Research Without Funding - II

Research Without Funding - II
Note: This extract is from the author’s coming autobiography titled Not The Whole Truth: My Life and Times.
Click here for part I


The linguistic map of Pakistan was far from clear to me by the end of 1992 but the area which intrigued me much was Sindh and Multan. Here two language movements, both connected with politics, were going on. The first was the Sindhi language movement and the second was the Siraiki one. Thus, the obvious choice for me was to begin my detailed investigations from one of the main cities of these two regions. With this in mind I first went to Multan on a cold morning of December 1992. A rickety old taxi took me to the railway station because it would have been tough for my wife to drive me so early. I had opted to travel by Tezgam since the research was funded by myself and this was economical. But when the air conditioner failed and the closed railway compartment became a refrigerator, I felt I had been penny wise i.e. foolish. And feeling foolish and cold I got down at Multan at night. I was supposed to be lodged at the Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU) thanks to Dr Zafar, the registrar, who had been a neighbour in Scotland. Now it turned out that I had been more foolish than one has any right to be since I did not know even where this BZU was and how one got there. The taxi drivers appeared to dislike the place intensely. Some whose love for money was too overpowering offered to take me there for a fabulous sum and I would even have accepted the price they quoted had a thought not struck me suddenly.

‘Take me to the cantonment,’ I told the yellow cab driver.

‘Which place?’

‘Where there are tanks,’ I said confidently.

He took me to a place which was completely unfamiliar. A solider stopped us and I remembered how I must have behaved twenty years ago when I was an army officer and actually lived in this cantonment. But now I was far too polite and my story that my former regiment was stationed here sounded unconvincing even to my own ears. However, the soldier must have decided that this bespectacled fellow is far too confused to be a spy. He let me go in and I headed for the building where I lived in 1971. And now witness the serendipity of this blind gamble. This happened to be the living rooms of the bachelor officers of 25 Cavalry (FF) which was my last regiment. Of course, none of the young officers would know me but the C.O would as would the old waiters. However, the man who came out of mess was a young waiter and he gave me the bad news that the CO was out on an exercise. The old waiter was not available either. And now the young waiter fixed a suspicious stare at me.

‘Who lives here?’ I asked him.

He named young lieutenants and captains and I went to one of them. They jumped up when they heard my name and I let out a sigh of relief.

‘Yes sir,’ said one. ‘You were the adjutant of our regiment once.’

I confessed to this accusation and deciding to be frank told him why I was there.

‘No problem, Sir,’ said he in the old-world esprit de corps manner and the eldritch cry of koi hai (is anyone here), which resounded in officers messes and gymkhanas in Kipling’s days, went up. The young waiter shimmered in and I was ordered to be fed and watered. Later, warm in bed sheets, I thanked God for having passed that terrible nine mile run in PMA otherwise I would never have been commissioned and would be shuttling somewhere in the darkness of Multan.

The next day I thanked my hosts and set off on my odyssey. With my luggage in hand, I tried to look around for Shaukat Mughal Sahib, a lecturer at a college in Multan. I did not even know which college he was in and simply wandered from one to the other till he was discovered at Bosan road. He was most helpful and gave me the address of Dr Mehr Abdul Haq—the father of Siraiki!

‘And please have lunch with me,’ he said by way of good-bye.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude. In Islamabad we have become so busy and urbanized that we have to think twice before offering hospitality. But here the old world with its generous hospitality still existed. I took his address and went off in quest of Mehr Abdul Haq.

Multan had expanded in twenty years but the scooter rickshaws were still around. And on one of them I reached the house of Dr Mehr Abdul Haq. They took me to his room where he lay in bed—a frail old man but still mentally alert.

‘I was the first to write on the history of the Multani language,’ he told me.

Then began a long interview which gave me much information. I also took the addresses of the other people I would have to see in Multan. And full of ideas, still with my bag, I went for lunch to Shaukat Mughal’s house. The dedication of the man was moving. He spent his own money on writing dictionaries, compiling Siraiki proverbs and comparative studies of Urdu and Siraiki vocabulary. He had no research grants and not even access to modern libraries. In fact, he did not even know modern research methodology and yet he produced books on Siraiki. The emotion which goes into language movements was now in evidence.
I met Mazhar Arif, a journalist in the Frontier Post and an activist of the Siraiki Lok Sanjh. His house, which was in such a labyrinth that I never found it again, contained a large collection of rare pamphlets such as Riaz Hashmi’s book Brief for Bahawalpur Province, which contained the map of ‘Siraikistan’

That evening I was ensconced in a comfortable room at Bahauddin Zakariya University. The VC had been most kind. The place was beautiful and bucolic—huge open grounds with buses plying around and sprawling buildings. The guest house was modern and the heater actually worked. Some Europeans were in occupation and I chatted with them once in a while. But I hardly got any time to chat with anyone. A little after eight I would go to Multan in a university bus and come back at night. In between I ran around interviewing people and being a persistent nag. I talked to the office bearers of Taj Mohammad Langah’s party, the Pakistan Siraiki Party, into fixing an interview with him. So, an interview, which can only be described as a marathon session, began. It lasted well over four hours and my questions came in edgeways to be drowned under a chronological narrative in which there were many asides and alleys. Langah Sahib claimed that he had helped the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to win in 1983 though he did not secure many votes himself. The gist of his interview was that the ruling elite of the Punjab, in cahoots with Siraiki feudal lords, was exploiting the Siraiki area. He wanted a Siraiki province to be formed. In these matters Abdul Majeed Kanju, president of the Siraiki National Party, who came to my house after my return from Multan to give me an interview, agreed. However, there were many small Siraiki parties at loggerheads with each other despite this consensus on some issues.

I also met Mazhar Arif, a journalist in the Frontier Post and an activist of the Siraiki Lok Sanjh, on January 19. His house, which was in such a labyrinth that I never found it again, contained a large collection of rare pamphlets such as Riaz Hashmi’s book Brief for Bahawalpur Province, which contained the map of ‘Siraikistan’. In fact, I found many private collections, such as Omar Kamal Khan’s, who organized a famous Siraiki Conference in 1975 at Multan which really launched the Siraiki Movement on the literary front. I met Omar Ali, editor of a Siraiki magazine called Siraiki Adab, and found out how students used to make the map of Siraikistan on the walls of Bahawalpur in 1973. Earlier in 1970, the people of Bahawalpur had demanded that the former state should not be amalgamated into the province of Punjab. Processions were taken out daily in March and April till at last the police opened fire wounding many and killing one. Interviews, conversations and hundreds of descriptions made the scene vivid before my eyes. I lived the language movement of these people who wanted development, a greater share in the pie--jobs, power and development funds. In short, the people, or at least the intelligentsia which led them, wanted justice. That seemed to be the key to understanding the Siraiki language movement. Having got enough material from Multan and regretting that I did not have the time to go to Bahawalpur, I booked my journey to Karachi for research on the Sindhi language movement.

So, one day in January I traveled over the golden land—the cotton-growing belt—and as it grew dark I came near Karachi. To me it appeared as if I was entering the city of darkness—the city where human beings were getting killed reportedly by the infighting in the MQM or other political gang wars between the PPP and MQM and between people of different ethnic origins now living in that huge city. But Karachi was only a flying pad so to speak. The aim was to visit Hyderabad. If only half of the tales of the dacoits were true, this was like going into the battlefield unarmed. This is where, admitting defeat, I turned to the army again…but thereby hangs a tale.

I have described earlier how I had handed over my temporary command of a squadron in Thall to Major Saleem Malik. The same person, as a major general had invited me to lecture at PMA as I have described in the last chapter. Well, now he  was a GOC in Karachi. So now, on the strength of the bond of that companionship in far-away Thall and PMA, I dialed his number. The ADC was reserved but after an hour, perhaps after consulting the general, he was warm and cordial. I told General Saleem that I wanted security. If he had vehicles running to Hyderabad, perhaps I could hitch a ride. And, above all, I wanted a place to stay in Hyderabad which I would pay for.

‘Don’t worry,’ he said in his quiet voice, ‘you will be my guest. This is no problem. But since when have you developed this insecurity? I remember you used to be an accomplished rider and went in for para jumps like a daredevil’.

‘One changes. I fell ill in 1981 and since then I am not what I was’, I told him.

On the set date I went to the general’s office and his ADC put me in a car which took me to Hyderabad where I was lodged in the Desert Inn—a guest house of the army. The next day I went to the Institute of Sindhology at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro”.

‘I have come for research on the Sindhi language movement,’ I told the librarian.

‘We have files and files on it. What exactly…?’

Like a greedy child who pounces upon a heap of sweets, I pounced upon the files. The Sindhi sources were difficult to read but I managed to make the general sense of the passages with help from students and others. The Institute of Sindhology did, indeed, have a rich collection on Sindhi and I lifted my eyes only when they were closing it for the day. It was then that I met Murad Panhwar, a lecturer in English at the university. That evening Panhwar took me to meet a man who was trying to make Sindhis and Mohajirs sit down together and talk. The next day the chief of the Army Staff was supposed to visit Hyderabad garrison. Feverish activity was going on as the red carpet was being unrolled. In the evening, while dining in the mess, I heard an explosion which shook the huge building.

‘What was that?’ I asked an officer who was dining with me.

‘An explosion in Latifabad, the Mohajir area,’ replied another. We returned to our meal but I was full of apprehension. All night the whine of alarms and the clanking of horns kept me awake. I tossed About restlessly on my bed.

Next morning the cantonment was sealed off because of the visit and my vehicle was missing. I did not think it prudent to talk to anyone about it in the madhouse the officers mess would be. Outside the garrison Panhwar met me on a motorcycle and greeted me with the words: ‘A bomb went off last night. Many people died. The hospitals are full. The CMH did not accept the wounded’.

I kept quiet. The problem was that if people found out that I was staying in the garrison they would stop trusting me. Research becomes impossible when people do not give you political pamphlets and tell you their real feelings. But not to live in the garrison would have caused me much stress, inconvenience and money. Thus, I was in an odd position. I was trying to understand and sympathise with both the Sindhis and the Mohajirs and I appeared to be a part of the establishment to both.

‘I have to go to the Hyderabad Municipality,’ I told Panhwar.

‘Do not, please. That is where the bomb went off,’ he said in panic.

‘But I must see the records to find out whether, and if so, when, Urdu was made the official language of record of the municipal corporation.’

‘It was. We know it,’ he said.

‘One needs proof for research,’ I said.

So that very day I went off to the office of the municipality. It was in a busy street in Latifabad and I forced myself to be stoical when I entered it.

‘The man who introduced Urdu,’ I was told, ‘was one who could be heard many streets off’.

For me this was hardly a compliment but I kept quiet and we combed through the endless files mired in dust on shelves, in sacks and even on heaps on the floor. At last the Minute Book of 1965 furnished the required proof. A minute of June 11 said clearly that Urdu would be used as an official language in the municipal committee. This was mentioned in several Sindhi pamphlets but the proof was now before me. In the next few days I got an in-depth knowledge of the Urdu-Sindhi riots of January 1970 and July 1972. The upshot of the matter was that the Sindhi-Urdu controversy was not only about language. At its core was the question as to who would rule Sindh—Mohajirs or Sindhis? This is roughly what I picked up from interviews with Ibrahim Joyo, Hameeda Khuro and a number of other people. Later, when I waded through the heaps of documents I had collected, I found that the picture was even more complicated than this.
Like a greedy child who pounces upon a heap of sweets, I pounced upon the files. The Institute of Sindhology did, indeed, have a rich collection on Sindhi and I lifted my eyes only when they were closing it for the day

Back in Karachi I started haunting the Sindh Archives at Clifton. They had prudently tucked it away in such a secret niche that only Dr Livingstone, the explorer, could have discovered it. However, after spending a fortune on taxis and close to three hours, I did discover it. The archive people were none too pleased at this intrusion. They were in perfect bureaucratic order: the air-conditioners hummed, the peons brought in thick sugary tea, the files lay all marked ‘immediate’, the books were arranged in symmetry…all was ship-shape but, and here is the rub, the records were not available! After having circumambulated the offices for another day I decided to call in the marines once again i.e. the army and the bureaucracy in this case. I told General Saleem about it when I had dinner with him. Next day he rang the Commissioner of Karachi. I had very little experience of commissioners but I thought they did not, as a rule, dig out records. So it was not with much enthusiasm that I entered the office of the commissioner about two hours later. The commissioner and his staff greeted me with warmth. And then they pounced upon poor helpless me and gorged me with biscuits and scalding tea. It looked to me as if the commissioner and I would never stop enquiring about each other’s health and every time I asked about something really serious, I would be choked with cake. But then the commissioner had mercy.

‘They will give you the files but what were the dates?’ he asked me.

‘It is called the Ellis Report. It is from the 1860s.’

The people around exchanged worried looks.

‘If the termites have spared it…’, said the commissioner in the end.

‘I’ll look for it,’ I said.

‘No, no, no, Sir,’ cackled some head clerk kind of a gentlemen who seemed to specialize in giving out soothing noises aimed at making his superiors comfortable. ‘There is a summary of them which Madam Hameeda Khuro sahiba used. I was there in those days. That is enough and her book should be enough’, he concluded happily.

Everybody nodded at this easy way out. I did not.

‘I will have to look at them all’, I said decisively.

Confronted with this mulish intransigence, the head clerk, who later turned out to be the keeper of records, conceded defeat. I walked out of the office and plunged into dust-filled rooms from which I retrieved all kinds of files. The next day I found that the Clifton archives had changed their tone. People kept up a supply of files and tea. People told me that they were there to serve scholars which was rather surprising for me after my initial experience. In the next couple of days my research on the Sindhi language movement was complete.

At my last dinner with General Saleeem Malik, while I thanked him for his help for which I was genuinely grateful, I also told him why research was such a rare commodity in this country. The gist of what I told him was this:

‘In countries where research is easy, scholars have prestige and access to documents as a right. In this country it needs a general and a commissioner, the army and the bureaucracy, to provide access to archival records. It is enough to make anyone give up in despair’.

To my surprise he fully agreed and did not even call me a firebrand as he used to in 1978 in our shared room in Thall. Then Karachi disappeared in a haze of dust as the plane headed for Lahore—the heart of the Punjab! I was on my way to pursue the Punjabi language movement.