The soldiers of an isolated military out post somewhere in the borders of three countries ( Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran), spotted "two figures and a camel" movingly slowly and hesitantly towards the fort where they camped. It was cold winter months and the wind rages continuously during these four months. 'The wind had been blowing with savage fury for three days' and the soldiers, who remained inside the closed shutters while the wind blew came out for some fresh air and water noticed them coming up the hill. "Water", was the only words came out of the man and the subedar 'pointed wordlessly towards the half empty bucket'. The man took the head of the women in his hand and tenderly squeezed some drop of water on to her face, wetting the edge of her shawl. As she sensed the water, she started sucking his hand and fingers. All of a sudden she lunged towards the bucket and plunged her head into it until she choked. Once recovered the couple requested refuge as they were running away from their tribe, the Siahpads, weathering the terrain and the cruel storm. Refuge was refused as the soldiers do not want to get in the wrong side of the tribal law, but a shelter was granted. The stay however continued for 6 years , and it is here their child was born. However, the tribe had their way and the couple notices the tribesmen on hunt coming towards the post. The attempt to flee did not take them long, before the hunters caught up with them in a couple of days. As was decided earlier, they ended their life ( women being killed by him and he to the deathly blows of their pursuers. The kid was spared ( and live to take us through the rest of the tales as a participant and witness in the rest of the tales. The boy known as Tor Baz ( the black falcon), continue his journey all over Pakistan, the mainland, the delta and more often in the hills bordering the countries through the eventful years of turbulence.
The hilly areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran are inhabited by various tribes with their own distinct life style and tribal law. The bureaucratic efforts to bring them to be the national law abiding citizens are often resulted in conflicts and as their law demands, they ended up in armed struggle with the authorities. Each tribe and multiple clans within the tribe has definite sets of boundaries of living , moving and existing and any breakage of this is dealt with killing. The authorities on either side of the Pak-Afghan border continue their effort to bring them to justice, often treating them as criminals, subjected to torture and capital punishment, many a times even without proper trial ( as a case of 7 surrendering tribal men in one of the story here).
The life up the terrain is difficult and demanding. Often the weather is unbearable and the tribe move in caravan from one place to the other. However with the birth of the country states and international boundaries, curtailed their freedom of movement as they have to cross the "border", which is prohibited without 'permits'. But to them, these are not in their books and wouldn't understand, often getting into armed struggle and loosing cattle and human lives in the end.
Though these writings belong to the period of 50s and 60s , before the Soviet occupation, it gives us the glimpses of the real issue of the region. The strong tribal grouping and hierarchy , with inability of the Governments to understand and appreciate these inner power politics ( or the non-willingness to accept) could be one of the real back ground of the never ending conflicts in that region. They are simple people and the life is more or less predefined. The life is tough and often have to deal with harsh realities. Hence taking up arms and killing for honour of the tribe is not considered as a crime. Interestingly, religion is not a strong force.
This is a collection of tales, loosely held with the Tor Braz as a silent witness. Each story is powerful and is an eye opener. Jamil Ahmad had spent long years with the Pakistan administration working in these tribal areas and have a first hand knowledge of their life, which is brought out brilliantly in these pages. The language is beautiful and the set up and the characters are new to the general readers. Very picturesque and subtle shift of emotions and the underlying reality of their existence against every thing against them ( the place, the weather, the people, the authorities), they continue to struggle through their life from generations to generations.
Fantastic work of fiction by the 78 year old debutant.----------------------------------------------------------
The Wandering Falcon (2011)
Penguin Books India
Read : Guardian , Penguin India Page