After five rather delightful years in London, there was a certain sadness to life on our return to Pakistan in August 1971. The hub of the swinging sixties, its fashions, music, cinema, and art had transformed us; we desperately needed to keep in touch with the life we had left behind. The fact that that dad was posted to Peshawar didn’t help matters much. Yet the city was not that much of a backwater; there were music shops and I discovered MAD magazine, acerbic and iconoclastic, and the innocent fun of Archie’s Riverdale at Ferozsons Book Store.
Sustenance came from an unexpected source – Radio Kabul. Late evening was when we got our fill of the latest hits from the world we had left behind. I first heard of Carol King from Kabul. T-Rex had already set the music scene alight with “Hot Love”; now “Get it On” moved all who heard it. The city itself was a sensual Eldorado. Weary Pakistani travelers trekked long and hard to sup at her many pleasures: the latest Indian movies, department stores and girls in skirts. They all returned rejuvenated, smiling, eagerly planning their next pilgrimage. We could never imagine the violence that now defines both cities.
By November, war with India was becoming a definite possibility – or that is what the BBC World Service and All India Radio told us. Blackout drills became commonplace, yet all was well in the East according to Radio Pakistan, dutifully repeating the tired, pompous drivel it was fed from the higher-ups. The clichés linger till this very day. Pakistan Television was a different kettle of fish, able to rise above the morass through its music and dramas.
The stage has been set: now to my story! A road trip not long ago, 2012 to be exact, with my grown-up daughter started it all. I thought of similar perilous but delightful treks along the GT Road as a child forty years ago, an entirely different feeling to the drive today on the rather, dull sterile motorway. The GT Road was cars, tongas, bullock carts and an assortment of wild animals, a mad menagerie all vying for space amidst ghastly, bloody pile-ups.
Without fail, the trip from Lahore to Pindi (always Pindi, never Islamabad) was divided into three distinct segments: tuning the humble MW radio at the start of the journey from Lahore to Radio Pakistan until you reached Wazirabad, at 1.00 pm or thereabouts, you heard the crackle of All India Radio Jammu, with the solemn introductory music giving way to the latest hits, and some older gems. Then you hit the Sal Ranges when nothing could be heard except static. That’s when father held forth on the issues of the day or on some historical event.
In 1972, Pakistan was still in a state of war, and shock. Half the country had been lost and 93,000 Pakistanis were languishing in Indian prisons. Yet we still tuned into Radio Jammu’s afternoon extravaganza, ironically entitled “Fauji Bhayoon Ka Fermaish” (A request program for the armed forces) – the same fauji bhais (soldier brothers) who had humiliated our army so recently. Somehow Rafi, Lata, and Kishore were exempt from the hate we felt towards our neighbor – an arbitrary No Objection Certificate so to speak. And in those days you could see the mountains on the other side, and invariably your gaze traversed towards Kashmir.
I mentioned this rather fond memory trail to my British born and bred daughter while driving to Islamabad (yes, Islamabad now, as Pindi is now chaos, with little left of its past glory). Never one to take her father too seriously – I had bored her on a previous trip with a pompous account of Alexander in India and the battle with Porus, the historical importance of the River Jhelum and whatnot? Somewhat hurt, I turned the radio on to see if I could recreate some of the magic of the 40-year old journey so she would understand what I was on about. There was some twiddling and eureka: I had found radio Radio Jammu. The same program, same introduction, the same wavelength, the same songs, and the same singers, lovelorn and remonstrative, railing against some romantic injustice or another. I was dumbstruck.
There was a flicker of a smile on her face. Was it the one I loved when I conjured up a favourite Thundercat figurine from my briefcase? Or was it the old boy had finally lost it look? Whatever the case, forty years down the road, it was for me a “Halleluiah Moment”. I had finally grown up. The towns were different, as was the audience on this latest journey of a decades-old process, the benign smile of my father replaced by an altogether different smile.
I still wonder about that smile.
Written by Wasif Rashid for South Asia Scene.