Life was a stage in Nazimabad number Chaar, Do, Aik or Teen or even Lalukhet, Teen Hatti, Clifton, Keemari, Federal B Area or Airport. A Shakesparean stage or to put it Indianly an Agha Hahsarian stage. This was way back in Karachi in the fifties and sixties when Ghalib or to be more precise Aatish or to be gender precise Noor Jehan jawaan thee. My childhood was a dream, a play, a dance. A dream like the Shakesparean Midsummer Night's Dream. Here all the other children were characters, Munni, Bubbly, Salma, Shahid, Tariq etcetera, etcetera. They still stand firm, playing their memorable roles, clearly etched in my memory with their Shararast and various mischiefs. Stuck in their places like Shakesparean characters. The highlight of our monthly fun was the Kut Putli Tamasha. This would be announced with fanfare in my mom's montessori school and almost all Nazimabad Numbers and Lalukhet children would come, invited or uninvited. Like a Mela. The amazingly entertaining and vocal puppets or Kat Putlis will start moving, vibrating and talking in strange C-minored tones. "Arrrrreyy Kia haal hai? " "Asssaam Alaiiikumm"! sometimes we would get scared but then we had to hide the excitement, slurrping on the Kulfis that we cherished licking. The Kulfis would be fattened according to price . Chaar anney ki patley aur Aath aaney ki motey. And there was mango flavor too. Electricity was not important in our childhood days in sixties. Summer, playing and shows were. Only Pir Pagara's house had Air conditioners, twenty rooms, jhoolaas, huge drawing room, exquisite dining room and bathrooms with tubs in all of Karachi. His kids were also my friends but that world was full of dolls, velvet bows, hairbands from England, movies at the drive-in-cinema and frequent horse riding, skating and visits to Clifton beach. And of course journeys to areas around Nazimabad.
But the real fun was the Kut Putli Tamasha. All I can remember is the intense excitement of watching the show. I can neither remember the dialogues, nor the characters. Then there was the Kaal Naag snake show. The snake charmer was a strange man. He was neither dangerous nor harmful. He was always an epitome of mystery. When he came and the sound of his Been floated in our ears , we would run outside in the galli to welcome him. He would settle his wicker pits which contained various sizes of snakes and partially remove the lids to give us a peek of the black, brown, slimy, writhing creatures as if to whet our appetites for the real Kaala Naag show. Amazingly our parents would send us money to give him willingly. After much pre-show he would open the big Pitari and take out the Kaala Naag. Ah, the majesty, the charm of the Kaala Naag as he would sit and look around. His handsome, sharp forked tongue flickering out, his head high and aloft, he would look at us. We would stare at him fascinatingly, our little hearts full of fear yet endearing excitement of adventure. This strange feeling stayed with me even as an adult. On a Shikaar journey in Sindh jungle I almost ran towards a handsome Kaala Naag sitting on a bund when a deft shikaari helper beheaded him in an instant with a hatchet to save my life. Such are the fantasies and loves of the childhood. Pure, pristine, platonic.
The Been would chant strange songs, mesmerizing us. The Kaala Naag would swerve its head and the dance would begin.
The games that we played were simple too. Pehle Dooge or hop skip. A chalk design would be made on simple cemented floor. 1, 2, 3 and some more chambers. The game would begin. Cotton frocks, rubber chappals, joyous screams and sometimes Katti. Katti was a way where we showed our little fingers to express our disdain, disagreement or sheer anger. Our little faces would grimace to match our feelings. Eyebrows in a frown. Lips in a pucker,. Sometime a teardrop or two. Then there would be the caressing ,loving Duppatta ka Pallu to dry our precious tears by a mom, an aya or an apa.Life would be simple and safe.
The snake charmer would try to make a fast buck by selling his Magical Saanp Ka Manka to gullible ladies as a potion which will change life, bring lovers in your feet and sometimes make you a millionaire.
As I still long for the snake charmer's Been on the Clifton beach which have strangely disappeared from Karachi, I think that modern life has been made complicated and consumerist by us, ourselves. The snake charmer is still there in Sindh, the beens are there, the reed baskets are there. It is only we who have become boring and artificial in Karachi.
|Snake charmer picture courtesy Jan Khaskheli.|