By Fazal Amin Beg
Although, for more than two decades I’m proactive in documenting the life stories of different people (more than 150 so far by April 2022) beyond any linguistic, religious, regional or other considerations, I must admit that I am failed so far to cover my own memoirs of childhood and youth primarily due to unavailable time for myself and I also shy away to boaster in a sense about myself.However, I think I should work on them in bits and pieces whenever I get time and venture to publish them so the real stories of different societies and cultures should get reflected in them in an evolutionary context. I’m therefore going to write and offer some of them about my childhood and school life that may be of some interest to the readers. With the course of time, I’d try to update my autobiography here.
Taking interest in learning different languages (besides my own mother tongue, or Urdu and English compulsory for us as part of our education) was from my school life. What I can remember yet of the early years of the 1980s when the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and in consequence of this phenomenon the Kirghiz of the Little Pamirs had fled their old abodes and entered in the Northern Pakistan, that also included Hunza valley. Along with other families of Gulmit (my hometown), my own family members were also on our pastureland of Gulmit above Khudabad named S̃himizhrav for the purpose of transhumance. I was also on S̃himizhrav during the summer vacations enjoying the nature with other children and friends of childhood and helping my family and other relatives in tending the livestock, taking out and collecting flocks of the sheep and goats as well as firewoods when I was in class-8.
It wasn’t only this but rather also met the Kirghiz families in S̃himizhrav and would try to talk to them in Kirghizcha (Kirghiz language). I had developed friendship with a boy (whose name I unfortunately forgot) and would ask him to share different phrases in Kirghiz that I’d thus write in my notebook to remember. Few phrases I still remember are Qa’yda baras (where are you going?) Jaghshi (fine or good) and the like. At the same time, there were also Burushasski speaking people of Khudabad on the pastureland and when they would speak in Burushaski with our people that would also infuse an interest in me to learn it in bits and pieces. I thus developed a trend in this regard, too, although Burushaski is more complicated than Wakhi and Kirghiz in different grammatical contexts.
In Spring 1984, I appeared in my matriculation examination of the Board of Secondary Education, Islamabad. At that time, there was no examination center in the Government Boys School in Gulmit. For this purpose, there was no choice but to go to Karimabad(the capital of the former Hunza State). I thus stayed for over a month in Karimabad by staying in the house of late Chairman Rahmatullah Baig of Qurkuts tribe (who was a highly decent gentleman and friend of my late maternal uncle Rai Ghulamuddin Khan). This was a wonderful, compassionate , caring and unforgettable Burushaski family where I spent the weeks like my own house. It was here I met also Farhatullah Baig son of late Chairman Rahmatullah Baig who was also in his school life but proactive in scouting. Along with his other mates, the smart Farhat would put on his attractive scouting uniform and the Isma’ili scarf around his neck and would walk around during his voluntary duty with a great pride. Sarfarz (Farhat’s cousin) was so young at that time and the late aunty (Sarfarz’s mother) served me very graciously. This provided me an opportunity to actively learn some Burushaski further more.
The result of my matriculation examination was announced perhaps in the month of june and I got four papers failed including Mathmatics, Physics, Chemestry and Urdu.Oh! what a pity? How come such result? At least, never expected in such a way, despite the fact I’d spare some time for my study, at least, at night in the light of lantern as there was no electricity system in Upper Hunza (Gojal),.
I would thus study in my bed hanging the lantern at the wall above my pillow. Apart from the domestic work at home, we had an opportunity to have our house attached to the Gulmit Polo ground, where along with other children would spend our time either gossiping or playing or fighting together. The ground had thus both the advantages and disadvantages for us being children.
At night, when I would open my books, would study for an hour or two and then fall asleep. Sometimes, my mother, Bibi Husni Khan daughter of Muhammad Siyyab Khan, would clandestinely raid and scold me seriously rather harshly to sit and study instead of lying in the bed, because I would turn my face towards the wall and study so that to sleep whenever I wished. However, what’s the need to describe the stories in such manner. Gone is gone, I consoled myself for a while. But, work hard and hard next. I advised myself.
Finally, I had to face my parent’s, particularly my late father (Zafarullah Beg). Being afraid internally, I shared the result with them. Well, the reaction was not that strong, which I had expected .They were kind enough and boosted my morale to attempt them next and I would get the success, they advised.
Why and how could such advice come or we expect from our non-literate parents? In addition to their affectionate parenthood, they had known the realities of other students earlier than us because a tradition and good excuse had already been set by our school teachers that Islamabad Board was so strict with regard to marking of the papers and score of the students. Second, three of my siblings older than me (named Rahmatullah Beg, Husn Parveen Beg and Ghulam Amin Beg) had also seen such consequences earlier than me in their matriculation examination.
What to do next? Both of my older brothers were in Karachi. Although, there was a telephone exchange service of the military based in Gulmit, there was no landline telephone system at hoem, no mobile system, no Internet or What’s App as we think or act on these lines today and communicate immediately. The only exceptions were either to write letters and communicate (as I had this channel functional with them), or to call from the telephone exchange to their office numbers, or send the telegrams and share the important messages.
However, I wrote a letter and updated my brothers about the result that I had championed to fail in four papers. It was their kindness that they also enhanced my confidence and asked me to leave for Karachi to prepare myself and appear in the matriculation examination from the Board of Secondary Education, Karachi as a private candidate. For this purpose, I had to transfer my Education Board from Islambad to Karachi and appear in the four failed papers in addition to Sindi language.
It’s important to note that it was my old brother Rahmatullah Beg who had reached Karachi earlier (among us as siblings) and was working in Sheraton Hotel in the front office. He enabled us to extend his support in the education of Ghulam Amin Beg and myself in the initial years. It’s his great compassion, and unforgettable, indeed.
In September 1984, my parents and other family members said goodbye to me and I left for Karachi. If I correctly remember, my late father gave me more or less two thousand rupees and it was a huge amount during those days when the PIA ticket from Gilgit to Islamabad was lesser than two hundred and fifty Pakistani rupees.There was no companion all the way to Karachi . However, I traveld from Gulmit to Rawalpindi in the company of two of my relatives, Sheikh Hassan son of Abdul Amin and husband of my first cousin (Zena Begum daughter of my uncle Khairullah Beg) and Asadullah Khan son of Muhabat Hayat of Gulmit, who were soldiers and on their duty somewhere in Punjab at that time,.From Gilgit, we traveld in the NATCO bus and the driver was Nigah Muhammad son of Muhammad Magh of Passu.He was well-known for his fast driving and also for his courageous behavior.
The KKH was so comfortable for being paved but the travel so long and boredom. On the way, Sheikh Hassan and Assadullah Khan would tell the names of the main places when they were crossed or we descended during the intervals either for the tea or meal. Yes, there was also a gentleman named Sher son of Talib of Gulmit, who later became a citizen of the United States and recently passed away.A dangerous incident occurred when we reached at a place called Bisham when some people entered in the bus with guns and attempted to kill Sher of Gulmit because on the way he took the picture of a woman who was a co-traveller from Gilgit and her male family member was also with her. The young woman was so attractive but it was interesting that he didn’t take her picture directly in the bus but rather looking in the driver’s mirror from his seat, has focused her and got her picture in his camera. It was seen by his male counterpart and didn’t tell him anything on the way but when we reached Besham and they were descending, his people emerged on the spot. It was so hard time and the Bus driver, Nigah Muhammad and some other people so cleverly manage the affair. They decided to hand over the camera film/real to the the opposite people and they will be developed and if found guilty, Sher would be handed over to them. In the meanwhile, Sher was asked to open tehe film in the light and not in the dark so that the pictures would get distorted when developed. Sher agreed to hand over the real/film of the camera and did open it in the light. They did take it and left the place. What happened in the aftermath, we don’t know but Sher resumed travel with us to Rawalpindi. This was a highly sensitive and dangerous incident of my first travel to Rawalpindi on the way to Karachi.
We reached Rawalpindi and the interesting man Sher led me towards the house of Rahmatullah Baig son of Rustam Baig and husband of my older sister Husn Parveen Beg. Rahmat would live at that time near Commercial Market, Rawalpindi and work with PIA at Islamabad Airport. Sarfarz Shah of Ghulkin, one of my wider family members, would live in the same house but in the opposite room. For a couple of days, I was thus in the company of my brother-in-law . Look around the congested city and in the meanwhile Rahmat was looking for travel companions from there onward to Karachi.
Fortunately, some people from Passu, whom I later knew were my relatives, too, and we left for Karachi in a train. Those people were Salahuddin so nof Sanah Khan, Jalaluddin son of Arbob Jalil and the like. Altogether, we were perhaps four or five Wakhi co-travellers. For the first time in my life, I saw and traveled in train. It looked so strange when it would run on two sides iron with a roaring noise and huge speed while taking a huge number of people in a house like thing.
Perhaps, in more or less 30 hours travel, we finally reached Karachi at night time. I was handed over to Iman Shah of Gulmit in Golimar. After taking tea, they took me and handed over to my brothers.