It was around 10.30 at night by the time I found his house. Then he was eternally thirsty for a beer, but now, thirty years on, he has a beard down to his big bulging belly and has become a believer. In those days he used to chase girls, now he chases boys, who chase his girls. When I went to visit him, he was standing in the door, in his shorts and a loose-fitting vest, with his hairy hands on his hips.
To protect the integrity of the association of mosques he now runs in England, Let us call him Y.
As soon as I saw him I said, ‘I could murder a Murree.’
Please do not think of me as a killer. I have nothing against the people of Murree Hills and their snow capped wonderland, above Islamabad. Though I hate everything the British Raj stood for, and have maintained that there was nothing positive in this dark period. I must confess, there might just be one small legacy which might just be the exception, and it is in Murree, where in order satisfy the white soldiers’ beer needs, the Brits built a brewery.
So what Y understood by what I said in real English was,
I’m dying for a Murree beer, can you get me one quickly so I don’t lose it?
‘Yaar, Tariq, come in have some pani-shaani, water-shatter, long time no see,’ Y said offering me his hand.
‘Pani, I just had, you got any shaani?’ I asked giving him a hug. He smelt sober.
‘I’m broke. Not been paid for two months, for reasons those MCs, (MFs in English), change week-in and week out.’
‘I got dosh, got a car, can you get some,’ I asked.
‘No closing time in Islamabad, mate, especially for us unpaid journalists,’ he replied stepping out. ‘But you’ve got to keep that trap of yours shut no matter what I say or where you go.’
‘Cross my heart and hope to die,’ I replied.
Y directed and I drove to Peshawar Morr, a major road intersection in Islamabad. He asked me to stop near three policemen standing close to some traffic lights. Y leaned out of the window and asked the officer closest to us, ‘Could you please come here?’ The tone of his voice was full of authority.
The officer, a thin man with a big pointed mustache walked slowly towards us. His colleagues watched.
‘Yes, sir,’ the officer said bending towards.
‘Everything teekh-taakh, OK, here?’ Y asked in Urdu.
‘Everything, fit-faat, very OK,’ the officer replied.
The way the officer spoke, he was clearly from Pothohar, a local.
Switching to Pothohari, Y asked, ‘I want some cans of Murree beer, can you get me some?’
The policeman looked stunned, he stepped away, straightened up, twisted his moustache, one side at a time, and went into deep thought.
After a moment or so he bent down and said in a policeman’s voice, ‘This is a big crime, sir.’
‘You can keep one,’ Y replied.
‘It is a very serious crime,’ the officer said, ‘I want two.’
‘That’s fine,’ Y said opening the door for him to get into the car and added, ‘Can you get me a dozen cans?’
‘There is nothing I can’t get,’ the officer said proudly slapping his right hand on his chest.
The policeman walked back to his colleagues, they argued for a few moments in muffled voices and then he came back towards us. As he was doing this I said, ‘They’re going to nab us.’
‘Shut yer trap,’ Y hissed back.
When the policeman got back, he stood a short distance away from the car and said, ‘It has to be three.’
‘There’ll be nought for us,’ I blurted out and then quickly put my hand across my mouth.
Y ignored my outburst and said calmly to the officer, ‘I understand brother, get us fifteen in that case, and at controlled rates and you can have three.’
‘No problem, sir,’ the policeman replied getting into the car.
We sat silently as the officer directed us towards a government housing complex around 15 minutes driver away
We parked in a dark street. I gave Y some money, he took a few thousand rupees, gave them to the officer and returns the rest to me.
After the policeman left, I asked, ‘How do you know he won’t run off with the money.’
‘Pakistani police have their honour?’ Y replied.
We smoked and chatted about old times for a while and stopped when we saw the policeman emerge out of the shadows with a black bin liner.
Getting into the car the policeman put his hand into the bag, took three beer cans out , and handed the rest to Y. I turned the car around.
Snatching the beer cans out of the officer’s hand Y said, ‘You were meant to get 15, there are only six here.’
‘But they only had this much,’ he replied apologetically
‘We paid you for fifteen,’ I added.
Handing some money to Y the policeman said, ‘I swear on my mother life, they had no more beer, or anything else. It’s late at night and it’s a hot night tonight and, you know their beer is always chilled and its always in demand.’
I raced my car down a highway towards Peshawar Morr. When I pulled up near the place where we had picked the officer up, Y gave him one can saying, ‘This is all I can give you. There are two of us.’
‘In the name of Allah have mercy, ‘ the policeman pleaded, ‘there are three of us.’
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Illustrations Sarbjit Johal