The vehicle had very thin tyres and the spokes of its rims were thick. On the outer side of the driving seat, a rubber ball had been fixed to a shining trumpet-like horn, which the children of the locality would stealthily blow and run away.
Noordin & Co, located on Nicholson Road, repaired and rented out electric fans. Noordin had got a telephone device and connection quite early. He was quite a progressive entrepreneur. But the place was better known for this ancient motorcar that he kept and maintained so fondly. Some would say it was a 1902 model. It was of dark olive green colour, with black protruding mud-guards. It was probably an Austin with a tarpaulin roof.
Noordin would drive it up the ramp and park it inside the shop. The vehicle had very thin tyres and the spokes of its rims were thick. On the outer side of the driving seat, a rubber ball had been fixed to a shining trumpet-like horn, which the children of the locality would stealthily blow and run away. Noordin would rush out of his shop, shouting angrily, and go back smiling at the little mischief makers. He’d recompose himself in a chair which was even older than his car.
His car was like a buggy except that it had no horse but an engine with a certain measure of horse-power. Noordin would bathe it lovingly, as if it was a shining horse, and polish it. Its bonnet opened on both sides. He would pour water into its radiator. To check the mobile oil he would take out its sword-like gauge, clean it with a rag, insert it back, and take it out again to have a close look at it. He’d exclaim, “Oh, one-eighth of an inch of oil has dripped again!” He’d replenish it from the can and, cleaning the oil thus spilled in the process with the rag, bolt the bonnet. Then he would take out a starting handle, insert it into a hole in the front of the bumper and try to jump-start it. During each effort the machine would respond with a jerk and ultimately would start releasing musical sounds of a helicopter. Noordin would immediately jump on the driver’s seat and press the accelerator. If he took a little longer, the engine would go silent and he’d need to start it all over again.
Sometimes the engine would not respond, and the vehicle had to be pushed, with help from the children assembling around it merrily. But the car would not move because eight stout children pushed it from the front while twelve of them pressed it from the rear. This reminded me of an Abbott Road health club and my mentor Ustad Altaf. It was an evenly contested tug of war. He would order them all to push from one side and they would push it once again back into his shop — this time, while descending from the ramp, with a strong jolt its fan moved and the engine got started. The children would also get inside, sit one above the other, some on both the foot-boards, and two of them holding the fence at the back. It appeared as if the car was stationary and the trees and electric poles around it were in motion. All things around seemed to be moving. The tarpaulins of the shop and the merchandise hung from the bamboos, and the electric bulbs and dangling wires entangled the swimming objects in a surrealistic maelstrom.
Finally, the carriage would return to the same starting position, and the children would disembark. The old man would repeatedly put his right foot on the accelerator and speed away, while the trees and electric poles this time stood still, marveling at the horseless carriage.
At the start of winters, Noordin’s business of electric fans would come to a halt. The drop in temperature made it more cumbersome for him to start the vehicle’s engine, and the neighbourhood children loved to volunteer.
Recently, when I visited my childhood locale, I got a rude shock. The brick-faced building was nowhere to be seen. Glass and steel construction and ugly, cement-plastered plazas had so many of the latest-model vehicles haphazardly parked around. Noordin, who used to take children on joyrides, has long vanished from the theatre of life along with his horseless carriage. The children too, having grown up into their twilight years, are finding it difficult to cross the road amidst the wagons and other vehicles. Instead of the melodious warning of the rubber-ball trumpet, pressure horns break the sound barrier. The unsung, grand oldie deserved a friendlier last salute.
Whatever was left of the Nanda Building — the residence of the earliest bus service owner — has been chipped away by the Orange Train pillars. If at all the train gets operational, the passengers would get to peek into the bedrooms of the surviving houses.
This dispatch is dedicated by the writer to “my childhood friend Gulab Khan, a motor/bike mechanic”
The writer is a painter, the founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and the former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]
Note: Free art classes at the House of NANNAs on Sundays. No age bar. Benches are provided. Bring your own lunch. Guest of the week: Dr Asim Amjad, an art therapist