End of an Era By Brig Muhammad Asif (R)

What was life like in the seventies? Which were Islamabad’s happening spots? How people used to indulge in aromatic flavors? Get to know the good ol’ days of ourcountry from someone who holds a plethora of memories as if they had happened just yesterday.

It was the major shopping area for residents, particularly the city elite including foreign diplomats and military as well as civil bureaucrats of the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad.Rawalpindi Cantonment served as the centre of recreational, cultural, social and sports events and activities till late 1970s. Rawalpindi Cricket Ground and the Hockey Stadium, which formed a part of Pindi Club, had the distinction of serving as venues for international sports events, including the 1987 Cricket World Cup matches. In addition to Pindi Club, other well maintained and reputed facilities for military personnel as well as general public, such as hospitals, libraries, cinema halls and hotels existed only in the cantonment areas of Rawalpindi till late 1970s. Military Hospital Rawalpindi, which has been recently renamed as Pakistan Qatar Military Hospital (PQMH), after its complete renovation and upgrading with the support of the government of Qatar, is the biggest and one of the oldest medical complexes in Pakistan. A number of National and Armed Forces Institutes like Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) are also located inside PQMH.
Last week, while coming back from AFIC after routine checkup, I stopped at Ciros Cinema to have mouth watering Channa Chat at the famous roadside stall outside the cinema, one of the few relics of Rawalpindi Saddar that haven’t been blown away by the cruel westerly winds, which reached Pakistan from Afghanistan and Iran after the start of Afghanistan Jehad and Iranian Revolution in1979. The aftermath of the unfortunate coinciding of these two fateful events contributed to irreversibly eroding of the culture of Pakistani society. The Channa Chat stall, which has been named as “Ciros Lobia Chat” by its third-generation owners, used to be our favourite eatery as students till late 1970s. A plate of chat would only cost a “Chawani” (25 Piasas). When I was posted to General Headquarters (GHQ) in 2007, the cost of a plate had gone up to Rs 30, which has now risen to Rs 100 per plate. It isn’t the exponential rise in the price alone, the size of the plate of chat has been reduced to more than half.
While enjoying the chat standing on the stairs of the entrance to the cinema, I noticed that another remnant of Saddar, Rose Café, located exactly opposite of the entrance to Ciros Cinema, also stood proudly unscratched by austere currents of change that washed away even the residuals of our salad days. In addition to Rose Café, few other recreational spots, including a billiards club, a wine shop named, “In Vogue” (which most of us pronounced as “in vogee”) and a burger shop were located in front of the Ciros Cinema. All these outlets, including the cinema, became alive with people, mostly fun seekers, well after the sunset and remained abuzz till midnight.

Till late 1970s, Saddar was the only place, which had recreational facilities for the elite as well as common people of the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad. In addition to 3 cinema halls (Ciros, Plaza and Odeon) which showed only English movies, there existed another cinema hall named Capital Cinema, which showed Urdu and Punjabi movies. Though buildings of all these cinemas are still intact, only Ciros has functioned uninterrupted despite an unfavourable social and economic environment. Saddar had four clubs, with bars, namely Pindi Club, Departmental Club, Canon Club and Lure Club. Only military and civil government officers were eligible to become the members of Pindi Club and Departmental Club, respectively. Though the membership of the other two clubs was open to all categories of people, only the affluent could afford to become the members of these clubs. However, the management of these clubs wasn’t very particular about disallowing the non-members from entering the bar to have a drink. If a bartender ever refused to serve non-members (mostly students) one of the members, sitting in the bar, would promptly tell the bartender to treat them as his guests, and sometimes a member would go to the extent of paying for their drinks, also. Out of all these clubs, only Pindi Club was the family club, which also had a Dance Hall that has been recently named as “1884 Hall”, to commemorate the year Pindi Club came into existence. Ball was held for the club members and their families in this hall on every weekend till 1977. In addition to these clubs, Intercontinental Hotel (renamed Pearl Continental in 1970s) and Flashman’s Hotel were the favourite rendezvous, with barrooms, for the fun seekers, who were affluent to afford to enjoy the recreational facilities offered by these expensive hotels. Each of these clubs and hotels made special arrangements to celebrate New Year, Christmas, Eid and other festivals with lots of fun fairs. While the youth of today would consider life back then as being rather mundane, there was absolute sheer joy and tangible wonders at every  nook and corner.


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