Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Portrait of a Raider


One of few works which gives a name and a face to the anonymous horde of 'Kabailis' that descended upon Kashmir in 1947-48. 


Gulmar, though his big hawk-like nose rather marred his good looks, had the attraction of youth, and was divertingly Mahsud. He asked direct, practical questions on everything. Like Rahim he had admirable manners - Pathans may prove the best servants in the world.; but he was restless, a piece of quicksilver, you could never ignore him. Possessor evidently of a strong character, you felt that, if you didn't look out, he would soon have complete control of your affairs.
He did not seem physically very tough. Within days he fell a victim to Karachi belly, and I was doctoring him with liver pills; he also blistered his feet accompanying me on walks, not yet vigorous ones because of my recent operation. Admittedly he had a new pair of chaplis - the heavy, sandal-like shoes worn by Pathans; they had been bought in honour of his fresh employment, and eventually of course would be paid for by me. But, like Rahim, he plainly thought physical exercise crazy. If you had no need to walk you didn't do it; you sat around and got fat.
During these strolls he soon became a keen and adept helper in my photographic efforts. It was a new form of shikar or sport. From just behind me he would crack jokes ingeniously with the victims, diverting their attention from the lens, keeping their faces alive until the moment of the shot - and then, the deed done, would laugh delightedly at their surprise.
When we were out shooting in this fashion one day, he spoke of his own shooting in Kashmir; real shooting.
"Shooting at what?"
"Men, of course, Sahib."
I looked at him astonished. "But you only seem about seventeen"
"Yes, Sahib."
"But you can't have been fighting the Indians when thirteen?"
"Yes, Sahib" - and enquiry left no doubt that he had, and thought it not at all remarkable. He gave details of where he had gone and they made geographical sense. He had been bombed and rocketed by Indian planes, machine-gunned by Indian infantry. He had been half smothered by the blood and entrails of a mule, blown up a few yards away. He spoke of having spent a night on a snowy hillside - without socks or coat - to snipe Indian troops at dawn.

"Carrying a man's rifle was rather tiring for me sometimes", he grudgingly admitted. Remembrance of my facile thoughts on his stamina made me ashamed.

~ Ian Melville Stephens, 'Horned moon: An account of a journey through Pakistan, Kashmir, and Afghanistan' (1953). Back then, Ian Stephens, former editor of 'The Statesman', was one of the first person allowed to cross into India from Pakistan by walking across LOC. Back then, he was also one of the few person's sympathetic to Pakistan (even quit his job possibly because he thought Pakistan was getting a raw deal), someone who believed that the country had a shot at been a progressive nation. Stephens would meet these simple natives, men capable of abominable deeds in bouts of mass madness, and yet he found them admirable as that is how things were region between Delhi and Karachi, a region he lovingly re-christened 'Delkaria'.

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