Brothers with the lyrical names
I arrived in Islamabad as a schoolboy along with my family from Dhaka in January,1968. The new capital city of Pakistan was still in its nascent stage of development. To the north of Islamabad lay the small semi-autonomous principality of Swat ruled by a Wali. It was visited by Queen Elizabeth II, during her trip to Pakistan (she also came to former East Pakistan now Bangladesh) in 1961. She famously coined the enviable sobriquet of 'Switzerland of the East' for Swat, because of its pleasant weather, the enthralling beauty of its snow-capped mountains, vales and placid lakes. The Queen was enchanted by it all.
The following story is about two brothers from Swat, with the lyrical names of: Naush-e-Rawan and Bakth-e-Rawan. The year was 1970. Naushe was an office peon of my father at the 'planning commission' in Islamabad. For a Yousufzai Pashtun (Pathan) from Swat he was of a medium height, fair of complexion with light brownish hair and a slightly pock-marked face. He was in his mid-20s. His younger brother Bakth-e-Rawan lived up in the hills of Swat, in their remote village home. Bakth was a school drop-out having read up to class IV, in a school located at some distance from his village. At 16 years of age, he was now in need of a job. He had never ventured much out of his sleepy little village, where clouds caressed the mountain tops, rolling mist played in its bewitching vales and gurgling waterfalls cascaded over rocks which flowed downwards with a musical cadence. Bakth with Grecian features and fair complexion, was employed as a domestic hand in our house to run errands. However, as I showed Bakth around the house, kitchen and the backyard, it occurred to me that his seemingly sedate behavior perhaps masked a more youthful exuberance. There was that all-knowing half crescent smile and a twinkle in his hazel eyes, which at close proximity looked like those of a mischievous cat. Bakth slowly settled down to his daily chores and life went on as usual.
Meanwhile, about three months would elapse before there were visible signs of serious trouble with Bakth. He would often whistle and hum a song around the house for which he was reprimanded by our parents. He sulked for a couple of days and was heard to mutter, "hum toh kisi ka qaidi nahi hoon" (I am not anyone's prisoner). One day, the pious darwan, a middle-aged man, complained that his sleep was often disturbed because of Bakth's raucous singing. Once when he had scolded Bakth and threatened to box his ears, Bakth had surreptitiously put salt in his tea. The darwan also complained about his vanishing acts. He said that while we took our afternoon nap, a customary ritual in bygone days, Bakth would sneak out of the house and go to a nearby tea-stall and spend time with some unsavory characters. This alarmed my parents since these rickety 'Jhopris' (shacks) were known to sell 'charas/ganja' or cannabis. The darwan also reported that on a few occasion Bakth had sneaked out of the house by scaling the wall late at night to watch Punjabi/Urdu movies in the nearby town of Rawalpindi, with his newly found friends. Afterwards, he would slip back into the house at dawn. He had also been offending the puritan sensibilities of the darwan by repeatedly belting out a line of a love song from an Urdu film he had recently watched. It went somewhat like this: "aaja meri jaan, aaja meri piyare" (come hither my love, come to me my beloved). I have personally heard the darwan scream "Khamosh! Yea betamizee bundh karo" (Shut up! Stop this nonsense). Once I found Bakth sitting on a sofa in our drawing room watching TV. I was aghast and immediately told him to quit the room. He was hurt and left crestfallen. Again, he was heard to mutter, "mein to kisi ka qaidi nahin hoon." Meanwhile, he would often talk about his village life to me. It would change his somber facial countenance to one of joy. It was obvious that he was missing the carefree life of his 'gaon' (village) he was used to.
One day, Bakth failed to show up for work in the morning. The darwan was called in. He reported that Bakth was unwell. Our mother asked the darwan to take the morning breakfast to Bakth, and keep an eye on his welfare. However, Bakth did not eat anything the whole day except for some tea and an occasional drink of water. The darwan further reported that Bakth was running a fever. Father arranged for Bakth to be taken to the government polyclinic (doctor's clinic) at G-6/3 in Islamabad with the darwan. Bakth looked pale and gaunt. In the next two days his condition took a nosedive. He started to retch violently. Our mother was afraid that Bakth may die on us. And, on his sudden premature death, she envisioned his Pathan relatives descending upon us with vengeance from the heights of Swat with guns blazing! We laughed a lot about it.
Soon Naushe arrived and spent a better part of the afternoon trying to talk and feed his brother Bakth. However, he could not succeed much in discerning the cause of his ailment. He apologetically told father that it would be better if he took his brother back to Swat. Our mother was overjoyed. Frankly, I was a bit saddened to see Bakth go. There was something endearing about his rustic youthful vigor. However, when I went to his room I was in for a big surprise! The lad who could barely stir yesterday, was now briskly engaged in packing his few belongings into bundles. For possession he had a small transistor radio and a worn-out shoulder-bag for his clothes. He stood ramrod straight and eyeballed me with a grin. It was then that he opened up. He told me that one of the tea boys at the 'chai ke dokan' he befriended, had borrowed 50 rupees from him and absconded. I was appalled. Bakth hurled a flurry of the choicest invectives at the thief and at Punjabis in general. He detested people of the plains, he told me with a huff. It was homesickness coupled with the theft that got him so depressed. That is why he had fallen ill.
Suddenly, he became quite garrulous and broke into neurotic ramblings. Torrents of words flowed forth some of it unintelligible because it was in Pushto or Yousufzai dialect. However, it all sounded like a litany of grievances. He then turned to me in earnest and started pleading in Urdu. Translated into English it would be something like this: "Respected sir, will you go with me to my village home high up in the hills? Don't be afraid, I'll always be beside you. On our way up, I shall pluck sweet ripe apples from the orchard for you to eat. You will then drink cold water from the stream to your heart's content. Next, you will stretch yourself and inhale lungs full of fresh air and a transformation will come over you. You will start to feel that you are at last free!" And, as if to emphasize his points he dramatically enacted some of what he said. I was rendered speechless!
It suddenly occurred to me that we had unwittingly brought a carefree, happy-go-lucky 'creature' from the wilderness, nay, from the very lap of 'mother nature' and entrapped him in the alien environment of a city amidst mundane rules. He felt enslaved, as if in fetters. That explained the better part of his ailment. It was as much an affliction of the soul as it was of the heart and mind. "Farewell, Bakth-e-Rawan, wherever you are," I said to myself. "May you remain in life or death, forever free!"
Waqar A Khan is the Founder of Bangladesh Forum for Heritage Studies.