My earliest memory of Burn Hall is of an afternoon somewhere in March of 1981, when the bursar told my mother she could leave as all paper formalities were now complete. That being my day at school I was shown my dorm and my luggage placed in a metal cupboard. It was a new building that smelled of fresh paint and I still haven’t forgotten the smell, somehow :-). It was mid March and the weather was still cold, by evening I had gotten to come to know a few of my dorm mates. It was an uneasy start for a first time boarder, the old boys chatted casually while we new comers stayed quite. The first night I wept silently in my bed and I could hear a few of muffled sounds of my dorm mates sharing my predicament. Next morning I remember being woken up by someone knocking at the window with loud calls, “Shaba Shaba Shaba, hurry up!” Strange as it is after almost four decades I can still hear the sound in my mind. And I remember myself shaking badly from cold in the community bath room, the very first day. Someone remarked jokingly about my state, and I just couldn’t help it despite wearing a gown. So started life that day in March 1981 when I became a boarder in Army Junior Burn Hall, Abbottabad.
I was at that time in class 6th so boys of 5th and 6th classes were housed in the new building whereas boys of junior classes were accommodated in main building right in front of the main ground. The ground was and is still surrounded by classes on its left. Only junior most kids of class Prep had a separate dorm near the Dinning Hall. There were two Dining halls one for senior classes i.e. 5th and 6th and the other for junior classes. There were some swings near the hall. The main entrance had offices of the bursar and Chief Instructor. To its left side was a set of small offices which I remember also had a Sick Room. It was a small tidy place full of activity, always.
Life started early in the morning, after the usual “Shaba Shaba Sha.ba, hurry up!” and followed by a visit to the bath rooms we used to have breakfast. I fail to recall the Chacha’s name who used to wake us up with the “Shaba Shaba Shaba, hurry up!” call. But there was another guy who would be his replacement when he was on vacation. This guy had a very different “wake up” call. He used to say “Harrry app” in the most Punjabi accent one could imagine 🙂 So in between “Shaba Shaba Shaba, hurry up!” and the “Harrry app”, we got used to waking up. Most days breakfast would comprise of cereal, eggs, jam, bread and butter. But on Fridays we would get Parathas and Aloo buhjiya. The idea of tea was alien in those days, but now at 45 life without tea is unimaginable. The break time during classes used to be really testing for me. There happened to be a small shop in front of school, just across the road that used to sell burgers. These burgers were actually no more or less than Bun Kebabs, with some ketchup and few slices of tomatoes in between, but believe me those were the tastiest burgers I have ever had. Since boarders weren’t allowed to keep money so I would hide the money in my kit box and take it out daily to buy those tasty burgers. On some Fridays we would go to Shimla pahari for an excursion in long queues, and I distinctly remember eating Dhall with Pulao on most Fridays. Since we were always hungry, I always found it very tasty.
I was never good or bad at studies, just somewhere in the middle, but I really didn’t care, not at least then. We had 6th Red, Blue and Green. I was in 6th Green, Mrs. Manzoor used to be our class teacher. She was a motherly lady with a loving attitude. She would teach us English, Urdu was taught by Maj Ghulam Jillani Khan, who later authored many books. I remember him as a strict disciplinarian. Sir Rasheed taught us Mathematics and my favorite teacher was Miss Nasreen who used to teach us History. She was a good looking, good natured lady. I remember her wearing a Blue long coat, always made up and very attractive. Some of the boys openly talked about having a crush on her, and I was one of them 🙂 The house master was a fearsome Mr. Bhutta. he would always be carrying a tick and his opening words always used to be, “Oh you fools!”. And when addressing a single boy he would always say, “Oh you fool!” He used to teach us Geography. We used to have PT once a week. It was a set of exercises that we would do in the main ground. The same ground was used for drill, parents day, athletics and other frolicking. There used to be two PT sirs that I remember specifically, Big Sir and Small Sir. Big Sir was as you would imagine Big in rank and physically and small sir was small, both ways. Who named them Big and Small I am not sure but they were called by this by everyone, even the Principal and teachers. There used to be a peon called “Bhaag”. Nobody knew his real name or why he was called “Bhaag”, but I have a speculation he was called “Bhaag” since he was always running around.
Most Fridays we used to have Town Day and since we were the senior most so we would go out to the city for buying small stuff. I remember being paid Rs. 10 as pocket money on Fridays. Surprisingly when we passed class 6th and were admitted to 7th in Senior Burn Hall, we became junior most class and were not allowed to go out on Town Day 🙂 The Principal was a loving figure, Brig Ejaz Akbar. He had a very fatherly attitude towards everyone. Only once I saw him beat a boy with a cane, as he had a written a love letter to the prettiest girl in school. I am forgetting her name but I remember her golden hair even today. In my class there were just three girls, Hania, Samina and Afshan, but we would rarely mingle with them.
On most weekends we were shown movies or sometimes it would be Fun and Frolicks activity, with music, singing, dancing done by everyone. Mr Irfan Talib used to supervise these activities. The biggest fad those days for us boarders used to be Ishfaq Ahmed’s novels, we would pool in money and buy the latest ones, sharing gossip and stories, it was pure fun reminiscing about Farooq, Farzana and Inspector Jamshed’s exploits. It was as if the thing was real. Once a week, mostly on Friday we would go to Polo Ground for Cricket. There would be league games with each team being given a name, like Panthers, Rhinos, Leopards etc. I was a part of Rhinos, our Captain being Sajjad Baber a fearsome guy. He was a good leader in sports and we got runners up medal at the end of year.
A few names that come to mind are, Miss Farzana (who used wear jeans and long shoes, always aptly made up, long hair and long nails, phew! can’t say more 🙂 ), Miss Daniels, the fearsome Miss Teresa and Sheikh Abdullah (the dubious character). We used to be looking forward to the short as well as long weekend, a bus would be hired and we would be taken to Rawalpindi where .our parents would receive us. Summer vacations would last one month and winter vacations for two and a half months. Once, when we came back from summer vacations we were told that a 5th class boy Akhter Munir had died. The Principal told us his last words were, “I love my country, I love my school”. I still remember Akhter Munir’s smiling face.
One time we were taken on an excursion to Swat, it was for five days. What a lovely time we had visiting the beautiful valleys. There used to be no TV, but then those were simple times, it was mostly reading, running around and other adventurous activities. One of them being collecting conkers. Small one day excursions would be arranged at places like Dhadhar, where the most liked game was “Fight for the Flag”. There was always something happening at the school. Once the class 5th and 6th bullies made gangs and after classes, gang fights were held. I never liked the idea but I did get to see a lot of fighting, which off course I never liked. We used to have club activities as well, besides tableau and fancy dress shows.
Junior Burn Hall always evokes nostalgic memories in me. A few years ago I visited the place, and the 40 year old man (on seeing his school) was transformed in to a 12 year old boy leaving him much misty eyed. Those were the days…