A life-long journey

With the happy hope of retiring at our ‘one destination of all time’ Peshawar city (the mainstay of Chitralis’ activities stretching to every aspect) before the night darkens, we embarked on the ever challenging and tedious journey of 12 hours with the early rays of the winter sun from Chitral. Peshawar city with its assortment of renowned public and private institutions; encompassing those of education, health, law, police, business and myriad of recreational centers, with its bazaars teeming with every life necessity on the face of the earth; catering for variety of tastes, with its comparatively warm and cleansing air about it against the neighbouring agencies and frontier regions, has always attracted flow of people from its far suburbs to its own center and in doing so left the regions dull in the background. Though like Keats’ ‘Think not of them, thou hast thy music too’ these regions have their respective worth but our city has its excuses. But the Chitralis’ pilgrimage towards it borders on risk, exhaustion to the brim rather violent desperation leading to but calm resignation to the unavoidable and eternal waiting when it is made in winters and when it is must to make. With this little digression I should resume the account of my happy ignorant journey towards the city of bustling man a week before. For who would cherish the unpleasant thought of General Musharraf’s benign tunnel turning monster on them and prove as large a hindrance in their way as could be expected? Ahead and ahead we went in a pleasant mood, I though not without the awareness of the trial awaiting (for I was going to appear in a demonstration). But the scenes and landscapes without somehow contrived to render it faint in the innermost recesses of my mind temporarily. peshawarAll was nice except out of three accompanying ladies, one felt giddy and bilious in the course of the travel but did not vomit to my great satisfaction. But a little boy as if vomited his heart out, poor child! All the way long he vomited, despite pills and pills of anti-vomit he took. Pepsi, coin, onion but to no effect. And when we arrived at our destination long after midnight he awoke from his short sleep and was only relieved. While still a long way back from the tunnel, some passengers showed their apprehension of reaching the tunnel on proper time and impressed on the driver to quicken his pace, so as we might be allowed to pass through it without much trouble. But the driver was a piece of his kind. He would not listen to anyone’s impatience, neither talk- let alone with the party sitting behind him, not even with the two beside him- nor think it necessary to reply to any inquiry, comment, request whatever posed to him. He was master of his own self, dictated by none, altered by none and was very difficult to move from his own pace upon his own beaten track. For sometimes we thought him deaf and upon shouting at him from one passenger, he replied majestically to the bewilderment of us all. But the comic effect it threw could not be helped but enjoyed. There ensued then funny remarks on him, his pace and the like. And he would turn a deaf ear, but was made to play his long shut tape recorder by a group of rustic soldiers occupying the last seat. We all being Chitrali including the arrogant driver, relished our slow cultural songs. With this it seemed our time really dragged on, that we were moving in a dream and would never reach that end of the tunnel, further which we had to travel eight hours more. The music was like a softening balm, affecting all but with variance, charming each to quiet indulgence in the ‘shaping power of imagination’, and the driver thus was spared from more humorous comments. I in the meanwhile managed to read few pages of my favourite novel, how I managed I cannot tell but I read till we ploddingly reached the place from where we could hardly see the opening of the tunnel because of the confusing plethora of vehicles of all sorts standing closely in two lines before us. This was to happen and it happened. Those vehicles which reached there early were let through on time and these remaining were stopped and those coming from Peshawar were let to pass through. I wondered whether that was a proper strategy on the administration’s part, thinking the tunnel broad enough to be used for two way traffic. But well we were to follow their instruction. At first we thought of passing through it soon and we were less restless, rather gaining spirit and preparing to head for it. When we got to know that we had to wait there for an indefinite period of time as the incoming vehicles were numerous including enormous trucks moving as slow as snails, all we could do was a wonderstruck and sorry expression followed by a deep sigh of inevitable quiet submission. The male passengers started loitering about the place, took refreshments. It seemed the initial hours of their confinement were palatable for them and they reveled in it. I too grasping the serenity inside the coach read few more pages of the book. But soon the passing hours exhausted us all down. Men came in, went out of their coaches, roamed, walked, ate, drank, met acquaintances, made new but still found themselves upon the same snow filled land. Women inside the coaches took refreshments, gossiped, children slept, woke, cried, again slept but still upon the same place. The state of affairs seemed so perpetual that all the ladies and children were shown into a heated room nearby to warm and relax themselves. That room was too full of smoke from the fire place to choke one in standing position. We sat round it on chairs. Long stretches of time were spent there but the chain of the coming vehicles was as if started a new. The very sight of them was monotonous. We tired ourselves from the room and started for the coach again. We seated and waited, waited and thought and stared at nothing particular, just where our indolent eyes fell, could not exert energy to withdraw them and cast at something else. We entered into extreme of fatigue. Neither could we lose and freeze ourselves in time like the sculptures on Keats’ ‘Grecian Urn’ to avoid the repellant feeling of waiting. Though it would have been at the expanse of eternal unfulfilment (we would have been static and unfeeling but we would ever be waiting, would never reach the destination unlike life) we would at least have avoided the uneasy feeling of not knowing what to do. As Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian writer says in one of his books, ‘By the River Piedra I sat down and wept’: “Waiting is painful; forgetting is painful, not knowing what to do is the worst kind of feeling”. We were in this trance when we were roused from it by a tiding from someone that only one vehicle of that long as life chain is remaining and that too is about to come out of the tunnel. We sighed of thankfulness and stirred. By the time we moved we calculated that it had been six and a half hour since our siege there. And by that time they said despite the double prizes no piece of refreshment left in the shops. The succeeding busy scene, of long dormant and paralyzed vehicles and human souls rejuvenating alike; the drivers in their excitement struggling to lag behind each other, the pushing, hitting and jolting, the passengers’ impatience; anxious that their line must not be illicitly taken by those behind them( but themselves would like to avail the opportunity of breaking the rules), the pressure on the drivers, the envy, the harsh exchange with the armed men in duty and the subsequent snubs , was better be imagined than described. The drivers’ reason in the pursuit of their competition of entering the tunnel first was tottering on their throne and only the armed men could prevent its being deposed from them. They could think of none in their anxious toil, care for none in their eager strife except to have their coach first in the entrance. Again I wondered for this section of people whether they would take still more time in their evolution from our barbaric history into a sensible and civilized citizens. If in our life span we would see them in their changed attitude. Well after half an hour of short forward and backward exertion amidst hordes of machineries, unpleasant horns, smoke and shout eventually it came our turn at the threshold of our holy savior and the driver hastily did the entry and thank God we were in and drove contently and happily as to give the impression that as if that restriction did not affect us at all, that it was the least of discomforts as long as we had its fruitful consequence, that we knew we were not ever to remain there, that we were sure of our escape at one time or another. When we came at the other end of the tunnel we could barely see the surrounding, for the night had already darkened. ‘Slowly’ we proceeded. The rest of the journey was only a flashback of the one before the tunnel story. Notwithstanding the weariness, still afresh when we arrived at the city it was only two and a half hour remaining for the morning of the next day to dawn. Tail piece: For how long to stand this infernal torture? Or we should not travel in winters? You see, they are working inside, may be next winter we have the liberation… or next winter. But what about the idea of C 130 on a favourable weather?]]>

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