O Golden Days of 80s… – Memories of Karachi City in 80s

DISH ANTENA, PTV, SHOLAY, VCRkarachi city, golden days

The following article is specifically for Karachi guys, who are in their 40s or 45; however, in order to get the taste of that period, present age youth can also go through this.

This will be the story of every youth, who were living in that period because certain norms, culture, fashion & trend were ‘equal’ for all, except some minor differences because of area, wealth & status. So let me take you back in time…

I begin with the SMS I received:

“Let me take u back in time there were no mobiles, computer games, and internet.
Our games were Chupan Chupai,
Pakran Pakrai,
Baraf Pani,
Watching Cartoon & Subah ki nashriat at 7.30 a.m. on PTV before going to school.
5 bajay Alif Laila, Tick Tick Company or Ainak wala Jinn.
8 Bajay Angaar Wadi, Dhuwan, Family Front, Guest House, Gali ki cricket & zalim neighbors, who never gave the ball back.
O haan, 1 ruppay ki 8 tofian. 3 ruppay ki bottle. 2 ruppay ki shahi kulfi. 1 ruppay ka samosa etc.
Happy childhood Memory.”
Blatant comments of a friend

Before I sketch the lifestyle (in vogue) around 78 when I was seven or eight-year-old kid & drags it up to 1995 (when I was in my prime youth age), let me recount memories of my ‘once awara’ buddy, as who always gives ‘blazing’ remarks for today’s youth. As he says:

“Just look at them…..with their odd-looking style…‘How flirting, dating….. is easy for them today, thanks to mobile, SMS, internet & co-education, while in our time, no such technology was available & in our early prime time entertainment & life (during 1984 – 88) was ‘messed up’ by a dictator like Zia, as he had enforced fake morality & piety in the entire country”.

He goes on further, “We couldn’t satisfactorily steer ‘live’ beautiful girls in streets, except surfing in 2nd hand playboy magazines (bought from Khori Garden, Karachi), which I used to hide in my cupboard. Because in these days, according to fashion, girls used to wear loose clothes, Burka & ‘essential duppata’. Even Mehtaab Chana & other newscasters were banned from PTV” (which was the most beloved lonely TV channel at that time, before the arrival & closure of NTM).

“Now today’s boys can lively witness jean wearing, tight-wearing pyjama girls, whose qameez are hanging like a calendar & roomali also visible…(deleted…..). He puffed more smokes & waived his hand in cursedly manner, “To hell with Zia, the dictator, who had banned the only dance club in Clifton Karachi & had turned it into a Ghost House / & later a Sindbad’ (This pub was once active at the time of Z.A. Bhutto, though riches still had opportunities in 5 stars hotels & clubs to watch dance (mujras).

He blows out smoke chain, looking into my eyes, dreamingly, “At those days, our ‘elder fellows’ tell the story of Rushdie’s Ko Ko Ko Reena period, where near old Nursery Market Actor, Waheed Murad used to appear in Sean Connery like style & car. Boys & girls get excited by applause & whistle.”

PTV, NTM, VCR, Oman  & Dish TV Entertainment…

Aa!, no doubt those were the good old days; I still remember that only entertainment was PTV channel. Initially it started at 5.00 p.m. & ends at around 12.00 a.m. with Quomi Tarana. We sit before our black & white TV set, even sooner when the broadcast actually starts. Vertical stripes with a beep tune or with a PTV logo continuously aired till Bismillah-e-Rehman-e-Raheem in the voice of Qari Ubaid-ur-Rehman, followed by music, Mahpara Safdar arrives, wearing duppatta, who informed about the overall program schedule, sometimes we also noted down our favorite programs just to don’t miss it.

Initially, Color TVs were not in common &  only riches or Dubai returns have it.  In our own Mohalla, a Dubai return gentleman for the first time brought the color TV in his home. It was next to the wonder of the world, during evenings & nights, this home would be full of people, who watch wondrous live color picture. Inspired by this, a multi-colored plastic screen was later introduced for poor B/W TV holders, i.e. for poor chaps who cannot afford to buy a real color TV. In those days Japanese 20” B/W TVs with knob band systems were available for Rs.2,500 to 3,000/=. These TV sets were usually kept under beautiful wooden sliding doorcases. Another entry was 26” Holland made Philips TV; it was without any case having silicon transistor technology with button type tuner system.

20” Color TVs were initially introduced by Hitachi & Toshiba with Rs.7,000 to 8,000/= in early 84-85, which was considered a huge amount. But as it is saying of Urdu that ‘shoq ka kia mole’. The lower & middle-class enthusiasts even arranged Beesi (committee) to have this boon at home.

In the same era, TV signals from neighboring Arabian countries like Oman & Abu Dhabi began receiving in Karachi. The actual favorite things were Indian movies which were aired on Fridays. At that time though bulky VCRs were in common, Zia government had already banned such ‘evil’ items. So the cheapest method for common people to get the reception of Oman TV through the use of a ‘top fixed specialized VHF antenna’, equipped with a couple of silver utensils & plates.

Fridays were holidays, usually after Jumma Prayer, people were found on their rooftop, trying to fix the ‘antenna’ to get a better reception of Oman TV, while ladies used to assist males by shouting ‘aee nahen aeee’(It is ok, reception is clear or turn in around a little) down from their TV lounge. Though some wise & technical minds people also used Green Star booster & a rotator to get the best hassle-free reception. Sometimes signals of Abu Dhabi TV channel were also visible, keeping in view the weather conditions as usually these Arabian broadcasts were available during summer day time, perhaps it was to do something with higher tidal waves or reflections from different light source, as after midnight (but not during sunset), these broadcasts weren’t visible. Later STN/NTM (another private Pakistani TV channel also took the place of Oman & PTV). It started its broadcasts together with CNN but Pakistani government soon banned it.
In the exact opposite direction, Indian Door darshan TV signals were also available for Karachi viewers together with Oman TV. Still, today, if somebody tries to tune these channels via high-rise VHF Antennas in the summer daytime, can find them. Actually fixing an FM or VHS TV antenna & tuning signals randomly at a different time is fun, as sometimes, unknown audio frequencies of security officials or traffic wardens can also be caught & heard. But now people rarely bother, for it, thanks to cable TV networks.

Stories of VCRs & video cassette rental shops were too boomed during that time. Usually, Video Cassette Rental shops provided VCRs on rent for 24 Hrs. with Rs.150/=. While VHS cassette rent was around Rs.7-10 each, but whenever any Amitabh Bachan movie arrives, the rent of such cassettes boomed like a hotcake up to Rs.20/=, which was considered a huge amount in these time.  For the first time in my life I watched ‘Sholay’ on VCR & really enjoyed it, after watching the movie, for a couple of weeks, we (friends) acted like film heroes & continued to play games of movie characters like Thakur & Ghabbar Singh. Its favorite dialogue like ‘Kitnay aadmi thay’ was quite exciting. Bachan’s second blockbuster movie was ‘Muqaaddar ka Sikander’, where after watching it, youths copied Big Bs hairstyle. Though ‘Big B’ terminology is the latest arrival, in those days he was simply famous as ‘Amitaabh’.

Soon after the arrival of VCRs & cable, cinemas were already dying in Karachi, though a couple of Hollywood blockbuster movies earned a successful business. For the first time, 3-D movie demonstrated at some Karachi Cinema & people really enjoyed it. For many months, it was the talk of the town. Now such cinemas with 3D technology have again been set up at Atrium Mall, near Zainab Market, Saddar, Karachi but the ticket charges are too high to afford for middle & lower class. The downside of mall different glassy eateries like Arizona Grill is also there.

Dish Antennas were yet another arrival which brought a revolution & inspired people, with a bundle of free Indians, MTV & Arabian channels. Though elders & religious people at our time condemned by calling them ‘Bay Hayaee ki Dish’ (the immoral Dish). Later slowly cable TV system continued to emerge & Dish Antennas had been wiped out as once free to air channels had moved to expensive decoder type satellite sets. As a result business-minded people owned & operated cable TV networks. Now even-to-day this is the most favorite entertainment TV system in every home in Karachi. Besides, these, high Tech Blue-Ray or DVD Home Theatre systems are common in now many homes.

Outdoor recreation places, Hawabundar, Ghandi Garden….

For outdoor recreation, favorite places were Gandhi Garden (Zoological Garden), Hawa Bundar (Clifton), Manora, Mazar-e-Quaide, Sherpao Garden (currently known as polo-ground), Hill-park, though Hawskbay & Paradise point were not yet common, as they were considered as ‘remote’ places since no public transport was available in these areas. Safari park was just recently been established, while Aladeen Park was not yet formed.

In Gandhi Garden, various rare animals (now not available) were present like Rhinoceros, Giraffe, and Elephant, etc. A large skeleton of whale & copper made statue of lions were also once situated in the garden but now extinct (luckily I’ve footage of the old zoo & frequently show it to my family & friends). At that time, Electronic Roller coasters weren’t affixed & the zoo was a peaceful place both for animals & humans. Perhaps one of the oldest monuments of Karachi Zoo (still intact) is Mumtaz Mehel but now it lacks people attention. A poorly maintained museum has now been built which constitute remains of dead animals.

But perhaps the most favorite place for all youths & kids was Hawa Bundar (Clifton); presently it has been completely altered from its previous form & has washed out all our early childhood memories. How can we forget the fried fish wala, Jabees Fun Land, beautiful large Aquarium (Machli Ghar where an anti was a ticket issuer), famous roller coaster-like Hulli Gulli, flying balloon, mini train, takra tari (mini electric car) & Moat ka Kunhwa (where stunt men drive two cars oppositely!).

Previous city Nazim really ‘messed up’ all recreational Clifton & turned it into a giant park, which is only heaven for lovebirds not families & children. A very small portion of space has been reserved for recreational/electronic ferries & roller coasters. In modified Clifton, there is no quality food available, no aquarium, no old memories, nothing. I still remember the delicious taste of pastries, patties tea once available on the top floor of Jabees Funland, mouth-watering, fish fries, Cone ice creams outlets, scattered in the entire Clifton area. These ice cones were available with Rs.5/=, while tokens for different rides were from paisa 50 to 1 rupee. Initially coins of fifty paisa used as a token to insert in machines, but later these were replaced by specialized hole-type coins. Which were available from the counter.

Literally, a hundred Rupee note was more than sufficient for an individual to enjoy in Clifton till 1985. Normally we saved our money, as earned from Eidees, given by our elders during Eids.

I still feel the fragrance of flowers, trees & grass of hill-park, where Haleem was quite famous, its one plat was served with Rs.10/=. Couple of days earlier, I visited this place with my family but sadly to say, it has now completely ruined, dried hill with burned bushes & garbage. The lake was representing the pole of garbage, where few ducks were still fighting for their survival. Broken lights of the park, many Pathans youths were playing cricket, various once natural-looking rocks were sprayed with different hat slogans by Pakhtoon people. A religious healer was trying to ‘heal’ infants with miracle water & people were making queues for their turns. As we were roaming & making videos of the park, I soon realize a criminal looking youth following us. There were no police or security guards & this park has become a haven for thieves & dacoits. Not only this park but in the entire Karachi, parks are not saved from criminals.

A little fun area was built within hill-park, where 3rd quality expensive foods are available, besides life-threatening rollercoaster rides. Thanks to being an aware citizen, we took our own food & water. Fellow citizens will also agree that there is also a lack of public toilets in each & every public & recreational place in Karachi. In emergency situations, people often were seen running to bushes, mosques, or even the roadside. But for those who don’t have such courage, the pampers are perhaps the next choice.

Cassette Walkman, photography trend…

Including Indians & English Pop, Nazia & Zoheb Hassan were the famous pop singers during these days, & we earnestly waited for their upcoming cassette albums since CDs & MP3 or computers were not available. Sony Walkman with headphones was the favorite personal compact stereo system. I still have one. In those days photography (due to non-availability of digital cameras & mobiles) was thought to be an expensive hobby & not common among youths because a roll film & developing charges expanded to several hundred rupees, though photo studios & professional Polaroid photographer were available at different recreational places where people get their services with Rs.20/= or 30/=for each pic (which considered a luxury).

Apparels of the early 80s till 90s…

Readymade kids-wear of both baba & baby were not common among the general public except elites, most of the ladies used to stitch fabrics for their kids on their own. But now as prices of quality cloth are beyond the reach of common people, the readymade trend has again boomed, thanks to cheap Chinese garments. Among youths, baggy pants, Michael Jackson styled laceless shoes with socks were common. Yet shalwar qameez (as a national dress) was more common. Among girls & ladies, large qameez, duppatta was more common. In those early days, a lady cannot even think to wear jeans, though it was a rare catwalk item in few Karachi 5 star hotels. The most common hairstyle for youths was Shaheen Sikander (a veteran Pakistani actor) with slightly large hair up to earlobe & side hairline, later Amitab Bachan hairstyle also gets popularized. Among girls, the trend of having large hair (though without any blond shades) was common, later Marina Khan short type hairstyle (just like Lady Diana) had become popular, though traditional elder ladies continuously condemn Haseena Moheen (a famous TV drama writer) for spoiling their girls.

Worth of an Aana & Paisa, malaee wali kulfi & gola ganda…

In our early childhood, we were given an aana (six paisa), 25 paisa, 50 paisa (which gradually increased as we grew older) from where we used to buy BP toffee, biscuits, bubblegum, candy & tastee chalia, kararay pappar, gurya kay baal, gola ganda (topped with condensed milk), malaee wali qulfi, etc. But chips & different snacks are recent arrivals & weren’t common. Now today’s children, no matter which class they belong to, ask for a minimum Rs.5/= or 10/= while among riches daily pocket money goes to Rs.100/= & beyond.

During our college life, the other favorite hobby of youth is to go Shaadi Haal &  have a mufta (free feast). In these days, except a few incidents, peace was prevailing in Karachi city which was known as ‘Roshni Ka Shehr’ (City of light).  There was no inflation; it was a time of prosperity, people used to spend a lot of money on marriage halls. Normally we depart in groups with the best dresses we’ve & enjoyed the party, even though it is against ethics, now we think how stupid we have been!

Besides this mufta, we also celebrated eating programs at odd places like Truck adda hotels for having a Karaee gosht, kata-kat, Tikka, etc. with just Rs.120/= & doodh patti per cup with Rs.5/= The benefit of going to such places were cost-effective & adventurous. Till the early year 2000, a chicken Tikka was easily available in Rs.35/= but now it is worth Rs.90-120/= (depending on areas). The entire global situation grows worse after the incident of 911 & it is not stopping anymore. A couple of months earlier I had dinner with one of my friends at Burns Road and we were given a bill of Rs.1200/=.

But now, no sensible person can have dinner in such open public places, because of increased poverty & no. of beggars in Karachi city, as soon as one sit, the beggars including women & children proliferate, they even don’t hesitate to pick out your chewed bones from the road!! Your every morsel will be like poison to intake. The monster of inflation has brought us in such a situation that we cannot freely sip a teacup or shop grocery. Everywhere you go the beggars will be there. When you buy sugar (which is now considered a luxury item, you’ll listen to words like, Sait Sahab, Allah kay naam pay kuch hamen be do). Surely one feels lucky to have a 5 kg bag full of sugar…

January 2011 depicts the following heart touching scene in front of my eyes.

A footpath tea stall, a little beggar girl touching the feet of every customer for just a cup of tea, she was sipping out tea leftover from every cup hungrily. The cup price is now reached Rs.12/= each.