STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

My Lyallpur is under threat. In a recent column my buddy Hassan Nisar wrote about cutting of over 100 year old trees in the Agriculture University Lyallpur. The issue was highlighted in a publication by Lyallpur Gazette. My affiliation with Lyallpur is not based on the multitudes residing there, it is based on my associations, my friendships, my memories ingrained. It is the one of first planned cities within British India. Settled in 1892 by Sir James Lyall, it was named after him. Located in the heart of Agricultural region, the Agriculture College followed soon in 1906. Lyallpur earned the nickname “Manchester of Pakistan” in the early sixties. I grew up there in those heady days.

When I found out about this callous and brutal act, a flood of memories got unleashed. Lyallpur is my home town. I have lived in the Agricultural University. The oak and “pipal” trees planted 1906 onwards are a national treasure. They form a canopy of evergreen shade sheltering everyone from scorching summer sun. It starts just as your enter the University. I recollect a substantial drop in temperature and relief immediately upon entering the University on our way back from school in summer months.

My extended family, the Pathans of Hoshiarpur migrated upon partition and settled mainly in Lyallpur and Sahiwal, with sprinklings in other cities. My immediate family, my paternal and maternal grandfathers chose Lyallpur to continue their agricultural traditions they left behind. My paternal grandfather Abdul Ghani Khan was the only son. He had served in Indian Railways pre-partition. A strong no-nonsense personality, he made up for his loneliness by keeping a strong hold on the unity of his off springs. He was blessed with four sons and a daughter. My father was the eldest. Education was a strong tradition in the family. Each son went on to earn doctorate in their fields.

The family settled in Chak 207 GB,located on the eastern entrance of Lyallpur known as Shiekhupura Road. Hoshiarpur was famous for its mango orchards. We were blessed to be allotted orchard lands in Lyallpur. It became known as “doctoran da bagh”. Grandpa’s rules dictated that all the family members be together, as permitted by kids’ education. My school, Burn Hall in Abbottabad, had the long vacations during winters. For three months each year “doctoran da bagh” was home. Those carefree days spent in the company of cousins, with occasional forays into the city gave me a treasure trove of pleasant memories.

Agriculture College converted to West Pakistan Agriculture University (WPAU) in 1961. It had a close affiliation with Washington State University (WSU). WPAU was structured along WSU set up. Headed by Vice Chancellor, there was a tier for Deans and Directors known as Principal Officers. My father, Dr. Abdul Hameed Khan, a renowned scientist/botanist by then, and author of multiple publications, sought and was appointed a Director in WPAU in 1963. We moved from Abbottabad/Peshawar to Lyallpur in 1964. I joined La Salle Lyallpur in Matric.

Living in Lyallpur was a new experience. Released from the regimented controls of the Irish priests of Burn Hall, the freedom was an uplifiting experience. We lived on WPAU campus in spacious accommodations reserved for Principal Officers on 1 to 2 acre parcels. Tall mature fruit and ornamental trees were a plenty. They were located within the lawns, on the parameters of the houses, along the pathways and all roads. Trees were the hallmark of the entire campus. It attracted all kinds of birds chirping in delight for the relief from overbearing, suffocating summer and autumn heat and humidity. The skies were clear in those pre-pollution days, noise levels were low due to sparse traffic, air was fresh and clean, the breeze rejuvenating.

One would rise to the squawks of parrots feasting on mangoes trees. These were pre air conditioner days. The high ceilings of old houses kept them cool. Agricultural University was an island of tranquility within the bustling city of Lyallpur, the only sound was rustling of dried fallen leaves. What senseless authority would invade this setup by chopping down the trees when PM Imran Khan is embarked on planting billions of new trees? It’s like selling the family silver for short termgreed! But who will put a stop to this act which is no less criminal than an act of rape? The Governor/ Chancellor is unconcerned, we have a clown as a Chief Minister. The media is silent, trees cannot protest, public is in survival mode, and civil society may find it an unfashionable cause!

Lyallpur (misnamed Faisalabad) gave me lifelong friendships. WSU had provided American cars and vans available as required from the “car pool”. Off springs of senior staff were provided transport for schooling. Convent for girls, and La Salle for boys. The first friendship bond developed with Masood Hashmi. He was my class fellow and son of Dr. Z A Hashmi, Vice Chancellor. It was the closest relationship Ienjoyed for many decades. It drifted apart, probably my fault. Till this day I miss his jovial, happy go lucky style and naughty shenanigans that got us in trouble in those days. The romantic lustre of youth gave me relationships, some I can name and some I cannot!

I have fond memories of La Salle friends and remember their nicknames. Masood Ahmad (Sato), Sheikh Rafaqat Iqbal, Mian Asad (Moni), Pervez Malik, Mian Sanaullah (Haji), Mushkoor Khan, Rana Mehmood (Mohdy), Rana Afzal, (late) Zahid Khawaja, and many more. In Government College I developed a ton of relations being in politics, but two friendships left a lifelong imprint. First with Hassan Nisar (then known as Israr ul Haq), which persevered and keeps growing as we age. The other with (late) Iftikhar Feroze. I miss you Dheli Badshah.

The dream living in WPAU where fresh milk, fresh eggs were home delivered, ate home grown vegetables from our backyard keenly supervised by my Amijan, the rose garden tended under the watchful eyes of Abijan, the crooning in the verandahs by Baji Azra in her beautiful voice, walking arm in arm in monsoon rain are all being turned into concrete jungles. Woe on those doing it and I feel sad for the new generation that will miss all those experiences. I bow my head in silence for the fallen treesand join any effort to stop this butchery.

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