Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Plaat he Plaat

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Many years ago, driving along Waris Road, I noticed they were tearing down the nearly one hundred year-old Birdwood Barracks. BTW, does anyone remember who Colonel Birdwood was? Anyways I stopped to ask the uniformed subedar what was happening and he said aador (order) hai.


I hurried home to grab my camera and take pictures of the building that would soon vanish from human memory. Back at the demolition site the subedar refused to let me. He told me it was ‘army area’ and taap seecrot. (You guessed it, the man was from Hazara.) I said what was secret about a few buildings that would soon bite the dust, but the moron refused to see the sense in my words.

Soon word came from a friend at Station Headquarters (Sta HQ) Lahore that the site of the late Birdwood Barracks would become a prime residential area for retarded and not so retarded army officers. Error! That’s retired and not so retired, please. With so many course-mates in very senior positions in the army at that time, I made all the noises to be given a few plots since I had not taken any in my not-so-meritorious service of six and a half years.

My other grounds for requesting properties were the years of khidmat I had rendered since leaving the army. I mean, we have no dearth of shit-heads shooting off their mouths all the time about the khidmat they were/are perpetrating upon this nation and not getting anything in return. So why should I lag behind, I thought.

Now look, if years ago some arsehole of whom we had never heard for six decades ups and arrives in Islamabad with the claim that he is either the son, brother, father or illegitimate grandfather (I forget which) of M A Jinnah and be feted by the bigger arsehole then Prime Minister of this sorry country, why not I? That fraudster was given a brand new Toyota sedan and Rs 60,000 monthly pension for his claim. And here I am doing unremitting khidmat of this land and not getting the right recompense for it. It is just another matter and of no consequence if my khidmat is only helping this country speed down the dark tube into the black hole. So why not I be given a few plots here and there? Or have I touched the proverbial Punjabi khoti (she donkey) to remain unobliged?

So back to Birdwood Barracks. My general friends, having always felt sorry for my poverty and the endless grind I remain caught in, decided to give me six two-kanal plots. The day I was called to Sta HQ to sign the documents for transfer of the property to my name, some half-witted judge or the other threw a spanner in the works. The man said the land belonged not to the army but to the government from which the former had acquired it for a specific purpose. Now that the purpose was done, the land automatically reverted to the owners, that is, the government.

In fact, I was told it was the government that had gone crying to the judge. Had the Punjab government kept its rotten mouth shut, nothing would have happened. So, damn the government and the judge who did this to me! Just when I was making plans of selling three plots to go on my long-awaited world tour to Bangkok, this judge had to come along to spike the guns. Just my kind of rotten luck!

Some years later, 2008 to be exact, word came that the army was about to tear down the nine decade-old (built 1917) water tanks of Sarwar (nee Elgin) Road in the cantonment to turn that land into real estate, I first of all hurried there with my camera. This time, I asked a friend from Sta HQ to kindly accompany me before some other clod came along to turn it seecrot.

Done with that which today gives me the only visual record of those water tanks which have since vanished from human memory – save that of my friend Shaista Sirajuddin, I asked my army friend what was to become of this prime estate. It was to be a premium housing estate for retired generals and etc. I reminded him of my six and a half years of service that was poison for self and the institution, and the decades of khidmat I have been inflicting upon the country for the past four decades. I ought to get a few plots too, I said.

My friend agreed. He gave me forms to fill out for eight plots, two for every decade I have been out of uniform, and I came away a happy man. But soon enough it transpired there were more retarded generals in line with claims to inflicting greater khidmat upon army and country. They were therefore deemed more worthy of those plots where the water tanks had once stood. This was, incidentally, property of the Punjab government leased to the army for ninety-nine years!

And now, today 1 June 2017, Dawn carries an inside page report on the projected shifting of GHQ from Rawalpindi to Islamabad. Oh, goody! I shouted for joy when I read this. More buildings older than a hundred years to tear down and turn into real estate. And, if I play my cards right, I too can get some prime property there. I mean, my Bangkok trip is way overdue.

Okay, this time I’ll not be greedy asking for six plots of one kanal each. I’ll settle for five plots. But please make those three kanals each. And this time, I hope to God, neither Punjab government nor some judge wakes up to again make my much awaited prize come a cropper.


BTW, by the spirit of the Antiquities Act of 1973 (or is it ’74?), any building older than seventy-five years is a protected monument. But in a country where even ordinary yahoos can damage or destroy historical monuments much older than that without being taken to task, powerful officialdom can do more than that. And with greater impunity and immunity.

And while they’re at it, I hope they slide a few plots in my direction too.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

2 Comments:

At June 5, 2017 at 4:13 AM, Blogger Adnan Ahmed Varaich said...

Certainly bad luck for the lovers of heritage and historical monuments but we do wish good luck to you for the long awaited world tour. Definitely, we shall be the 'end user' beneficiaries.

 
At July 18, 2017 at 2:27 PM, Blogger itrat asad said...

I love you from the bottom of my heart :D

 

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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