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"The Escape" Part II. by Zak Mir

 

          It is mid-summer of 1971. Taher’s first attempt to escape from Pakistan with his fellow 

 

officers, Captain Patowari and Delowar, is completely foiled after a series of unfortunate 

 

events. They had never anticipated that they would have to go back when they were so close 

 

to the Indian border.  Instead they have to start all over again.  The whole escape plan turns 

 

out to be a deep disappointment. 

 

          But putting it all behind, they decide to return to the bases and regroup after they have had 

 

time to rejuvenate and plan things out more carefully. The three men catch the bus from 

 

Mirpur bus depot and head toward Rawalpindi but before going their separate ways, Taher 

 

speaks to the junior officers.

 

          “It’s a shame what happened,” he says. ”We must continue to try until we succeed.”

 

          “Of course, sir” says Patowari. “Who knew the enemy outpost was right there and 

 

we’d walk right into it. But I’m glad we stopped when we did.”

 

          “I hope we chose a better path next time?” says Delowar, touching his blistered feet.

 

          “No doubt,” says Taher. “But let’s not lose focus in the meantime.”

 

          As they shake hands and bid farewell Taher notices both Patowari and Delowar are 

 

completely wiped out by the unforgiving heat and humidity of the forest and the rough 

 

terrains of the mountains that the two young captains are not accustomed to. Taher jumps 

 

back on the bus to Kharia toward his base in Abottabad and as he looks out the window he 

 

stares at the path that would have led him across the border through the mountains. The 

 

thought that he was so close when he had to retreat, fills his heart with grief and 

 

disappointment. But he looks away and tells himself this is only a setback. “I’ll make it.”

 

          After he returns to the base Taher continues to seek out the Bengali officers and speaks to 

 

them in private.  There were about one thousand officers enlisted with the Pakistan Army  

 

those days and Taher tells them without any prevarication that their sole responsibility is to 

 

their motherland and their only concern is to escape Pakistan and join the Liberation War and 

 

fight alongside the Mukti Bahini, the Freedom Fighters.

 

          “They desperately need us,” Taher says, pointing out that the enemy they are facing

 

is a very sophisticated one backed by America on one side and China on the other. “Just 

 

imagine how invaluable we’d be in training the Freedom Fighters and leading the country 

 

toward sure victory.” 

 

            But ideological differences and fear divide the officers.  As part of the armed forces 

 

their loyalty largely remains to the Pakistan Army that has recruited them and trained them to 

 

protect and serve the country and not to side with Awami League that is leading the country 

 

toward sedition. After all Bangladesh known as East Pakistan back then is still part of the 

 

West. 

 

          Some of the officers console themselves thinking things are not as bad as they hear and 

 

the patriotism of the Bengali gentry remains confined to heated discussions in their living 

 

room only.  Some are even afraid of whiplash, particularly after a recent incident of escape, 

 

should the word get out and they get caught conspiring against their master.

 

       Few officers who were working as instructors in the Kabul Military Camp, near 

 

Abottabad Military Cantonment, had fled the country. As soon as the news broke, security 

 

was heightened and the Bengali officers were now kept under a close watch. Taher was even 

 

moved to Kharia Cantonment when the Senior Technical course he was attending at the 

 

School of Infantry and Tactics was suddenly terminated. He was also put under close 

 

surveillance. 

 

           Despite the obstacles, resistance and fear that persisted among the officers, Taher feels 

 

the days for liberating his people was coming nearer and with that spirit in mind he forges 

 

forward and meets with his fellow officers hoping they will convert slowly. One day he 

 

arranges a private meeting in his home. The officers who attend listen to him respectfully and 

 

some of them begin to trust him and open up. Some of them even talk about the officers who 

 

recently escaped with great pride.  

 

          “What brave boys,” they say. “As brave as the Bengal Tiger.”

 

          But as soon as Taher presents them with the idea of escaping with him, they cringe 

 

with fear and put him off acting weak and vulnerable. 

 

          “But what if we’re caught,” they say, “have you thought about that?”

 

          “Of course,” Taher responds vehemently. “But we must not think about that right 

 

now. They have declared a war on us and we must unite and respond. It is our call of duty.”

 

          The officers look at each other, their eyes filled with doubts and contradictions.

 

          “Let us not forget about Operation Searchlight,” Taher reminds them about the 

 

barbaric fascist attack of the Military Junta on his people. It was the harrowing night of the 

 

25th of March, when General Tikka Khan, nicknamed, the Butcher of Baluchistan orders the 

 

military crackdown in Dhaka and unleashes his brute force to hunt down innocent people and 

 

kill them, indiscriminately.

 

          “When I came to learn that serious measures were going to be taken that night, I spent

 

the entire night restless.” Taher tells them. “The whole night I walked the lonely roads of 

 

Quetta and I could feel the birth pangs of a nation.”

 

          But the officers still do not exhibit any support and straddle the fence thinking only of 

 

their own safety.

 

          “If they find out we are even talking about this, we are dead,” says someone.

 

          “You know what harm it can bring down upon us and our families back home,” says 

 

another.

 

           “I hear you,” Taher says. “No one said it was going to be easy. I worry about my 

 

family too. I think what great harm this can bring down upon them, but friends, it is not about 

 

me or you or our families. It is about stopping a genocide in the heart of Bangladesh.”

 

          “And what if we lose the war?” someone asks. “What then?”

 

          “Another hundreds years of slavery,” Taher says. “That’s what. Have you forgotten 

 

how they’ve always treated the Bengalis?”

 

          The officers look at each other with silence. 

 

          Taher continues to challenge them, invoke their conscience and patriotism.  “In the 

 

army we are taught we are a nation of traitors. We’re born to serve and it is pious 

 

responsibility of all Pakistanis to make the Bengalees, “pukka Muslims,” and true patriots as 

 

if they are all saints from heaven sent upon us to set us free.”

 

          As Taher speaks of the mistreatments and open discrimination by the fellow 

 

Pakistanis, his face fills with such rage, resentment and contempt. ‘They shall see who is 

 

inferior, uncultured, unpatriotic.”

 

          “What about our allegiance, sir, someone says. “We’ve taken an oath.”

 

          “Of what, hatred, injustice, brutality?” Taher says.

 

          “Is this the legacy you want to leave your children? A legacy of oppression, injustice 

 

and inequality?”

 

          “After the last incident I heard, they’re still watching you, Taher.” says one of his 

 

          “I am sure they are. I see their eyes following me, in the cafeteria, the hallway, in the 

 

training room,” Taher says. “But we must stand up for ourselves.”

 

             Two years ago an incident happens at the officer's cafeteria. One morning Taher and 

 

his colleagues were having breakfast and not too far from where they were sitting, a group of 

 

Pakistani officers were talking about the upcoming General Election. They were talking 

 

about Sheikh Mujibur Rhaman, the leader of Awami League, who is leading the nationalist 

 

movement in Bangladesh. Their tones toward Sheikh Mujib was not only ignorant but it was 

 

disrespectful and inflammatory.  Taher was in flame. 

 

          “He is only good at one thing, agitating the mass,” says one of the Pakistani Officers 

 

walking with his tray of food. “He is trying to break up this nation.”

 

          Then one of the officers say, “Oh don’t even talk about that man, bloody traitor.”

 

          Hearing their conversation, Taher quietly rises from his chair and very calmly he

 

walks over to the officer and grabs him by his collar and then throws him on the table like a 

 

wet rag, catching the man completely off guard. The officer traumatized, squeals but cannot 

 

move as Taher holds him down with his face squashed against the table, his arm behind him 

 

in a arm lock. 

 

          “How dare you, you son of a bitch.” He twists his arms so hard the man begs for 

 

mercy. “I’ll break your arm.”  

 

          Some of the officers who were watching try to break them apart but they step back, 

 

knowing Taher’s strength and rage. They let him ease out of the brawl on his own.

 

          The officer grunts with pain. “Ok, ok I’m sorry.”

 

          Taher releases the man. “It will be your neck the next time, if you ever talk like that 

 

about Bongobondhu.”        

 

                                               #

 

            Over the next few days Taher reopens his contact with Captain Patowari and 

 

Delowar. The three men start to meet frequently to go over the escape plan and come up with 

 

a new route to cross the border. They talk about the last failed attempt, about the time they 

 

walk right into the den of enemy outpost and how horrible the feeling was at the end, but 

 

they laugh it off.

 

          “This time,” Taher warns them, “there is no turning back. If you’re not sure, no need 

 

to come along.”

 

          “We are coming along,” Patowari says with renewed confidence and conviction.

 

          “Sir, my brother may also want to come,” says Delowar which makes Taher very 

 

delighted. 

 

          As it turns out, Delowar’s elder brother, Sultan, happens to be in Pakistan and works 

 

for the government. Listening to the story of their adventure, Sultan becomes inspired and 

 

decides to flee so he sends his family to London as his wife was an English citizen.  

 

          “Very well then,” Taher says, hoping to recruit as many men as possible. “But it is 

 

only men we can trust that can come along.”  

 

          Meanwhile Taher receives a telegram from home. It bears good news from his wife, 

 

Lutfa.  A daughter is born but he also learns that the family had to move to the village home 

 

as the armies started to crack down in the city. With the entire family, all of his nine siblings, 

 

who have joined the Liberation Force and actively fighting the Pakistani soldiers, they were 

 

facing a dangerous time.  

 

          On 22 July, Taher gets a suspicious call from a stranger who asks him to meet his 

 

reporting commander, Brigadier Khalil, and then abruptly hangs up the phone. Taher knows 

 

his plan to escape couldn’t be delayed any longer. He quickly assembles his team. 

 

        This time the group is made up of five members and over the course of a few days, 

 

Ziauddin, another young Major, who was working at the Rawalpindi General Quarter, also 

 

becomes interested in fleeing. Taher and his companions decide to bring him onboard.

 

Ziauddin manages to get hold of an old map which makes Taher feel more confident as he 

 

sees that this time they are better prepared and things are gradually falling into place and

 

unlike the previous episode, they have a well thought out and a calculated route.  This time 

 

they plan to cross the border via Sialkot near the Indian border. Take likes the idea.

 

          “Look what I got,” Taher grins, taking out a small Japanese toy compass from his 

 

pocket. Ziauddin chuckles.

 

            At first they instinctively think of taking the bus again but after giving it some 

 

thought they reconsider. Taher takes out all his savings and buys an old car.  Ziauddin knew 

 

a dealer who sold used cars, manages to find an old Volkswagen for the getaway.  As they 

 

put their final plans together and get ready to blaze out of town, Taher’s boss, Brigadier 

 

Osman, a Beluch sector commander, summons him to his office.

 

          “I heard the good news,” he shakes his hand. “First child, this is very exciting. You 

 

should immediately get them over here.” Osman emphasizes that considering what is going 

 

in the Bangladesh his wife and child would be safer in West Pakistan. 

 

          “There is no reason to delay,” Osman advises Taher.

 

          Even though Taher is touched by his sincerity and generous offer, he knows this is a 

 

trap. He has always respected his commander as a good man and also as a well-wisher but 

 

the fact that the two nations are on the brink of a civil war, changes everything. Osman 

 

cannot be trusted but Taher also knows that he cannot fight an enemy standing on its soil. For 

 

that he must be free. Taher nods and decides to play along.

 

          Before he leaves his office, Osman tells him in a fatherly tone of voice, “This is not a 

 

request son, an order. You must get her over here quickly.” 

 

           “Yes, sir," Taher says.

 

          As he salutes him and walks out, Osman asks, “By the way Taher, what did you name 

 

her, your daughter?”

 

          “Joya, sir” Taher replies from the door.

 

          “Matlab?” Osman asks in Urdu, his brows knit, voice filled with suspicion.

 

          “Victory, sir.” Taher says, looking directly into the light brown eyes of his 

 

commander, assuring him that the name of his daughter is more than a namesake.  It is a 

 

message.  Even though Osman has a  suspicion as to why Taher may have named his 

 

daughter, Joya, he doesn’t dare ask him the reason but stares right back at him defiantly until 

 

Taher leaves and shuts the door behind.

 

           As Taher walks back to his quarter, he thinks of Lutfa and his new born child. He is 

 

suddenly feeling the anxiousness of a new father, his heart racing wistfully. He longs to hold 

 

her and love her.  Taher is torn between the idea of bringing Lutfa to Pakistan and letting her 

 

stay with his family in Bangladesh but the thought of leaving his parents and siblings to the 

 

prey of the savage beasts, torments him. Taher decides to sleep on it. 

 

         In the meantime, someone secretly meets with Taher and tells him, “If it ought to 

 

happen it has to be by July. You mustn’t delay.”

 

        Taher decides to go see Brigadier Osman again. He tells him his wife is coming and he 

 

needs to go to Karachi to pick her up.  She is arriving on the 23rd July, he tells Osman which 

 

makes the man very excited.

 

          “It is extremely good news,” the old Brigadier tells him, sounding genuinely 

 

enthusiastic. “You should take my car Taher and when you return, I want to have a 

 

celebration.” 

 

            Taher nods again but he tells himself that under no circumstances he would borrow 

 

his car. 

 

          “I’d need some personal time off.,” Taher says politely. ‘I need to go get her from the 

 

airport and spend a little time with the family.”

 

          “Of course, take whatever time you need. Take ten days off!” Brigadier Osman says, 

 

granting him a short leave of absence. 

 

          Taher realizes the moment he has been waiting for has finally come and seizing on 

 

that opportunity he decides to use the time off as an excuse to leave the base and escape 

 

Pakistan, once and for all. With few men he trusts, he begins to hastily coordinate the 

 

meeting points and embark on his journey of defection. 

 

          On the 23rd of July, Taher leaves Abottabad and plans to meet up with Delowar the 

 

next day in Rawalpindi and together they decide to make a small detour and pick up Captain 

 

Patowari from Jhilm where he has been recently transferred.

 

          On the 24th morning, Taher learns that Delowar and his brother are coming at a later 

 

          Without delaying any further, that evening, Taher and Ziauddin go to Brigadier 

 

Khalil’s house, a Bangladesh officer, who manages to rise to the top rank but could never act 

 

on his wish to defect from Pakistan Army as he was lured by the career advancement. But he

 

was also one of those few officers who lived vicariously through others and helped them to

 

leave the force and get out of West Pakistan safely. 

 

          Taher and his companions spend a lot of time talking about their plans and at some point 

 

Khalil advises them to take Torkhan through Kabul and suggests them to take a tour guide, 

 

an Afghan man, to show them the easiest path across the border.  But Taher is not keen on 

 

putting his fate in the hands of a complete stranger. 

 

          “We’ll pass,” he says. “We’ll proceed on our own through Sialkot and if we fail we 

 

shall try another route.”

 

        Taher is exhilarated by the very thought that this is his last night in Rawalpindi. With 

 

Ziauddin in tow, he keeps bouncing back and forth between Pindi Club and Intercontinental 

 

Hotel trying to get everything organized before final departure.

 

       In the middle of the night, Captain Delowar and his brother, Sultan, arrive and they meet 

 

at the hotel. Ziauddin is very excited by their arrival and he debriefs them quickly, but the 

 

brothers decide to take a different route on their own. They decide Ziauddin and Taher will 

 

head toward Kabul and Delowar and his brother will head toward Sialkot so that they don’t 

 

all get caught together. 

 

          “Not a bad idea,” Ziauddin says. 

 

          At two in the morning, Taher and Ziauddin leave the brothers and go back to 

 

Ziauddin’s place at the headquarters to pick up a few things. When they arrive they are 

 

greeted by an unexpected guest.  A young captain, who happens to be a petty crony of the 

 

Pakistani Officers has come unannounced. Taher is afraid their plan will be completely

 

sabotaged if this captain finds out. But the man is fast asleep at the moment and Taher and 

 

Ziauddin quietly slide into another room and very carefully slip under the covers to get a shut 

 

eye before the morning.

 

          Taher wakes up at the crack of dawn of the 25th and when daylight is still a good distance 

 

away they start gathering things without making any sound. Taher picks up his shoes and 

 

Ziauddin tip toes to the kitchen to pack some food for the road.

 

          In a squeaky voice, Taher says, “Sorry, we cannot carry any baggage with us, Zia. There 

 

is lot of distance to cover on foot.” But Ziauddin gets desperate in his tone.

 

          “What if we get hungry,” Ziauddin says, “What will we do, where will we get food?”

 

          “For God’s sake.”  Taher raises his tone. “I’m sure we will come across road side tea 

 

stalls.” 

 

           Even though Taher tells Ziauddin to travel light he cannot resist the idea of carrying a 

 

couple of things himself.  When he was in Oxford, England with his wife, Lutfa, he had 

 

bought her two cardigans which she had left behind on a previous trip and asked him to bring 

 

them back whenever he returned. When Ziauddin goes to the car, Taher quietly packs the 

 

cardigans and a pistol that he obtained from his older brother Arif who was in service with 

 

the Pakistani government.  He also takes a small flash light, a Yashiqa camera and a golf 

 

club.

 

          The two young officers embark on their journey in their new automobile waiting outside.  

 

As the car speeds up, through the single lane highway, Taher thinks of a story in case they 

 

are stopped at the army check point.

 

          “And what will we say, sir?” asks Ziauddin.

 

          “You’re going on a vacation, in Lahore.  I’m on my way to Karachi to pick up my 

 

          “Sounds like a good plan, sir,” Zia says, “I hope they believe it.” 

 

          “Do you have a better idea?”

 

Ziauddin does not reply.

 

         They did not have anything to eat before they left.  Ziauddin complains he is starving so 

 

they make a quick stop at a road side food stand. They drink a cup of tea and pick up some 

 

dry snacks and then hit the road again.

 

        It is Sunday morning when they arrive in Jhilm. They run into a similar predicament 

 

they had earlier. When they arrive at the officer’s quarter where Patowari resides, Taher 

 

learns Patowari has visitors. To their detriment, they find a group of young Pakistani Army 

 

Officers have come who are presently preoccupied visiting, eating, drinking and mostly 

 

guffawing over a deck of cards. They are so distracted with their games that they don’t even 

 

notice when Patowari slips out of the house. 

 

          “Just tell them we are going for a quick ride.” Taher says, standing at the door. “We’ll 

 

be back soon.”  

 

          Patowari goes inside and tells his friends that he is checking out Taher’s new car and 

 

he will be right back. He meets Taher and Ziauddin downstairs in the parking lot.  As soon as 

 

he gets in the car they drive off. Taher breaks the news on the way that they are heading to 

 

Shialkot and then to the border. “This is it, my friend. We are not coming back.”

 

Patowari completely caught off guard by the news, flips. It suddenly dawns on him he 

 

is about to leave Pakistan forever he cries out, “Oh my God, my money.” 

 

          “What money?” Ziauddin asks.

 

          “No no, we’ve to turn back,” Patowari cries hysterically. “We have to turn around.’ 

 

          “What are you talking about, captain? Taher asks.

 

          “You see, all my money is in the bank. I have to go back.”

 

          “Today is Sunday, banks are not open.” Ziauddin says.

 

          "But it’s everything I have saved.” He cries again desperately.  

 

           Taher looks at him and says, “Don’t worry, Patowari, one day you’ll make it all back. 

 

But we have to make do with whatever cash we have with us.” 

 

           The car continues to blaze through the single land highway.By the middle of the 

 

afternoon they reach the borders of Sialkot and as they get close to the mountains they think 

 

how the borders are heavily guarded by the Punjab Battalion Regiment.  If they are caught 

 

they will be hanged. But if they walked about 10miles on foot and head toward the East they 

 

might be able to make a safe getaway to the Indian border.

 

         They decide to take a break and plan to meet up with Major Manzoor who lives in 

 

Sialkot and break up the journey and spend the afternoon in his house. They will resume after 

 

dark.

 

          Major Manzoor is splendidly surprised to see them at his door step.  He is a jolly kind of 

 

a person and likes company and the fact that his wife loved to cook, inspires him to have 

 

people over.

 

          “I know you were always planning to come one of those days but I never thought 

 

you’d make it, especially with everything that is going on.” Manzoor says. “But I’m glad you 

 

are here.”

 

           Manzoor’s wife shows her hospitality by graciously cooking lunch for the officers.  

 

Over lunch they discuss the current crisis back home and Taher discloses to Manzoor that 

 

they are on their way to Bangladesh that night and Manzoor should come along. The news 

 

hits Manzoor like  lightning. “I can’t believe you’re doing this.” 

 

        Over their long discourse through the night Manzoor expresses his concerns about 

 

escape and takes a different stance.

 

          “I don’t know. All I know if they find out that I’m accomplice, you know the 

 

consequences. We’ll not be just jailed, we’ll be executed.”

 

          “I know,” Taher says.

 

          Manzoor looks at his wife for support as he speaks to Taher, hoping she would come 

 

to his rescue and bail him of this quandary by dissuading the two Majors. But a quick glance 

 

at her sorts things quickly. 

 

           “We are going with them,” she says. “We cannot stay here.”

 

           “But what about the kids,” he says with an anguishing tone.  

 

           “We’ll do everything to make sure they don’t even get a scratch.” Taher says to 

 

comfort him. “Staying here would only endanger you and your family. You know these 

 

butchers.”

 

          Manzoor rubs his face, completely flabbergasted.

 

          This soon turns into a domestic dispute and Manzoor takes the matter inside. Sitting on 

 

the porch under the dim light that illuminates the small back yard Taher can hear the couple 

 

bickering, their voices rises and falls.

 

          Ziauddin begins to lose his patience. “What the hell is going on, sir? We have to make a 

 

move.”

 

          Taher lights up a pipe and keeps looking at his watch waiting patiently on the porch.

 

          “Just give them a few minutes,” Taher says and notices a silence has come over the house.  

 

Then he sees Manzoor coming out of the kitchen looking pensive and serious. 

 

          “She wins.” He says sarcastically. “I’ve a better route, let’s take that.” 

 

Taher smiles at him proudly and shakes his hand with renewed confidence in the 

 

Major. Together they walk in to the house and Manzoor grabs a different map which he lays 

 

on the dining table. 

 

          “If we go through Zafarwala, we can certainly reach the border which should be our 

 

main target.  But wait a minute, what about Alamgir,” Manzoor says looking at the batman 

 

soldier through the window who was finishing up his chores in the kitchen. “We have a 

 

problem.”

 

          “Do you not trust him?” Taher asks. 

 

          “It is not that,” says Manzoor. “Leaving him here would be dangerous, even for him.”

 

          “He has worked for us all these years and I am not leaving him behind,” says 

 

Manzoor’s wife walking in with a tray of tea. “We have to take him, Taher Bhai.”

 

          Ziauddin gets angry with Manzoor as the situation continues to get complicated. 

 

          “Look we are already late we have be on the road.  Plus look at the car, it’s tiny.”

 

          “Look we’ll make room even if it means we have to tie him up on the roof.”  Taher 

 

says, jokingly. "Let’s speak to him, see if he wants to go.”

 

           As soon as Alamgir finishes putting up the dishes they call him and disclose the plan. 

 

Without a second thought Alamgir jumps on the idea and says with tears, he was planning to 

 

go home to get married but now that the war has started he wants to be with his family.  He 

 

rushes to the servant’s quarter and comes back with a small sack and the saris he had bought 

 

for his future bride. But when he returns he is dismayed noticing there is barely any room for 

 

him in the small Volkswagen.  If he tags along it would be a burden. 

 

          “Please forget me, you all go ahead,” Alamgir says with a melancholic tone, his heart 

 

broken.  

 

          With a three year old and a baby and three adults in the back, they are squished inside.  

 

But Manzoor’s wife sorts it out again and says, “It is a matter of few hours. This is not a joy 

 

ride. Just get in.”

 

        Around 9pm they leave the house and begin their journey through the dark roads. It is 

 

very tight and stuffy inside. The couple sit in the back with the two small children, while 

 

Ziauddin sits in the front and navigates. Taher takes the steering wheel. Alamgir keeps trying 

 

to shift himself at the edge of the seat trying to make room but they are too close to each 

 

other for comfort.  

 

          “Just stay still,” Manzoor’s wife tells him.

 

          Even though it is an old car and has lot of mileage, the engine hums quietly and blazes 

 

along the desolate highway toward the border. Ziauddin brags about the car as if he had built 

 

the engine himself and had kinship with German engineers. Other than that there is hardly 

 

any conversation in the car and everyone’s gaze is fixed on the road ahead in keen 

 

anticipation of the border. 

 

          The kids have fallen asleep. Every now and then the infant squeals but Manzoor’s wife 

 

holds the baby tight up against her chest to keep her still and warm. Taher rolls down the 

 

window to prevent him from falling asleep on the wheel. The darkness outside is chilling as 

 

the temperature begins to fall.  It is rapidly becoming damp and cold.  As Taher looks in the 

 

rear view mirror the eerie darkness makes him scared but he doesn’t dare say it out loud. 

 

Soon it starts to drizzle and the road barely illuminated by the headlights is wet and slippery.  

 

Major Manzoor leans over and tells Taher, “I think we should slow down.”

 

          Taher eases off on the gas.  As they come near Sialkot Cantonment, they realize they are 

 

approaching the army check post. Everyone becomes tense with fear and they hold their breath.

 

          “I’ll do the talking,” Taher murmurs. “We are on vacation. That’s all they need to know.

 

          “Vacation! Huh, no food, no luggage!” Ziauddin says with a cynical tone of voice.

 

          “What kind of vacation is this?”

 

          “You’re too funny, Ziauddin,”  Taher laughs. “Just act normal.”

 

          Ziauddin knows he doesn’t have a better idea. He shuts up and shrugs his shoulder.  

 

The guard at the check post comes out in a long trench coat and boots and peeks inside the 

 

window standing under an umbrella.

 

          “Where are you going?’ The guard asks in Urdu.

 

          Taher shows him his identity card and replies back in Urdu, “Zafarwala, family 

 

vacation.”

 

          The guard peeks inside again flashing the torch light. He looks at them suspiciously but 

 

he also notices everyone is miserable inside. He returns the ID and waves his hands.

 

          “Chalo chalo,” he says permitting them to go. 

 

          As soon as the iron gate lifts and closes behind and the car reaches a safe distance 

 

everyone lefts out a huge sigh of relief. 

 

          “Oh thank God, I thought I was going to die,” says Manzoor’s wife.

 

          They know they have overcome their first major hurdle and for now they are home 

 

free. But it is not over yet. It was about 10pm when they arrive at Zafarwala near Sialkot. 

 

Taher slowly pulls over to the narrow curve on the side of the road.  This is as far as they can 

 

go by car. The rest of the path must be crossed on foot. Taher leaves the headlight on and 

 

asks everyone to get out. Everyone gets out of the car and stretches except for Manzoor who 

 

sits inside the car and stares at the dark dirt road, the jungle leading to the mountains, 

 

invisible from the long distance. 

 

           “We must go!” Taher says.

 

          “What are we doing?” Manzoor says.

 

          “This is as far as we can go. We have to leave the car behind.” Taher says.

 

          “Are you crazy, do you have any idea how dangerous this is? We have two small 

 

children with us.” 

 

          Manzoor’s nervous indecision and constant misgivings irks Taher.

 

          “This is your last chance to go back. If you are not sure, you can drive back.” Taher 

 

hands him the keys.  A lorry with deep headlights passes them in a serious rush as though it 

 

is escaping town as well.

 

          “Look it is dangerous, standing here like this on the side of the road,” Ziauddin says, 

 

equally vexed at Manzoor. “We can definitely get caught.”

 

          For the first time, Manzoor shakes his head. “No, I’m not going back. We came this

 

far."

 

          Manzoor’s wife smiles at him proudly. Taking his daughter from his wife, Manzoor 

 

says, “I got her, you get the baby!”  

 

          Alamgir abandons the sack he is carrying in the back seat and picks up the baby bag 

 

and the small supply of food they brought with them.

 

          “Let’s go! I am ready,” Manzoor says and they begin their journey through the 

 

woods leaving the car behind.

 

            The headlight that illuminates the pathway shows a ditch giving way to patches of  

 

water covered with lilies and acres of rice fields. Ziauddin and Alamgir warilyclimbs down 

 

the hill first while Taher holds the torch. Then Manzoor and his wife slowly crawl down, the 

 

children still in their arms. In the distance they hear crying of wild animals.

 

          “What’s that?” Manzoor's wife asks nervously?” Someone tells her it must be foxes. 

 

          “Or boars,” Taher says.

 

          “Oh God help us,” she cries, her whole body twitching with trepidation.  She spits in 

 

her chest to ward of the evil that might be following them in this eerie and unfamiliar 

 

darkness. She has spent many nights alone when Manzoor had to go for Officers training and 

 

living in the officer’s bungalow situated in the hilly areas, she never felt so strange and 

 

scared but today even amid the company of the bravest Army Officers Pakistan has trained; 

 

she is beginning to feel the chill of fear, her feet growing heavy and weary by the minute.

 

As they trek through the paddy fields they try to keep their feet on the raised narrow path that 

 

cut between each square of wet fields and try to keep their balance with their bodies afloat as 

 

though they are circus performers walking on a pole.  

 

          It is getting hard to navigate in the dark especially with the heavy cloud looming 

 

overhead. Suddenly the Japanese toy compass comes handy. Taher tells them if they walk 

 

east for another 3 miles they will surely cross the border.  Everyone keeps following him. 

 

The baby starts to squeal again but the loud thunder roars and shuts up the baby quickly. She 

 

does not cry any more.  Manzoor who is still carrying the daughter is getting tired. 

 

Ziauddin says, “Can we not take a break? “

 

          “We are almost there,” Taher says. 

 

          They continue and after a while another incident happens. As they are walking 

 

suddenly Manzoor’s wife lands in the paddy fields where the water is ankle deep. She 

 

screams in a panic, freaked out by the cold chill of the water.

 

          “My shoe, my shoe,” she shouts losing one of her shoes. 

 

          Taher quickly grabs her arm, “Forget your shoe, let’s go.”

 

          But they notice the woman cannot  walk another 5 miles without any shoes. 

 

          ‘I am sorry,” she says feeling terrible.

 

          Manzoor hands over his daughter to Alamgir who is already struggling to keep up 

 

with the military men, but he picks up his pace and catches up.

 

          “My feet,” Manzoor’s wife cries. “I cannot feel them anymore.”

 

          Manzoor picks up his wife and carries her like a wounded soldier in the battlefield. 

 

Taher offers to relieve him after a while, but Manzoor feels he is in charge of his family and 

 

he will pull his weight. “If I get tired, you can take over.” 

 

          After a while, Manzoor is exhausted. He hands over his wife to Taher and as he lifts 

 

her up and puts her on his shoulders, he accidentally drops the bag of cardigans he brought 

 

with him.

 

         A few hours later, Taher says, “Manzoor, I think we have crossed the border.”

 

         Manzoor disagrees with him and says, “I’m almost positive we are still in Pakistan but 

 

if we continue toward right we should make a break.” 

 

        Taher doesn’t argue with the man since Manzoor knows his territory well. He used to 

 

cover this area for his service with border patrol. In the distance they begin to see a stream of 

 

dim lights. 

 

          “We are approaching the border, I think.” Taher says. “You guys go hide behind the 

 

bushes, let me check it out.”

 

          After he scouts out the area and returns, Taher tells them it is safe to continue but they 

 

have to cross the fence to go over to the other side. Everyone starts walking again, this time 

 

they take turns carrying the babies. Owing to the fact the road here is not wet and slippery 

 

Manzoor’s wife tries to walk on her own.  

 

            They finally cross the fence and make it near the border but danger is still within an 

 

arm’s length. The possibility of getting caught even at this juncture cannot be ruled out. 

 

There are villagers who sleep in small shacks by the paddy fields. They are watch guards. If 

 

they hear their footsteps they can start screaming they will be caught. They decide to be more 

 

careful and continue to walk in a single file, walking more toward east. Around two in the 

 

morning they come across a river channel which has dried out. 

 

            Taher takes out the map again and flashes it with his torch. This time he looks up and 

 

breaks the good news.  He tells everybody they are now inside India. “We can relax.” 

 

           Everyone drops their belongings to the ground and their bodies follow. They decide 

 

they will continue when the sun comes out but for now they want to close their eyes and rest.

 

 "I dedicate this story to Col. Abu Taher as we honor him and 21st of July, the day of his 40th anniversary of his martyrdom.  Col. Abu Taher." Zak Mir

 

Zak Mir is a Healthcare Project Manager by profession, with a passion for English and Bengali Literature. He likes to write short fiction and currently working on a screenplay inspired by a true story of a war hero, a true patriot who gives his life for the freedom of his country, Bangladesh.

 

Tagore, Nazrul and D.H. Lawrence are among some of the writer's favorite writers. The writer currently lives in NJ with his family.