04 April 2012

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

Luxuriating in an inhospitable land
This book is set in the bleak, isolated area where the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet, and begins with a glimpse into the life at a military outpost there. Each chapter then depicts different aspects of life and covers a wide range of subjects: the role of honour in different situations; the isolation of the Baluchis and negligence towards their needs in their own country despite their graciousness, trust, and spontaneity in offering affection; the wandering tribes, their culture and specific tribulations, and the points – sometimes fatal – at which they interact with the mainstream; the meddling of international agencies with vested interests in this crucial frontier area and how they use money and religion in twisted ways for short-term gains – and how their craftiness is sometimes played back against them; how a playground for privileged visitors can turn into a graveyard for locals … and many more.
Jamil Ahmad is a retired member of the Civil Service of Pakistan and he served as political agent and then commissioner in these areas, and as a minister in Kabul. This book is testimony to his love for and understanding of the people and land in which he worked, and his prose is sparse and starkly beautiful, strikingly appropriate to the story.

Here are a few examples.
These men died a final and total death. They will live in no songs; no memorials will be raised to them. It is possible that with time, even their loved ones will lock them up in some closed recess of their minds. The terrible struggle for life makes it impossible for too much time to be wasted over thoughts for the dead.
In their minds, home and permanency only meant a stay long enough to wash clothes or to fix the cradles to the trees.
In this land where imputation of immorality meant certain death, both men and women were careful.
I must also say that, while the lives described here are hard, this book is very easy to read and I read it aloud to my friend Gladys in just three sittings.

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