|Illustration by Fahad Naveed
Having been around the country, I have heard tales and tales of which I have a few favourites. The most recent, gleaned in Ormara on the seaboard, is also the most preposterous — simply because naval officers are passing it off as gospel. Since everyone has heard Alexander of Macedonia passed through Makran (and no one has read any history), they have forced that poor man to posthumously march along the beach. Ormara naturally fell on his route.
Now, Ormara is a strange name that they could not attribute to anyone else, so a local historian has created a general in Alexander’s army who answered to the name of Ormur. Funnily, the letter r in both syllables of this famous general’s name are palatal — a sound that does not exist in Greek! But who cares as long as the place name can be explained.
I have heard that dignitaries visiting the naval base are ‘briefed’ by an officer about the exploits of General Ormur. On the last trip there, I was told that the navy plans on erecting a statue of an equestrian General Ormur, raised sword in hand, at a crossing inside the naval base!
Then, there is the story at Agor, east of Ormara. On a small hillock, smack by the Makran Coastal Highway, there is a group of ruinous Chawkandi style burials that date to about 300 years ago. Some idiot has put up a large sign by the highway for all to notice. The sign informs passing ignorant masses that these are ‘Tombs of Soldiers of Mohammad bin Qasim’. Where on earth did some moron get this information is what I would like to know.
And damn the historical evidence that neither Alexander nor MbQ travelled this way. It is of no consequence that they both used the route between Turbat (Kech), Awaran and Lasbela.
Then, there is my old pet about tunnels under every freaking fort in Pakistan. In Lahore, ‘tourist guides’ have tunnels going to Delhi and Srinagar; in Derawar, tunnels to Bikaner and in Rohtas and Attock to everywhere else in the world. I tried to reason with every teller of tunnel tales that we never read, in any history, of kings travelling by tunnel — but no one believed me.
So, I decided to have some fun with the self-proclaimed and acclaimed ‘guides’ of the Lahore Fort. In true cloak-and-dagger manner, I took one aside and, offering him a few thousand rupees, told him to show me the tunnels. The money he was to get after we had been inside.
Why, he asked. Well, said I, we all know the tunnels went in every direction, right? The man nodded excitedly. Putting my arm around his shoulders, I drew him closer still and told him I had found the opening of one tunnel at its other terminus in London.
The man was incredulous. I said I was as serious as death and, being a manpower exporter, I hoped to set up business sending illegal immigrants to old Blighty by the tunnels. The man became more sceptical. If he showed me the tunnel under Lahore Fort, I said, he could be a 50-50 partner with me. Why, imagine him and I stuffing future Britons into the tunnel at Lahore Fort and they popping out in Marble Arch and Hackney and Slough, from the sewers, like a whole bunch of cockroaches.
I think I did not use the right word for future British nationals because now he was totally untrusting. But then his colleagues, who I until then had kept at bay, mobbed us to know what we were about and the whole spiel fell to pieces.
As I was leaving, I told them that the Mughals were technically simply incapable of digging tunnels of any length. If digging tunnels hundreds of kilometres long was such easy work, why on earth was it taking us forever to build a few kilometres under the Lowari Pass to Chitral? But we don’t think. We only manufacture history.