THE WAY IT WAS: A friend in need is a friend indeed —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

There was a consensus that if the matter was left to Oxbridge India and Pakistan the matter could be settled in a session. The only protest registered in the seminar was by Minoo of the ML(Q) who claimed that Aitzaz of the PPP had taken a more commanding seat by brushing him aside to the darker corner of the stage

In the golf match between Oxford and Cambridge Societies of Pakistan and India, played on the morning of the 10th December at the Delhi Golf club, Cambridge won.

Moeen Afzal had informed us that we must carry with us our own golf balls for the match. Apparently Oxbridge India had stated quite clearly that whereas they would provide the golf bags (with the requisite number of irons and woods) they expected us to come with our own balls. Whereas a packet of three or even the usual two would have done, Moeen — the astute planner that he is — had asked us to take along six. When he was confronted later as to why he had insisted that we carry six balls he calmly replied that he had raised the number considering the quality of our golf. Chuckling, he added: “Othey tey milna kuj naheen”.

Considering how we were all feasted and drowned in affable spirits, I have not stopped wondering why the Oxbridge India could not spare a few balls for the match. I cannot imagine they had none to spare. Considering that I was provided with a brand new Gallaway set to play I should be the last to be cribbing over balls. On second thought, is it not nice to crib? I do not intend to annoy any one and cribbing surely strengthens a bond. Keeping the spirit of composite and reciprocal interaction alive, I hope Mr Sumant Dhamija the honorary secretary of Oxbridge India does not forget to remind his team members to come armed with their own balls when they visit Pakistan.

The Oxbridge Lahore delegation was a rich blend of tempers, tastes and costumes. Tahir Jehangir travelled alone. Asma as usual was too busy dealing with ‘issues’. TJ is an incorrigible trekker and has a penchant for penning down his travels to unfamiliar places in a vivid manner. Howsoever obscure, he considers his opinions precious and will sometime insist on going at tangents. That is what makes him a trekker of class. TJ was pleased that the Indians had agreed to supply the golf bags, not because we were all absolved from the discomfort of lugging our own burden but for the subtler strategic reasons. He opined, “If we lose, we will have the excuse.”

Raza Kuli Khan, who is never at one place longer than he can help it, leaving his wife Shahida guessing about his whereabouts, was finally joined by her. For the first time after twenty-six years of married life they were travelling together, but more about them a little later.

Shahnawaz Khan Niazi was as usual noticeable for his sartorial accomplishments and seemed determined to overwhelm our Indian hosts. He even took us by surprise when he appeared at the Delhi Golf Club as manager of our team, dressed in a light moss green tweed suit with a flare, a matching tweed cap and knitted socks, a tie with vermouth paisleys, brown monk shoes and a silk handkerchief casually tucked into the pocket of his jacket. The Indians did not have a manager for their team. Mr Niazi, forever the gentleman, graciously accepted the position without being asked. What are the friends for?

Let me quickly inform the reader about the martial blood that flows in the veins under Mr Niazi’s sartorially impeccable exterior. In an adjacent compound in the precincts of Humayun’s Tomb is buried one of his ancestors. Isa Khan Niazi’s tomb is an imposing octagonal edifice, with an impressive courtyard encircling it. It was built twenty years before Humayun’s tomb and marks the transition from the austere and sturdy Pathan architecture of Shershah Suri’s period to more open and elegant architecture of the Mughals. I can’t imagine Shahnawaz ever killing a fly but I hate to imagine how lethal Isa Khan must have been with his carving knife. What an unruly and sweaty life he must have led. He lay now in silence as Karan Sawhny, my host, and I visited his grave. I prayed for him that he might also lie in peace.

The Oxbridge Lahore chapter’s visit to Delhi was not an idle tour for visiting places and shopping. There were, of course, two days of rest and recuperation from the wear and tear caused by trying to recapitulate the undergraduate years. For the two days some delegates repaired to Agra and Ajmer. I preferred to stay in Delhi, see a few paintings exhibitions and catch up with some artist and old friends.

The sad part of venturing out of Delhi was that Raza Kuli Khan had his pocket picked. He told us later that he considered it safer to have his wallet in the right pocket of his jacket rather than in the back pocket of his trouser. He accomplished the feat with considerable subtlety right in public view at the crowded entrance to the Taj Mahal. Raza remembers a chap pushing him from behind but did not pay much heed as it is considered usual in Peshawar. In the brief contact he lost all the money he had in his possession. I wonder what the moral of the story is? Whatever, it cannot repair the dismay that must have been caused to the stately Khattak and his beautiful wife, who for once in her married life was looking forward to do some shopping with her husband.

This was not all. After losing all his money Raza Kuli Khan decided to instantly repair back to Delhi. Malik Manzoor Noon and his spouse gracefully volunteered to accompany them. According to one report they left Agra at about 5.30 pm. Exactly four hours later they were stopped at a police check post. The driver was instantly charged with plying private car as a taxi. Apparently the driver, who hailed from South India, did his best to explain to the inspector in hybrid Telugu and Hindi that the passengers were honoured guests of his master. But, as they say in Urdu, “even lice did not crawl on his ear”. The timid driver was firmly told in plain Hindustani that they should either accompany him to the police station for investigation that could foreseeably go on till next morning or agreeably part with twenty five thousand rupees. An agreement was shortly reached and Rs 6,000 delivered as settled. Raza Kuli, thanks to his connivance with the pickpocket, was saved any further trouble. Perforce Malik Sahib had to reach into his pocket.

Tehreem was fortunate that Javed left for Agra the following day, after he had bought what seemed to be a sizeable crystal, cut into an oblong shape, that resided on a ring. Tehreem opined that she deserved the gift because wives were precious things. Javed, while gently muttering concurrence, could not desist from adding with a dismissive laughter that his loss would have been considerably less had he gone to Agra with Raza Kuli a day earlier and along with him had his pocket picked. Little did he know that he was going to be assaulted by robbers and injured on his return to Pakistan. I rushed to his house as soon as I heard that he was hurt and found myself being interrogated by the police inspector posted at the gate. The police do their best.

But I repeat, the Oxbridge Lahore’s visit to Delhi was not an idle tour for shopping, visiting places and conviviality. There was also this serious business of a seminar on “Role and Relevance of Oxbridge in Sub-continental Peace and Development” at India International Centre. There was a consensus that if the matter was left to Oxbridge India and Pakistan the matter could be settled in a session. Karan Thapar, a familiar face on the BBC, conducted the proceedings and acted as the moderator for the discussion that followed after the panellist had expressed their views on the subject. Aitzaz Ahsan, Minoo Bhandara and myself represented Oxbridge Lahore. The only protest registered in the seminar was by Minoo of the ML(Q). He claimed that Aitzaz of the PPP had taken a more commanding seat by brushing him aside to the darker corner of the stage. I cannot dispute the charge; primarily because I cannot believe that Minoo would ever make a false allegation. Trust Aitzaz not to let his side down.

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist