The wait for the school bus

November 8, 2020

Dr Ajaz Anwar recalls memories from his “bus stop days”

— Image: Supplied

There were some friendships in the neighbourhood, some at the school and some very special friendships developed while waiting for the bus.

Early in the morning we would wait for the omnibus while the shadows were elongated and blue, amid gold-tinted sunrays. Leyland double-deckers were generally jam-packed. We too were never in a hurry because we had a lot of gossip to share. Tony Menezies, a music teacher at our school, had not yet passed by on his NSU Quickly, an auto cycle. Venders selling various cookies and fruits too would entice us to part with some of our pocket monies.

Sometimes an incident would take place that we cherished and shared even in our advanced age. It made our childhood really joyous. One day, a duteous bus conductor refused to let me board his already overloaded vehicle. As the bus started moving, upon his whistle, I got hold of his khaki uniform. Its metal buttons came off and rolled over on the road in various directions. He whistled for the bus to stop and ran after me. In doing so his pliers, which he would use to punch the tickets, fell down. He looked back at his gadget but my younger brother Imtiaz had gotten hold of it and dropped it in the nearby sewerage.

Borrowing long tongs from the nearby tandoor, the poor man unsuccessfully tried to fish out his tool which was quite invisible in the deep muddied mulch. A sweeper helped him with an old, discarded bicycle mudguard and washing it glistening clean in the same water full of human waste, he handed it back to him.

As the bus was now behind the scheduled departure, quite a crowd gathered just for fun.

My friend Taj, who was visually impaired, could understand what our deaf friend Ijaz wanted to say, by following his hands and finger movements. (It may be kept in mind that very few people in the world are dumb. The deaf cannot speak because they never heard any sound. Though sign language was developed long ago, the modern approach is more towards lip-reading. Thus, those with impaired hearing can comprehend what we want say and reply by copying our lip movements, says Tariq Aziz, a teacher at the Al-Mudassar Trust School for special children in Kharian.)

For many days, Ijaz waved his hands, imitating the bus conductor’s pliers and pretended to struggle with the steering wheel. Taj too relayed the creaking sounds of bus breaks and pretended to blow the rubber-ball horn. This street theatre must have amused many bus drivers. After the day of occurrence of the incident, no conductor refused us students a ride even if the bus was overloaded. One of the buses was also dedicated to the deaf and mute children’s school across Chauburji, into which we would sneak in mute mode.

Taj’s ears were very sharp. He could hear what we normally did not. The white cane was still a luxury at the time. Taj had only a simple stick to probe his way around. He cautioned us of the approaching mounted police from the largest police lines in the city, Qila Gujjar Singh. Soon a whole platoon of unruly, restless horses was displaying their instinctive vigour. From their trampling horse-shoes, he figured that the animals must have been only a bit smaller than the elephants.

He was a regular visitor to the Zoo. He liked to hear the animals’ and birds’ sounds. When I asked about his impressions of a lion, he told me that he had never got near its cage. It’s a carnivorous animal, you never know when it’s really hungry, he said.

Taj never had a Braille writing pen. He used a lead pencil with its point broken to write on a paper puncturing holes which only he or a friend with similar ability could decipher.

After dropping me at the Lat sahib da daftar, my friends would proceed to Chauburji Quarters. After I matriculated, we lost touch.

Years later, I spotted him near the Lahore Hotel. His hair was unkempt, teeth yellowed, and clothes dirty. He was still without a white cane. He was singing a hymn. I wouldn’t say he was begging, his voice was melodious, yet it had the sadness he had endured all his life.

His special singing abilities could have been put to better use, I thought. He could’ve put many braying singers to shame at the radio, if allowed an audio test.

It was the saddest moment of my life. I called out his name. He stopped singing and suddenly called out my name which he had never forgotten all those years. I did not mind him probing my facial features with his dusty hands. He only wanted to make sure that the voice really was mine.

There were two ‘hotels’ in the vicinity — Taskeen, and the Students’ Own Choice opposite to each other on McLeod Road — which specialised in playing classic gramophone records on His Master’s Voice machines. Against payment for a cup of tea which was initially for four annas only, you could send a request written on a piece of paper for any old song to play. You name it and they had the song in their collection. Additionally, you could hear other customers’ choices too. What happened to the fabulous collections when the two outlets closed down, nobody knows.

He was delighted to be taken there. His requested song was even more tragic — Awaaz day kahan hai, sung by Madam Noor Jahan. Songs from the movie, Jugnoo, composed by Firoz Nizami, were other customers’ equally nostalgic choices. Late Pran Nevile would have liked to order scores of teacups here.

Music is the highest form of expression, higher than painting, I must confess.

I recalled the omnibus double-decker incident to which he again mimicked the screeching brakes and rubber-ball horn of the bus. He knew well that the buses had been eliminated to facilitate wagons owned by traffic police.

The waiter placed a cup of tea on the table for me and another rather rudely for him. Since the gramophone in-charge was not Braille literate, he was verbally informed of my friend’s fermaish (requested song). His pick was really a summary of what he must have gone through in life, yet he seemed to have immersed himself in the pendulum swaying with each note and verse.

The needle of the machine needed some grinding, he noted. The waiter now respectfully removed his empty cup and mopped the chips-topped table with a greasy moist rag. As we parted, I slipped something into his pocket which he most reluctantly accepted.

After a few months, I met my other friend too (from our bus stop days), my namesake. He was now making buttons fashioned out of seashells, in those pre-plastic days on Dhani Ram Road where Lahore Sangat have recently put up a plaque marking the place where Amrita Pritam once lived. With whatever hand sign and lip-sync language that I could communicate, with welled eyes, I was really sorry to have told him about Taj.

Note: Lahore Conservation Society’s last Wednesday of the month meeting, to be held on Zoom to discuss the coming elections, could be attended only in single digit numbers. It was decided to hold another one with SOPs soon.

(This dispatch is dedicated to my visually impaired friend, Taj)

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

The wait for the school bus