Mari legend and Bengali Airmen
Syed Mohd. Saleh uddin
Sher khan and Sher Afghan were Pathan airmen. Most probably they were my entry fellow. I am not sure the exact place of Karakorum regions where their family lived. They were friendlier with Bengali than Panjabi airmen. It was the matter of their liking or disliking. It is not my matter.
My matter is their area of that time. Mari is in the Karakorum Mountain. Before 1971 it was there. The name of a place may be changed but the place remains where it was during its creation. So, I can say the name of the Mari was changed many times from the remote past. But it is not changed from the British period. In this mountainous area brave Pathans like Hunja tribe live. In the British period they were there who were hard to win like the summit K-2. Its height is 28240 feet from the sea level. It is the second highest mountain peak in the world. Summit lovers’ people from the various corner of the earth every year come here like Everest of Nepal to conquer that. By hard struggle many can reach the summit, many leave expedition and go back home and few other remain near the summit forever. Their dead body became their pride. Here Nepali Sherpa do not assist to reach K-2.Here local Pathans are there to achieve the glory to reach summit with expeditors. In this area other 18 summits are there where there are expeditions every year.
I saw Mari from the far. Before liberation war during my short service in the active unit I was not posted to any PAF base situated in Mari or other places in Karakorum. In Mari there was a PAF station in Upper Topa. It was a RADAR station. Near it there was a school for children where the
Anglo sisters were teachers one of whom had a love story. This story will be told later on.
There was a PAF public school in Lower Topa. Shamsher bhai of Bangla Academy was a student of this school till 1959. From him and from few airmen and soldiers of Bangladesh Army who served in Mari I got a pen picture of that area. Now I am presenting that for you. Shamsher bhai lived in the Iqbal hall of the school. From the window of his room he could see K-2 summit which was too far. Nearer he could see the Military training center of Upper Topa. He told from the GHQ of Pakistan Army Military convoys to Azad Kashmir followed Northwards road. Reaching Mari the convoy crossing Pindi point and CMH crossed Lower Topa and Ghora Goli. Then by Nathia Goli Golf course road the convoy reached to the Kashmir point. The golf course was very beautiful where President of Pakistan Ayub Khan, Governor M. Azam khan and higher officials seen playing golf occasionally. From Kashmir point the convoy started moving towards far north to reach Azad Kashmir. Some time the convoy stopped at Kuldana for rest or other requirements. It was an important cantonment. Here was the Army School Education and Administration of the Pakistan Army where the instructors of all ranks and administrative personnel got Basic training. Most of the cantonments of our times in Pakistan were built in British periods. Mari cantonment was also developed in that period. It is culture of a cantonment that there posted battalions and units stay for very temporary period. Battalions stay there for a certain time of one or two or three years and left the cantonment for another posts or cantonment. So, in Mari there were British and Indian Battalions, Gurkha Battalion of British Army etc. To the British Gurkhas were brave and fighting nation. So, they were collected from the Gurkha land of Nepal. During Pakistan period there served Pathan, Panjabi, Baluch, Sindhi, and Bengali soldiers & airmen. It is the tradition of the Battalions’ soldiers that they very seldom get chance to live with family. During British period in British Army there were soldiers from British Empire worldwide. They were from the British, Iris and Scottish highland and plain, African desert and jungle, Mountain and plain area of India and Nepal and also from reverie British Bengal etc. But their love, sorrow, pain and emotion were almost same. These were reflected in the literatures of our National poet Nazrul. He was a soldier of the British Army who represents the non commission level of Army and their thoughts.
For general soldiers even for all officers it was not possible to carry their wives and children from their own land. So, there were sorrows. Wherever they were they thought about their beloved. From the ancient time love song were sang by the people. That used to ring in the hearing of the soldiers. Song like ‘Sano bhi naal le chola, o sona gaddi woolea’ (o dear cart goner, take me along with you). Our national poet also had written many poetries and songs of love when he was a soldier. He also sang to express his sorrow. Let us come back to those soldiers. While those soldiers left home for far cantonments, their dear one would have murmured and sang in their own languages. Now also the soldiers who left home for remote Afghanistan or Iraq or any other warring areas their loving one use to bid them farewell with tear. In our time (1969) for love sharing with some one of his life partner in the country a soldier did not hesitate to hang to die himself. He was an instructor of our time in PAF, Kohat. We had also pain for such sorrow. But for a soldier suicide is never bravery. For a soldier there are many “affaire d’ honneur” i.e. affair of honor. That young education instructor could be more devoted in teaching us. We really did not want that the lifeless body of our instructor hanging behind a Shyrish tree of Munir Squadron. The squadron was named after a courageous soldier of PAF. However RTS authority gave guard of honor to that unsatisfied departed soul. This is the norm of the Defense force by which soldiers show their respect to their fellow dead soldiers.
Shamsher bhai told all the night they used to hear sounds of Military convoys. Sometimes rays of head lights of the caravan that coming from Azad Kashmir disturbed their sleep. Besides, natural beauty of Mari rubbed off all his sorrows. In June and July Mari attracted tourists from home and abroad. At that time apple, pears, grapes etc were burdens of the trees or vines and flowers were in full bloom where butterfly of hundreds of colors seen travelling flower to flower. In the rope ways, Hotels departmental stores, cinema halls, roads, post offices, banks everywhere there were tourists and tourists. In the holidays Bengali airmen even from Chaklala, Lahore used to come there with child and family. Then Mari became an area of ‘lingua franca’ i.e. where people communicate with mixed language. Such experiences are also unforgettable. At night the towns was full of lights and from the valley down lights were seen. Hundreds of twinkling light charmed Shamsher bhai. Hide and seek game of full moon behind ridges or up over the summit in the clear nights gave him and the pupils of Lower Topa immense pleasures. Group Captain Alfaz too was an ‘Alma Mater’ i.e. an old student of that PAF School. He also talked high about his school. That nostalgia increased when the school authority invited him after his retirement from BAF. He went there to share his past memory with others of his time. Most of the pupils of his time were high officials of Defense i.e. Army, Navy and Air force either of Pakistan or Bangladesh but majority joined the Air force. Now also beauty of Mari changes with the change of positions of sun in the morning, noon and evening. It is the game of sun, shadow and color in mountainous area. Sometimes sun rays use to reflect over moving clouds that crawl by the slope of the high hills.
Shamsher bhai told about Siachen glacier. Now it is the highest war field of the world. It is 48 miles long. In its eastern side K-2 is touching the sky. Here temperature is -30 degree. In such conditions soldiers used to fight against each other. It is a part of Kashmir. Till 1984 there was no battle in this glacier when India took it to be a vulnerable but important war field that may be for Kashmir issue is useful for military expedition against Pakistan. So, India captured the glacier secretly and made powerful cantonment. For a span of time Pakistanis were not aware of it. Once they came to know and captured few military important peaks and valley. From than they are occasionally fighting and Government of both the countries letting to die their most skilled and painstaking soldiers. In 1999 there was Cargill war. Government of both the countries should take steps to save their men. Let again K-2 be busy with the braves who like to win her. For games of soldiers of both the countries that kill each other K-2 expedition decreased to the lowest. Sooner both the countries realize it sooner there will be normal life again.
I hinted about an “affaire d’ amour” i.e. a love affair in Mari. That school sister of Upper Topa fallen love with a Bengali airman of the said PAF Radar station near the school. In a darkness of late evening they came in a place near the barbed wire fencing between the school and the Rader station where they met and exchanged their love. In 1971 that airman became stranded and left Mari for Bannu. It was also possible in due time the sister left Pakistan after her assigned job. The airman took it an ‘affaire de loeur’ i.e. an affair of the heart. Did she? I like to conclude the chapter with followings few lines of love song that was very famous in Mari and adjacent areas: “………. NERE NERE ANDAO; SADE DIL TOUR PANDEO; KANDE OT LAT CHOP JA; REKHO RAKHNA PARA PARA; BAOJI MEI EK ARJO KARA…. ; …..”. After long time exact wording from my memory might be missing. I hope readers will consider it and try to discover its meanings.