My Life Part 3

It's interesting to recall some of the memories from my early school years. Even if they were not always pleasant, I am still fond of them. I enjoyed each moment, and I am glad everything happened the way it did. Those early life events and the environment I grew up in shaped my life. I truly believe that some of the things that happen to us in early childhood, especially during school years, define our personality, and it's very difficult to change that personality later on. So, those years are indeed very important. If there are common pitfalls or known issues that can be easily corrected, parents should definitely fix those as soon as possible. This way, a child's personality is not affected, and they don't develop bad habits or traits that could cause significant problems later in life.

Let's shift gears from different accidents to the sports we played during our school years. Most of the time, we played soccer during recess or in our PT (Physical Training) period. Sometimes, we played hockey as well. In 11th and 12th grade, I played squash, especially after we moved to Hayatabad. There, I would take my bike and join my friend for squash at the local courts.

I remember in college, or high school from a Pakistani perspective, I also went swimming. There were only two public swimming pools: one at Pearl Continental, which was very expensive, and another at Peshawar Club, which required connections to get a membership. During a summer break, I asked my father if he knew any local ministers who could help us get into the club. I distinctly remember his response, "Yes, all the ministers know me." The very next day, he got us the membership, and we were swimming at Peshawar Club. I didn't realize then how well-known my father was. He was an officer who enforced the rule of law honestly and effectively, and people respected him for it.

Swimming was one of the activities we did, along with running. I used to jog, even though Peshawar's population had doubled due to people fleeing Afghanistan because of the Soviet invasion. Sometimes, in the mornings, I would wear my tracksuit and run with friends, despite curious onlookers wondering why we were running. In my early school years, I was also fond of high jumping. I mostly did the scissor cut because the landing area was usually just sand. At home, I would tie a water hose between two trees and jump over it, adjusting the height as needed. I had the liberty of putting cushions or blankets to break my fall and experimented with different jumping techniques. These experiences have all contributed to shaping who I am today.

So those were interesting times. Speaking of that, I remember our house in University Town, which my father bought after he retired. The house itself wasn't much; it only had two bedrooms. He had to borrow a lot from our other family members and sell half of his pension. So the pension amount he received each month for the rest of his life was less than 50% because he had to sell part of it to pay for the house. Unfortunately, back in those days, there was no mortgage system, and no one was going to give a retired person a mortgage.

During my father's working years, we lived in a large government house. We had access to it because of his job, so housing was not a problem. But after retirement, we had to move to our own house. I remember the second floor didn't have any rooms, just a shed at the top. Sometimes, we would go up there and play badminton or other games.

We used to have a ladder that we would place on the stairs. We would sit on the ladder and let it slide down the stairs, hitting the bottom. We considered it a thrill and an adrenaline rush. It was a dangerous activity, but we were drawn to such risky things.While growing up, I had stitches three times. The first was on my chin when I fell and a piece of glass cut me. I had to be rushed to the hospital, where they put three stitches on my chin. I still have the marks from that incident.

One day, I was standing between two beds, and my middle brother held my legs and then let go. I was wearing socks, and the floor was concrete. Instead of stopping in a straight position, I fell face down and hit my nose. I had to be rushed to the hospital again, and they put a stitch there as well. I distinctly remember seeing another person in the ER holding cotton on both sides of his forearm, pressing a wound from one side to the other. He had been shot, and the bullet went through both forearms. Compared to his injury, mine seemed pale. The third time, I must have slipped or something, resulting in a huge cut just above my eyebrow. They had to put three stitches there, and I still have a mark from that.

It was a very rough childhood, I guess, but that's how we learned. Nowadays, we protect our children and don't let them take such risks. While adventurous activities shape who you become, there is always a middle ground. You don't want to take too many risks and expose yourself to injuries. In early childhood development, a brain injury could be detrimental to long-term growth and potentially ruin the rest of your life. I was lucky not to have anything like that, but considering the risks we took, it could have happened.

Sometimes, there was a shed, like a covering on top of a window. We would put a ladder on it, climb up, and then jump off. In fact, I have a picture of myself jumping from that shed. It was a cool thing to do. We could have hurt our legs, but that's how it was.

I remember one day we were playing Ludo in our government house. I must have been in kindergarten or earlier. I hit a six and, in celebration, started twisting and moving in a circle. In the process, I twisted my leg and had to wear a cast for about a month. I still remember struggling to walk properly with that cast. These were just some accidents from the sports and risky activities we engaged in.

Not to mention all the pushes and shoves I received while playing soccer. Often, our teachers would not be watching us, and running fast while being pushed could be dangerous. I had my share of bruises and cuts from those times.

One fascinating story happened on the soccer field near our college. We had to walk about five minutes to those grounds. I must have been in the 6th or 7th grade. I had new shoes that I didn’t want to ruin while playing soccer. I didn’t have cleats, so we would take off our shoes and socks, put them on the side, and play barefoot.

I remember doing that and, after playing for 45 minutes, went back to my shoes only to find them gone. Someone had stolen my shoes. It could have been anyone, not necessarily a student. I had to walk barefoot back to my class. It was embarrassing. I remember hiding my feet with my bag while going to the bus. Eventually, I made it home and told my mother that someone stole my shoes.

Back then, we had only one pair of shoes, and my father had to take me to a shop that night to buy a new pair. Buying shoes was an annual event. Each summer, we would buy shoes for the whole year. Now, I have dozens of shoes, and sometimes I don't even get a chance to wear them. Comparing those early years to now, I realize how times have changed. Our family was of modest means, with my father's income supplemented by some land holdings. Most of the land was sold after his death.

At home, we also played various games, some of which we invented. One game involved tossing a football against the wall. I remember playing this with my siblings and sometimes with my father, who was a good soccer player and swimmer in his youth. He was quite the athlete.

We would toss the football against the wall, and the other person would have to toss it back after letting it bounce once. If it bounced twice, you lost a point. The game was simple: hit the ball against the wall, let it bounce once, and the opponent had to do the same. If you failed to hit the ball or let it bounce twice, you lost a point, and the service went to the next person. This game kept us entertained for a long time.

We also played cricket at home. Sometimes we didn't have a proper bat or our bat was broken, so we improvised with a spade. The spade's pointed sides at the bottom made it dangerous, and we had to be very careful not to hurt ourselves. Instead of a regular cricket ball, we used a ping pong ball. One person would bowl the ball, and the other would hit it with the spade. The wickets were often a chair or something similar. These games were born out of necessity and creativity, and we enjoyed them immensely.

Our next-door neighbor in University Town had a son, Saeed Anwar, who was a famous national cricketer. His mother once asked if Saeed's younger brother could play cricket with us, not knowing we were playing with a spade and a ping pong ball. It was amusing because Saeed was one of the top batsmen in the world at the time.

We also played badminton, though we didn't have a proper net initially. Sometimes, we used a hose as a makeshift net, but later on, we bought a proper one and played doubles.

Recalling these games and sports brings back many fond memories of our childhood and the creative ways we entertained ourselves.

We played so many games because there were no technologies back then. There was no Internet, no smartphones, and no social media. Even the TV channels we had were limited. We only had one channel, which mostly showed uninteresting content. We might get to watch 10-15 minutes of cartoons around 4 PM and Pakistani dramas at 8 PM if we were old enough to appreciate them. There would be news at 9, but nobody except my father wanted to watch that. Occasionally, there would be an English movie on late at night, but it was past our bedtime, so we had to sneak out to watch it.

I remember having the remote in my hand, ready to turn off the TV if my father walked in, especially if we were watching something we weren't supposed to, like English movies or anything past our bedtime. If the remote didn’t work or the batteries were dead, I would strategically place my foot near the power button to turn it off quickly with my big toe. It sounds ridiculous now, but that’s what we did.

There were also restrictions at home, like not being allowed to play cards, probably due to their association with gambling. My brothers and I would sit in a circle and play a card game called "Rung," or "3/5/9." If our father came in, we would quickly hide the cards. His sudden visits were usually to remind us to pray. He likely knew what we were up to but didn’t question us as long as the cards were hidden. Occasionally, our cards would go missing, probably taken by him, and we would sneak them back or get a new deck.

We spent countless hours playing Monopoly, a game that could easily last five to six hours. We would throw the dice, acquire properties, build houses and hotels, and collect rent. If someone was about to go bankrupt, we would bend the rules and lend them money to prolong the game. During Ramadan, we often played Monopoly all night until Sahoor, or during the day to pass the time.

These memories of playing games and the creative ways we entertained ourselves without modern technology are some of my fondest.

Another game we played was ping pong. We didn’t have a formal ping pong table, so we used the dining table and improvised a net with stacked books or notebooks. Ping pong balls were cheap, and we had some rackets. On days when the rackets were broken or unavailable, we used books as makeshift paddles. We played a lot of ping pong, especially in the government house.

I remember one day during Ramadan, I decided to set a world record for bouncing the ball on my racket. I counted and managed to do it 2,500 times. For a kid in kindergarten or early grade school, it was a big deal. I bragged about it all day, and my siblings would challenge me, claiming they could do better.

While playing ping pong, I also recall an incident with an air gun. We used to have an outside bathroom, and one day, I saw two kittens there. I had an air gun, which I used for target practice. Although I never hit any animals or birds, I might have aimed at one of the kittens. I hope I didn’t hit it, but if I did, I ask for forgiveness. Kids can sometimes be cruel, influenced by their environment. Seeing others throw stones at dogs or mistreat animals can make such behavior seem normal, even though it’s not.

Reflecting on those times, I realize how fortunate we were to have such creative and engaging games. We didn’t have video games or TV, unlike kids today who spend a lot of time on screens. I try to play with my own kids, but the games have changed, and sometimes I lack the stamina.

Our parents made the best decisions they could with the knowledge they had. We can’t critique their choices in hindsight. They had our best interests at heart, just as we do for our kids. While we may not always make the right decisions, it’s important to educate ourselves to make informed choices. Let’s hope we can make the best decisions for our children, helping them grow into healthy, prosperous, and successful individuals.