Pakistan day 8 2nd Aug
Oh dear, this morning my stomach seems to have finally given in to the battering of the sub-continent diet. I don’t think I need to elaborate further. It held out for an impressive 8 days, I expected it to last a couple of days at the most. It had been firing warning shots for the last few days so I knew it was about to surrender. So far I had been very careful about what I have been eating and drinking. I think a kebab I had at lunchtime yesterday around a relative’s house may have done it. As soon as I ate it I knew that it would set me off.
I decided to have a a solitary cup of tea for breakfast and see if I can finish the battle quickly. My pre-emptive action seemed to have worked and for the rest of the day it no longer troubles me; the battle, it seems, has been won but the war goes on…
My youngest brother-in-law, Sarmad, has recently opened up a clothes shop in Mirpur which specialises in fancy material from which women’s shalwar kameez is made.
I offered to take photographs of the shop and some of his suits so he could use it for leaflets and other marketing purposes. I spent a good couple of hours taking the photos and attracted a bit of attention from passers by and other shopkeepers too.
If any of you reading this ever visit Mirpur please drop in and see if anything takes your fancy at The Fabric Galleria, Crown Plaza, Alama Iqbal Road, Mirpur. [NO LONGER TRADING]
Tomorrow we are heading to our family village Bal-Jaghir.
Pakistan day 9 3rd Aug
We set off for our ancestral village, Bal-Jaghir, my brother-in-law, Sarmad, drives us. Our ancestors migrated there from Srinagar 2-300 years ago, but first we go to Sader where my father’s eldest sister lives, she is married to my mother’s half-brother.
Everyone is pleased to see us. This is also my mother’s village where she grew up and where her parents are buried. My maternal grandmother, Amina Bi Bi, passed away when my mother was just three years old, she never got to know her and has no clear memories of her. My mother was raised by her step-mother who was a saintly woman and looked after my mother as her own. We visited the graves of my maternal grandfather and his two wives and prayed fatihah for them.
We have lunch, my aunt is rightly annoyed that we are not going to be spending the night, I explained that we are on a tight schedule and it would be too difficult for the kids, reluctantly she relents, I feel a little ashamed that we couldn’t stay longer.
My boys have been dreading coming to the village with perpetual complaints of “I’m bored”, and “there’s nothing to do” Pakistan was a big cultural shock for them anyway, and the villages an even bigger one. In Mirpur there are cousins their own age and some fun things to do, so I can’t be too harsh on them. I fully explained to them the importance of our visit and asked them not complain. Benni, my youngest son, generally has complained less than his older brother Yusef who seems to complain about everything.
Our village Bal-Jaghir is about 20 minutes in a car from Sader. The roads have improved slightly and whereas before we would have had a good 20mins walk across cornfields and hilly terrain, we now have a road that takes us right to the door of our village house. Along the way I notice a few hoopoes, I have never noticed these elegant and distinctive birds before in all my previous visits.
We arrive at 6.30pm and it is very humid, I don’t ever remember it being this humid and there is no electricity. The electricity supply is very poor, stays on for an hour or so and then goes for a couple of hours or more. The elders of the village say that the weather is changing and many of them think that it is because of the arrival of electricity cables in the village. In some ways their assessment is poignant, since progress and development is considered the root cause of global warming. Our village is set in mountainous greenery, the main staples are wheat and corn. There are buffalo, goats and chickens everywhere. Were it not for the heat, humidity and electricity supply problems, I could quite easily stay here for a few days, as it is we stay one night only.
I prayed my Isha prayer and stayed sat on the prayer mat to complete some dhikr with tasbih in hand. To the right of me in the courtyard is a gate that leads to the outside. My cousin walks over to open it to check on the buffalo, my daughter walks up to me and whispers in my ear “abu [daddy], there are two human beings wearing hats over there and they don’t like you” and looked towards the gate, I didn’t see anyone there. Not sure what my daughter saw but the whole of Azad Jammu and Kashmir is filled with ghostly stories of people coming face to face with Jinns.
My cousin’s wife, Afsana, tells us that when she went to visit the graves of my uncle, his wife and their son Rashad, she slipped and broke her leg, she is convinced that she did not fall that badly to have broken it. The day she broke it she called out in a wailing voice to people to come and help, that night, people heard similar wailing from the area around the graves in the same voice as my cousin’s wife and this happened a few nights in a row until a local elder, expert in such matters, remedied the situation.
In an unrelated story, my brother-in-law Yasir (my wife’s half brother) told me that one dark night, whilst driving from Kuhiratta to Rawalpindi he had some car trouble. The journey is a typical mountain journey, winding roads, trees, streams, mountain springs and generally deserted areas. He pulled over to have a look, fixed the problem, and then sat down to have a smoke next to his car. Suddenly the back door opened and closed with no sign of anyone near him. He had a look around and didn’t see anyone or anything and got back in to resume is journey. He then said that suddenly he had an urge to drive off the cliff and then an urge not to, this continued for a few minutes and stopped when a truck came up behind him, it started again as the truck passed him. He decided to speed up to get in front of the truck, all the while he said there seemed to be a battle going in him between something that wanted to drive off the cliff and something that was trying to prevent it. He managed to get in front of the truck and stay in his headlights, the truck tried to overtake but Yasir wouldn’t let it, much to the truck driver’s annoyance. Yasir recited Ayatal-Kursi and the four Quls and then pulled over at the next town. The truck driver pulled over too and came to ask him what the problem was. When Yasir explained the truck driver knowingly said “we keep our windows up and try not to stop in these parts”.
My father-in-law also related a story from his childhood, he went hunting with his older brother in a forest, whilst in the forest he saw a solitary horse. This was unusual as there were no wild horses or otherwise in that part of the forest. He said to his brother “look paapa, a horse”, his brother said to him “just keep walking and don’t look”, my father-in-law said that as he looked at the horse it turned into a buffalo before his eyes, he said to his brother “paapa, it turned into a buffalo”, his brother said “I told you stay on the path, don’t look and keep walking”, so my father-in-law did. When they got home, he asked his brother “what was that in the forest”, his brother replied “it was a jinn you silly boy”, my father-in-law asked “why didn’t you tell me!”, to which his brother replied “if I had told you it would have caught you”.
Upon our return to the UK, we heard news of another jinn related incident that happened to one of my wife’s nieces, by the name of Safa. She is one my wife’s eldest sister’s daughter who is one of twins, suddenly changed character. Ordinarily she is a shy and retiring young girl, very polite and very reserved. This started in Islamabad and upon their return to Mirpur my wife’s niece was clearly not herself. She told people that she had come from Mecca and would be staying a short while. She would tell people to pray five times a day, she addressed an uncle as “Ejaz sahab” and told him to pray, she would normally call him by the title “khalu” maternal aunt’s husband. She told people that she would be breaking her fast at a certain person’s house and then will have a cup of tea at “Bubbly’s” house (Bubbly is another sister of my wife) and then she will leave. Surely enough, she ate and broke her fast where she said she would, went for a cup of tea and then announced that she was leaving and told one of the people to open the door and to make sure that no children get in the way, with a convulsion Safa returned to normal, looked around and said “what am I doing here, I was in Islamabad a minute ago?”.
This was witnessed by a lot of people who I know and have spoken to since about it, there is no way it was a prank knowing Safa and the way she normally is.
I heard plenty other stories too, these are all people of sound mind and I have no reason to doubt them. One last thing that I will relate is about my in-laws-house in Mirpur. They had a pious house guest once, who was very perceptive to subtle phenomenon. He told them that part of the house is built on a thoroughfare for jinns, but in this case these jinns are Muslim and as they recite Qur’an and do dhikr as they pass and they protect the family from the other jinns. Perhaps one of those protected Yasir?
In the morning I take my kids down to the river called “Moohli” that runs through our land and they thoroughly enjoy the fun and games with all the village kids. There is a make shift water slide on the rocks that the water flows over quite rapidly.
My late grandparents’ house is currently occupied by my father’s nephew, Nasir my father’s late brother’s son, and his family (wife and 5 kids). His wife broke her leg a few months ago and is on crutches. Nasir’s brother is currently in England on a work permit and sends home money and my father has been supporting the entire family since his own arrival in the UK in 1965. My father is an amazing individual, not only has he been supporting his parents and siblings both in Pakistan and in the UK, but other extended family members too and particularly people of our village. Even if I could do a small fraction of what my father has achieved it would be a lot and would weigh heavy in my favour on the day of judgement. After my father, I am unlikely to have the same deep sense of duty towards of our village, whilst there is a sentimental link, the bond that my father has with it is on another level, augmented by memories and punctuated by key events in his early life. In all my 42 years of life I have only been to Pakistan 6 times.
Born in the UK, my first visit was when I was 3 years old, amazingly I still have memories from that time and they are clear and vivid. I have remembered tastes and smells in particular and enjoyable events. One particular taste I have a vivid memory of is eating “toot”, a kind of mulberry that ripens in spring which I would eat again on my fourth visit. I remember being on the banks of the “Moohli” eating some kind of Bombay mix and my half-sister and a cousin using a dupatta to catch sprats which they later fried up for me to eat.
My second visit was almost 20 years later when I came to Pakistan to get engaged to be married at the age of 21 in the summer of 1989.
My third visit was to then get married at the age of 25, we came in December 1992 and it snowed in our village for the first time in a long time and boy was it cold.
My fourth visit was to attend the wedding of my younger sister Farhath and that was in spring time 1997.
My fifth visit was the first with just my wife and kids in 2001 and the sixth is my present visit.
If not for my wife I would have no reason to visit Pakistan and the link to my family in Pakistan would probably be non-existent. My father has family interests and business interests in Pakistan, having a share in an office block in Lahore and some plots of land there as well, so I guess because of that I would have some link.
Pakistan day 10 4th Aug
We are on our way to Kotli to stay with my wife’s half-sister, Talat Mushtaq, who is a principal at a girls’ college in Kuhiratta and is married to my father’s first cousin Tariq Mirza who is a lawyer and President of Azad Kashmir District Bar. Our hosts send their driver and a car to pick us up. The driver, it turns out, is related to me. His name is Kashif, and is my mother’s nephew who grew up in Hyderabad. He seems like a nice chap about the same age as my younger brother Da’ud, 9 years my junior. We get to know each other and we seem to establish a bond between us.
We go via Kuhiratta to visit my wife’s cousin, a retired bank section chief, who often stays with us when he visits the UK and recently stayed with us. There were a couple houses we had to visit to pray fatihah because of recent deaths. One death was of the brother of Tariq Mirza, Mehmood Mirza – a majdub.
Mehmood Mirza was an interesting personality, in the 70s he became a majdub – someone lost in and consumed by the Divine reality. He had a very deep interest in and appreciation of Sufi wisdom and philosophy, particularly Mian Muhammad Baksh’s Saif al-Muluk and the philosophy of the late Allama Muhammad Iqbal the poet of Pakistan.
I am told that Sa’i (another word for fakir) Mehmood, as he became known, became spiritually attached to the ways of a Majdub lady called Mai (mother/old lady) Thotthi who died pre-partition and whose shrine is near Kuhiratta in a place called Bandli. She was a kind of latter day Rabia al-Basri. Her spiritual heir was another lady who died a few years ago called Mai Fakiri from whom he derived his spiritual “guidance”. I put “guidance” in inverted commas because in reality there is no guidance from majdubs since they themselves are actually lost in the Divine presence. Their state is experiential and inexplicable. In many cases they are so lost that their mandatory and obligatory acts of worship are not offered or completed.
Mai Fakiri used to adorn herself with iron chains and remained in an other-worldly state. Sa’i Mehmood had a yearning to leave this material world and become a fakir and Mai Fakiri told him that he would have to leave everything behind, suffer abuse from people and endure accusations of madness and mental instability. Before entering into this state he would have to settle all his worldly affairs, seek permission from his mother (my great-aunt), his father having died many years previously. He would also have to seek the approval of his wife and family since they will be the ones who would be the most affected. Having settled his worldly affairs he slipped into the state he sought. I has his youngest brother what process he went through and he told me that they didn’t notice anything in particular that he did differently except visit Mai Fakiri who used to also send him to another shrine, the shrine of Zinda Pir – literally “the living guide”.
Such majdubs are highly regarded in Azad Kashmir even among the elite classes and pretty soon his fame spread such that at the news of his demise, people from far and wide and in their thousands congregated to offer their condolences and prayers. His grave has become a place of visitation.
There is much more to tell of his story and the story of Ma’i Thotthi and Ma’i Fakiri but this is what I have gleaned from short conversations with various people.
Thoughts on Kuhiratta
Kuhiratta is much the same as any other town in AJK, filthy, dirty, rubbish everywhere, broken roads, an eyesore with vulgar and showy architecture. We have to walk through a muhalla – a slum, very narrow alleyways where two people can’t pass side by side. The footpaths are a patchwork of unevenness and height, broken in places, waste water standing in others, bordered by gutters and pipework and the ubiquitous litter. The houses are quite literally on top of each other, I feel claustrophobic and a bit sick.
I was walking down the main road of the bazaar and caught sight of a very modern looking build further down the road, it looked totally out of place in the higgledy-piggledy architecture and mess of Kuhiratta. I am told that it is a hospital being built by a philanthropist businessman, who has a textile business in Birmingham. He died earlier this year, the hospital is named in honour of him – Sardar Aziz Hospital. My host, Iftikhar Mirza was amongst his closest friends, and was in England when Aziz sahab passed away. In fact, a day or so before Aziz sahab’s death, he phoned my host to invite him to Birmingham, an invitation annulled by his death.
The hospital is not complete and is not operational. The death of the financier has put a question mark over the project and doubts persist in the minds of people as to whether the inheritors of Aziz Sahab’s wealth will have the same amount of enthusiasm and conviction to see the project through. He has made a percentage of profit provision from his business in his will for the hospital, we hope the family will continue this supreme work that Aziz Sahab has started. I thought about how some people who are given so much realise that the source of all they have is God and likewise spend in his way without a care, whilst others who are equally given so much but withhold and horde for their own benefit and not realising the bounty bestowed upon them from their Lord.
After the maghrib prayer and dinner we head to Kotli where we spend the night.
Pakistan day 11 5th Aug
Kotli is a large city by AJK standards, it has grown from a small town and again like most places in AJK has benefit greatly from ex-pat investment, particularly from Brit-Paks. The same pattern of vulgar houses persists, it seems like everyone is trying to outdo each other in the size and vulgarity of their houses. People spend obscene amounts of money on houses that they probably won’t even live in, some houses lie empty others divided up and put on rent. The only thing these grand houses are built for is so that people will say “wah! What a house built by Raja or Choudry so and so”. Even in remote villages, these houses are totem poles of false-status, it announces the arrival of someone’s wealth even if in reality most of the wealth has been spent on the house. In the case of grand houses in villages, these lie empty and serve no other purpose except to remind the villagers who the “elite” are.
There is no town planning anywhere, Islamabad has some semblance of planning but it seems that people are free to do as they please when it comes to building. Most places in Pakistan resemble bomb sites, so much dust and rubble, waste grounds and incomplete buildings.
Late afternoon our hosts take us to Tattha-Pani a town whose name is literally “Hot Water” and is named after a natural hot sulphurous spring that wells up next to the river Poonch. The water is very hot, short of scalding but very hot. It is clear but has a grey tint to it. The kids are generally unimpressed but I explained that the water is being heated by the earth’s own core and that piqued their interest slightly.
We headed back had dinner at my wife’s aunts house, and then there was an interruption in the electricity supply at 10pm, a common occurrence during our trip and a major problem nationally.
After dinner we went to eat koya kulfi, Pakistani dairy ice cream. We have koya kulfi in the UK and I enjoy it very much so it would be interesting to compare. The taste and texture was marvellous although it wasn’t as set as I would have liked, the only downside was it was a bit too sweet, and hit the back of your throat. The sugar used was probably raw cane sugar which is much sweeter than the refined variety.
We returned to our hosts’ residence but the electricity was out and so we sat outside observing the lightening across the whole sky, then all of a sudden a cool breeze blew, a welcome relief from the stifling heat of the day.
The electricity came back and we went to sleep.
Back to Mirpur in the morning.
Pakistan day 12 6th Aug
Upon our return to Mirpur, we discover that my in-laws’ house servant has run off and took with him £200 of some money I had given to my father-in-law for safekeeping. He had been working for my in-laws for seven years and from a young age, he was almost considered family and my in-laws have been good to him. He had been entrusted with a lot of the family’s affairs without any issue of dishonesty, so it came as a big shock. For a few days he had been mentioning some financial problems that his parents have been having back in his village.
Interestingly, I had given my father-in-law a total of £500 and the wallet from which he took the money contained all £500 and he only took £200.
This put a bit of a dampener on my mood, not because of the money but the violation of trust and how someone so trusted can loose it all in one desperate act. He clearly had some compulsion that made him take this step so I can’t be too harsh on him.
Shab-e-barat, it is the 15th of Shaban and in Pakistan it is celebrated with fireworks, lights and much merriment. People fast, seclude themselves for worship, offer extra prayers in mosques and visit shrines for blessing. The nearest major shrine to Mirpur is Kahri, the shrine of Mian Muhammad Baksh the sufi poet of Kashmir and writer of Saiful-Muluk. Thousands gather there on such occasions, whether to offer prayer as a place of blessing or other more questionable “religious” practices.
It seems that every child is given firecrackers and other more dangerous fireworks and without any adult supervision, no one sees this as an issue and if an incident occurs then it is brushed aside with a “be more careful next time” comment. As the evening progresses a rain storm breaks and a deluge follows.
Rain and thunderstorms are regular now as we are in the season of barsaat – the monsoon season.
Pakistan day 13 7th Aug
In the evening we are invited to an aqiqa. Pretty straightforward, we arrive, we talk, we eat and drink, we talk some more and we leave.
My wife’s cousin’s son Mohib aka “Bittu” is a mobile telecoms engineer, I mentioned to him that I need to check my emails to clear out the junk but speeds seemed slow, he took me to his office which was where the main internet feed for Mirpur comes in. The speed was good and I managed to tag my junk mails. Unfortunately I hadn’t the time to read any emails so I’ll have a few hundred mails to get through when I get back.
Pakistan day 14 8th Aug
Plan to go to Muree, heading to the Pearl Continental in Bhurban, the kids have been bugging us to take them. It’s a 5 star hotel in the Muree Mountains. I stayed there with my wife and son Yusef when he was a year old.
Muree is cold. A/C is off and windows up in the car, it’s like being back in Blighty. The road up is lined by colourful displays of shawls, carpets, kids’ umbrellas and even laptop computers for sale!
The traffic has increased noticeably since I was last here 8 years ago, the journey up is stop/start.
PC Bhurban is a high value target for terrorism and they are stopping everyone at a perimeter and charging 400RS entrance which is redeemable against any hotel bill. We manage to get in but get told no rooms are available.
Some last minute cancellations have yielded a couple of rooms. PC was once a bargain 5 star resort but now, prices have gone up and standards have noticeably gone down, if not for the kids I could have done without it to be frank.
It is busy, almost bursting at the seams with holiday makers,others from nearby towns and cities getting away from the heat and revellers. Clearly, there is a lot of disposable income in Pakistan, the previous couple of times we have been the place has been mainly frequented by foreign officials, national officials and foreign holiday makers, now there are all sorts of people. There is a lot of money swilling around in Pakistan, where it comes from is anybody’s guess.