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