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
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.
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