Quayyum Raja’s Unfolding Life : Chapter 3 “SECOND JOURNEY ABROAD”
My brother Nazir Raja returned home from Holland a few months after me in late 1978. In those days people in Europe didn’t intend to make Europe as their permanent home for the future. They wanted to make some money and come back home to invest. Therefore, most people wanted to take their sons to their host country and leave daughters back home. Some people still commit this crime. I call it a crime, because separating growing up sisters from their brothers is a cruel act. My brother had three daughters Shahnaz, Shamnaz and Shahida and two sons Arif and Zaheer. They were all teenagers in 1977 when my brother came back home and had a twin daughters Tahira and Zahira. We were both living in the same flat in Holland. When I came back from my Dutch language classes, he showed me a letter from back home which stated he had a twin daughters. He was a bit concerned as how he was going to manage their upbringing, but then he said Allah knew best.
My brother returned to Holland and sent me the documents for the visa of his whole family. I took my brother’s wife and children to the Netherlands Embassy in Islamabad. The visa was granted easily. I saw them off to Amsterdam on 06. 01.1979. He had one more son named Banaras and a daughter Samina in Holland. There was a small Urdu and Pahari speaking community in Amsterdam, but my all nephews and nieces managed to get excellent written and speaking command on these languages. Arif is religious and Zaheer is an Electrical Engineer. Nieces are professional too.
Why Via Afghanistan?
I decided to return to Holland in June 1979 by air via Italy and Paris. Arbab Ahmed, the son of a Pakistan army Colnel Faiz Ahmed of Rawalpindi, was a friend of mine. He wanted to go to Europe against the wishes of his parents, who wanted him to study and join the Pak civil service. Arbab made his mind up and asked me to get a visa for him. Another guy called Rasheed wanted to join us as well. Arbab’s mother was an extremely kind lady. She told me I was her another son advised me to take Arbab with me. She said Arbab left the college and he would destroy his life Pakistan, but his father would not give him money as he didn’t want him to leave Pakistan. As an army colonel, he hd a better plan for his son Arbab’s mother gave some money but it was not enough to travel by air. I told them there was only one option left: travel by road via Afghanistan since Iran was in turmoil due to revolution. I took visa for Arbab and Rasheed from the Italian embassy. I cancelled my air flight and we set off for Holland via Afghanistan and Turkey. We had visas for all the countries we had to go through including Afghanistan, but when arrived at Turkham border gate between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Pakistani border police shouted: “fugitive, fugitive!” They dragged us into a near by office and asked us why we were running away. We showed them our passports and visas, but they said we needed an exit stamps first. I told them they had to put an exit stamp, not us. What were they making the fuss about? The inspector looked at three of us and asked Rasheed what his job was? Inspector’s judgement was absolutely right. He picked a weak person to get bribery. Rasheed was not well-educated. He said he worked in a workshop . “The civil workshop?” Rasheed said yes sir. The inspector asked for a NOC from the government. I interrupted and said Rasheed worked in a private workshop. The inspector who was just looking for a bribe, warned me to stay out of it. I told him we were going to find a phone to call the Colonel sahib and tell him you don’t let us proceed with our journey despite a visa. The inspector suddenly got scared and said, “yaar, why didn’t you tell me earlier?” He asked us for a cup of tea but I said just give me a glass of water and let us go. Out of a blue, an American lady turned up and started swearing at the inspector. We didn’t know what went wrong between them but the inspector wanted us to depart soon so that we wouldn’t see how the American was insulting him.
The Pakistani police opened the gate and we entered Afghanistan. The Afghan police welcomed us, but before we took a bus to Jalalabad, some officers in civilian dress took us into an office. One of the officers looked like a Russian. They were curious about us. They were convinced we were not going there for any political reason and allowed us to continue with our journey but we were followed at night in Jalalabad. Everyone was polite. We spent a night in Jalalabad, where the weather was very pleasant and food delicious.
Afghanistan was much cheaper than Pakistan. We gathered that a taxi would cost us almost the same as three bus tickets. So, we hired a taxi to Kabul. The streets and park were clean in Kabul. We walked around during the day as it was all peaceful, but to my amazement, when we woke up in the morning, we heard that president Nur Muhammad Tarakai had been assassinated. Someone said he was still alive. We decided to leave Kabul amid the rumour. We took a Turkish airline as planned. Our taxi was checked a few times between our hotel and the airport. I was asked at the airport how much money did I spend in Afghanistan. Before I could answer, an officer standing by said, “let him go.” I was relieved.
When in the waiting hall, a middle-aged white lady fixed her eyes on me. I thought she was another Russian intelligence officer, but when she asked me where I was going to, I was certain by her accent that she was an American. When I said I was going to stay in Istanbul, she asked me the name of the hotel. Dozens of reasons sprang into my mind, but I decided not to give her any clue. If it was today’s internet world, she would probably ask me for my WhatsApp N0.
We arrived in Istanbul in the afternoon. It was a very different Istanbul from today’s Istanbul. Turkish economy was very poor though people’s sense of dignity was the same. They were very friendly and hospitable. We stayed one week in Istanbul. I did keep my diary but I had not as yet got the writing skills and flavor. Rasheed caused us trouble again. His signatures would not match on his travel cheque and the bank refused to cash them. As a result, I had to spend for him as well.
When Good Goes Against You.
We took a train for Sofia, Bulgaria. It was the month of July and I had jeans and T-shirt on. As I conversed in English with a passenger, a member of a group of Pakistani Gujrat requested me to act as a translator with the Bulgarian immigration. When the immigration got on the train and asked the Gujratis a question, they all looked at me. The immigration asked me if I was the agent of those people, I said they had asked me for translation as they couldn’t speak English. The inspector refused to believe me. He allowed everyone an entry on the basis of my translation, but took me off the train. He said I was an agent and I would be returned to Turkey on the next train. First I tried to persuade him, but no joy. Since I had been spending for Rasheed because of his inability to sign his cheque correctly, I didn’t have enough money left. I told him the Bulgari immigration inspector wanted me to get my passport reattested by the Pak embassy in Turkey, we should all go back to Istanbul and would travel from there together. I was shocked that I had been doing so much for Rasheed but he refused. I was disappointed that he jumped on the train leaving me alone on the border, but both Rasheed and Arbab were deported from Germany to Pakistan. I asked the said inspector when the next train to Istanbul would come. It was yet another shock that the train would come after 16 hours. I asked for water, food and hotel room. The inspector laughed and said I could buy a bottle of bear for water, pork sandwich and use a bench as a bed. There was an option to go to a nearby shop or restaurant but this cruel officer would not let me go. As I was suffering on the wooden bench, a stranger bought me water and vegetables sandwich. It was very hard to spend a night on the bench till the train came the next morning. Arriving in Istanbul I discovered that the Pakistan embassy was closed for three days. Turning back disappointed, I saw a student looking Turkish girl walking in front of me. My money was running out and I remembered when a man called Sarwar cheated us on our previous trip to Turkey and I had to send a telegram to my brother in Holland for money. I didn’t want to be without money again. I asked the Turkish girl if she was a student and if she knew a cheap hostel. She did find a cheap hotel for me and rang the hotel every few hours to find out if I was fine. I wondered if she was feeling sorry for me or there was a personal interest. To cut the story short, she told me to forget Holland and stay in Turkey. The girl was too beautiful but I was a cruel young man whose destination was Holland and couldn’t afford distraction and diversion.
I had an option to fly to Italy but I had to save money due to the Rasheed issue. This time I took a bus hoping that the same bloody Bulgari immigration officer wouldn’t be there. To my shock, the bus driver who took 52 passports of his passengers, shouted “Abdul Quayyum.” He told me to follow him and I thought I was in trouble again. The officer was sitting in a comfortable chair. He said, “hello my friend. Do you remember me? And do you remember what I said to you?” I was impressed by his ability to recognize me. I told him the embassy was closed and my Pakistsni passport was genuine. He accused me just to punish me that I helped the Pakistani passengers with English without the immigration asking me to do so. At first, I was diplomatic with him but then I threatened him that I could either fly over his land to Italy or go back to Bulgarian ambassador and tell him you termed my visa fake. He smiled, took the stamp and gave me entry.
Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria was the destination of the bus. The capital seemed to be over-controlled. The foreigners were watched very closely. The communist regime seemed to have removed all signs of Ottoman history. The situation made me uncomfortable and I took a train to Belgrade, the capital of former Yugoslavia. I met there two male and two female students from Denmark. We traveled together to Millano, Italy by train. As I got off the train, an Egyptian teacher, who met me in Istanbul pulled me out of the crowd and kissed my forehead like a traditional Arab. Common religion, culture and language are the ingredients of union and unity in foreign lands and so was the case between me and the Egyptian. I went to a Park the next day, where I saw some Pakistani agents trying to cheat people. They approached me as well, but soon they realized I knew of Europe more than they did. Good and bad are everywhere. A young Pakistani greeted me while I was sitting on a bench in the park. He introduced himself as Ameen from Hyderabad. He said he was staying with a Gujrati businessman running a garage. He invited me there. The businessman named Saeed. He had a well furnished flat in Millan, Millano in Italian. He was very kind and generous. He suggested I didn’t need to go to hotel but stay in his flat. I stayed 17 days with Saeed in Millano, which was a beautiful historical city. I visited Roma as well, Rome in English. There were well built buildings and roads. The roads were very clean and wide. The city traffic was excellent though crowded.
Allah helps mysteriously. In order to save money, I wanted to go to France by train but I didn’t have the French visa. The EU countries had not as yet introduced Schengen visa. Every EU member had its own visa system. Therefore, I had to obtain the visa of every country I had to travel through. At the Bulgarian border, my English language skills caused me trouble but in Italy, they were going to reward me. Saeed said there were some Pakistanis going to Pakistan via Paris. They needed a transit French visa. A French Consulate in the Italian city of Genoa was the only one issuing the French transit visa. Saeed wanted me to go with the said Pakistanis as a translator. He bought me a return train ticket. When we arrived at the gate of the French Consulate, the security officer said only those with air tickets could go in. I had no air ticket to Paris, but I took a risk. I had a habit of keeping used things as long as I could. I collected six air tickets from the Pakistanis and stuck my used air ticket which I bought to fly from Kabul to Istanbul. The security man let me in. The receptionist had too many passports on his table but some of the applicants could not fill the forms in. As I filled in the application forms of the people I took with me, the Italian receptionists asked me if I could help him to fill in the forms of the remaining applicants. I agreed. He invited me to sit beside him and served me with a cup of coffee as well while I filled in and corrected the rest of the applications. He took my passport in the back office and granted me a visa too.
I went back to Saeed in Millano, thanked him for his hospitality and went to Paris via train. I stayed one week in Paris with a distant relative named Raja Muhammad Sorab Anjum. He was well versed with French. He used to be a very active and bold student leader.
My brother Nazir Raja came to France to collect me. I was so delighted to rejoin my nephews and nieces in Amsterdam, but none of us had any idea that my political imprisonment was going to separate us once again for the next two decades.
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