Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Rock of all Ages

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The legend in Saddo Mazzo, Sindh that lives on through the ages is that of the sisters Saddo and Mazzo, princesses who ruled from a hilltop castle in the rugged and largely barren hills west of Johi (Dadu district). As their forces prepared to set out to attack a neighbouring settlement, the duo instructed the general to see that the flag was kept flying high for them to spot from their hilltop eyrie. This would tell them the proceedings were going in their favour.

The Dancing Girl of Saddo Mazzo

Any lowering of the standard would indicate the field had been lost. Then, in keeping with true Rajput tradition, the princesses were to fling themselves off the lofty ramparts to death on the rocks below. But as the distant fray unfolded, for one brief moment, the flag was lost from sight in the dust and commotion. For the princesses this was enough sign of defeat. Both Saddo and Mazzo leapt off the castle ramparts and died even as their victorious army turned homeward.
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'Hello, sir. Hello, Jimmy Carter'

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I first met him in the summer of 1979. I was walking down the stairway in either the city courts building or the metropolitan building of Karachi and he was on the way up. He wore a Coast Guards uniform with a subedar's two pips on his shoulders and his chest was a blaze of World War II ribbons. I, fresh out of the army, knew what the colourful ribbons meant and could recognise all of them. He wore the War Medal 1939-45, Africa Star and Burma Star. There were, besides, the Independence medal, the 1956 Constitution medal, Kashmir medal (1948) and the 1965 medals. He would have then retired for he did not have anything to show for the 1971 conflict. As he looked up, he caught me staring at his chest. The man saluted - a proper salute too, 'Hello, sir,' he said and I for a fleeting moment thought we knew each other. But then he quickly added 'Hello, Jimmy Carter!'

I returned his greeting with 'Hello, sahib,' the way we addressed Junior Commissioned Officers in the army. He was a right garrulous, jovial character and was chirping away as soon as our greeting was over. Every passerby who so much as glanced in his direction interrupted our conversation for they would be saluted with a hello either as 'sir' or 'Jimmy Carter'. Now, that was the time when the peanut farmer Carter was the president of USA whose name had somehow caught the fancy of our subedar from Coast Guards. I wasn't the only one to be called that name. We must have stood on the stairway chatting for a good few minutes before he took his leave telling me to come see him at the Coast Guards officers mess in Ingle Road where he was the mess JCO. He said we could have a cup of tea together.
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The Intent of the Invaders

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The blurb on the title page of The Arabs in Sind — 712-1026 AD tells us that the work is the dissertation of John Jehangir Bede as submitted to the Department of History, University of Utah in the United States. As for Bede, the Publishers [sic] Note on Page VI begins, “All efforts to trace Mr Bede lead to a blind alley.” However, the last line of this note tells us that he was born in January 1940 to Mary and Zwingle Bede and died in 1989. Attempts to trace him through institutions he was connected with led to similar dead ends. Regardless, the work itself is rather useful and one wonders why this piece of research languished so long before being brought to light. However, thanks to the Endowment Fund Trust, Karachi, better late than never.

Bede weaves a readable and concise account of the Arab invasion of Sindh in 711 CE. His sources are many and varied and the point of interest here is that he delves deeply into the archive of Arab history dating from the eighth to the 10th centuries. In fact, the treasure trove in the book is Chapter II, titled ‘The Sources’. It forms a compendium of all source material dealing with the Arabs in Sindh.
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Killer Trains, Petrol Looters and Darwin Awards

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‘Train Kills Three at Level Crossing.’ This was a newspaper item some days ago. Semi-literate journalists who have never read a book in their lives and will never amount to anything in life write such headlines. Having got an MA (Journalism) by cramming three worthless pamphlets – and they are indeed worthless and nothing more than rags – their heads are so full of themselves that there is no room for anything else to get into those emptinesses. Least of all any real knowledge.

These pea-brained specimens belong to a race that should by the theory of Natural Selection have gone extinct centuries ago, but Pakistan being a country where only such pieces survive and indeed get to the top of the heap, they have thrived. These morons do not understand that a train travelling at, say, 60 km/h has such huge momentum that if the driver slams on the brakes upon seeing a moron on a motorcycle rickshaw trying to dash across the line, it is impossible to stop the train. It’s the train’s momentum that cannot, simply not, make it stop.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:48 PM, , links to this post

Out of One's Depth

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For close to seventeen years, a Peanuts comic strip has been taped to the wood panelling in my study. I just love it. It shows Frieda, the curly-haired girl, come running to Snoopy’s doghouse shouting ‘Awake, awake!’ In the second panel she says to Snoopy lying on his back on top of his doghouse, ‘There’s a herd of rabbits heading this way!’

And then, with Snoopy now on his stomach looking at her, Frieda with her hands folded in front begs, ‘You’re the only one in the world who can save us!’ And Snoopy, the one person in the world who knows what he is and what he can do or not do, turns around on his back and, the very picture of nonchalance, says, ‘We’re in trouble.’

That’s it.
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The Cobbler From Ghulamullah

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Narain hard at work in his shop
Here I am polishing people’s shoes and there she goes gadding about with her friends!” Narain laughed and looked up from the shoe he was repairing in the main bazaar of Ghu­lamullah town in Thatta district. He said he also told his wife that her pilgrimage to Sri Mata Hinglaj was nothing but a gallavanting tour because she had gone with her friends, leaving her elderly parents at home.

Two years ago, having met young Kamini, Narain had successfully wooed and wedded her: she a native of Lea Market in Karachi; he of a village just outside Ghulamullah. The two had a great few weeks together in the ‘outback’ of the Thatta district. But then Kamini began to pester him to move to Karachi with her. Narain was adamant on staying for how could he leave his widowed mother and his elder brother in the village all by themselves?

Anyway, said the man, since he had got the 30,000 rupee loan from the NGO, he was prospering as a shoe shop owner. When I met him this past April, Narain had already repaid his debt and was thinking of getting a bigger loan to enlarge his business further.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:20 PM, , links to this post

JIT

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One thing I fail to understand is how so many educated, smart, well-read persons having seen the world and having lived all their lives in Pakistan can yet be fooled by the staged tragi-comic farces thrown at us from time to time. And these shows are gratis, I may add, for if they who toss them in our direction were to demand money and extract it from us by the powers invested in them by the State, there would be little we could do.

The latest such drama, ongoing and promising to be entertaining us to tears even in the year 2022, is the Joint Investigation Team investigating the Sharif family. Although from the statements of the brats of the family it seems they are investigating the JIT and not vice versa. Without delving in the statements of the previous two brats, the outpourings of the female over the last two days are telling.
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posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:05 AM, , links to this post

The Witch's Fire

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Decades ago I heard from soldiers of Jhelum district, especially those who lived around the hill of Tilla Jogian, that at night djinns walked around in the wilderness with lanterns. So many of the soldiers from my unit claimed to have seen those lights. No amount of lectures on science and ball lightning could make them believe anything else.

 Once a thick curtain, as the Vemonia creeper as it looks in June 2017

I learned of ball lightning from the Penguin science magazine that my father regularly got back in the 1960s. Exceptionally dry weather and wind scudding along rocks and trees can create an electrical charge that grows and glows. It moves about with the breeze, erratically because it is repelled by any object of similar charge (remember your physics?). I would ask my men if the lights sort of danced about as if carried by drunken beings and they agreed, but none of them save my MT NCO, the very smart Ashraf Mirza of village Vahali near Choa Saidan Shah, ever believed me.
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Munawar Mirza

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Munawar Mirza runs a bicycle repair shop in Township about three kilometres from my home. I was introduced to him when I asked a friend about such a shop nearby. Earlier I used to go to Store Market, A Block, Model Town. There my man was Qureshi who had served me in good stead since 1995 when I started cycling in earnest.

My friend who told me of Mirza had lived in Township since before the start of time on this side of Lahore. That is, since 1974 when it first came into being over wheat fields and forest and when the Hadiara Nadi was still a clear, freshwater rivulet where one could fish for rahu. Mirza Sahib (as I address this fifty plus man with dyed hair and moustaches), is talkative as talkative can ever be. And when he talks, his hands stop working. Consequently, a job that would take thirty minutes lasts well over an hour.
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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days