By Mizan Ul Mowla
During our stay at Warsak Camp…almost, 22 Bengali students of our camp were given free education by Edwards College Peshawar….The credit goes to our friend Haider. He discovered Edwards College for all of us…! Hats off to Haider…Hats off to the Principal of Edwards College, Peshawar…!
In the mornings…we would all reach the main gate of the camp…near the guard room. We had to log our names before boarding the military truck going to Peshawar every morning. The person who was in charge at the guard room…I still remember his name…Ashiq ! In the beginning he used to be very tough…and somewhat impolite…gradually, at a later period, he became very friendly and helpful. Our trip to the college …had to be made on this military truck only…..but very soon we had the liberty to use the public transport service…of course, we had to pay the bus fare!
The truck used to drop us at a convenient location…very near to Edwards College. We had to walk a little distance…and that stretch is still a memorable walk. We used to have lot of fun…walking to the college…pulling each others leg…cracking jokes …planning the time we had to spend at city center...Gora Bazaar after the college was over.
Though the principal of the college had waived off the college fees for almost 22 Bengali students….he had instructed all of us to put on the uniforms like all other students of the college. All of us got our uniforms stitched….white shirt and grey trousers. This was fine till the end of summer…..winter started and we had to wear warm clothing. The winter uniform was the same…white shirt, grey woolen trousers and a green Edwards College blazer! The first two… we could afford…..since our parents did not have enough money…we could not wear the blazer. During the college assembly every morning ….all 22 of us had to be away from the assembly…we were politely told by the Principal to abstain from the assembly…since we broke the uniformity!
We all used to stand under the trees….at the far end of the play ground. When the assembly was over…we would move to our class rooms. Here I would like to express gratitude towards the Principal….who had shown us lot of consideration and kindness! We are all indebted to that great personality….who rescued us! He helped us to continue our studies…..without paying any fees in a prestigious missionary college of Pakistan…where so many students aspire to seek admission…I would say, we were very fortunate to have been blessed with such an opportunity!
The class mates were excellent….we were never discriminated. I cannot recall any incidence…where we were bullied by any of the students. The teachers were all very nice too….though we had good class mates, the circumstances…and the mental frame of mind…plus the constraints of living in a POW camp never gave us an opportunity to get close to the other Pakistani boys. The saddest part….or the unfortunate truth is…I cannot recall even a name of one of my class mates!
Very sad… Though they were so nice…yet we did not mingle very closely with them.We had a nice cafeteria in the college….sometimes we used to spend moments of our time to have a cup of tea with delicious “samosas”..! I still remember the nice taste …at this very moment; I feel like going to Edwards College ...and have a bite of those …tasty “samosas”..! I really don’t know…why I am thinking so much for those “samosas”…. perhaps, I want to visit Peshawar once again..!
Everyday,after the classes were over…all of us used to go to city center…Gora Bazaar! Most of us traveled from the college to Gora Bazaar by taking a ride on a Tonga…! Some would travel that distance by the public transport bus also. Our meeting point was at the American Centre (Library)…what a nice place it was..! We could read the daily newspapers…magazines...like TIME magazine, National Geographic and other periodicals. The most popular was…Time magazine…it always had lot of articles on Bangladesh and independence war. Very interesting and valuable for us..! We really enjoyed our time at the American Center.
It was indeed a well managed setup! Any person would love to spend some time in such a library...having a vast collection of reading material. At times….we tore off pages from various publications having articles and news on Bangladesh…! Though this pinched our conscience ...yet we never refrained from such actions as we wanted to carry these informative material back to the camp and share them with all others who did not have the liberty to go out of the POW camp. We thought of the possibilities of getting caught…in case the librarian takes notice of the torn pages…all related to Bangladesh…Obviously, possible suspects will be the Bengali boys from…Warsak!
To distract the possible attention towards us…we started to tear off pages of other topics also. This practice continued till the last visit to the American Center!
There were other families in the camp who did not have big children going for college …..We were the ones to buy their commodities from city center. Although…we had some shops near the WAPDA and PWD colony on the other side of the camp….still the provisions available, were limited.
Every evening, list of provisions needed was given to us by the other families… along with the money for the purchase. All these requirements we used to meet after college hours….we used to have almost 2 hours free time for us since the truck used to pick us up from the location on the Mall Road at around 1.30 PM in the afternoon.
I had a very good taste of picking up clothes for the ladies…like saris. My mother had asked me to buy some saris…which I did. She had approved all the saris…and liked them very much! When the other aunties saw the saris which I had chosen…they also asked me to buy some for them as well. I used to enjoy…shopping! I became quite popular amongst the shop keepers. During one such visit to a shop…the shop keeper displayed many saris.
When I enquired the origin of the product…he told me that it was made in China…and showed me the printed label on the sari as well…It was printed as MADE IN CHAINA….immediately I reacted saying…” this is for sure not made in CHINA “…the shop keeper insisted that it was! He even took support of his colleagues to convince me. I kept on saying” I am sure that this is not a Chinese product…”…” how do you know that this is not a Chinese product…” he questioned. So I explained to him…” the printed label says CHAINA….WHICH IS INCORRECT….if this was truly a genuine Chinese Sari, it should be printed as CHINA and not CHAINA..!
He had no words to defend himself and honestly admitted…” Achha to aapko pata lag gaya hai….ye batao, aap kidar se hain… I replied …” main Bengali hoon…” His reaction….”Issi liye hum pakra gaya….pehle humko kisi ne nahin pakra…” This was certainly a compliment!
At times…some Aunties would give us gold ornaments to sell to the Gold Shops and bring them the money for meeting the household expenses at Warsak Camp…the officers were paid only a subsistence allowance…very meager amount, not sufficient for most of the families. What a pity…to have sold one’s favorite collection of gold ornaments...!
There was a joint for Chapli Kebab in one of the streets of Gora Bazaar. Very nice Kebabs were prepared there…Almost every day…when all our other assignments used to be over at Gora Bazaar….most of us would visit the place and enjoy a nice meal…Chapli Kebabs and Nan Roti…and later a cup of tea! This was not a proper restaurant…we had to climb up to the roof top, where the seating arrangement was made for the customers. If I remember correctly…the total cost used to be 50 or 60 paisas only! The smell and the taste of fresh Nan Roti was too good…and of course the Kebabs were the specialty!
After this…it was about time for us to walk towards the spot where the truck picked all of us….to carry us back to Warsak Camp.
The spot, where we had to wait for the truck, was on the Mall Road….a walk of 7-10 minutes from city center. There we could meet all the other boys from the group of 22 students. While waiting, the passersby …whether walking or in cars, would glance at us…They all knew we were Bengalis stranded in Pakistan. Everyday 3-4 GCs used to be at that spot…waiting for the truck to take them back to Warsak Camp. We used to feel much secured with their presence amongst us…while waiting for the truck to arrive.
Then one day…the worst nightmare happened! A group of 15-20 Pakistani students came out of a college bus…all carrying hockey sticks…in no time, they had surrounded us! “ Kal kis ne ishare kiye the…?” one of them enquired. They all looked so hostile and …all ready to give us a bashing!!! We were all very concerned….fearing what will happen if a fight starts?? Fearing…how would the public react in case such a thing happens??? Within minutes….5-6 GCs, who were also waiting for the Truck ride, intervened…they came in between us and the Pakistani students. The moment this happened…the Pakistani students backed out. They quietly left...but warned us of serious consequences in the future.
Later on, we found out that a day earlier, the Pakistani college students were jeering at some of the Bengali students while they were waiting for the truck. In response…the Bengali students made some gestures. That had provoked them..!
Anyhow, nothing serious happened that day…nothing happened in the future also… Thank God!
Coming back to the truck ride back to Warsak Camp… It used to take almost 20-25 minutes. The highway was somewhat uneven…bumpy at times. Passengers seated at the rear of the truck…could not keep them selves on their seats! On certain stretch of the highway…we used to bump off the seats, as high as 2 feet! The feeling was a weird one…we could not stop ourselves from a burst of laughter…! It was really fun…too good!
Upon arrival at the camp guardroom …we all would log our names once again. This was a measure to keep track of all who had gone out have returned back…! No attempts to escape to Bangladesh…through Kabul!!
This brief description is …….for all those who did not enjoy the opportunity of going out of the camp everyday…it was like enjoying freedom for 11 hours everyday in the outside world!