Subject: Memoirs of Captivity
‘Kabul Honuj Dur Aast’
From PAF Chasma to BAF Dhaka & Other Stories
Syed Mohd. Saleh Uddin
PAF Bannu was no more PAF Bannu. It became again Army cantonment. Our caravan was moving and Bannu was going far back. It might have frustrated unknown potential asylum seeker to Kabul who till that time was hoping to flee. Kabul was also going more and more back. As our caravan was moving through the road of the valley memories was also rushing. Moving head lights near the Pass of Hilly Miranshah would always inspired the brave. Those heavy vehicles’ light seemed crawled by the night used to show us dream of Indian embassy that further dreamt us a dream to return to our own home Bangladesh. Good bye the pass near Miranshah and Afghnistan. When there was rain in Bannu Pathan used to say, “Barum Ragoi”. After the rain we saw a mad Kabul River. Whirling tides of
Water used to advance with even big boulders. During and after the rain there were frightful sounds of the flowing river. That was the bone breaking flow according to the Pathan of Bannu as water from the hills canal came down to the river. However the river was calm and gentle most of the time. Good bye the Kabul River forever.
In Bannu though we could mix with some civilians who came with goods yet local civilian employees who were living in the family quarters their children were not permitted to enter the camp. Most of the children were from the sweepers’ family who cleaned and maintained camp latrines. No soldiers’ family were in the family quarters as soldiers were either POW in India or till date deployed in any of border posts. However, those innocent looking Pathan children used to play near their quarters. But matters of emotion were always everywhere. In our camp there was a courageous Hindu airman. In the family quarters there were few local Hindu families. The airman took risk to visit them ignoring all fear or alarm from the mates. However none reported, so he was never in problem. In the corner of Army training ground a little nice and courageous girl has seen standing. She might have inquisitiveness about us. At the north of our camp there was a grave yard after the camp barbed wire fencing. Near the fencing there was a foot path where local children were seen standing. They looked very poor. Some times I tried to communicate with them. “Ta sa nom de?” (What is your name?). “Ta kum kilida?” (Which is your village?), “Char ta ja?” (Where do you go?”), “Sanga Hal da?” (How do you do?) etc. Actually my Pusto knowledge was little more than this.
Other memory of Kohat is still fresh. It was scorching hot noon. We had break in between our training Parade. We were thirsty. So we ran to the deep tube well near the Iqbal Squadron. There were gatherings of thirsty trainees and local girl children who came to take water. It was tough for me to reach the well. A little girl extended her hand with a mug of water and said,“obbo uskai” (drink water). Such generosity people remember for many days. Our caravan at about dusk reached near a big Hydro Electric project. How and when we crossed Bannu road and that evening was over, and what other scenes and sceneries I saw; now all are not in my memory.
It was a moon lit night. I saw a big row of lamp posts are advancing towards us. Actually it was a big dam over which the road was where those lamp posts were emitting light. Later I heard it was Asia famous Tarbela Dam (if I am not wrongly informed). It is established fact that Bangladesh emerged due to great disparity between the two wings of Pakistan. But central Government had few good ideas also. They planned to establish landless people from the East Pakistan to West, so they transported poor population of Mymensingh, Noakhali and other areas in this Dam and elsewhere. They were given land. So long they were there they worked for the Dam; it means sweats of those people were also used to construct the Dam. Later that dam became a world famous Hydro electric project. But those were hard and rough pieces of land for the people of East Pakistan. So, gradually they left the area and started living in Karachi to survive by doing less struggling jobs. Some might have returned to East Pakistan. How many of them remained there that statistics can only say. I heard about the inspiration of inter wing marriage. I feel that was not answered by much. Yet there were examples of East and West Pakistani marriage. Bengali those who started living in Karachi might get married with West Pakistani girls. Such married hardly I saw. In my boyhood I have seen in Dhaka that night guards were from Pathan population of North West frontier province. To the mass they were Kabuli wala (though wrong). In my Mohallah in Dhaka there was a guard named Azim Shah. He got married with a poor woman of Dhaka. After the repatriation when I was serving in the BAF base Jessore I saw a Wing Commander who had Punjabi wife. However these are finger countable examples. In a broad sense that plan was not successful one. Its main reasons were geographical difference, cultural difference, language difference, conservativeness etc.
While I left Karachi after training in SOA at that time there were few lacs Bengali speaking living in Karachi area and few lacs were of Rohinga population. When my training was over there once I visited a Bengali Basti in Korangi. It was not more than poor men Basti in present Bangladesh. Its inhabitants were port workers, workers of the boulders’ mill where that were converted to other sizes of stones, mosaic stones etc. Few established a little workshop of stone works where button, stoned tie clips etc were made. It is worth mentioning here that during Pakistan period many poor men dreamt to go to Karachi. There were passenger shipping lines by which if one could collect tk 80/= only as ticket price could sail to Karachi. Inhabitants of Bengali Bastis were mainly from them. Besides PIA ticket price from Dhaka to Lahore was only tk 250/=
Let us go back to our caravan. Crossing the Dam we moved into Punjab. After long time,it was dark at night when we entered a camp area. We were told that it was PAF camp Chasma. Later we came to know, “near it is Chasma barrage”. It was in the Mianwali district. As a matter of fact it was in a desert area and was in the centre position of Pakistan. The area never encouraged anyone to flee away from that camp because it was neither near Indian border nor Afghan border. Besides PAF authority made routine fall in at the dead night where there was no alternative but to count stars. Standing in fall in position we looked up. There were stars and stars. “Asmanoka der rostidi” (In the sky there are many stars”). This line is probably from a Pusto literature. Our stay in PAF Chasma was also open by fall in and counting head when we reached the camp. We were allotted Blocks i.e. Barracks as living accommodation. These were quarters for French Engineers and other staffs who came to build the Barrage. However from that night those were allotted to stranded airmen. By night we just entered the room and tried to sleep in a military way. In the morning we saw the beauty of the planned living area. I was accommodated in a big Bungalow type accommodation. There were many other such buildings but were tin shades where in between ceiling and tin shade there were thick anti heat pad to save its people from the intolerable heat of the desert. We all used to do flooring in the room as there was no charpoy. There in a small room we used to sleep 2 or 3 times more than normal accommodation. Inside there were one or two attached bath with latrines. After few days use that became problems for us. In the morning we had to wait for our turn. Soon from commode excretes stopped flowing to sewerage line because safety tank of each building was not big enough for all of our after use flashes. Each safety tank might be moderate enough for a family but not for so many airmen. That troubled us now again. However, we managed the problems ourselves. Since there was no fan in the rooms we used to sleep at the lawn in hot nights. But Simoom (cyclone of the desert) that came with sands sometimes harmed us. Curry became inedible. There all the three times our main food was chapatti (bread). In the beginning for few days we were supplied with rice. In hot days natural Simoom was a regular problem. For it and water problems one time supply of rice was stopped that continued till our last meal there.
Once a civilian guard of the camp told me,”Idhar tomara Bango Bandhu raha” (here lived your Banga Bandhu, however, it might not be his exact wording what I forgot). It is worth mentioning here that after our great leader was sent home via London and Delhi we were sent there. We were lucky as we lived where our great leader was also captive. From this camp we were repatriated to BAF Dacca (Dhaka) via Karachi. ……& Rest of the story Insha Allah I shall tell you on another day.