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Second Homes in Pakistan and India (1992) Back to stories index

Gadap - north of Karachi

It was Sunday afternoon and we were sitting outside a small cottage house made of stones and bricks. February sky was mixed blue and pale grey. The wind from Baluchistan mountains on the West carried a kind of strange but pleasant smell. On the East was the famous Indus river that comes down far from the Himalaya range - thousands of miles in the North. Ofcourse from a small house in Gadap, a northern town of Karachi, we could not see the river but we could see Baluchistan hills on the West.

'So that was my life in the mountains those days,' the old man broke the pause.
He had been talking about his old days in the Western hills of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. There he used to work as a trader of all kinds of second hand, used equipment and tools for many years. He travelled back and forth between the Western hills and Eastern plain. Sometimes he would go up to the north to find out what were wanted there. He would talk to the hardware shop owners and told them that he could supply what they wanted. Later he set up a shop in Karachi to buy second-hand tools to re-sell in the other towns. He had passed lots of bad and good times in his life, and fought to live.

His teenage grand daughter was quietly sitting and listening to our conversation. She did not interfere our talks. However at some points she asked me about things on the ship. Usually it was me and the old man doing the talk, and most of the time it was me who collected knowledge from the old man. When I had a problem onboard the ship with other sailors, I would tell him and he always gave me something to think about. He would not give me the direct solution. What I received was some kind of understanding and self-adjustment.

On one meeting I told him that I was treated unfairly by my second engineer. I was getting less go-shore time (time to visit the shore at the port) than others even though I worked harder, completed all my jobs and even helped others with their works.

'Aye, that is not very bad. Take it as a lesson. Don not do the same thing when one day you become a chief. Why not tell this to the youngs when you meet them in your older days. That could be a good education,' the old man replied.

As usual there was no answer to solve the problem. It was not about solving the current problem, but rather to take it as a lesson to educate myself and others. Anyhow it gave me a kind of relief and patience. Most of the stories I listened were of life, patience, survival, understanding, and differences in thinking and belief from people to people.

I met the old man accidentally. One day I was walking the crowded and un-orderly streets of Karachi city when I saw his grand daughter hit by a motorcycle. No one seemed to help the girl. I took her in a taxi to her house far outside the city, where I met the old man for the first time. He was talkative from the day one. From that day I always came to talk with them every time my ship arrived Karachi. When the weather was good we would sit outside in the little yard infront of the little house. Otherwise we would sit inside the living room of the three room house.


Next day night I came to a small apartment in Bombay (now called Mumbai). This time it was to sit with an old couple: an old working woman and her one-legged husband. The old lady worked in a bookshop where I bought a dictionary, a world map, and a physic project book to send to my sister. The book shop did not have a computer or anything electronic. The old lady wrote in the ledger book the details of the sale. She wrote the receipt by hand and gave me a copy. I saw a book about Burma (Myanmar) on her desk. Certainly she was reading the book. When I told her that I came from Myanmar she was delighted and said her husband used to work in the northern Myanmar at the Indian border. She invited me to visit her apartment.

That was how I got to know a place to come in Bombay quite in a strange way. The old man worked for British army when they retreated from Japanese advance in the north of Myanmar at the height of world war two. His left leg was amputated just below the knee after taking a bullet fire in a battle. He was then only 20. He came to Bombay to beg on the streets. After few years of begging he started selling lottery tickets. Later he sold newspapers, magazines as well and saved some money.

They were both happy to have a young friend. They did talk alot - mostly about the war and post-war time hardship, politics, and everything. Their ideas and belief were in many cases somewhat different from the old man in Pakistan. Their advices for my questions are also different. However what was the same was the urge of understanding of life and different people - the thing which looks easy but takes all your efforts.

I visited these people 14 or 15 times while I was sailing between far east and middle east. In the middle of the rainy season my ship was ordered to go to Singapore - Indonesian islands route. So that was the parting with my second homes in Pakistan and India. I really liked these people, and enjoyed the company of them. They were my teachers.

During all our meetings we never exchanged addresses or any other contacts for further communications. They never asked me my address to write letters. In fact asking address or phone number was never a matter throughout all our meetings. I even did not have chance to tell them that I was not coming again because I knew of the route change only when we were on the way from Bombay to Malaysia and Singapore. These people just wanted to deliver their knowledge. They wanted none in return. They were in fact in the later part of their life and wanted to leave something they learnt in their life. They just needed someone to listen to.

The encounters with these people give me a very meaning of our existence and non-existence.

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