We would make the trip on weekends, normally. Ammi, myself and M would load into the back seat, and Farid would be at the steering wheel up front. My grandfather’s house in Westridge was about an hours’ drive from our’s in Islamabad. Westridge is the Cantonment area of Rawalpindi, and is managed by the military. It is therefore also a calmer and more organized part of Islamabad’s sister-city. Back then, Fareed would drive us along the dusty Kashmir Highway, weaving between speeding trucks and vehicles of all sorts. We would cross villages on the left, and open undeveloped sections of Islamabad on the right. There was a rock formation on the right M and I would always look out for. “The Lion King Rock,” one of us would shout, as it passed. It was a near-exact replica of the rock Mufasa’s family lives in, in the first film.
The clearest sign that one was entering the Cantonment was the Pakistan Army installation to the right, after Golra mor. A menacing tank stood at the entrance, and there was a depot with piles of rusting, old military vehicles. Past that is Peshawar road, which is one part of the Grand Trunk road (GT Road). A significant portion of the GT Road was built in the time of Emperor Sher Shah Suri, and it stretches from Kabul to Chittagong, crossing Peshawar, Rawalpindi, and Lahore in Pakistan in between. A couple of miles down the road, just before Sadr and the military hospitals, was Westridge 1, a housing colony mainly for former officers of the Pakistan Army. This is where my grandfather’s house was. It is still there, as is the colony. The Kashmir Highway too is much the same, though there is evidence of an expanding population.
Usually we would first enter the drawing room. Though the sofas have undergone some re-upholstering, the drawing room is much the same. There is a bookshelf with Nana Abbas excellent collection on one side, a gramophone from Germany, and shelves lined with pictures of the family. Nana Abba, as we fondly called him, would normally be seated in the drawing room by the time we arrived. Always on the single-seater sofa in the northeast corner of the room. It was set diagonally, allowing him to address guests on both sides with ease. Nana Abba was a former Pakistan Army officer. He was commissioned in the British Indian Army, and retired from the Pakistan Army after an illustrious career. He had travelled throughout the world, and had seen combat on several fronts during WW II and the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War. His life was rich with experiences, and we had the great privilege of sharing some of it with him. For Ammi, M and myself, as well as many others, it was a great treat to hear his stories. While there are many experiences with my grandfather that I would like to recount properly in a separate tribute to him, I wanted to document here a few of the ones he told us as we sat on the side-sofa attentively.
To be continued in the next post.