THE WAY IT WAS: An accident —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

The thanedar being a thanedar — and a good one — totally identified with the State. He immediately had the tractor and trolley, plus the passengers riding the trolley squatting on bags of wheat, impounded

I am sitting under a guava tree — thirty-five years old — planted by my father. Most of its companions, like my father, are gone, but the few that remain still fruit because of my care. I fear that there is one which is dying. Last winter I pruned off its dried branches. Pruning always reinvigorates a plant. This year new shoots have sprouted from its loins, but to my dismay its crown has remained somewhat bare.

However it is the only guava tree in the compound that is blazing with radiance. Sturdy new shoots have given birth to broader leaves. Many leaves are almost crimson with emerald veins. There is the central spine like that of a fish, from where smaller veins slant out towards the edge of the leaf. Some of the leaves have a diffused light green border. The leaves are constantly changing their hues throughout the day as the winter sun penetrates them on its journey across the southern sky, crimson changes to vermilion, emerald transforms into lemon green. Most leaves have individual attributes. Some of them are rather attractive — they taper at the waist and flare out at the base or when they twist and turn their bodies, flip and flaunt their flanks. Anyone with an eye for such things would agree that it is a sexy display of verdant splendour.

The countryside looks gorgeous these days. Travelling on the motorway at a slightly higher elevation provides you with wonderful prospects denied to a person on ground level. Standing on the flat alluvial planes it is almost impossible to scan the landscape and penetrate beyond the next field. Normally during this time of the year, the sky is mucky and the flora laden with dust. The winter rains have done wonders, Sabza hee sabza interspersed with yellow bands of cheerful sarson fields. The clear blue sky, the rarefied atmosphere, and the sparkling sunlight makes one feel as though one were in the Himalayan foothills.

I only wish this blaring music from loudspeakers on tractors would not invade my peace. I wonder why this lady has to sing from her naval with such agony. Everyone who buys a new tractor these days must mount it with an even bigger music deck — not for love of music but for making his presence known. For somewhat similar purposes, our mosque minarets are garlanded with rosaries of high potency loudspeakers. For a moment the tractor went silent, but it was only for a brief while to change the tape. Soon it was at it again. I say the owners should at least consider buying better quality tapes that don’t croak, screech and shriek. Perhaps Maulvi Sahib can also consider not obliging those who have the voice of a goat suffering from a sour throat.

Ironically, the quietest place in a town is the police station. Perhaps too deceptively quiet. Those who are wise say that there is no reason good enough for a man to venture into a Thana. It is best to forget a grievance rather then let the police remind you of it for the rest of your life. They say, ‘aina dee dosty we behri, tey aina dee dushmany we behri,’ (If their enmity is bad their friendship is also bad). But if you have no other choice the police on your side can do wonders.

This reminds me of Chaudhry M Afzal, a senior government officer travelling in his official car on an errand to Sahiwal. Beyond Pattoki near Gillan, which has become well known for its plant nurseries, a tractor trolley abruptly swung onto the road from nowhere and firmly stood its ground. My friend’s brand new Toyota barely missed crashing into it. Fortunately no one was hurt. The car was only slightly bruised but put out of action because the radiator developed a leak. The tractor driver according to the well established custom promptly took off to the fields and disappeared into an orchard, abandoning the load full of peasants, their women and children in the centre of the highway.

Chaudhry Sahib would certainly have overlooked the slight damage but since a government vehicle was involved in the accident an FIR had to be registered. Chaudhry Sahib was fortunate to have K Amir Khan, a friend — who nearly ran into him when Chaudhry Sahib jammed the brakes — tailing him in his own car. Khan Sahib, ever a gentleman, took it upon himself to drive to Pattoki and get the thanedar so that the required complaint could be lodged. On reaching the Pattoki Police Station, Khan Sahib had to look the Moharrar in the eye and twirl the end of his right moustache before he could persuade the reluctant man to stir the thanedar, snoring in the adjacent room.

In a while the thanedar, visibly displeased, emerged strapping his belt. He was characteristically fat, dishevelled and with a day old stubble on his face. But as soon as the thanedar — ‘probably corrupt to the heals’, as Khan Sahib harshly observed later — learnt that the car involved in the accident was a government vehicle in which a senior federal officer had been travelling, he suddenly pulled himself up, ‘Saadi gadi noon marya ay’ (Our car has been hit).

He repeated this in great anger, glaring at Khan Sahib for reconfirmation, as if his own person had been hit. With surprising alacrity he then strode out of the Thana and with a practiced manoeuvre seated his corpulence in the front seat, and demanded that Khan Sahib should without wasting any further time drive him, as fast as he could, to the scene of crime. Khan Sahib’s eyes bulged out in amazement, witnessing the metamorphosis, which had transpired right under his elegant hooked nose.

Chaudhry M Afzal was really not interested in the matter beyond having the FIR registered. He did not desire that the thanedar should take any harsh action. But the thanedar being a thanedar — and a good one — totally identified with the State. He immediately had the tractor and trolley, plus the passengers riding the trolley squatting on bags of wheat, impounded. Having taken care of essentials and instructing the three other policemen who had followed him on whatever free mode of transport was readily available, he requested Chaudhry Sahib and his companions to accompany him back to the Thana, so that they could be served tea while the report of the accident was recorded.

I am not too sure if Chaudhry Sahib felt at ease when the thanedar incessantly intervened, helping him record the report correctly. For instance when Chaudhry Sahib stated that at the time of the accident he was driving the speed of about 35 miles an hour, the thanedar, again patiently reminded him, “No sir! You were not. You were coming at ten.” Chaudhry Sahib should consider himself lucky to have found a thanedar with a positive attitude.

A thanedar with a negative attitude could as easily have charged him for an attempted act of terrorism. If the tractor driver had not had the presence to freeze in the centre of the road, someone other than Chaudhry Sahib could easily have smashed into the trolley causing a major disaster. Imagine loud explosions, flashes of fire, thick black smoke bellowing into the sky, cries of excruciating pain, severed limbs, corpses of honest men, women and children strewn all over the bloody place in a most disorderly manner.

When a proper FIR had been registered and a duly stamped copy of the same delivered to Chaudhry Sahib without a charge, the thanedar stepped out of his office to have a smoke and talk to the chota thanedar who had arrived a few moments earlier trailed by two tired policemen. Within almost minutes he jauntily returned and boastfully announced, “Sir, We have got the driver. We got him after we threatened the passengers with chitrawl (shoe beating). They have all been brought to the Thana. I of cource warned them, that I will not let anyone go, unless they produce money for the repair of our car.”

By now the Sahib and his companions were through their tea brewed in milk, under strict instructions of the thanedar, from the eatery patronised by the Thana. The thanedar taking advantage of the presence of a senior officer, ventured to make a suggestion, which he hoped would be passed on to the federal government, “Sir! People are actually rotten. What they need are not police reforms but chitrawl.”

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist