Mr Zindabaad

June 7, 2020

Dr Ajaz Anwar recalls some fond memories of Shaukat Khan, “a special guest” from England who was a “thoroughbred Lahori”

Mustansar Hussain Tarrar and Shaukat Khan. — Image: Supplied

As pointed out in an earlier dispatch, some Lahoris when conversing with tourists use their own ‘Pinglish’ slang, mostly consisting of “Good,” “Yes,” “No” and “Thank you”. Some years ago, a special guest came to visit Lahore. He had left for England, aged only 19, to compete for crossing the English Channel. One could call it the return of the native.

He pursued higher studies, and later married and settled there. At last, when he returned for a visit, after some 45 years, he had almost forgotten his mother tongue. He could comprehend some of the Punjabi words but had difficulty in expressing his thoughts. He solved his predicament by replying to all questions put to him, with just “Zindabaad!”

He belonged to the generation of a time when everyone in the Pakistan Movement used the slogan “Le kar raheinge Pakistan/Ban kar rahega Pakistan.” He had seen Pakistan emerge on the world map as a new country. Now, after so many years, he wanted to visit his motherland.

When Pakistan High Commission in London charged him 60 pounds for a visa to visit his own homeland, his instant reaction was, “Zindabaad!” Upon arrival at Lahore airport, he found that his baggage had not arrived. Again, he uttered, “Zindabaad!” The taxi driver took him to his sister’s place in Krishan Nagar and skinned him without considering halal or haram, his reaction was — well, no prizes for guessing — “Zindabaad!”

The following day he went around the city he had seen in his childhood, generously uttering the same word for every place he saw and everyone he came across.

Outside Lohari Gate, he relished a plateful of dahi bhalla. He exclaimed “Zindabaad!” over each morsel he had. The next morning, holding his stomach, he went to see the doctor, and the first thing he told him was “Zindabaad!”

The name of this person was Shaukat Khan. He was a thoroughbred Lahori. Every day, he would swim in the Ravi River. He had been declared the best swimmer of Pakistan and invited to English Channel’s swimming competition also. But, he had no monetary resources. The traders of Anarkali helped to pay for his travel.

The said sea channel is some 26 miles across, but with the ever changing tides it comes to double the distance and the sea water is brackish and very cold. A competing swimmer is constantly dragged by currents. Time and tide wait for none, they say. If you miss the tide you cannot cross the channel. Khan was unsuccessful despite trying three times over. On one occasion he was stung by jellyfish and had to be rescued by a boat ambulance.

Just like being caught in a whirling wave, he stayed back in England, and never hid his failure. Yet he was reluctant to return to Pakistan. He settled in Canterbury from where on clear bright days he could see the French side of the Channel that he had attempted to cross.

Working on various manual, hard jobs and pursuing his studies in botany, he tried his luck in various businesses. At one time he became a successful entrepreneur, but being no good in accounting he lost everything.

With his knowledge in botany, he noticed that flowers in that part of the world were very colourful but lacked the oriental aura. The jasmines and roses of Pakistan, as he found, were suitable for potpourri and scent extracting. So he started manufacturing Pakistani scents — or itr — in England. The organic products in recycled paper packings became an instant success. His units were soon operating from France, Spain and Holland, spreading the flavours of Lahore from where he was importing the requisite dried flowers and herbs.

Khan’s health suffered due to his tough, stressful routine. He had a stroke and underwent brain surgery. Besides, he had cardiac issues. The insurance companies began to see him as a liability. He was told by the doctors that he would not be able to live long. Considering the British laws of inheritance, he took retirement and gave his children their rightful shares.

As a solace, he took to painting fish, seas and flowers. Soon he had an impressive collection ready which he brought along to Lahore. Seeing these, I invited him to exhibit these at the art gallery at the National College of Arts (NCA). His response was, “Zindabaad!”

He framed his paintings, and printed the invitations. The drawing teacher at his alma mater, Master Sohail had died long ago, but Khan invited those who were alive at the time. He also asked his school mate Mustansir Hussain Tarrar to be the chief guest. According to him, his father, Chaudhary Rehmat Khan Tarrar, who owned Kisan Seed Company on Chamberlain Road, Lahore, had inculcated in him his love for flowers. And he was ever so grateful to the graceful old man for his entrepreneurial success.

“Whenever I extracted some new scent, I always paid a tribute to him,” he told me. But this was all because of the Ravi that irrigates Lahore’s gardens. This time I said, “Zindabaad!”

Years later, when we visited London to attend an annual family gathering of the Tollintons (at our own expense), we made a point to visit him in Canterbury. We found that his factory had a huge parking lot. Before he took us around, we had to get permission from his children to enter the premises, because Shaukat Khan was no longer the owner. Ironically, one of his two sons — Badshah Khan or Tipu Sultan — to whom he had bequeathed his shares because he was given only a few months to live, died before him, and Mr Zindabaad was left to mourn him. Indeed, such are the ironies of life!

After the exhibition of his paintings, Khan wished to visit Lawrence Gardens. He was hugely disappointed to see the environmental degradation of the world-famous botanical garden which has every kind of plants and trees, both local and imported. He knew no other word that would express his disgust. He floated the idea to collect all the trash including plastic waste, comprising shopping bags and bottles, and display these along the flowerbeds, and even hang these from the trees. Prof Mohsin Iqbal of NCA engaged his students to take it up as a class project. The exhibition, titled ‘Environmental Art’, which should have put the people littering the garden to shame, in fact created positive awareness about their responsibilities as caretakers of the City of Gardens. Again, Tarrar was there to inaugurate the first exhibition of its kind.

Sadly, the idea was not taken up by the civil society that was more interested in photo-ops. The event, however, did clear the garden of tonnes of plastic waste, at least for some days.

After the exhibition, Shaukat Khan took the chief guest and the volunteers to a nearby, upscale restaurant and treated them to a sumptuous lunch. He footed the hefty bill which he termed as very economical because according to him “One Pak Rupee has the purchasing power of one UK Pound.” Everybody responded in unison with a “Zindabaad!”

Note: Shaukat Khan has since left this temporary abode but he shall always live through the four autobiographical books that he wrote, displaying his sharp sense of humour and perseverance

(This dispatch is dedicated to Mustansar Hussain Tarrar)

The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]

Mr Zindabaad