I am writing this column from the place of my birth – Lahore. I arrived here two days ago to honor a social commitment and found that the city never ceases to be a source of stories for the weekly piece. This time it was a ‘white radish seller’ that caught my eye. I would have passed him by had I not heard his melodious jingle – a jingle that forced me to apply the brakes and come to a dusty halt many meters beyond him.

I got down from the car and walked over to his ‘shop’, which was nothing but a ‘tokra’ mounted on the rear carrier of his bicycle. Now this carrier is a small affair designed to accommodate one person, but in this case it had been ingeniously extended to accommodate the large sized circular basket.

The basket itself was artistically decorated with white radishes topped with green leaves. These radishes had been spliced vertically in a manner so that an inch from the top had been left intact. The result was that when the radish was dangled by its ‘greens’, it looked something akin to a dead cuttlefish. Two tobacco tins with perforated lids and two plastic bags, all containing salt and pepper completed the assets of this rustic snack bar.

I dug into my wallet and then spent the next fifteen minutes enjoying, what was an unforgettably tasty snack. While I was thus engaged, I tried to decipher the lyrics of the radish seller’s song and when I finally did so, I burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. My mirth stemmed from the realization that this genius was in fact issuing a three word medical advice to his customers – “Sajjanon, paaninapeena” or “Friends, do not drink water”.

I first heard these words from my mother, who would chide us if we reached for the water glass immediately after snacking on a white radish or unripe guava. This caution stemmed from a belief that by doing so we would trigger a ‘throwing up’ fit. This temporary water ban was also imposed in post tandem mode for peanuts as this was supposed to cause a throat infection.

Our childhood was replete with ‘what not to eat after what’, causing us no end of distress. We were told that water melon or ‘tarbooz’ should only be taken in the morning on an empty stomach and enjoying this wonderful fruit (or is it vegetable) at any other time of the day would cause stomach cramps.

Fear was instilled in us not to drink milk after eating fish as this would cause loss of pigment in the skin. We found out much later that the main ingredients in some of the best continental recipes consisted of fish and milk. An elderly aunt of mine, who lived in the walled city, went to the extreme of forbidding the taking of milk after a chicken meal.

The monsoon rains were (and still are) a soul stirring experience for the people of the Sub Continent. For children the first warm drops followed by a cooling downpour, was a time to set inhibition aside and get unabashedly drenched. While we were allowed to ‘bathe in the rain’, we were told that not taking a shower afterwards would encourage the breeding of lice in our hair. As we came of age we came to the realization that rain or cloud condensation was rated as the purest form of water, but perhaps the mandatory shower was designed to wash away the ‘foreign stuff’ that we collected on our bodies as we gamboled about the compound.

I have done my damnedest to successfully apply some of these childhood taboos on my grandchildren, only to be confronted by a single word that takes the wind out me and leaves me stranded – this word is WHY?

 The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City.  His forte is the study of History.