Of Jungles, Streams, Berries and Wild Pink Flowers: Costs of Commercialization of Islamabad

Of Jungles, Streams, Berries and Wild Pink Flowers: Fragrant Memories of Islamabad that Was

This December I was in Islamabad. Going through the town brought a pang in my heart as memories of 40-45 years ago came flooding down. Those were the times when kids like us had immense open spaces with wild growth to explore and experience the nature. We used to call such places jungles as there were bushes, shrubs, trees, gorges, creeks, tall grass and all sorts of vegetation, where sighting of snakes, giant lizards, and jackals was common with occasional reports of sightings of even leopards and wild boars. For us that used to be a wonderland where we would go out for wild berries, swimming in the clear natural springs, and trying to relive Tarzan climbing the trees, jumping from one sheesham tree to another and roaming the jungles with bows and arrows like Robin Hood and Little John fighting the obnoxious sheriff of Nottingham.

That was the time when the entire Islamabad consisted of only three residential sectors; (F6, G6, and G7. And, F7 was only just coming up). The only bus that came to Islamabad would end at Aabpara and this was the route that later got extended to Secretariat. There was no super market in F6 and no Jinnah Super in F7. These areas were just green belts, a euphemism for the natural growth of shrubs and trees taking place in the pregnant environment of Islamabad. There was no Blue Area, no high rises on Jinnah Avenue and all these wide open spaces consisted of green belts. I know this because we had explored most of these for the wild berries and another smaller black fruit that we called “garindas”, which is a fruit that is one fifth the size of berries and I am happy to report that I found them and enjoyed eating them on Margalla trail this December. The series of Avenues (7th, 8th, 9th …) that are now lined with metal roads and flyovers were all green belts. The green belt on 7th Avenue consisted of play grounds till early 2000s i.e. a few years ago. There was no Marriott, no Judges Colony, no parliamentary lodges. Sectors D and E were supposed to be green belts and they were just that. These green belts were the jungles of our adventure and imagination.

We had names for each one of these jungles. One was  called Sundarban (we had read a Ferozsons’ book Sundarban ka Aadam Khor). Another was called the valley of the dead because there was this dug up huge site where they were supposed to construct a high rise but aborted the project leaving behind a great ditch having regularly placed rectangular box-like mounds of earth that we imagined were some ancient tombs.

Finally got the picture of the wild pink flower that I recall with fondness and
which had vanished from Islamabad but were luckily discovered in Punj peer rocks. 

These green belts were filled with all kinds of trees, shrubs of wild berries, shahtoot (wild mulberies), wild mango trees, and wide open spaces filled with wild plants, bushes, grass, and other vegetation. Milkman and people who owned cattle would come regularly to these areas to cut the wild grass, which was then rolled meticulously in bales like bundles, and then tied on the carrier of their cycles, which were then driven with great skill in evenings.

There were bush fires in late autumn that prepared the land for those wild pink flowers that would bloom suddenly on an early spring morning blanketing the entire area to as far as we can see. The flowers would then vanish in a couple of days as suddenly as they had emerged. It would often be one of the kids who would come running and announcing in a shouting like manner for having sighted these flowers. Every one would, then just run at break neck speed to fill themselves in with the beauty of the flowers spread like carpet on that stretch of the  green belt. What a  sweet fragrant joyful memory of us kids running around collecting the flowers with excitement, glee and wonder. Pink flowers with white lining with a green stem of about 4 inches and two to four longish and pointed leaves about a quarter of inch wide and 3-4in long. Our little hands would soon be filled with bouquets of ten to fifteen of them and we were then rushing home shrieking with excitement of having discovered the most enthralling sight and to share the experience and present the flowers to the elders.

Once we had the fascinating experience in late autumn of seeing the dried bushes catching fire, and violently burning with crackling sound and spreading fast on that windy day. It may have been that the CDA grass cutters had thought that putting to fire these dried bushes was easier than clearing them manually with their cutting implements which were like curved swords that they had to swing at these bushes to cut them off. This thrilling sight of crackling fire led that mischievous Tom- Sawyer-streak overcome us every late autumn when the shrubs would dry up and we would try to replicate that fire setting up experience. But, however much we tried to conceal our adventure, there would always be some neighbor or the other passerby who would see us and report our deed to our parents for the customary lecture and reprimand. That would make the next event a more thrilling and suspenseful adventure.

Then there were these huge underground storm water drains that opened for us an immense treasure of uncharted network of tunnels where adventures of “The Danger Man” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” and “Avengers” could take place. While crawling through those drains we somehow were never afraid of snakes. Fortunately the mongooses residing there, I know now, had made sure of that. One day I got stuck in one of these dry drains opening up in one of the creek of the stream bridge near our house. I had panicked and the more I was trying to stand up the more I was getting stuck. Fortunately, my mother got there. I don’t recall how. I think my friend who had also panicked and ran away must have called her. I still recall the calm in her voice as she first soothed me where I was deep inside that drain. Obviously she or anyone else could not have gone in that drain pipe to help me out. So, she calmly asked me to lay down straight and not try to move on my knees and then encouraged me to slowly and gradually make myself slide forward. In a few minutes I was out as I had learned to use my senses. My mother never admonished me for this mishap. She was a tower of strength to make me learn the hard way the difference between panicking and keeping my cool and using my head.

There were our secret hideouts which we used to call caves. Precarious perches on slopes of gorge. These perches were covered on three sides with over hanging branches of thorny bushes making those places inaccessible except for us. These were the places where we would reenact the scenes from TV serials of espionage and detection. These were also the places where we conducted our secret experiments; which often consisted of dissections of frogs. Armed with my father’s razor and my elder sister’s dissection box, we used to be ready with our clandestine mission. Of course we became better at dissection than the pre-medical students, (i.e. my elder sister and the elder brother of my friend), whom we had seen doing this kind of dissection while they thought we were not watching! We were better in catching the frogs, real big ones and much more dexterous because we had more time and more opportunity and a greater thrill.

Those were the times when streams flowed gently snaking through each sector. One could see the clear pure drinking water sprouting out from springs in many places in these streams. These streams would fill up with flash floods during the rainy season. There was a stream that started from the Margallas behind Secretariat and would come down from near the place where later Punjab, Balochistan and other House were constructed, and would go from near the Marriott to inside F6 sector and from there to near ICB and on it went along the Melody and Lal Masjid. This was the stream with the sweetest of my memories; Memories of fishing with my late grandmother. Also the memories of wading through its waters upstream with algae wrapped around our feet, visualizing ourselves as a Jules Verne character in Nautilus in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. This was the stream that flowed behind our apartment house. I remember being woken by it the first day I was there. I was woken in early morning by the sound of the flash flood  resulting from the lashing of heavy rain during the previous night. We were later to become accustom to being woken up with the sound of flash flood after the heavy rains at night and going  to the stream to see the bulging stream looking like a river in the morning. What a sight it was; the gentle stream turning in to a ferocious torrent and then gradually subsiding by the end of that day or the next one.

One of my early visits to that backyard stream was with my elder sister and a neighbor. They promised me that there was a lion in there. I was excited and afraid. A lion! We went there and there it was. A rock weathered by the wind, rain water and ravaged by the flash floods in a shape that was for us like a proud lion standing with its head held high. Coming to think about it, we always used to call it a lion and think of it as a lion. And to us it was the lion, on which we would ride as the stream would often flow from both its sides and we watched the water flowing by giving us the illusion that we were riding on it.

My younger brother and I learned swimming in those sparkling waters. I still remember that early summer. At a place just beyond the lion rock, the water was about three to four feet deep. The stream was calm, the pebbles underneath were smooth, round and oblong, and of purple, brown, white, and other colors representing their mineral content. I was floating on the water with my face down observing these pebbles sparkle in the twinkling rays of the sunshine as it played in rainbow colors on the pebbles lying on the stream floor. The bulging of the waves making prisms that shifted with waves from one place to another, and in the process splitting the white light into rainbow colors that made the pebbles sparkle like jewels. What a sight! What an experience! The warmth of the water. The jewels spread on the floor. One of the most beautiful times of my life.

There was another stream that ran down from between F6/1. There was another going through F7, and then there was at least one through F8. There was a stream flowing behind the State Bank Building (which was used as a parliament building during Bhutto’s time) which ran down to where there is Margalla Hotel and beyond. I know about these streams because I used to go with my grandmother for fishing to each one of them. We used to take our relatives visiting from other cities and even other countries to that enchanted untouched pristine beauty that bloomed under the thick shades of the trees lining the streams as they gently flowed through the sparsely populated and constructed Islamabad.

Many a happy summers were spent fishing in these streams, exploring and going to fish with my grand mother. Many a weekends we would go there. Of course the stream right behind our apartments in F6/4 was ours for the taking any time after school. I can never forget the sound of that gleeful laughter of my grandmother as she caught one while I was still at a distance from her trying to make my way back from school to my house through the dirt path with long grass blocking my view of the stream. I knew where she would be and ran to her to join in that moment of celebration. Who can forget the excitement of the vibration and the pull that the string makes on the fishing rod as a fish takes the bait and tries to swim away. Our catch used to be small fishes of about four to eight inches. Our fishing rods consisted of lean bamboo staffs at the end of which was a string with a fish catching hook. My grandmother used to especially weave that string from the ordinary thread to make it strong. For bait we used to dig out and collect earth worms especially after rains. The frequency of such rains during those times was at least once every fortnight or so. Even the frequency of rains in Islamabad seems to have reduced.

But one day, some years later, someone reported that our proud lion had been downed. There was this flash flood after the rain the previous night that completed the relentless process of wear and tear of the changes of the weather that made the proud head of the lion to fall down. It was in a sorry state, but yet its other part was still standing and we could still enjoy its ride.

A few years ago, some thirty five years later, I went to that place and noticed some vestiges of that proud lion rock, but the plight of the scenery was such that I vowed never to return. The sparkling clear waters of that stream had become smelly household refuse waste drain, an open gutter drain. Gone were the natural springs, gone was the sparkle, gone were the fishes and gone was the trickling sound of the stream making its way through the rocks and pebbles. It was the usual refuse drain that has become hallmark of our city landscape. The real estate mafia has now managed to either cover those natural streams, or have managed to reduce their size with unauthorized constructions or extended property backyards. No wonder the roads now flood during the rainy season. Gone are those wild pink flowers, gone are storm water drains long converted into refuse drains, gone are the green belts that were meant to be green belts in the original master plan of Islamabad. The next frontier is the destruction of Margalla Hills already underway with Manal and others of the ilk [a post to follow on this].

We had meted a similar treatment to every other aspect of our life of this dear country of ours by destroying every thing; archaeological sites, hill stations, pristine lakes like Saiful Muluk, sparkling streams and functioning institutions. Can we give our children back some of these experiences? What would they do without the strength that comes with being close to nature? We can see the violence, lack of concern for others and lack of fellow feeling. We are no longer at peace with nature, environment and other human beings.

Khwab tha jo kuch keh dekha. Jo suna afsana tha!

خواب تھا جو کچھ که ديكها جو سنا افسانه تها

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  1. Salam Dr. Sahab!

    Welcome back sir. Have not read your words for a long time, but this article was so good that I had a fine ride to past – a ride that made me visualize peace, prosperity, serenity, purity, natural learning and growth, and all beauty that always lies in recalling good times and memories!

    Although I am not from Islamabad, I can feel the power of my dear homeland who was, once, used to be free from all fears and worries – Ah!

    Whenever I visited Islamabad, I had a great time with my cousins living at Karachi Company and relatives at G-10 (if I am not mistaken). But tonight, I enjoyed walking with you on the streets and streams of Islamabad. I got your article connected to my mother's tales, about her and her siblings' childhood spent in Islamabad, that she used to narrate, not much often. I feel you discussed everything but did not write your experience of any earthquake (or after shocks) as Islamabad is famous for 'shaking earth' too.

    I take the opportunity to complete
    "Waaye nadaani ke waqt-e-marg ye saabit hua
    Khwab tha jo kuch ke dekha, jo suna afsana tha!"

    But I suggest
    "Bhool ja, khush reh, abas way sabqay mat yaad kar!"


  2. I was talking with my brother about this post and he was wondering whether other people living during those late 60s early 70s in Islambad also went out and explored the nature as we did? Was it a peculiar environment of our houshold that encouraged this kind of interaction with nature? I am told that grand parents from both sides of mine had this nature streak in them.

    I do remember light jolts, once or twice a year, but no earth quake that caused loss of property or life. Nothing even close to what happened in 2005.

    I purposely did not write the first verse. Did not feel like going with the theme of the post!

  3. faryal osman khan Avatar
    faryal osman khan

    آۓ عرفان بھا یٰ ان یادون میں میں بھی شامل ھو جاتی ھون۔آپ تو وھاں رھتے تھے ھم سال میں ایک دفعہ گرمیون کی چھٹیون میں آیا کرتے تھے۔وہ گھر کے پیچھے نیچے کی طرف بہتا صاف شفاف نالہ جہاں ھم چھوٹے کزنز کی فوج موج ظفراپنے اپنے اسپیس شپس بنایا کرتے تھے پتھروں کے بڑے بڑے بولڈرز پر۔مجھے آج بھی آپ کا اسپیس شپ یاد ھے جہاں کوی بچہ پر نہیں مار سکتا تھا اور ھم بھی شیر کے بچے ھوتے تھے وہیں جانا ھوتا تھا ھمیں بھی اور آپ کی غیر موجدودگی میں جاتے بھی تھے۔ وہ سایڈ کا میدان جہاں ھم ام اینٹوں سے اپنے گھر بنایا کرتے تھے۔پورے پورے گھر ڈیزایٰن کے جاتے تھے۔وہ دادی امان کے ساتھ سادی سے چھڑی کے ساتھ مچھلیاں پکڑنے کا لطف۔ وہ نالہ کی کایٰ کو پتھروں پر پیس پیس کر اللہ جانے کون کون سے تجربے کرنا۔وہ آپ کی لایٰبرری کی کتابون کو کیسے حاصل کیا جاے کہ کرایہ بہت مہنگا ھوتا تھا۔10 پیسے فی بک اور اس زمانے مین ےہ کافی مہنگی رقم ھوتی تھی۔وہ مجھے یاد ھے ایک دن اسی بات پر آپ سے بحث کرنا جس دن مین آپ سے اڑ گیٰ تھی کہ مجھے ایک روپے کی سو کتابین دی جآین اور آپ کسی طرح مجھے نہیں سمجھا سکے تھے کہ ایک روپے میں 10 کتابین بنتی ھین کہ میرا کہنا تھا کہ ایک روپے میں سو پیسے ھوتے ھین تو سو بکس دین اور تنگ آ کر آپ نے مجھے مفت مین بکس پڑھنا الاؤ کر دیا ھا ھا ھا ۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔مجھے یاد ھے سب زرا زرا۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔وہ مارگلہ ھلز کی اکسپڈیشنز جس میں میں ھمیشہ رہ جاتی تھی کہ مجھے کبھی سمجھ نہین آتا تھا کہ مجھے انوایٰٹ بھی کیا گیا ھے کہ نھیں ۔شایٰد انھی اکسپیڈیشنز پر نہ جا سکنے کی وجھہ سے اج مین ایک ٹریکر ھوں اور ھر سال شمالی علاقاجات کی خاک چھاننے پہنچ جاتی ھون کیوں اچھا انتقام ھے نا ۔بچپن کی انھین یادون کو سنبھالے دوبارہ اسی جگہ جانے کا دل مچلتا رہتا تھا اور آخر کار کویی 3 سال پہلے عثمان کے ساتھ وہ جگھہ ڈھونڈ نکالی اور وھاں پھنچ گیٰ عثمان کو بے تابی سے اپنے بچپن کی حسین ےیادون کے بارے مین بتاتی ھویٰ۔لیکن یہ کیا وھاں کچھ بھی ویسا نہین تھا جیسا بچپن مین چھوڑ کر گیٰ تھی۔صاف شفاف نالہ کی جگھہ گٹر کا پانی بہہ رھا تھا۔گھر کے سایدڈ کے میدان کی جگہ بے ھنگم درختون اور جھاڑیوں کے جھنڈ کھڑے تھے پاؤں دھرنے کی جگھہ نھیں تھی۔بارش کی وجہ سے ساری زمین دلدلی ھو رھی تھی۔مین افسوس کرتی ھویٰ واپس مر گیٰ کبھی واھاں واپس نہ جانے کی خواھش لے کر۔ھم اپنا بچپن توکھوھی چکے تھے آج ےیادین بھی ختم ھو گیں ۔ھمارے بچون کے پاس آج سوواۓ ا ینٹرنیت کے کچھ نہیں لیکن مٰیں نے بھی ھار نہین مانی۔اپنے بچون کو لے کر ھر سال دو دفعہ پہاڑوں پر نکل جاتی ھوں جہان فیری میڈوز کی جنت،رما استور کی فردوس برین ،دوسایٰ کا خط استوا اور بہت سی عرغی جنتیں باقی ھیں

  4. What a scintillating comment. The love for adventure, exploring the mountains, trying to fathom the depth of every river that came in the way, trying to scale every mountain that stops our way, being at peace with nature runs through our family. A family that prides itself on being linked to buzurgs who didn't need the world, but the world needed them.
    Allah bus, baqi hawis

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