Hard to believe now, but there was once a much better time. In the news today, among other things, what most disheartened me was the news of the bomb blast in Quetta targeting Shia Muslims returning from Iran. This news had the most impact on me, not because I belong to the sect, but rather because I too, a couple of years earlier had used the same route to travel to and from Iran.
Barely a teenager I accompanied my family consisting of 11 people in all to Quetta. Our bunch included my immediate family as well as an uncle and his family. There were young, there were old, religious, and not so but together we all set out.
Our plan was to visit Iran for pilgrimage to one of most sacred places for us, the Shrine of the 8th Imam Hazart Ali Raza (AS). The men of the family had taken time off from work, and so we were on a tight schedule. Therefore we refused to be a part of the ‘Kaflahs’ that usually take ignorant people like us to these revered places.
The 11 of us travelled to the beautiful city of Quetta without any fear. Another uncle being in the army, arranged for us, very comfortable lodgings in the army mess, where we spent the night merry-making and trying to write ‘Areezay’ – prayers on a piece of paper. With the adults all settled in for the night, us kids sat down to spill our deepest desires on that innocent paper, hoping that God could read our illegible handwritings.
I thought if I wrote mine in Urdu, I would get extra credit for trying and so we all penned away. While we refused to share our wishes, the general idea of what each wanted was there. Also because writing in Urdu, we each had to ask others how a particular word was spelt. And piecing together the entire wish wasn’t that hard.
The memorable night ended and the next day we set of to the bus stand to start our journey from Pakistan to Iran. The terrain was absolutely terrifying. The hills of the Chagai ranges so deserted I wondered how long if ever someone would take to find us if we got lost. There was absolutely no concept of a bus stand all the way from Quetta to Taftan. You had to be carrying food with you or else starve till you reach your destination. And don’t get me started on where people went ‘to relieve themselves’ on the way.
There were however army checkpoints throughout. I know because my beloved uncle had made it sure that he received reports of the proceeding of his civilian family throughout the scary landscape. With numerous geography lessons from my mother going on in the background, to the loud Pushto songs the bus carrying me, went on its journey, unaware that many years later, people using the same pathway, for the same reason would be brutally murdered.
End of part one.
To be continued…..