Since my wife’s post on “Our James Bond” went down so well with people who follow this blog, I thought it was time for a Part II on the sleuths who are so much a part of our daily lives in Pakistan.
Like most Indians in Pakistan, I guess we have a love-hate relationship with our omnipresent shadows, who are now so much a part of our routine that we take them for granted. As my wife and I walked into a hotel’s parking lot for the Republic Day bash hosted by the Indian High Commission this year, a smiling man greeted me with a cheerful “As-salam-alaikum, kaise hain sahab?”
My wife couldn’t place him and asked who he was, since he obviously knew us. She wasn’t very pleased when I told her he was one of the “senior” shadows who usually oversaw the guys that stayed parked outside our gate, morning, noon and night irrespective of whether it was summer or winter.
Some of the James Bonds are more tolerable than others. Tariq was one who quite endeared himself to us. (I use his name as I am sure that’s not what his mother calls him.) He came up to me the first day he was posted at our home in Islamabad and greeted me.
“Sir, Tariq naam hai mera aur aaj se aap ke ghar par meri duty hai,” he said with a hint of a smile. I was a little taken aback as we were new in town then and most of our shadows kept a respectable distance. I returned his greetings and mumbled something about him letting me know if there was anything I could do to help him.
Well, Tariq certainly took me up on my offer. One day I got out of my home without Tariq realising that I was gone. When I returned several hours later, a sheepish Tariq came up to me and asked: “Where did you go, sir?” When I told him where I had been, pat came the reply: “Aur kahin to nahin gaye the?”
When two bulbs blew out in our home on a bitterly cold winter night, I decided to go to a nearby market and get replacements. I love walking, and as I made my way through the foggy night, a red motorcycle stopped next to me. It was Tariq. “Sir, where are you going?”
Feeling bad for the man, I told him I was only going to the market to get some bulbs. “Aur kahin to nahin jaa rahe hain? Koi party-sharty?” he asked. I assured him I had no such plans. “Achcha, thik hai sir. To phir mein jaa raha hoon,” came the reply.
It wasn’t exactly a one-way street with Tariq. My wife has a habit of wandering off while we are out together, and on one such occasion, she disappeared into a row of shops in a market. As I scanned the shops one by one, I realised someone was standing behind me. Tariq again. “Madam is in that shop,” he said, before slinking away.
Tariq isn’t the only shadow who endeared himself to the Indians. An Indian diplomat’s son once came home from school with an unusual assignment – his teacher wanted him to take photographs of himself with various objects and persons, including a policeman and a donkey. The diplomat was flummoxed as he had not seen a donkey anywhere near his home in Islamabad.
The diplomat made inquiries with his shadow, who offered to lead him to a place where there was a donkey. So, for a change, the diplomat’s car followed the shadow’s motorcycle, which led the way to a ‘katchi abadi’ – the Pakistani name for a shanty town.
The shadow assured the diplomat there was a donkey within the shanty town. But a new problem arose here – the diplomat’s son refused to wade through the refuse-strewn lanes of the katchi abadi. No problem, said the shadow, he would get the donkey out.
Soon, the shadow emerged from the shanty town, leading a donkey, and one very happy diplomat and his son soon went home with a photograph of the donkey and the kid!
Perhaps more surprising was the case of a defence attaché, who was greeted one day by one of his former shadows with a warm handshake and a greeting. The attaché asked the shadow why he was so happy. The reply truly stunned him – “Sir, I did such a great job of watching your home that I have been promoted and posted to the High Commission in London!”