Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Sindh Sojourn

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After three days in Karachi, two of which were spent at the Sindh Archives Department, I got to Larkana to village Mirpur Bhutto. This is the home of my young friend Ali Bhutto. Now, Ali began corresponding with me sometime in November. He was interested in history and when we talked of books he wrote back to say his father’s library contained all the volumes I mentioned. Though I had no clue which Bhutto family this was, I knew they were landed and had fine taste in books.

On the last trip in January, Ali offered to meet me in Sukkur and take me to his village. As we got into his car he noticed the book in my hand and asked what I was reading. It was Kamal Azfar’s The Waters of Lahore. Very casually young Ali said, ‘Oh, we used to be neighbours in Karachi.’

Now, three months before that I was dining at the Azfar residence in Clifton, Karachi. And what a wonderful, hospitable, generous couple Naheed and Kamal make, not to forget Fun. There Kamal mentioned that Mumtaz Bhutto, his neighbour, had sold his house and a huge monstrosity was growing in that once tree-shaded property. He said he and Naheed might be constrained to move because of the new building.

The Azfar residence is a beauty and ever since that evening in October when Kamal said they would have to sell it, I have felt the pain that only they would feel. Having lived in it over forty years, it must be hard to leave that beautiful house, now so well-shaded with flowering creepers and trees. That was in October 2013.

Now in late February, there was one great evening with Amir Mughal (@mughalbha) and Zarrar Khuhro (that irrepressible wit, now with Dawn) where we had pictures taken which Amir posted on Twitter. Later when Sumaira Jajja (@SumairaJajja) joined us, she was upset she had missed the photo session. Sumaira is a first-class trekker who speaks at two hundred words a minute and I simply love her to bits.

The other memorable evening was with Zaman Narejo. This man amazes me. I remember when I met my murshid Sardar Naseer Tareen for the first time in Quetta in 1993, I had thought, ‘Is this man for real?’ And when I met young Zaman in Larkana back in July last year, the same thought flashed through my head. Zaman is from the Pakistan Administrative Service (formerly DMG), professionally perfect, hard working, and upright to a fault and there will be few like him in Sindh is all I want to say of him.

The story can never be complete without the evening at Manora where Lieutenant Commander Shakir Baloch (a true Balochi speaking red-blooded Baloch) of Pakistan Navy was my host. I had met him in September last year in Gwadar and we hit it off because of his sharp sense of humour. There he had put me in his show on the local FM radio and made me famous with the good folks of Gwadar.

He met me at the Navy Jetty at Kemari and together we rode a boat to Manora Island. I had photographed the Manora lighthouse back in 1984 and wanted some digital images this time. But the Karachi Port Trust men who mind the lighthouse said, ‘Photography Prohibited!’ Now, since I am a thoroughly unpatriotic person in the pay of all foreign spy agencies, I surreptitiously took some photos which are being put on this blog so that my paymasters know they have to send me $$$. After the lighthouse Shakir and I walked around the old battlements of the early 19th century Talpur fort and marvelled at how they built in those bygone times.

Anyway, when young Ali said they were neighbours with the Azfars, I said, ‘But their neighbour was Mumtaz Bhutto!’ Yes, said Ali, and that was his father. And then, very stupidly a tad too late I realised that Ali did indeed look very much like his father!

This time around in late February, Ali was in Karachi but I was still put up at the Mirpur Bhutto residence. In the evening Ali’s elder brother Amir Buksh arrived from Larkana and I had a wonderful evening with him talking Alexander the Macedonian. Incidentally, both of us had read the same authors on Alexander. Amir Buksh carries the political flag for the family and looks strikingly like his father. But I being the most apolitical person ever, we kept aloof of politics.

The next morning I was driven to see the mosque that sits in the middle of the Khirthar Canal. The religious family from Amrot, the nearby village, have created a fantastic myth about this mosque. This story will be told in next year’s PPL diary.

Later that same day I had fetched up in Dera Murad Jamali where Murad Kasi, the young Assistant Commissioner put me up. My contact with him is another story. About a couple of months ago, Aziz Jamali, then Deputy Commissioner, Sibi, and I began to correspond by email and Aziz said I ought to visit him at the time of the Sibi Mela. That could not be, but this wonderful man (who has an impeccable reputation) put me in touch with young Murad who made my sojourn in DMJ possible.

A word on young Murad. Just a year or so into the service, this remarkable man spends most of his time reading. I can tell right now that he will be another one of those men who will forever stand tall for never having swayed with the winds to abandon his scruples. I know for a fact that no man will ever be able to accuse him of selling his soul.

The highpoint of these ten days was the drive from DMJ to Jacobabad. I hired Akbar Mahesar in his little Suzuki to drive me to Sukkur. It’s another tale that I eventually ended up at Jacobabad to board Jafar Express for Lahore. Now, Akbar: the man spoke more words per minute than Sumaira in Karachi. Only, I could hardly understand what he said because he jumbled up his words. And he would simply not shut up so I said yes to everything he threw at me. This sometimes confused the good man, but it was too much trouble asking him to clarify again and again. I wish I had feigned deafness from the word go!

The one thing I did understand was that he had once been hired to drive someone to Chichawatni. En route he spent some time at Khanewal. So, what he knew of Punjab was these two cities. He kept asking me about Lahore with relation to Chichawatni. I eventually shut him up by saying that Lahore was actually a suburb of Chichawatni and if he had seen the C, he had seen the L too. (This being a terribly lurid Punjabi double entendre whizzed right over his good Sindhi head.) Despite the lack of comprehension, the man was pleased no end. Eventually, I was so glad to get away at Jacobabad from his incomprehensible speech.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 14:53,


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days