The latest tragedy in Pakistan makes me very sad. Sadness doesn’t fit very well with me, so I shall endeavour to cheer myself – and you – with a rather different vision of the place as it was just over eighty years ago.
My grandfather was a journalist and intrepid airman who flew to India in 1932 with a chap called Neville Stack, on one of the earliest flights to make the distance. One of their many refuelling stops was at Gwadar on the coast of Balochistan, of which Quetta is the provincial capital. Here’s what he said about the place.Baluchistan, on the edge of the desert, is the abode of quiet, friendly, peaceful people. There is a telephone at the block house which is all that is to be found at the aerodrome. It was possible to telephone to the village for both fuel supplies and food. By 7pm two camels richly laden with choice viands and cool wine arrived for us. The riders astride them habited in Baluchi flowing robes looked very solemn and not a little droll in bowler hats of antique period. These they raised gravely to us in western salute. Then without speaking they descended, barracked the camels, laid out tables and chairs they had brought, spotless tablecloth and table napery, laid a first-class meal, waited on us with perfect manners, and when it was all over packed everything away back on the camels and tendered the bill as if we had been at Quaglino’s. Mounting their camels and with another grave doffing of bowlers in parting salutation they rode silently and mysteriously away. We were alone with the desert. I had seen much of deserts and had slept beneath desert stars and desert moons for three or four years of the War. I am always fascinated by the prospect.
It was still unbearably hot even in the cool of evening. We all managed to bathe in the plentiful supply of water brought out to us, and remained smoking and yarning till far into the night with our shirts hanging outside our shorts, Eastern fashion, for coolness. Stack regaled us with songs on his ukelele, and the situation was rather incongruous as the pale moon cast her light on the scene below and music from the ukelele to the strains of the ‘Persian Kitten’ floated over the desert.After midnight we turned in to enjoy delightful sleep on the hard desert beneath the wings of the monoplane which protected us from the heavy dew of the night. The desert can lull you beautifully to sleep.
I don’t presume to understand the difficulties modern Pakistan has faced to get where it is today. 1932 was a colonial aeon ago, I know. But humour me on this sad day. Close your eyes and smell the desert winds and picture the bowler hats and send positive thoughts to a land in mourning.