Procrustus, Shoaib Mansoor, and the lost Chaghai Militia

Habib Khan

Habib Khan, Quetta: In Greek mythology, Procrustus was a character notorious for his peculiar brand of hospitality. He would treat travelers to lavish dinners and high hospitality, only to then force them to sleep in a bed with a sinister condition: the traveler had to fit perfectly in the bed. If they didn’t, Procrustus would either stretch or brutally cut their limbs to match the bed’s size.

Similarly, in Shoaib Mansoor’s TV comedy “Fifty Fifty”, a clerk at the ID card department takes a drastic measure to correct an error on a card. When the card erroneously lists “widow” instead of “married”, the clerk shoots the husband dead, effectively “correcting” the card.

In 1971, the paramilitary forces of the East Bengal Rifles had revolted against the Pakistani authorities.
Taking a lesson reminiscent of Procrustus and Mansoor’s work, the authorities in the remaining Pakistan, instead of creating a healthy environment to end resentment in the smaller provinces, they prohibited the recruitment of locals into the scouts and militias.

This decision not only deprived the population of my village Noshkay of their right to employment in the Chaghai Militia but also ended the purpose for which different militias and scouts were raised in the first place.

Apart from all that, it deprived the children of the villages of the pleasure of witnessing the distinctive style of the Chaghai Militia men who would normally walk through the bazaar stamping their feet hard on the ground.

In my childhood days, the commands of the Militia were in English, and the people were mostly not very literate. The way they shouted the commands distorting the English words used to be truly hilarious. I still remember some of them:

” Halt Hukum Sadar”.

“Halt who comes there”

The sentry used to shout this command at potential infiltrators.

Later, the villagers would joke with each other, saying, “Didn’t I startle you by doing a ‘halt hukum sadar’ on you?”

Ali Swail

“All is well”
This had been the last command of the day after which the troops retired to their barracks, and those with outliving facility to their homes, one could hear interactions in the village in the brahvi such as:
Q. How come you are home early today?
A. Oh there was a early “Ali Swail”

“Adjutant” was pronounced ” Ajeetin ” and a senior havaldar was once describing the adjutant’s outrage towards a adversary:

“Ajeetin” paray (said) “you are gut owt”

“Stand at ease” was pronounced ” Tendelease”.

“Quarter Guard” as ” Kotal gatt”.

Dress as Deresh.

First as Fuss.
Second as Suggan.
Third as Tutt.

Soldiers who got promoted on merit and especially those who reached the position of Subedar Major, gained enough experience and skills in management to become, after retirement, good businessmen, zamindars and even political leaders.

Not all promotions were based on management skills though, some impromptu promotions were linked to performance in sports, especially football, and one could hear on the loudspeaker during a football match amid loud cheers of the public, “The commandant is pleased to announce a promotion from naik to havaldar for the goal scorer Mohammad and the dhol (drum) would then sound dum dum dum dum dum.

Mohammad (Mamal) a brilliant forward kept on getting promotions by scoring goals until he reached the post of Subedar; but since he did not have strong management skills, he struggled after retirement and unfortunately fell into drugs, and for that I used to call him the George Best of Noshkay (Best being the world class forward of Ireland and Manchester United of 60’s and 70’s later falling into drugs and dying).

Thus, the people of Noshkay and for that matter all Balochistan got robbed of the peaceful and joyful environment maintained by the local militias; and today when someone coming from a thousand kilometres away questions a local old man of Noshkay, “who are you and where are you going?” Before answering, the old man must be thinking, “I am an honourable citizen and have been providing for my family for the last fifty years. However, the real question that I should ask you is this: “Who are you and what are you doing here?”.