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February 4, 2019

A nostalgic foray into the 1950s and the 60s


February 4, 2019

The just-concluded Adab Festival Pakistan was on Sunday the venue of a nostalgic time trip into the late 1950s and 60s with a lucid account of Karachi at the time by Lt-Col Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle, a retired British Army officer who, at that time, was the assistant to the military attaché at the UK High Commission in town.

His account must have brought back many memories to those among the audience who were there at that time (and there were many). Lt-Col Vaughan-Arbuckle’s account was accompanied by a slide presentation of the Karachi of that era, when it was the capital of the country. The lecture, delivered at the Adab Festival Pakistan, was titled, ‘Life in Karachi during Ayub Khan’s rule’.

He said that he was simply amazed to see Drigh Road (now Shahrah-e-Faisal) when he drove over to town from the airport and said that when he came over as a young army officer to take up his assignment, the area was so sparsely populated. According to him, when he came over this time, he asked the cabbie as to where Drigh Road was and the latter replied, “You are on Drigh Road, sir.” The former army officer said he could hardly believe his eyes.

Talking from the perspective of the law and order situation, he said in the Karachi of that era, one could freely roam the streets at any time of the day or night without the least fear of being harmed.

Lt-Col Vaughan-Arbuckle showed slides of Elphinstone Street (now Zebunnisa Street) and a row of neatly parked cars along an old building with a colonial architecture. Besides, he said, they had tramcars in those days and one could get into them without being jostled.

He said the streets used to be washed late in the night, and since there was a large expatriate community, consequently, there was lots of cosmopolitan cultural activity. He screened slides of Paradise Point of that time and the turtles there, and also talked of the beach huts at the place with one of the huts belonging to the UK High Commission. “Of course, there were eyesores”, he said. “One of these was the children mutilated for the purpose of begging.”

Narrating Ayub Khan’s Coup de Etat of October 7, 1958, Lt-Col Vaughan-Arbuckle said that it was executed with military precision. He described the coup in detail, with Ayub Khan finally ousting President Iskander Mirza and becoming the president on October 27. There was no unrest or opposition to the imposition of the move and the masses seemed to welcome it as Ayub said that it was aimed at smugglers, black marketers, and anti-social elements, he said. “There was no civil disobedience.”

He said that Ayub had won a scholarship to train at the Sandhurst Military Academy in England and while there, he had won a heavy weight boxing title. “Your country has really suffered on account of the influx of refugees from a neighbouring country to the north-west, and extremism,” the former officer said.

In lighter vein, he also described his amorous adventure when he tried to strike a romantic relationship with a local lady but was dissuaded by a heavily-armed, dagger-wielding, mustachioed Pathan, who turned up at his place and sternly warned him against setting up any kind of a relationship.

Lt-Col Vaughan-Arbuckle screened another group photograph of the Pakistan Cricket team that visited England in 1974 and said that he had played in a first class match against them. He added he had played against Imran Khan, the prime minister, four times.

He ended his talk by saying, “It is always a joy to visit Pakistan as it brings back such sweet memories.” The other members of the panel were noted journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, and Dr Sher Shah. It made a very absorbing and interesting discussion, dripping nostalgia, as both Ghazi and Dr Sher Shah remembered the Karachi of that time and so it was an hour of reminiscences of very happy memories.

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