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Getting Ready: To happen or not to happen

(Click on images to enlarge)

My excitment is being somewhat marred by nervousness. I have many worries. The biggest being the question whether I will be able to live up to my own expectations. It’s a big test of ‘me’.

I have only once experienced such wandering, way back in 1994 if I remember correctly. Working for a monthly magazine, I went to Malakand to cover what was known as the first mass uprising inspired by the Islamists. Despite the fact that it was an armed insurrection, the area was not considered as dangerous as it is now or perhaps my ignorance was a blessing. I am afraid I am much more informed now!

I got off the public transport and went straight to the police station in the town of Matta. But as usual the official channels proved to be of little help except that I met a Khan sahab there who invited me to visit his village. I agreed and travelled with him to his house in a remote locality atop a mountain and that triggered a chain of events in which people not only voluntarily offered me a wealth of information, they also took good care of me.

One interesting thing that I remember from that trip is that for most of the villagers the experience of the media was limited to listening to the BBC radio. So my host would introduce me to fellow villagers as the BBC-wallah. I tried to correct him many a times but then realised that he is not being dishonest as BBC is not a brand for them, it is the term they use for the ‘news’.

Some five days later when I took the bus from Temergrah back to Rawalpindi, my story was complete. My editor liked it so much that she made it the cover story. But this time, I am on the cover even before filing my first story. And so, that is my worry.

But on a more practical level, mosquitos actually top my worry-list. It’s mid-April. The second month of our desi calendar, Baisakh, has just started. Nights out there will be cooler and the days hot. Farmers will be busy harvesting wheat and there will be lots of insects all around.

I called a friend who is an expert camper. He referred me to a camping accessories business but they mostly deal in gadgets that are useful for adventurers headed towards the northern mountains. I will be travelling in the opposite direction, though some of my planned detours do pass through the Potohar. I selected a small tent that could be used as a good mosquito net, perhaps not as airy as I would have liked. I do not plan to camp out per se but I decided to carry a set, in case I don’t find a place to stay.

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I have included Balochistan in my tentative plan. I have been to the province a few times; the last being in August 2008 when I was working on a report on tomato farmers. Killa Saifullah’s contribution in the country’s tomato production is the highest. The district in particular and the province in general, produces this ever-in-demand vegetable at the time of year when the climate of no other area suits it. (The report is titled: Keep the buck, pass on the risk. It is available here.)

My most precious memory from that trip was a meeting with the ‘vastness’. I saw it from the window of my vehicle and requested the driver to stop. We were on road somewhere between Loralai and Killa Saifullah. There was land covered sparingly by low shrubs and spread to the limits of my view. In fact it tried to push those limits farther; open, wide and free. There were two small huts in the midst of this steppe. Imagine, living in one of those. I can’t explain the feeling.

Vastness

Balochistan was in news for no good or peaceful reasons then as well. The uprising had started much earlier. Akbar Bugti was killed in 2006. But I experienced no security issues. People were friendly and cooperative. Maybe one reason was that I had asked no expert to assess the security situation for me then. But I made the mistake this time and I am flooded with stories about the horrible law and order situation there. I tend to agree with them.

Just when I had redrawn the map, my brother came around telling me that a gunman robbed him of his purse last night right in front of the gate of his house that is situated in a well off colony of Lahore and the police station is in the next street. Had he resisted, they might have shot him. He disturbed my plans again.

What is security? The theory of probability is mind boggling. A thing with one per cent chances of happening might actually happen and then something for which chances of happening are calculated at 99 per cent may not happen. That’s confusing and I am not sure which one per cent I shall prefer to fall in – the not happening one or the happening one.