Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Borderline Sanity

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I am a fraud. But the kind that does not hurt others. I am a fraud in order to empathise with others in conditions worse than me.

Several years ago, Salman Aslam (Lt Col, retired) the secretary of our course sent out a text message asking for my email address so that I too be a part of the course yahoorgroup. Unthinkingly I forwarded my address to him.

Now, that was the beginning of the group and everyone of us formerly Gentlemen Cadets now retired officers (even deserters like me) was required to send in their bios. Salman had, very thoughtfully, created a form for us to fill. Among other items, it contained a notification of one’s illnesses, surgeries etc.

Since our course was expanded (not in duration but in intake) because of the 1971 war, we had passed out some four hundred and forty from PMA in April 1972. Now, at the fag end of their lives, all those energetic, fresh-faced young cadets, some of who could run the mile in under five minutes (hear that, Sikander Afzal? Admire my memory, chum.) had a litany of medical complaints.

Everyone and their pet dogs, cats and neighbours had diabetes. And they also had diseased hearts and arthritis, burst ulcers and what have you. In fact, reading their bios was like reading a medical chart in a hospital ward. Only this medical chart had been doctored by some mischievous orang-utan to leave no known disease out of count. All my course-mates suffered from every disease known and unknown to humankind.

I was the only one in the pink!

That made me feel guiltily bad. Now here were my chums all verging on death-like states while I was still having a grand old time. Truth is that I did not feel bad for my friends’ illnesses (imagined and real), I felt bad for my own good health. It was almost the same way as I would feel bad lagging way behind Sikander on the mile track. I could never catch up with that blighter. Or with anyone of those others who were way better than me in PMA.

But now I could. All I had to do was invent a sickness to make myself look as bad (or is it good?) as my dear old friends of four and a half decades ago. On my bio I wrote ‘My only known disease is borderline sanity.’

Salman Aslam was very appreciative of my truthfulness.

And sooner than I knew I daily had my mailbox full with hundreds of emails from my course-mate. There were only two subjects the mails dealt with: the one about the new disease someone had recently been diagnosed with. Or there were religious sermons and injunctions. There were no risqué jokes, no innuendos about new escapades of the heart except for those in intensive care units or in open heart surgeries either in comatose state or under anaesthesia. Worse yet, there were no exchanges of pornography! Within three days I blocked the group! Why, if I wanted what they were dishing out, I could hang out at the local mosque or Mayo Hospital.

This reminds me of the time I had to feign being wounded just because others were. It was the year 1998 and I was in the final phase of my research for my book The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau and needed to walk the way from village Sojhanda through deserted Bata to Nara on the road head. A friendly young captain offered to drive me instead. I told him I knew for a fact that there was no road for wheeled traffic south of Sojhanda.

‘Sir, the M151A1 can go where any human can walk,’ said the enthusiastic young man referring to the US military jeep.

And so we met one afternoon where the Haro River falls into the Sindhu. But the captain did not bring the jeep he had promised. He drove a Suzuki Potohar and riding with him was a soldier with a G-3 rifle. I asked if the item he was driving could also do what the M151A1 could accomplish and the young man said we had the option of leaving the vehicle and walking.

Now, the road south of the village of Bagh Nilab is a narrow, winding strip with the river running below it. As we were doing the bends, I felt the captain was not such a proficient driver as to be conducive to the health of our trio. On one curve beyond which the road dipped, the captain gunned the engine as he took the left turn. The bend was too sharp; our speed to great and even as I said ‘Easy does it”, the rather unstable Potohar was demoted from four wheels to two.

The next thing we knew I had landed hard on the captain and the jeep was grating along the asphalt on its side. I saw an image of us going over the edge, tumbling down the rocky slope and the jeep catching fire as it made for the bottom. I could see the three of us going out in the fiery tin can for here we were a little way from the Sindhu. The jeep barely left the road and even before it could begin the plunge, it hit a rock and came to a halt. There was no fire. Since my side was up, I crawled out of the open window and helped the captain and the soldier out. Both were a mess.

The captain had badly cut his hands and hurt his arm rather seriously. We later learned that it was fractured. The G-3 muzzle had somehow driven itself into the soldier’s thigh just above the knee. He also had injured his other leg and one arm. The jeep had an ugly dent on its roof resting against the rock.

The two inspected their wounds and very professionally the captain cut his tee-shirt to fashion bandages for both of them and a sling for himself. I was completely unscathed. And that made me feel terrible. Why, here were my two travel companions incapable of walking because of their injuries and I had not even received the tiniest scratch. As they patched themselves up, I pretended to be hurt in the legs, arms and chest.

Now, this was not a road buzzing with traffic and I being the only walking wounded was asked to hike back to Bagh Nilab to get a vehicle to haul the two injured men back to Attock. So, with a few pretend groans, I limped off. Out of sight, I resumed my regular gait and was presently back with a hired pick-up. And that was that.

This began because some friends want to know why I had to invent borderline sanity for my Twitter bio. Come to think of it, if I had not been mostly mad, I would have stayed in the army instead of running away after six years of service. Knowing myself, I would have retired as major too old to acquire any knew skill to make my life useful and too young to die at age forty-seven. I would have ended up selling plots in Defence Phase 2 to 8 or 9 or whatever we have near Amritsar.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 26 December 2016 at 11:40, Anonymous Polytropos said...

God you were handsome. What a shame it is to grow old and bald

At 26 December 2016 at 14:21, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Heh heh heh. Age does us all in. The great equaliser. that's age.

At 26 December 2016 at 20:47, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ageing? Who is bloody ageing? Baldness is directly proportional to the amount of testosterone in a man's body. Daft comments.

At 27 December 2016 at 03:00, Blogger Right Path said...

Some more anecdotes about your time in the Army would be a treat for your readers.

At 28 December 2016 at 10:03, Blogger Muhammad Imran Saeed said...

Ahaa!! I happen to have known that guy from the past, courtesy a beautiful evening spent with you. Stay on the other side of the border sire! We don't want the Mayo Hospital charts. And a bald guy selling defence plots wouldn't be a pleasant sight either.


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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