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A Civil Service Apprentice in Abbottabad

Published : Saturday, 18 March, 2023 at 12:00 AM  Count : 270
Ziauddin Choudhury

A Civil Service Apprentice in Abbottabad

A Civil Service Apprentice in Abbottabad

(Concluding part)

Our visit to Baffa Patwari Office was rather comical. The office was located in one corner of a down-at-heel building in the local bazaar. The office had one large table with some antique chairs by the side. There were countless binders in red cloth adorning the shelves, which were records of crops, and registers of land owners. The AC asked that the huge volumes be brought down for his inspection, which the portly Patwari hefted with some effort. From their looks I could say that most of the red binders went back to the British period, many of them showed signs of wear and tear.

The drama began when the books were opened. The records were all written in Urdu, and the AC could not read Urdu, nor could I. The AC knew better than to give out this secret. He leafed through the pages, hummed, and then fired a blind shot commenting that the records were not up to date. The Patwari who had seen a dozen ACs come and go also knew very well how to play this game. He replied that the records were updated with each crop cycle, but if the "honourable AC saab" would so desire he could update the records even before the crop cycle, but would it be right? A somewhat daunted AC replied that in that case the Patwari would do better by at least re-binding the registers. The Patwari agreed with a broad smile. We left Baffa with perhaps the Patwari grinning behind.

My apprenticeship days continued with more visits to the Tehsils.

My next Tehsil visit took me to a memorable journey -to the picturesque Kaghan valley, a visit that is etched in stone in my memory. The entire Kaghan Valley was under Balakot Tehsil. The 100- mile stretch over which the valley is spread begins from the town of Balakot, the historical place made famous by the battle of Syed Ahmed Barelvi against the British in mid 1800s. The last point of the valley is Naran at an altitude of 3500 m.

For the official visit to be complete I had stopped at Balakot Tehsil only to be told that the Tehsilder had taken off for Naran where he would receive me. Since Naran was also part of this Tehsil, and there was a Patwari circle there I thought it would give me an opportunity to see Naran as well as fulfill another official obligation.

The scenic road begins from Balakot with the fast moving Kunhaar River flowing by the side. The road meanders through mountains and valleys of pine and apple orchards. After Balakot, the road crosses the river and gains altitude fast and after a while it reaches so high that river Kunhar appears to be a very thin line deep down in the valley on the left side.

Although a mere hundred miles, the trip from Balakot to Naran took more than eight hours in those days. It was partly because of low speed due from caution that the drivers of vehicles (mostly jeeps) took in navigating the treacherous road, but also in large part because of one way traffic between Kaghaan and Naran in those days. Traffic from each direction alternated every two hours guided by telephone message from either side for the last twenty-mile portion of the highway. The highway itself was serpentine, but the scenery is most dramatic as it passes through evergreens, and apple orchards with a view of the fast moving Kunhaar River below.

My residence for the three-day mission to the valley was an exquisite forest bungalow in Naraan-one of the very few government rest houses in the area. In the late sixties, the valley was like a virgin land unspoiled by tourists and any commercial exploitation. The daring ones who travelled this far would lodge in the government rest houses, or as in the case of two South African tourists that I happened to run into, live in camps.

The Patwari's office in Naran was a small hut occupied by hundreds of red-cloth bound hand written registers, all of which were in Urdu. With my limited knowledge of the language-much of which was oral, all I could do was to pretend to study the registers. The Patwari and the Tehsilder both knew my limitations, but acted with alacrity to respond to my queries on the number of mutations (changes in land titles), and the length of time it took to do so. Inwardly they must have been happy that I would not find any deficiencies in their records since I could not read Urdu.

At the end of the office visit, the Tehsilder had a surprise for me. He suggested that I visit the legendary Lake Saiful Muluk, one of the world's high altitude natural lakes, about 20 miles away from Naraan. From Naran it is almost a vertical climb of 3,000 feet to reach Saif-ul-Muluk. A jeep track goes to the lake. On way to the lake we had to pass through a glacier where in fact our jeep got stuck. It required several of Tehsilder's men to push the jeep and get over the icy patch.

However, the ordeal was worthy. The pristine lake offered an excellent view of the 5,290 m high Malika Parbat (Queen of the Mountains). The lake and its surroundings have a touch of unreal about them and are breathtakingly lovely.

There is a charming legend about a prince called Saiful Muluk who fell in love with a fairy of the lake. I was sorry to leave the lake only after a couple of hours as the sun was setting and we had the glacier again to negotiate on way back.
On way back to the forest bungalow I ran into two young South African tourists who had put out a tent at the base of the hill. They were of Indian ancestry, and had come out on a visit to the sub continent on their own. They had come to Naraan for trout fishing, they told me. I was told later that the Kunhaar River is a heaven for trout fishing. I had no idea what a trout looked like, let alone how to fish trout.

The two young men, Musa and Mustafa, invited me to join them fly fishing for trout next morning, which I did. As luck would have it, I even succeeded in catching two robust trout that we took the rest house and had roasted for the evening dinner. I left the enchanting valley the next day.

My journal of civil service apprentice days in Abbottabad will not be complete without two accounts-albeit unrelated to my training, which concern the military establishment of Pakistan. Abbottabad is the home of the premium military training institute, Pakistan Military Academy. Located in Kakul, a suburb of the city, the Academy provides two plus years of training to young recruits for regular commission, and six months to one year training for short service commission (these recruits are usually with college degrees).

That Abottabad is primarily a city marked by army presence could be easily felt when visiting restaurants, shops, and even streets. On weekends, the restaurants would be filled with cadets from PMA who, even in civilian outfits, could be easily identified by their short, crew cut hair, and bravado. The shops would be frequented by army wives and soldiers. My own introduction to the Academy and the facilities that it provided to its denizens came through an unexpected introduction and later friendship with the only Bengali instructor of the Academy that time-Major Ziauddin. (There were two other Bengali instructors, but they were from the non-combatant Education Regiment of the Army)

By courtesy of Major Ziauddin I became a frequent visitor to the Officers Mess in Kakul, which was way superior to the club I had known so long in Lahore, both in sports and other recreation facilities. For me as a single person who was dependent on tasteless, poorly cooked food served in the circuit house, the food that I would get in the Army Officers Mess was a welcome relief.

In my evenings with Major Ziauddin I came to know his brilliance, sharpness of intellect, and depth of knowledge to the extent that even to this day I consider him to be one of the finest Bengali army officers that I had ever known. Major Ziauddin joined the Liberation War in 1971, and after liberation earned the wrath of the new government for his open criticism and advocacy of a systemic political change through revolution. He later became a part of a clandestine political group that supported change of government through armed struggle.

The other army related experience worth narrating is the Generals Exercise in September that year. This was an annual ritual of sorts where the Corps Commanders and Division Commanders gather in Abbottabad for a week of superior army powwow of sorts, and strategic exercises. I was booted out of the Circuit House as the two bungalows with about twenty rooms were sequestered to accommodate some of the Generals, while the Guest Houses in the Military Academy accommodated the senior Generals including the top brass-General Yahya Khan, who at that time had also become the President.

I had no inkling of what went among those heavy weight army brasses who gathered in Abbottabad, but I did learn from some of the associates of the top army brass that each evening ended in socialization including heavy bouts of drinking by some of them, particularly by the top gun Yahya.

One of the evenings when the Generals were holding court, I was invited to dinner at the Army Officers Mess by Major Zia. I was told by Major Zia that among other guests there would be the ADC to President Yahya. I remember the evening particularly since we had to wait long for the President's ADC to arrive. He arrived finally well past 11 PM. when we were famished. With profuse apologies, he explained the delay. Normally the drinking parties were over by 10 and each senior officer found his way home. This time President Yahya was so stoned that he had to be supported by two officers, including his ADC, to the car, and later to his guest suite. The ADC helped himself to a generous gulp of a beverage to wear off his labour of the evening.

My last lingering memory of my apprenticeship days was a visit to Nathia Gali- the other paradise on earth besides the Kaghan valley. Nathia Gali, clad in Pine, Walnut and Oak Maple trees, is the most picturesque and highest hill station in the Pakistan, about 8,200 feet above sea level.

Nathia Gali was about two hours drive from Abbottabad, a road that snakes through picturesque mountains, but not as dangerous as the road to Naraan. Plea for my visit to Nathia Gali this time was a meeting with forest officials of the area. (Nathia Gali was also the official summer resting place of the President of Pakistan, later of the Prime Minister.)

Nathia Gali has been a fixture of summer retreats from the British days. It became the official summer residence of the Governor of NWFP since that time. The Circuit House, where I stayed for three days, was located almost near the top a hill, and interestingly overlooking the Governor's House below. The church in Nathia Gali is a remnant from the British period of British Government; it is totally made of wood. It is situated at the edge of the mountain from which there is a beautiful sight.

In 1969 there was not much commercial tourism in Nathia Gali. Visitors had to look for accommodations in government rest houses and few private hotels. Food in the bazaar was mostly local and was not comparable to the restaurant food that one could have further down in Murree which was a more popular tourist destination. But no other place in the region could beat the serenity of Nathia Gali, the beauty of its verdant valleys, alpine forests, and apple orchards. Good food was the last thing I missed in Nathia Gali. I made the best of my three-day retreat exploring the gullies of a heavenly place, eating only chapattis and daal made by the Circuit House Chowkidar-cum-cook.

I left Abbottabad in early October to be in time for the final exams that awaited us in the Civil Service Academy, Lahore. The three-month apprenticeship in Abbottabad did not make any wiser in the intricate art of magistracy or revenue administration, the two important elements of my subsequent training and career in the districts that would follow in later years. But the memories of the place, the people I had met, and the bounteous nature that I had witnessed in one of the most beautiful places on earth would feed my soul even to this day.

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