This weekly column is designed to generate nostalgia in readers of my generation, who would like to escape the chaos that prevails in our everyday lives and relive the uncomplicated and stress-free existence that hallmarked the fifties and sixties. It is also designed to keep alive, a way of life that has all but vanished, for the benefit of my younger readers, who go through a daily nine to five robotic existence and after spending five or six days of the work week confined in glass and concrete boxes, prefer the company of their Xbox or the claustrophobic environment of a cinema, over the weekend.
I consider myself blessed in the sense that the young men and women in my family are apt to pile themselves (accompanied by ample quantities of mouth-watering means of sustenance) into cars and ‘head for the hills’ at the slightest opportunity. The other day my granddaughter, who is just six years old, blew me away by dragging me out into the verandah and after pointing to a single cloud in the otherwise blazing sky, wanted to know when we would be leaving for a picnic.
A relative, who stays with us whenever he visits Islamabad, has often warned my better half to put me in chains during the monsoon season, as (according to him) I transform from a respectable senior citizen into someone who is apt to be struck by lightning. This warning is based on the fact that thunder storms fascinate me and more often than not, find me standing on my terrace totally absorbed in nature’s awesome ‘pyro-tech’ displays.
Towering thunder heads and moist gusty winds that herald rain bring out the best in my immediate clan and cause waves of ecstasy amongst pakora vendors in the vicinity, who look forward to receiving a windfall from a carload of crazily happy people. This wave of ecstasy is felt as far away as the ‘Turki Pakora’ establishment that entraps travellers on the section between Hasanabdal and Havelian.
A few years ago, one of our ‘rain-laden-clouds-induced-trips’ along the Murree Expressway ended in a near tragedy. Rounding a curve, short of the Angoori Interchange, I came to a dead stop scattering the incumbents of my vehicle on their seats like nine pins. What had precipitated my foot to descend on the brake was the sight of a stone house standing amidst a dense stand of pines, in perfect mimicry of the cabin in Disney’s tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I approached the building by climbing through a steep, boulder-strewn watercourse, only to be confronted with more surprises. The owners of the house appeared to be blessed not only with a love of flowers, but ‘green thumbs’. As my companions fumed below, I spent a quarter of an hour just sitting on a boulder, ingesting the scene before beginning the climb down the nullah. Without warning, I found myself tumbling over a large slippery rock towards a 15-foot fall. I managed to frantically grab a handful of shrubbery that arrested my descent and averted, what may have become a serious accident.
On another occasion, with my family away to Lahore on a short trip and dark clouds seducing me to get out from under the roof, I pointed my vehicle at a side road with interesting exploratory prospects. I had gone a few kilometres, when the road ended, but an active spring with cascading water induced me to walk on, clutching my packet of sandwiches. As I sat next to the mini waterfall and began enjoying my snack, I felt as if I was not alone. The next minute, a brown form flashed out of the trees and my sandwiches disappeared, to be followed by excited chattering and considerable activity in the trees above my head. I had heard of marauding bands of monkeys in these parts and what they could do to lone humans, so I began to back out of the spot as slowly as panic allowed me. I was lucky that I did so, because as I entered my car, the whole troop of creatures came bounding towards the vehicle threatening it with viscous sounds.
As it is, my experience with the ‘near miss’ near Snow White’s Cabin or the encounter with man’s closest animal relative has not diminished my (and my family’s) obsession to become footloose under nature’s influence. We are grateful that this is so, because we have come to relish what this land offers us and met people, who have restored our faith in humanity - but this is a story for another time and another column.
n The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.