A Late Night IBA Story by Shahla Wahid, 1982 graduate
I did not make a note of the date and if I had, that note would also have been lost in the dust of time, but somehow I remember it was the night after Zia-ul-Haq's local bodies election. It was definitely the beginning of the 80s and the only videos we made at that time were corny wedding movies.
It is essential to give a geographical and historical perspective, before I narrate what happened that night. We lived on Allama Iqbal Road, Block 2, PECHS, which till the late 70s was a sleepy middle class neighborhood with bungalows, where kids went to school in horse driven Victoria carriages, vegetable vendors brought fresh greens to the door, the milkman delivered freshly diluted milk daily on a bicycle, the entire neighborhood came out to walk after dinner and the kids played in the street till it was bedtime.
By the time of the incident, the area had started to commercialize, and houses were being sold to developers. Snack bars and shops were replacing lawns and gardens. Our house was the 4th one from Khalid Bin Waleed Road, another sleepy street lined with bungalows, that intersected with Allama Iqbal Road at the famous square named Cheel Wali Kothi. The said kothi was an actual home with the monument of an eagle on top. The kothi had long been converted into a school. A couple of houses away was Shehnaz House. The neighbors frowned at Shehnaz House, because in violation of middle-class ethos, the owners had divided the house into various rental apartments, allowing single males (charras) to move into the neighborhood. Some of those charras included the late Tariq Aziz, who some time ago wrote that he, actor Asad Jaffri and poet Saghar Siddiqui shared an apartment in Shehnaz House at one point in time. It was at this time according to him, that, during a load-shedding night, Saghar Siddiqui wrote the o em: "Charagh'e Toor jalao bara andhera hai". Among other dubious characters, there was the house transvestite named Shabbir the cook, who made it a point to cover his balding head with a white dupatta.
So, that night, while it was the witching hour, and the only people awake were witches and IBA students, I heard the heart rending screams of a woman, then the cry of a man, then the peeling of tires accompanied by the cries of a woman asking for help till the voice faded away. I was stunned to realize I had just witnessed a live kidnapping. I had seen my share of Maula Jat movies and heard those stories, but I was not prepared for the actual thing. This one cut to my core and drained the blood from every part, till the legs turned to gel, the brain was blown away and the body turned cold. I have little recollection of how I ended the night.
The next day, I tried to share the experience with my family, but no one had heard anything, and my sister told me: "Tum pagal ho gai ho." Somehow, I made it to IBA that day, but could not make sense of one word I was trying to read for the upcoming test. I just sat in the library holding my head and staring at the book. That is when Joe walked up to ask if everything was all right. Joseph lived a couple of streets down the road, right before the masjid and playground. It was nice to have found a listening ear. I took it all off my chest.
Then Joe said: "Now listen to my story." Like me Joe was probably the only other person awake in the neighborhood that night. He was studying for the same test in his upstairs room when he thought he heard a sound outside his window. He opened the door and lo and behold, there was a woman crouching on the landing, trying to hide. She asked for help and Joseph let her in. Then the woman told Joe her story.
The woman was a Pakistani Christian who had emigrated to Britain, married a Brit, and came back to visit her country. They were renting rooms in Shehnaz House. That night, her kidnappers were visiting the snack bar across the street when they somehow laid eyes on her and decided to kidnap her. They forced their way into her apartment, overpowered her husband and dragged her downstairs. The only resistance they faced was from Shabbir, the transvestite cook who lived on premises. The first female screams I heard were from the woman being dragged down. The male scream I heard was from Shabbir when he was hit on the head. The perpetrators drove from Allama Iqbal Road towards Kashmir Road in an open jeep, while the woman cried for help. As they turned on to Kashmir road, she managed to pull the key out of the ignition and tossed it into the marshes. She managed to get away while they were looking for the key and ended up at Joseph's house. In the morning, Joseph's parents took her back home. She and her husband planned to leave the country the same day.
Joseph was amazed how God sent the woman to a Christian household to be helped. I was ashamed of what we as a collective nation did to our own, but relieved that it all ended well. That day, I was able to sit for the test and pass it. Oh! Shabbir survived too with a scalp wound, but for that one night, he was the only man in the neighborhood.
Today, Joseph lives in California and supports Trump. I just happily drop out of a PhD program to smell the flowers. Our old house is now a five-story apartment building that houses a bank. Shehnaz House is a 7-story building. The middle-class neighbors are long gone. The backstreet where they used to walk in the evenings is Kurta Gali now.