that the animal produced for a few days after the event and which my mother converted into a delicious and rich dessert. My grandfather’s modest agricultural holdings on the outskirts of Lahore provided fodder for the cows, whose numbers were occasionally increased by the arrival of goats and sheep.

Another source of protein came from the large variety of chickens that pecked around the house in a proprietary manner, secure in the knowledge that we were after their eggs and not their fillets. When someone jokingly suggested to my grandfather that our ‘village’ was incomplete without fishes, the very next day one of our open water storage tanks was found with half a dozen finned residents swimming in it – thanks to our old ‘mali’, who had overheard the remark.

Our meals often took on a rural look featuring ‘sarson ka saag’ and roti made from ground corn or ‘makai’, a ‘bhujia’ made from flowers and beans of the ‘sohanjna’ tree and last, but not the least, flowers of the ‘kachnal’ tree mixed with minced meat. We also had the benefit of a ‘tandoor’ which became the source of piping hot flat bread or ‘roti’. Weekends became a riot as aunts, uncles and cousins from the walled city joined us. It was this activity that ‘gelled’ us together as an extended family even into the present times.

We climbed trees and fell off them; we splashed around in the water storage tanks and were occasionally punished for doing so in winter; we played hide and seek till we were out of breath and we consumed unbelievable quantities of healthy sustenance. We cousins still manage to get together as and when the overseas ones come home on short visits. These ‘get-togethers’ are occasions, when we become children once again, to the immense amusement of the next generation.

Try as I may, I have never been able to create a rural atmosphere like the one of my childhood days, for while I do not have the resources to do so, I am hampered by the reluctance of my children to shed (albeit temporarily) the social fetters of an urban existence.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.