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PANJGUR DIARY: Dr. Abid Shah — I

Abid Shah

by Malik Siraj Akbar

I am not kind of anti-cliché. Clichés sound good only if they are repeated at a pertinent time. One such statement that I have repeatedly cited while writing about Balochistan is by Martin Niemoller about, according to Wikipedia, the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and purging of their chosen targets.

“THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

The recent enforced disappearance of three citizens in Panjgur — Dr. Abid Shah, Abdul Sattar Baloch and Safeer Baloch—allegedly by the Frontier Corps (FC) gives a warning sign that the “threat” is at everybody’s doorstep. Lack of respect from the security forces for human rights and international standards to treat citizens has become the order of the day in Balochistan, Pakistan’s oil and gas rich province.

Dr. Abid Shah is the closest person I have ever known to be picked up by the security forces. While his illegal detention, massive protests in our ancestral Panjgur district in response to the gruesome episode and the sentimental hunt by his four-year old son outside the Deputy Commissioner’s Office provide me every reason to write a politically-charged write-up, I still feel like dedicating much space in this piece to my personal relations with Abid Shah and his family.

It was only when I started to proof-read this write-up when I realized how rambling it was. I have always wanted to write more about my childhood days in Panjgur. Abid’s arrest provided me some time to think back about the past. It was very painful for me to read the other day in the newspapers that his four-year son participated in a protest intended to seek his release. The young boy shouted outside the Deputy Commissioner’s Office: “ Daddy, where are you? Please come soon. I can’t live without you,” he shouted loudly in an effort to ensure his message snubbed the security officers and directly touched the ears of the missing father. Sigh!

I started to know Abid’s family when I was in class two at Government Model High School Chitkan (Panjgur) in 1991. At such an early age, I remember doctors’ writing pads were my first crush. I was too lucky to get one from this new guy in our class. The new boy was a cousin of Waheed Badal, one of the very first people along with his brother Rauf whom I still remember as my first class fellows from school. (It was so tragic to hear about Waheed’s death a few years ago in a road accident. He was too young to die!)

In our school, people would normally identify the new-comers not with their names but with the profession of their fathers. It was always the monitor of the class who would gleefully and flauntingly inform us that DSP’s (Deputy Superintendent of Police) or Session judge’s son was joining our class. They were treated like VIP students. They were normally non-locals who would speak Urdu with us. Every one of us would want to befriend them. No school in Panjgur would get so many “VIP students” as ours because Model School was (is) located in the district headquarters. The school was too close to the official residences of government officers, making it easier for their kids to attend.

The latest announcement in our class was about the arrival of a doctor’s son. It was the first time I would ever meet a doctor’s son! Dr. Rahim Baksh of Sordo, our family doctor, was the first physician I had ever known in my life but never got a chance to meet his children who were presumably much older than me.

The new boy in our class was called Sajjo. His real name was Sajjad, who was, I subsequently learned, Abid’s younger brother. Much to my surprise, this “VIP student” spoke Balochi and belonged to Panjgur even though his grandfather, Syed Mobin Shah, was an Afghan. They had lived and adapted to Panjgurian society for many years. They were not the only such family. For those who do not know much about Panjgur, it is interesting to mention that a current provincial minister and a senator from Panjgur are both not Balochs originally. For instance, the father of Mir Asadullah Baloch, who is currently the provincial minister for agriculture and an MPA from Panjgur, was originally a Pashtun Sadozai and the father of Sabir Baloch, a senator from the PPP, was a Punjabi.

Panjgur is not the only case. Another such classic example is that of Syed Ehsan Shah, the provincial minister and an MPA from Kech whose father, a Punjabi, came to the district as a businessman and adapted the local setup.

Getting back to Sajjad’s story, he gifted me a blue writing pad, marking the inception of our friendship! The Model High School was then divided into two parts: The middle and high sections were accommodated in the current building located near popular Haji Aziz’ Petrol Pump (Other’s call it Obaid’s Pump) while we, the students of primary section, were placed in the same building that now accommodates the Helper’s Public School.

The yellow-and- white painted 15-room building devoid of a boundary wall, which was used for the primary section, was also called the Boarding House. It did not have a boundary wall perhaps because it had nothing to loss in the hands of the thieves. That was not always the case: Backbencher students weary of studies would take advantage of this vulnerable condition of the school by putting Elfy, a super glue, in the padlocks of the classrooms. The next morning, we would shamelessly cheer after coming to know that the school locks had been Elfy-fied. Sometimes, the school would start late and at other times, when our teachers would equally feel like not teaching, the day would be called off at school.

To de-Elfy-fy the school locks, the administration would summon more peon’s from the High School to assist our sole peon, Mohammad Sharif, to open the doors. There were the ‘senior peons”— Dad Jan, Phulan, Hazoor Baksh—who we would curse at the end of the day for their masterly expertise to get the locks opened. That said, we would have to get back to school! Who would love to go to school? Not me.

A week later, Sajjad told me that his family was shifting from Chitkan, where the bazaar is located, to an official residence in Tar office, the same place for school and our home. According to the new arrangement, Sajjad’s home was at a distance of only two minutes from the school and one would require two additional minutes to walk to our house.

Our families began to visit each other while soon Sajjad and I formed a Cricket team. It was a very mobile cricket team. We would play cricket whenever we got time –mornings, afternoons and evenings. They were the days of VCRs [Video Cassette Recorders]. There were no dish antennas or cable networks then. We used to exchange Indian video cassettes in the evenings; watch them at night and discuss about them the next morning in the school. It was that time when the popular Indian movie Sajjan was released featuring Sanajy Dutt and Salman Khan. We all young people in the town started adding “Sagar” (a name used by Sanjay Dutt in the movie as his last name) or “Sajan” at the end of our names. We were like Siraj Sagar, Sajjad Sajan etc. We were not the only ones. Even a lot of people in Panjgur still use Sagar and Sajan as their last names after being inspired from the extraordinary Indian movie.

I started to know Abid after they moved to our neighborhood. His father, Dr. Syed Ali, was to become our family doctor for at least one decade. Because of their father’s profession, friends called him Doctor. I talked to Abid, who was a class fellow of my cousin Irshad and a friend of my elder brother Siddiq, for the first time when we formed a cricket team. Called Prince Cricket Club, our team was the breakaway faction of a more popular club, the Young Star Cricket Club. With my cousin Iltaf Hussain captaining the team, Abid was offered to join the team. It was the first time Abid had to play cricket. He did not know how to play the game but joined the team only to support social development in the area.

I remember how difficult a task it was in those days to bring the young people into sports clubs in an effort to prevent them from taking drugs. The best way to counter drugs in rural Balochistan has always been to promote healthy sports activities. Unfortunately, the government does not do enough to promote sports in Balochistan while, fortunately, the youth have had a history of keeping the sporting culture alive even by spending money from their own pocket money.

(To Be Continued)

Read the full original story

Link to Panjur Diary: Abid Shah, Part II

Faiz Baluch