Islamabad in the 90s
By Shahab Siddiqi
There’s a strange tension in the atmosphere on the first fateful morning of the summer holidays. An excitement that spills out of doors and windows, and resonates down the early morning streets. It comes in the absence of school vans honking their melodic tunes hurrying children to the start another school day; in the lazy quiet at the shop around the corner as no last minute shoppers line up to buy pencils, scales or bags of chips for lunch. No children trudging to school with sagging school bags. School bus stops stand deserted. But that one boy who likes to get ten minutes of cycling done before heading out to school everyday is still there. Only, he’s not in his usual school uniform.
To the experienced eye, there is excitement in each of these settings. The near limitless potential of the summer is never greater than on that first morning. Two and a half months of nothing but merry making. Two and a half months! That’s an eternity for a child to live life to the fullest, and wring pleasure out of every moment, down to the very last second. Which is what I did every summer, growing up in Islamabad.
Most of us were up at dawn and down at the nearest park or playground to fit in a few hours of cricket day before the summer sun burned through whatever little reprieve was earned during the night. Cricket was at the center of everything back then, although perhaps some things haven’t changed, but then Pakistan had just won the World Cup. We were Pakistanis and Pakistanis were the best in the world. End of discussion. Actual cricketing ability had no say in the matter.
We’d play it in the parks, on the streets, along the pedestrian-only alleyways, on our driveways, terraces, even on the roofs. We’d play with tennis balls (taped and not), proper cork balls, and even hardened-plastic balls with a giant ‘2’ on their sides. Our cricket was fluid – its rules varied according to location and equipment. And it was always the start to our day, followed by a quick breakfast (replete with lassi), before sitting down to watch reruns of the cartoons of the night before. To understand the significance of these reruns you have to understand Pakistan in the 90s. There were just two TV channels (PTV and NTM/STV) and very limited children’s programming. Cartoons came on once in the evening at the start of the prime time transmission and then reruns during the day. That was all.
I read somewhere that as the years pass, memories turn into light sketches rendered on desire. I find that to be truer and truer as I get older. But there is no questioning my memories of those summers spent growing up in Islamabad. In fact, when I look back at my childhood, the most vibrant recollections are from those summers. Like the rear-view mirror has been rigged somehow to show my adolescent years in the warm glow of the afternoon sun that pierced through the curtains in my childhood room. Each summer is another window to the past: the smell of wet soil after an evening rain, the bittersweet but succulent taste of the summer’s first mango, the sight of unpicked bushes of motiya flowers. Each take my hand and fly me off to a place where there’s happiness aplenty. A place where I cannot grow old.
Shahab Siddiqi tweets as @UncleFu on twitter. This is his first time writing for The Missing Slate. We urge you to leave your comments to ensure this won’t be his last.