England Years: Martial Law Trials And A Move To Sheffield

"Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law had Pakistan in its iron grip and Tariq was not the only political prisoner in his jails. That morning, however, Tariq was the greatest favourite of most of the visitors"

 England Years: Martial Law Trials And A Move To Sheffield

Note: This extract is from the author’s coming autobiography titled Not The Whole Truth: My Life and Times
Click here for the third part

In Murree I went to the officer’s mess of the divisional headquarters. Sure enough, one of the PMA cadets I had known was posted as a captain there. He gave us a room but I was alarmed to find that he did not believe I was really married. He was too polite say this in so many words but I guessed that he thought I had brought a girlfriend. After dinner, which we had in our own room, I went to him to tell him that I would leave in morning. He invited me for a drink which I refused. His indulgence in whisky somehow convinced me that he might try to force himself into our room. I told Hana too and she was frightened. We kept awake listening to sounds, suspecting noises even if these were animals struggling to escape the deep snow, and preparing to fight anyone who forced the door. Nothing happened and the morning found us safe and sound but exhausted. We should have been feeling foolish but we did not. I paid my bill immediately and we left after breakfast. We were now cured of adventure and turned the Suzuki towards Pindi.

I was to go to England in March and we had to go to Lahore to say goodbye to Hana’s family. We reached and had dinner with Uncle Tajuddin and Naseema Khala. Then we went to our room and, when we went down for breakfast, we were told that Uncle Tajuddin was ill. I found him in pain and the doctor was sent for. The family went for some function in Aitchison and I sat with him. He talked to me when he felt better and presented me two collected works (divans) of Ghalib. Then the pain grew and by the time the doctor arrived he was in throes of terrible agony. But it did not torment him for long – he died by the afternoon! Hana was devastated. She had lost her mother and the trauma had made her numb—frozen her in the jargon of psychology-- and blocked her mind so that for days she had felt numb. And now her beloved father! I consoled her and she said it really supported her though it was much later, when she had become a psychotherapist herself, that she took steps to deal with the trauma of her parents’ sudden deaths.

Another incident was also sad and shocking for Hana but absolutely necessary for me. This was taking Hana to meet my childhood friend Tariq Ahsan who, as I have written above, was in military custody. We went on a day when I was informed by Aunty Ahsan that he would be produced in the court. When he came in chains I was deeply pained and so was Hana who had heard of his excellent qualities from me. But he was smiling his kind, good-natured smile even in this condition. The irony was that Tariq, who was so highly educated, so humane, so kind was being tried by a major who seemed such a philistine in his presence. Aunty Ahsan, a talented short story writer and professor of Urdu literature in a college, also stood there as if she had been turned to a statue. Uncle Ahsan, an Urdu poet and a serving officer in the Foreign Office of Pakistan, seemed frail and drawn with pain. Both those people of exceptional merit and decency had been turned into powerless supplicants by the ruthless dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq.

After settling down I asked Hana to accompany me to a pub. I did not know that she had no idea what a pub is. Having studied in the Jesus and Mary’s Convent and Kinnaird College in Lahore, I assumed she would know such things

Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law had Pakistan in its iron grip and Tariq was not the only political prisoner in his jails. That morning, however, Tariq was the greatest favourite of most of the visitors which included Dushka Sayed, Shireen Mazari and Rukhsana Siddiqui all of whom were lecturers at QAU. We also visited Uncle and Aunty Ahsan at home and found many visitors but none who could help them in this predicament. It was a mercy that he was not whipped or manhandled much, but in the beginning, he was given a somewhat rough time. But he remained in jail for the next two years till his professor in Canada somehow managed to get him out of jail and out of Pakistan. He got married to Nausheen, daughter of Ahmad Ali Khan, editor of Dawn, and Hajra Masroor, a novelist and short story writer of Urdu like Aunty Ahsan. However, Tariq fell into depression later and also developed arthritis because of which he left his PhD incomplete. Still, even years later when I rang him, I found that he knew about most subjects much better than most people—even university professors. For such an intellectual whose ideal niche was the university to be guarding car parks, the sort of work he did in Canada, was one of Zia-ul-Haq’s gifts to Pakistan.

But events came fast as a whirlwind one after the other and the days of our departure arrived. Hana’s family came to Pindi to bid us farewell and we embarked on our new life in a PIA plane. I remember our stop at Dubai where I bought Hana a box of chocolates which she enjoyed very much. I also remember the shapes of the clouds we flew through: camels, fluffy snowy peaks which changed before my eyes into other shapes, the blue dome of the sky above and then more fluffy, fleeting shapes of cloud. Then finally we landed at Heathrow and reached the hotel which the British Council had reserved for me. After settling down I asked Hana to accompany me to a pub. I did not know that she had no idea what a pub is. Having studied in the Jesus and Mary’s Convent and Kinnaird College in Lahore, both English-medium institutions, I assumed she would know such things. However, as soon as we entered a pub and the doorbell sounded some people looked at her—she said they had red eyes but this I doubt—and everybody seemed to be drinking brownish looking alcohol (she did not know this was beer) from big glasses, she turned around and ran away. I ran after her telling her to stop which she did but she would not hear of going back to that den of iniquity. To make matters worse, a girl (rather fetching too) who was completely drunk, and whom I did not know from Eve, came out of nowhere and fell right on me. No girl, fetching or otherwise, ever before or after, fell on me or even near me. But that night, with my newly married bride as witness, this one did. But thank goodness that Hana did not accuse me of having known the girl from before so this passed away as a non-event.

In Sheffield they accommodated us in the YMCA. Hana loved the breakfast there and started eating eggs from that time onwards. Otherwise, as she told me later, she would either skip breakfast or have some fried stuff in the Punjab University canteen. There was a handsome young man who kept receiving phones which were announced in the dining hall and we all tittered when we heard his name being called by miss so-and-so. After the YMCA we stayed in Dave and Billie’s house for a week. They had started living together when I was in Pakistan but were not married yet. At that time, they were away so we used the house. Then we got our own flat – our first house after marriage – near the YMCA. It was a flat in a big Victorian house with a small lawn in front of it and a yard in the back. There were six such flats in that house and they belonged to the YMCA. So, I and Hana decided to get a phone and we moved in. It was furnished so all we had to do was to get grocery. So off we went to TESCO, to buy our first grocery. She went off in one direction buying every conceivable thing she saw. I struck out on another route again collecting goods left and right in a frenzy. The bill was an incredible £ 80 or so. And we had only £ 30 ready cash – nobody carried more money at that time. So, I had to rush out and get my cheque book and a card which was a guarantee that the bank would honour the cheque. And then only could we bring the stuff home. Most of it was “stuff” indeed since we hardly used it and some perished because it was too much. But we had started our household and that was an experience we never forgot.

I started studying for my final examinations but in as leisurely a way as ever. I never stayed up late at night since I had insomnia and needed to go to bed early. I was always ready to leave studies if we had to go anywhere and be flexible. To write my thesis I went to Cambridge and London. Meanwhile Hana became pregnant. This news really excited her though I was a bit anxious about her health. Like middle-class men brought up in Pakistan, I did not know how to cook. And Hana’s cooking was bad – she always had help at home – so she often could not eat what she cooked. The downside of it was that she ate inadequate food and also omitted to take mineral and vitamin tablets. We did not know that this would be bad for the baby. When Naseem Ahmad, Hana’s brother, visited us from America he could not eat the dishes she had prepared for him. One day he complained pointing out that the curry was too watery and had bits of onion swimming in it.

“Is this what you feed Tariq Bhai daily?” he asked her accusingly.

“Are you my brother or his?” she retorted stung to the quick.

I had eaten whatever was served as I have much tolerance of food and I did not want to subject her to any kind of stress. At that time, being ashamed of what she was feeding her brother, Hana suggested to me that we should take Naseem for dinner at a good restaurant. Naseem agreed and suggested Frensh cuisine. We ordered all kinds of French dishes and the bill ran up to pounds 80/-- or so! It was so exorbitant an amount that I just froze when I saw the bill. Finally, we had to ask Naseem for a loan to defray the cost of the dinner which, feeling very embarrassed all the while, I repaid just before he left.

One day when we had gone to visit Dave and Billie, Dave jumped up and pointed to the house across the street. Smoke was coming out of it. I and Dave rushed out and saw a small child standing in the window looking frightened. We rushed to the back of the house and up the smoke-filled stairs. When we reached the room upstairs it was locked and we were choking. We had acrid smoke in our eyes and lungs and were choked and blinded. We ducked down and ran back and as we came out, we knew that another moment could have been fatal. The smoke could have killed us. But as we came on the street, we found that someone had climbed the front window, broken the panes and saved the child. We felt like fools and Hana reminded me that I had promised I would leave off being adventurous in Kala Pani. Dave must have been admonished by Billie and we both cursed the chap who had gone in from the front window. How could we be such fools as not to think of that? This was a question which, said Dave, could only be answered in the nearest pub. I, however, consider this a moment when I was found wanting. Wanting in presence of mind! However, I did not let this prey upon my mind.

A momentous event in our lives was our purchase of a used car, a Datsun Sunny, to go around the scenic countryside and the city of Sheffield itself. Hana had read an advertisement in a paper which said we could sell our gold jewellery for cash and so off we went to try out this adventure. The shop weighed the jewellery and, having satisfied themselves that it was real gold all right, they gave us about 250 pounds for it. We then went to the show room where we had seen the car and purchased it. It was an exhilarating feeling having our own car and we did really enjoy it. However, in time I could not afford the government’s permission (called MOD) to use it since the repairs would cost too much and, when Hana had gone to Pakistan as I will describe below, I had to sell it for nothing since nobody would give anything for it. However, during the time it was with us, it was a wonderful thing to have. Another thing we bought for our entertainment was a new TV. However, because of some electrical misapplication or something it got burnt when Hana was fiddling with it, and caused her much anguish since she loved the programmes she watched on it. Dave was so concerned that he procured a used black-and-while TV for her for something like eighteen pounds or so and so we continued watching our favourite programmes.

While in our flat at 18 Victoria Road, an unusual incident occurred. One day when I sat in the lounge studying in the morning, Hana came in beaming accompanied by an elderly man whom she introduced to me as Professor Heywood. Of course, it was not Heywood and soon I knew by his accent that he did not belong to the university at all. He behaved awkwardly and, while Hana busied herself in the chores of Pakistani hospitality, he wanted to leave. She accompanied him to his car as one does a guest but came back in tears as he tried to take advantage of her innocence and trust on the staircase. I had seen this incident from above so I was prepared to console her. I understood just what had happened. She was standing at a place which was frequented by prostitutes and this elderly lecher stopped his car next to her and talked to her in a friendly way offering to show her Sheffield. She agreed saying that she would pick up her husband as her flat was nearby. Of course, he did not really expect a husband in flesh and blood actually sitting in the flat so he came in willingly. He must have been taken aback to see me and I immediately knew from his accent that he was not an academic; in fact, not highly educated at all. Hana simply did not know anything about the situation. She knew how to behave appropriately in Pakistan but was disoriented in England and, strangely enough, thought there were no sex crimes in that country.

This man returned another day but I had told Dave about him and he was indignant both out of concern for Hana and the shame of England being given a bad name. When he came again Hana was terrified and told us that his car was parked outside. Dave and I rushed out and he ran away and never came back. Hana told this anecdote to our children saying that she was lucky that I was so understanding otherwise such things could be misunderstood as marriages are so unstable in the first few months. She also wonders at how naïve she was. However, I gradually discovered that she had a very good grasp over everything and this particular case was one of disorientation. In fact, I was delighted to find out that Hana’s cognitive abilities were much higher than the average and if she took interest in a field of intellectual endeavour, she performed very well. To my satisfaction and delight I found that she gradually came to agree with most of my own liberal-humanist and left-leaning ideas which is unusual for girls of her background in Pakistan. She was also very tolerant and broad minded and always socialised with my friends, all of whom were British at that time. She also accompanied me and my friends to pubs though she herself did not touch alcohol and always nursed a glass of orange juice.

She also did not want to have meat which was not kosher (halal) in keeping with Muslim and Jewish dietary rules. For this reason, and also for company, she wanted to meet Pakistanis. As I have said above, all my friends were English and, to make matters worse, I myself was highly anglicised, spoke mostly in English and even slept in jeans. She now tells me how alienated and lonely she felt at the unfamiliarity of it all. Besides she had just passed through the trauma of her father’s death and was also expecting a baby. Thus, since I knew no Pakistanis at all at that time, she rang Mrs. Gay Taylor, the director of the Sheffield Centre of the British Council who was incredulous when she heard that I did not know Pakistanis nor any shop for Indian condiments (or desi masalas as they were called by Pakistanis as well as Indians). She immediately told the Pakistani students union people and two boys came to our house that very evening. Hana was friendly as usual and made tea for them but, when they went away, she said she did not like them as they eyed her. I said that was one reason why I had not introduced her to unknown people since most of them would be boys. However, I proved to be wrong. Very soon women also came to visit us. One whom we liked very much was Shamsa Baji who was doing her PhD in botany. She was a very caring woman who, herself a spinster, took care of her family. Among the young couples who visited us were Dr Rashid Bhatti and his wife Ghazala. Dr Bhatti was a physicist and later joined Oxford University. Ghazala worked on English language teaching and later taught at the University of Reading. I met them and their children later when they lived in North Oxford but at that time there were only the two of them. There were also Faizullah Abbasi and his wife Seema. Their son, Fahad, was born only a few days before Tania. Faiz Bhai, as we called him, was doing his doctorate in metallurgy from the polytechnic. He was a lively and kind man and he lived with us when his wife had to go home since his scholarship ended. Besides my English friends my best friend now was Chandramohan. He was from Madras (named Chennai in 1996) and was writing a thesis on the South African writer Alex La Guma under Heywood’s supervision. He called him Christopher, however. This new fashion of calling one’s supervisor by their first name had not caught on in my conservative MA course so we called him Mr Heywood, while the African literature in English students used his first name.

(to be continued)