MILES APART, POLES APART: CONCLUDING PART
Past hangs heavy on past, futureby Abu Jar M Akkas
I met the chief reporter of the Express Tribune at the provincial bureau of the newspaper. I had a gift a colleague of mine, who met him in China, had given to me for him. I called him the moment we reached Islamabad. He came over to the hotel, on that busy day, with another gift for my colleague in Dhaka. We talked various issues for a long while. Many of our groups, who went shopping and to see Faisal Mosque, got back two hours later when we had already been late for a dinner the EP wing was hosting to us at a restaurant called Des Pardes in Saidpur on the Margalla Hills.
We reached the place an hour late, with secretary waiting glum, not because we were late but because, I believe, he was made an officer on special duty, which we had seen in newspapers the next morning before we left for Murree. It was a lavish dinner but we were a bit tired because of the hectic schedule and the heat. This was a beautiful place, with steps carved on the hill slope, with musicians playing on traditional instruments, in light, bright in one place and mysteriously dark in the other.
We got back to the hotel, full, content and tired. The next (Friday) morning, we started for Murree about 9:00am. As soon as we reached Murree Tehsil on the Islamabad-Murree Highway, we saw our security squad with ATS people turning back towards Islamabad. But that was close to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Kashmir. Still we felt that the authorities had thought that we would no longer need security. After crossing about a kilometre or two, we saw a van, with a group of Kashmir police personnel, taking over.
Five of us bought ripe cherry and anjeer (figs), which I tasted for the first time, from a small boy hawking around with a bamboo container and fig leaves, which he was using to make cones to hold the fruit. Another shopping frenzy went on. As we wasted about an hour and a half, we decided not to get into chairlift and cable car to go as high as 9,000 feet from the ground. Later our protocol officer sought the help of the security people, who managed our way right then into the chairlift and then cable car and way back without any hassles.
The place above 9,000 feet looked pristine, with tall pine (chirr) trees. When we were taking lunch on the top of a hill, I asked the protocol officer, Yeh kaun sa perr hai (what are these trees called)? He looked a bit nonplussed. Another from the Pakistan government, Sadaf Zahra, said, Yeh sab darakht hain. I could say, but not bet, that perr is a Hindustani word and it might well fall into the ahl-e-zuban vocabulary; they came up with darakht. As luck would have it they did not come up with the word shajar. The word perr is there in Urdu dictionaries but later I read somewhere that in Karachi, the utterance of the word perr has a connotation of rusticity,
We had heard that it was a very pleasant weather on Murree hills but it was close to 40 degrees Celsius when we were there. And as we had no experience of climbing slopes, it soon sapped us of our energy. After all this, the view of Murree was exquisitely beautiful, with clouds shadowing a portion a moment and the sun lighting the place the next.
In Murree, which is a hill station founded by the British, there is a brewery, dating back from 1860, which trickles down to the local market of majority Muslims where only non-Muslims are allowed alcohol permits. The restrictions were imposed after free sales and consumption of liquor for three decades after the partition. The sales of liquor to Muslims, who account for about 97 per cent of the population, are prohibited but drinking, in private, is not. A local journalist offered me to walk around the clubs at night if I could be free. A hotel man also said that he could get us liquor but the drinking needed to be done in the room.
From Murree, we hurried to the hotel as we had been late adequately to miss the flight to Karachi for some of us, deeply engrossed in Murree’s scenic beauty especially on the Kashmir point, was waiting for any damsel to fall into distress. We checked out in about 10 minutes and darted out for the airport, in Rawalpindi, with the security car blaring siren all along and the ATS members making the way for us in every means they could employ. We heaved a sigh of relief but to the frowning of the airport officials. The cargo hold, we heard, had already been closed and all our bags travelled to Karachi sitting in the cabin separately.
We reached Jinnah International about 9:00pm. Sindh protocol officers waiting at the airport dashed us into PIA Hotel as we had a transit for more than six hours. The hotel was not very far from the airport. It was a nice sprawling building with lawns. We decided to chat in a room as we might not feel comfortable to wake up to start for the airport at 5:00am. As we had talked every night but for the first two nights in Karachi, the session of chat continued. Every night, at least four of us would discuss what we had seen and felt about Pakistan.
The language movement of 1952, in which political matters found an expression, held back our people, especially the young, from learning Urdu and getting to know what Pakistan thinks about the present-day erstwhile East Pakistan although there are many around, even the young, who take pride in being able to talk about, or recite, a few specimens of sher (poems). The subsequent culmination of the nationalistic movement into Bangladesh’s struggle for independence has made many of us hostile to anything related to Pakistan.
Although Pakistanis, especially the young, these days know almost nothing, or bother to know, about Bangladesh, many of their elders still think that Yahya Khan should have handed over power to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who won the elections although it is still debatable whether things could have continued the way they were going if power had been handed over to Sheikh Mujib, who won no seats in the then West Pakistan and the Bengali-speaking people had issues with political supremacy and discrimination in addition to the right to language being denied in the erstwhile East Pakistan.
People in Pakistan said that they had removed everything regarding the then East Pakistan from their textbooks. Ordinary people in Pakistan only learn that they had a wing called East Pakistan separated by a patch of India; Sheikh Mujib won the elections; India had East Pakistan liberated into Bangladesh; and East Pakistan had jute and a paper mill in Khulna.
Many elders in Pakistan still consider Bangladeshis their bhais (brothers) although the elite might think of it in a different way. Many of the young, with many others still being left out, are interested to know about Bangladesh. Many of them individually apologise for what happened to Bangladeshis in 1971, beginning from 1947. While the young are eager to carry forward the relationship, the state, it seemed, will never officially apologise over the 1971 war.
Abu Jar M Akkas is news editor at New Age.
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