By Shoaib Hashmi

For those of us who were old enough to remember, and there were many present, it was an occasion to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. The British High Commissioner, and his gracious lady, had come down from the Capital to play hosts at to celebrate the Queen's Birthday. And, mindful of the Lahoris sense of fun, they had brought along a sample of that most English, and most colonial of Brit institutions -- a marching Brass Band!
This time round it was 'The Minden Band' of the Queen's Division. And sure enough, next morning another newspaper had a long report on the function, and a rave review of the performance of the band including the gem 'The Maiden Band' regaled the audience with Marshall tunes and ditties...! The editor is an old friend, and former pupil, and he has also been to Cambridge, and the report proves two things. That after fifty-eight years we don't need to flaunt our anti-colonialism on our sleeves, and can sit back and enjoy it. And that you needn't have learnt even though you went to Cambridge!
The intention was accurate though, because among the familiar Scottish and Irish marching songs -- which all sound vaguely like 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club' -- they played Col. Bogey's March, from 'Bridge on the River Kwai'. The surprising thing was that among the band members there were a large number of beautiful young women, but they all looked splendid in their white uniforms and sashes, and all in all it was a lovely occasion with a nostalgic colonial flavor.
For one thing it was held in the vast and rolling back lawns of this hotel on the Mall, and there were many Oldies among the guests who recalled that the place once used to be 'Victoria Park'. In fact the Park extended a long way and joined up with the Royal Park which ended where Laxmi Chowk is now; and the far end of it, which is tucked behind Panorama Centre is still called by that name. This end later became the Park View Hotel which was home, for many years, to painter Shakir Ali, and most of his life to Justice Cornelius.
Now the other English tradition is to plant a 'Bandstand' in a public park, and probably Victoria Park had at least one. This was a wooden gazebo, a kind of large painted umbrella standing in the middle of nowhere, and there are still any number in England. And on a spring evening, some Regimental Band, resplendent in full uniform of Scots Tartans or the colors of the Union Jack would sit themselves down and play away.
One must confess that even as we partook of the High Commissioner's goodies we were meanies and also recalled that this was probably because of two reasons. One, that in the Old Country, there are precious few days when the weather allows you to be outdoors and not also frozen or soaked. And one way to cherish a nice day is to have music. And two, that among European nations, the English are the ones with no serious music of their own! There has never been an English Mozart or Beethoven, or even a Chopin. They did produce Shakespeare and Milton, but for music they have to settle for Col. Bogey!
It has done us no harm. Any number of Pakistani Regiments still have Regimental Bands, and not only do many still wear Scottish Tartans as part of their uniform, but Sialkot produces some of the best bag-pipes, and these bands have some of the best players in the world of that peculiar instrument. One oldster was known as Queen Victoria's favorite piper, and two more recent virtuosos were sent to England to play under the present Queen's window after her coronation in 1953! Your present friend too tried his hand at it in school, before giving it up in favor of the side-drum!
The tradition of a marching band had an even more quaint and sweet version. At least some of us recalled that Lahore used to have a presence in the 'Salvation Army'. They were soldiers of love and peace, and they had one base on Queen's Road, and their Headquarters in a grand and lovely old house in Model Town. The house is now gone, and I haven't seen a trace of the Army for some time either, but at one time you came across them often making music by the roadside. So enough of the nostalgia, and it is time to bid 'Happy Birthday'!


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.