Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Funny Side Of...

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In December 2013, I was in Karachi where I spent some time at the Herald office after a very long time. This was a favourite haunt many years ago, especially during the decade between 1997 and 2007 when I wrote a regular monthly travel piece for the magazine. At the office I met all the boys and girls and had a generally great time getting to know them.

About a fortnight after I returned home, I got a call from Faiza Shah on the Herald staff. She asked if I would be interested in writing a short humour piece for them. Now, this is the kind of thing where you can say stuff that bothers you but cannot make a regular newspaper piece. And you can say it in a way that the protagonist in the piece cannot even take you to court. Well, in most cases, at least. It helps the writer blow off steam. And so I said ‘Yessssss!’

In January 2014, my first piece titled ‘Monkey Business’ appeared with the so-called breaking news anchorpersons at the wrong end of my verbal stick. Over the next fifteen months everyone from my neighbours to fellow travellers to politicians came to the chopping block to be made a hash of. I did not even hesitate to call the Prime Minister Elmer Fudd with whom he has an uncanny resemblance. Both also have similar intellect.

All were kosher on my chopping block. Except the military and ISI, of course. Of these two I am terrified out of my wits. And I’ll tell you why.

Back in 2004-5, Herald had a back-of-the-book piece called Postcard. In this contributors like yours truly or the staff could write a light-hearted personal observation or experience. Though I had contributed a number of times to Postcard, I one day had something to say about Mush-A-Riffraff’s army and its ISI. By this time, I must admit, I hated the dictator for being the coward that he is. I wrote a longish email and shot it off to all the addresses on my book. The title of this piece of dark humour was Kath kay Bunder – Wooden Monkeys. On top of the piece I wrote in block letters: FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.

In the last week of the month (I think it was March or April 2005) my editor at Herald, Saquib Hanif, and I were having a casual chat when he said my postcard was too long and had needed editing. ‘What postcard?’ I asked.
‘The one you sent, you idiot,’ said Saquib.
‘You shithead, I did not send you any postcard. What the fuck are you talking about? 
‘You bhen****, the one titled Kath kay Bunder.’

I nearly had a heart attack.
‘Oye teri &%$*&@ ki *&^%$#*! Oye ^%$#@*% &*@^%$#. That was for your fucking eyes only!’ I screamed into the phone. ‘You cannot use it. Stop press and remove it from the line.’

Aside: Saquib is the most foul-mouthed editor I’ve ever had in thirty-three years of writing. And I have to proudly say that I can match his language word for word.

But Saquib told me that it being the last week of the month, the magazine was ready and there was nothing he could do about it. When Herald appeared, I lived in dread of being beaten up by ISI thugs. But the month passed peacefully. No phone call; no heavies got out of a car to rough me up at some traffic signal and no firebomb was tossed into my home.

Two more months went by without any trouble. In July, three months after the piece appeared in print, I got a call.
‘Butch, how are you doing?’

Back in 1964 Ahmed Razi Ghazali gave me the nickname of Butcher because he thought I looked like the butcher in a British documentary. It stuck and I am still Butchie or Butch to friends from St Anthony’s. The caller was Brigadier Shoaib Aziz Sarwar, Armoured Corps (49th PMA). Shoaib was a year junior to me in school, but because of my unblemished record of never doing well in exams, we were classmates at Government College where I pretended to be reading for a degree in Physics and Math A and B.

I hadn’t heard from Shoaib in years and it came as a surprise. But the bigger surprise was after the preliminaries.
‘Butch, what is this you wrote in Herald?’ he asked.

I told him of the travel piece that was current that month. He said no and quoted a line from the Kath kay Bunder piece. That was line I had already forgotten. I panicked and lied I had never written anything like that. 
‘Don’t lie to me. It has your by-line,’ said Shoaib. There was no getting out of this one so I owned up. ‘All right. Someone will get in touch with you.’ This was so chillingly menacing that I near wet my pants.

I then learned that Shoaib was in a position where he could help me. I let loose calling him all the names I could call a childhood friend.
‘You stupid fuck; if you’re there you should bloody well take care of things. Instead of that you call me and scare me out of my wits!’ I shouted into the phone.

Shoaib listened quietly and then said, ‘Okay, I’ll see what I can do.’ Then he lectured me on why on earth didn’t I stick to my travel writing.

That month too passed uneventfully. Thanks to Shoaib.

So, while I enjoyed my fifteen months of writing dark humour for Herald I judiciously kept myself from saying funny (but true) things about military men and matters. But knowing myself, I knew things could get out of hand and so it was a great deal of relief to hear from Badar Alam at Herald.

From April 2015, he said, they did not want me to write my The Funny Side Of... piece. But so as not to break my heart Badar reassuringly said they have greater plans for me. I don’t know what greater plans might be in store, but I fervently hope they are planning to make me Chief Executive of Pakistan Herald Publications Limited in place of Hameed Haroon.

Read all  The Funny Side Of... pieces here

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

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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