Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

‘Guard knows Batter!’

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Four years ago I went looking for the ferry Shireen Pasha, the film maker, had used in her excellent documentary Before it is too Late. I found it plying between Mithankot and Chachran in southern Punjab. But when my story was published in Herald, a friend called to say (incorrectly) that Pasha’s ferry worked somewhere in Sindh. And so, in December 1994 when I was in Sanghar two friends and I decided one morning to go ferry hunting. That story was never written, but recently as friend Raheal Siddiqui drove me over the Moro bridge, it all came back. And since it is not time-barred it needs be told.
Leaving Sanghar we made for the National Highway so as to be as close to the Indus as possible. Driving north, we stopped at tea stalls to ask about the ferry. Nobody had ever heard of it. We drove through village after nondescript village, even side tracking towards the river. But blanks were all we turned up.

Passing through another town and spotting a sign announcing an office of the Irrigation Department who, we imagined, would be managing the ferry, we stopped. It was still too early for the sahib to have been in office, and the slick-haired clerk or something who attended us insisting on speaking in very poor English. To all my questions concerning the ferry boat (in Urdu) his response was ‘Guard knows batter,’ which, translated into English, reads ‘God knows better.’ I asked him how long he had served the department and expected him to mention, yet again, this mysterious guard who knew the batter. But he surprised us by saying he was a veteran of over twenty years. Try as I may, I could not keep myself from asking him, why, in heaven’s name, was he still so ignorant, and why hadn’t he ever attempted to share some of God’s esoteric knowledge with Him. ‘Guard knows batter,’ came the reply. We gave up and left.

If there was ever a boat, I vaguely suspected, it would have plied the Indus where the Dadu-Moro bridge now spans the river. On the approach to the bridge we stopped at the tea shop and as he made us the milky brew, the man had to do a great deal of serious thinking and head scratching before he could say no, there had never been a boat. But he could be forgiven for he was only in his mid-twenties and came from a neighbouring district. The bridge was opened in September 1982 and twelve years was a long, long time for a people with a remarkably short collective memory to remember something as insignificant as a ferry boat.

We nevertheless drove to the bridge. The plaque on the abutment said it had been opened by the military dictator. And it pleased me no end to notice that I was not alone in my hatred for that man: some hot-blooded Sindhi had obliterated the accursed name with the help of hammer and chisel. As we pottered about enjoying the view in the golden sunshine, an elderly man stopped to chat. The boat? Of course, there it was. He pointed to something all but smothered by the reeds and assorted brush. This we had already noticed but rejected for being too small to be a ferry. That was the only craft that ever hauled travellers between the two banks of the river, insisted the man. There wasn’t another for ‘hundreds of miles,’ said he.

It lay about five hundred metres south of the bridge. The barely legible lettering on the side said ‘LCM-C-48984,’ and the frontplate lay open. LCM was Landing Craft Marine and the rest was the registration number. It could scarce hold a light to the Indus Queen of Chachran and Mithankot, but it had nevertheless been a ferry boat in its own right. As against the six man crew of that whopper that carried up to three cars beside a couple of hundred people, this one would have been worked by no more than two. It could not have hauled more than fifty commuters at a time, and even that would have been a tight fit.

The afterdeck contained the works: the twin marine engines (manufactured by Gray) were still in their compartment below, caked with mud from past flooding. Above was a superstructure across which a tarpaulin would have stretched to shield the helmsman from the sun.

The mounting was still there, but the wheel was gone, the paint was fading and the entire boat was rotting. Only the name Lehira in bold lettering was still an assertive, unfaded red. One day in September 1982 it had disgorged its cargo of humanity for the last time, and then it was abandoned. The open frontplate bespeaks the urgency of the abandonment. The department simply forgot about the Landing Craft called Lehira that had probably seen action at Inchon (Korea), before moving on to serve faithfully for so many years on the Indus.

That day in September the dictator opened the bridge and so aggressive was the collective act of forgetting that it seems never to have been mentioned again for even the tea shop owner denied the boat’s existence. Keen, committed officers are a rarity in the Irrigation Department. Perhaps one day such a specimen will take charge of this district and discover the boat in the official ledgers. Perhaps he will ask the slick-haired clerk who will certainly be there two hundred, six hundred, a thousand years from today. Even then the answer likely will be, ‘Guard knows batter!’

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 14 October 2013 at 10:55, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn’t this a national psyche in Pakistan? I think it is.

At 14 October 2013 at 11:05, Anonymous Ramla said...

I am relating this article with Al-Bakistan number plates article. Am I alone thinking this?

At 14 October 2013 at 12:30, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

No, Ramla. No connection with Al-Bakistan plates. But surely something about our national disregard for what would be heritage in other countries.

At 14 October 2013 at 21:47, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

LOL. We say this when we don't know the answer. Very well written sir. What an observation. Thanks.

At 15 October 2013 at 16:12, Blogger Afat qiamat said...

the other day I was reading an article about 70,000 priceless manuscripts and rarebooks , dumped in a Stable by some " former chief secretary " ...right in the middle of Lahore , ie old official horse stable in Lahore’s Civil Secretariat ,..this collection is/was also known as the Anarkali Archives , containing thousands of year old Sanskrit manuscripts and the entire a researcher’s goldmine. The original record of the entire 1857 Uprising (War of Independence) ....
and the other day a similiar story from KPK where precious record of our history is facing the same fate

.... so much , dirt has deliberately been put on our Historical heritage ...and Salman Sahib will vouch for that ... its crimnal ......for example ... ask any Shikarpuri ...we would not know .that Hundi , the money transfer instrument ....was invented by his ancestors and was honored as far as Samarkand and China with reliabllity .....but thats another story ....and I will wait for Salman Sahib to visit Shikarpur and write about the Covered Market and Hundi and its history in some of his future blogs...

At 15 October 2013 at 17:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 15 October 2013 at 22:34, Anonymous Pushpa Patel said...

Enjoyed this blog Salman. Wish I was not married ;-)

At 17 October 2013 at 08:10, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you Pushpa. Let me just be lecherous and say, so what if you're married. I tell you, I've had no better appreciation in all these years!


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

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Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

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