“…when we were home alone”
Wajiha Hyder (journalist)
December 31, 2000, happened to be an ordinary night — save for the fact that my sisters and I were home alone. Our parents had departed earlier that night for a wedding; we had opted to not attend, a decision we would come to regret bitterly. Those were the days when wedding functions didn’t wind up at 10 in the night and could be counted on to drag on until at least midnight. If I remember correctly now, it started after dinner.
We kept misplacing things; it seemed that every time we needed something it would just vanish into thin air, later appearing in a spot inexplicably far away from the original. After a while, all of us finally settled down and began watching TV, chatting casually in a manner tinged with nervousness. It was then that we heard that sound. A faint sound that seemed to surround us, coming from all directions. Like someone scratching on the walls; a slow, exhausted scratch. Naturally, our first reaction was to shrug it off as delusion. As it intensified, there was a slight problem with that explanation. We could all hear it. Delusion doesn’t work like that.
At that point, we could not, for the life of us, muster up the courage to go and investigate even slightly. For that one moment, it was all that existed; that all-encompassing sound, striking primal fear into our hearts. Somehow, we got up and managed to run into our room, locking it. We only came out when our parents returned at around midnight.
That was the only time it ever happened. We tried to explain it to our parents, but it was dismissed as a product of childish paranoia.
Nothing of the sort has happened since. But from that day onwards, not a single New Year’s eve has gone by when my sisters and I did not bring up that night. That night when we were home alone, terrified, as the year came to a close.
“The happiest were the police”
Sarwat Ali (cultural critic)
For most Pakistanis, back in the 1980s and 90s, the first day of the new year would be a non-event, like any other day. But for some, it was a time to party, and for a few others to stop them from doing so. The guardians thought it was their moral duty to stall all such acts of ‘degradation’ that westernisation had brought(!).
As the new year approached, the media would start reporting threatening gestures from these quarters to stop moral decay that the society had been steeply falling into since the last fourteen hundred years. The happiest were the police.
New Year celebrations were held in public places like hotels and clubs but then the hotels gradually eased out of it, given threatening interventions by the ‘zealots,’ and it all got compressed to houses whose the owners wanted to celebrate. Gradually, it became more of an act of defiance than celebration.
The new year resolutions were made to be broken as many tried to reach back to those being the cause of broken hearts. But broken hearts like broken eggs can never be put back again, and it became obvious as the months of the new years rolled by.
It was a game of hide-and-seek of how to outwit the vigilantes that were more in the shape of policemen wanting to catch the sozzled either party-hopping or returning home in the early hours of the morning. Those with women along with them were generally spared but a few, younger and less experienced ones got apprehended, and after much frightening gestures to be taken to the police station the deal would usually be struck in the bylanes. It was a golden opportunity to the law enforcers to make a quick buck, many times over. New Year’s night really was a bonanza for them, and they yearned for even stricter policies to be announced.
It was achievement to reach home safely, and it was a dread as some of the friends got held for an innocent act like guzzling a few, or still dreadful, if a troubled one called to report a mishap — the car rolling over a sidewalk, or suspended on the divider, or still not being able to get into their own house after having not found the keys, despite much fumbling.
The first day of the New Year was usually missed out as one got up late in the day.
“People flooding the roads…”
Mariam Khan (student)
Home away from home — that’s what the university campus always was to me. My roommate and I hadn’t been able to go back home for the winter holidays that year, and had created all sorts of childish plans for the new year’s eve to make up for it.
We were supposed to bake a cake in the dorms and run around the empty cricket field like royalty while obnoxiously playing loud music. But the local markets were closed and it was far too cold outside for us to muster any energy. So we sat in our blankets in the dark and watched horror movies until the clock struck 12. It was only when we heard the loud patakhay (bursts) outside did we grab the car keys and drive to MM Alam road to partake in the festivities. And that’s where I truly felt like I was home.
The amount of people flooding the roads made it seem like a morning on a busy workday, but instead people were here to welcome the new year with food, music, and family. The decorations that lit up every corner of the place warmed my heart as my roommate and I drove from one end of the road to the other in search of the best dessert in town. After grabbing the famous waffles cone ice cream from Mini Market, we drove back to our home away from home, enjoying every moment, and letting the Lahori new year begin on the most positive note possible.”
Doordarshan and desserts
Saadia Salahuddin (journalist)
Circa 1980. When the days seemed short and the nights looked long, and there wouldn’t be many weddings to which children were taken along, some of us would get hold of a book, a story in which we would get lost. One novel would sometimes be read by five of us and the characters in the novels lived with us. We were lots of siblings who lived in harmony. It wouldn’t occur to us to go to other homes. We were happy to received guests, mostly relatives and family friends, on weekends, and our home would turn into a fun place.
The most memorable holidays came with Christmas. Festivities started in December at my school with rehearsals for annual choir and tableau. Decoration of the big assembly hall with our drawings, shiny stars, ribbons, balls, crepe paper, paper balls and above all the Christmas tree was an activity we looked forward to. We weren’t invited to participate when we were little children but when we did take part in this activity in senior school, I recall it was sheer fun.
All children are creative. If you have ever observed children play, you must have wondered how they create games out of nothing. Like the games we played, we would celebrate New Year at our home among ourselves.
I remember Doordarshan, the channel other than Ptv that was available to Lahorites via the aluminum antenna in the late 1970s and early 80s did evoke the sentiment of celebrating new year among people of my generation. It would broadcast songs on new year eve and create a hype about the arrival of new year. The children would wish happy new year to each other, have desserts and go to sleep. The next day we would ask each other about the goals we had set for ourselves in the year.
Back then life was simple.