After giving back-breaking HSc exams in 1988, a friend of mine and I decided to take a tour of Northern Pakistan. A relaxing week of mountain trekking in the galliat was our high point. We were on our way back to Karachi when ‘lage haathoN’ (while at it) we decided to add Sialkot to our itinerary.
On the fateful morning we reached lobby of a Murree Road (now called Benazir Bhutto road) hotel which had the bus ‘adda’ (terminal) of Sialkot bound coasters. Our scheduled departure from Rawalpindi was at 8:00 a.m. but even by 8:30 a.m. there was no bus in sight. I went to the reservation clerk to inquire and he replied:
ji bus ka patta toot gaya hai. driver welding karaane le gaya hai (A belt has broken in the bus. Driver has taken it to get it welded)
We couldnâ€™t understand what kind of belt required welding to get fixed but decided not to cross question the clerk. The bus finally came out of workshop at 11: 00 a.m and all ‘sawariaan’ (passengers) made a dash to it. We started our travel to Sialkot at 11:30 a.m. via N5.
aur patta toot gaya!
After crossing the city of Gujar Khan, we had just made into the hilly Potohar region when we heard a loud bang and the coaster bus stopped. After sticking their necks into engine and after lots of whispering both driver and conductor declared the patta (belt) was broken AGAIN!.
The conductor then said that bus had to be towed back to Rawalpindi and started giving fare money back to passengers. We were left stranded all by ourselves in the middle of no where.
Some stranded people started giving thumb-queues to passing vehicles and those which had vacancies started picking up passengers of their choice. All the ladies, children and elders got chosen by other buses and were accommodated. In the end the only ‘chaRay chaaNT’ passengers i.e. my friend and I were left standing and no bus stopped for us.
The railway track also runs parallel to N5 in this region and we could see some station (either Missa Keswal or Choa Kariala) some 500m from the highway. But in between there were hills and deep clefts and we couldn’t just walk across. Also I knew that no train would stop at the small station which we were seeing.
‘marte kia na karte’ I gave hand to a goods truck. The truck driver seemed like a gentleman and he stopped. My friend and I were accommodated in the front where as the cleaner who was sitting there immediately climbed up to open air gallery seats. I told the driver to take us to Wazirabad which was some 120 km. To this the driver replied:
Wazirabad to hum sham ko puhancheN ge (We’ll reach Wazirabad by evening).
Then he suggested that he’ll drop us at Sohawa which was some 20+ kilometers away and from there we should try to find a faster mode of conveyance.
Now let me describe how the cockpit of a Pakistani goods truc looks like from inside. It is all covered in bel-bootay (flowery designs), reflectors, mirrors, wood work, shiny plastic covered seats which are so slippery that it is hard to sit without sliding down. Inside the cockpit there were also duplicate turn indicators which were electrically connected to real indicators outside, so whenever the truck driver wanted to make a turn, the whole cockpit also blinked in orange light. Among all this decoration, one can find a small front shield (window). After discounting all the decoration, the transparent window area available for the driver to see road ahead was no more than 2 feet (L) x 6 inches (H). The blind spot for this Pakistani truck driver was roughly 340 degrees starting from the road edges in front. We were simply amazed how the driver was negotiating N5 in hilly area near Sohawa with this limited visibility.
Hidden inside a secret compartment of dashboard, there was a Hi-Fi sound system. It was kept hidden because traffic police occasionally ran campaign to confiscate or fine commercial vehicles who indulged in the practice of listening to music while driving. It was deemed dangerous for the public safety. The traffic police however, conveniently neglected the fact that a driver had only 20 degree vision out of front wind-shield window. This was perfectly ok and no threat to public.
mohabbat tou karta hai saara zamaana!
As our truck made its way through winding N5 near Sohawa, it started blaring loud music of Attaullah Khan Esa-Khelvi. As we were fresh out of college, we didnâ€™t like to hear folk music. We were all into western music. INXs had recently came up with their big hit Never Tear Us Apart . We asked the truck driver to play our INXS cassette but he refused. So the negotiated solution came out to play a fast paced Bollywood cassette. I gave him my cassette to play. After 3 or 4 songs, a song came with the verses
mohabbat tou karta hai saara zamaana
mohabbat hai kia, ye nahiN koi jaana
laga rog hum ko ye saddion purana
mein teri diwaani tu mera deewana
The truck driver liked this poetry so much that he immediately went into the state of wajjad (meta-physical state) and jhoom jhoom ke (by turning and twisting) started to repeat the verses after the singer. He liked the song so much that he asked us if he could keep this cassette. Since we were already indebted for giving us a ride to Sohawa, we happily gave him the cassette.
Here is the high quality audio of this song, in case you want to feel how the truck driver felt after listening to this song
As we reached Sohawa, the truck driver dropped us off at the main Sohawa bazaar on N5. There were a few Ford wagons and multicolor cars idling around the Sohawa bus-adda. None of the Ford wagons wanted to go to Sialkot that afternoon and the multicolor cars which were actually taxis were quoting us exorbitant fare of Rs 2000 from Sohawa to Sialkot. Their drivers were probably thinking we were ‘shehri baboos’ with deep pockets. Well our pockets were deep but they were filled with our own fingers rather than any money. Rs 2000 in those days was a big deal. To have a comparison think about this; our whole tour to Northern Pakistan had cost us only Rs 1200 each.
As we were pondering what to do, a very crowded bus suddenly came from somewhere and it was getting ready to go somewhere. When I listened to the conductor, he was announcing bus’ departure to Faisalabad. These were pre-Motorway days and buses to Faisalabad took Gujranwala-Faisalabad route. So I thought, how about if we took this bus to Wazirabad. Atleast we’ll get closer to Sialkot. The bus was already crowded to the brim. Somebody took our luggage and without asking us, threw it to the luggage carrier at the top of the buss. Not knowing the culture of traveling in short distance inter-city buses, we shyly tried to put our feet inside the bus like a ‘nayee naveli dulhan in susraal’ (new bride at in-laws). There were already hundreds of feet present inside the bus and somebody pushed us from the back. We suddenly found ourselves standing inside the bus.
Levies ka chaapa:
The bus started to move and we started to breathe. Just after Kharian city, excise and taxation levies stopped the bus. They wanted to check the luggage for any smuggled goods. One of the law enforcers climbed the bus and started flipping and tossing the luggage where as other officers came in the bus and started looking at every one with menacing look while giving ‘taao’ (twist) to their moustaches. As one of them looked at me, I almost thought Maula Jutt is looking at me and the next thing he is going to say will be: ‘naway aaye ho soNReya’ (Are you a new kid on the block?). He didn’t say anything, and quietly alighted the bus.
Pir Sayeen shareef bus walay:
After this test was passed the bus started again. After few minutes a pir saeen suddenly realized (or decided) that his home had come. He stood up holding few leashes in his hand. I kid you not, those leashes actually had dogs bound to them at the other end. These dogs had so far been sitting quietly under the seats. As soon as people felt some brown bodies (dogs) moving around their ‘shalwar’ bottom ends (paainchay), a complete pandemonium was let loose. Children climbed in fathers (or mothers) laps depending on who was closer, a few people grabbed the hand rails on the roof and lifted their legs up so dogs could pass underneath. Some people openly started talking bad to the pir sayeen who was oblivious to the whole worldly affair. He was probably living in 4th dimension and just happened to pass through this bus at that point in time along with his faithful disciples-in-leash. Anyways the bus stopped for him and pir sayeen took off along with the ‘rewar’ (flock/plurality) of dogs. I don’t remember their exact count but they were more than 2 for sure. I was particularly scared of their bites because ‘barking dogs seldom bite’ and this group had not barked once.
After this scene was over, people relaxed a bit and surprisingly we reached Wazirabad without any further incidence.
At Wazirabad bus-adda we changed to another bus for Sialkot. This Sialkot-bound bus had circular body therefore people who didn’t get seats had to stand by either bending their backs with the curve or else risk getting their heads poking out of the windows. See photo to the left. To say the least it was a complicated situation and I had to bend my 184 cm long body along with bus’ body curve like a lizard on the wall. We also call this situation to bow with respect.
This ‘bow down with respect’ terminology comes from PTV program Fifty-Fifty where in a class room setting Zeba Shahnaz asks her student (who was none other than Ismail Tara) that where did he learn to respect? To this Ismail Tara replies: ‘From Karachi’s omni buses’. Zeba Shahnaz asks “How is that?”. Ismail Tara then bends down in a repectful bow and replies:
‘Because that is how we travel daily in Omnibuses’
So back to Wazirabad-Sialkot leg of our travel. The bus was passing through lush green rice fields and the scene was out of a movie. I soon forgot all my misery of clinging to wall body like a lizard and started to enjoy the scenery outside.
The bus made a short stop at a town called Sambrial. An exchange of passengers took place and we were on our way to Sialkot again. We reached Sialkot at dusk time. The ‘bus adda’ was in Sialkot city and we were supposed to go the cantonment.
Our next mode of transport was a tonga (horse cart). This tonga took more passengers along the way and an overloaded horse started to walk slowly on the pot-holed road. The horse was walking with his face down as if thinking about his fate and tired from his daily labor.
‘shraaap’ came the sound of a hunter from tonga driver and the poor horse started to canter. There was a non-populated area between Sialkot city and cantonment where we got attacked by a blanket of blood-thirsty mosquitoes.
These mosquitoes were coming in waves like a ‘taddi-dal’ (locust swarm) and we had to hide our bare arms and face to save us from their involuntary injections. The mosquito usually attack with a sound which follows the Physics rule of ‘doppler effect’ like: ‘oooo….OOOOO…..oooo’
Since we were pre-engineering students and had recently ‘rattofied’ (remembered by heart – without understanding) the notes on Doppler Effect, so we got better in ducking the incoming hordes of mosquitoes.
Soon the road condition and street lighting got better as we entered the cantonment area, and finally reached our destination.
It took us almost 12 hours to cover the 235 km Rawalpindi-Wazirabad-Sialkot distance. I think this is the longest anybody has ever taken to travel this route. Any challengers to my claim of fame out there?