I had always thought of Balochistan as a land of poets and storytellers until I was introduced to yet another perspective the other day.
“Balochistan is the land of lucky people,” said my local Pakistani shopkeeper here in Germany with an envious smirk. “All of the Baloch get asylum here.”
The perspective of the lucky Baloch is new to me. In contrast, the Baloch have always described themselves as ‘Badroch’, a word with a range of different meanings one of which is ‘unlucky’.
In early March this year, when our friend Sajid Hussain went missing from Uppsala, he was already one of those lucky Baloch who had successfully ended up trading their Pakistani passports for refugee status.
Sajid was no ordinary man. He was a poet, writer, a journalist and one of the few professional editors of an English language media outlet from Balochistan — the kind of man the land´s literate people look upon as their role model.
He was born in Mand and grew up a few kilometers afar in Nizrabad. Both of these are in a sense unusual villages in Makkoran. One might have one of the highest numbers of per capita missing persons and the other of drug traffickers. Other than that, mutilated dead bodies often pop up from these places.
Sajid was undoubtedly not the unlucky among his people. He was never abducted despite being an ethnic Baloch and a journalist, the required characteristics to become a missing person in one of the most dangerous countries for both categories.
He once himself boosted how lucky he was not to see the dark stinky corners of the dungeons and listen to the clunky sound of the chains in solitary confinement, which haunted him all his life.
All the while his uncle, cousins, relatives, friends and neighbors kept on going missing. Some came back as dead, the others only transformed.
We have been friends since 2004 when he was a member of the BSO’s central committee. At that time, he would not talk much. I thought he was arrogant or an introvert. But I found him to be more engaging and inquisitive when I was released after two months in Pakistani army’s illegal custody.
He was interested in the particulars of my ordeal. How did I cope with all that torture, I remember him asking. I did not exactly know the answer to that question. I was in constant agony and somehow had to endure. “You are one tough man”, he said. “I wouldn’t last a day.”
This made me respect him much more — not that I was actually tougher than him, but because of his humility and courage to admit that enduring pain is hard even if it’s for a greater cause. It was only when we became close friends that I noticed him talk much more on a range of topics.
Sajid soon decided to part ways with politics. He was no cynic but was too bold and logical for our political parties of the time. He rejected the craziness of Baloch politics, but contributed more to society as a journalist than many of his era’s politicians did.
In 2009, Sajid’s uncle Ghulam Mohammad’s dead body was discovered in Murgap after he had gone ‘missing’ in broad daylight from his lawyer’s office in Turbat. Ghulam Mohammed was the chairman of the Baloch National Movement. For many in Balochistan, his death was the sign that foretold the now notorious ‘Kill and Dump’ policy of Pakistan.
Things changed. Every educated Baloch seemed to be a security threat to the State. Many quit their studies and jobs, some sold their homes and businesses and ended up jobless in the Gulf and European countries.
It was in 2011, after I too ended up in the UAE as a jobless man on the run, that I thought of Sajid once again and the years that had passed without any contact with him. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how lucky Sajid was, for he was alive and having a job at a mainstream newspaper. Although we were on each other’s Facebook friends list, we rarely talked.
Not long after that, one afternoon right after we woke up from a nap, Sajid entered our room in Dubai. I and my rommates were under immense mental stress due to the congested space, but everyone was so happy to see Sajid. Among the night’s bed bugs, there was one more runaway Baloch cramped together in that room for at least the next night.
I later learned that before his arrival, he had shifted to Quetta and was assisting a Reuters’ correspondent on a story of enforced disappearances, at a time when a UN team was supposed to visit the provincial capital to probe witness accounts. This had certainly irked the perpetrators of the crime. They broke into Sajid’s house, stole his laptop and were prepared for their next move, but Sajid as usual got lucky, and left Pakistan for UAE.
In our Dubai room, the conversations were messy and ranged from politics, books and movies to anything that mattered or did not. He was passionate to record the life stories and the feelings the new situation of being away from Balochistan had created in us.
Sajid and I then remained in contact on a regular basis. He had matured far beyond his age, and his thinking was much more refined than the Baloch politics of which he had grown to be a great critic. Yet, he was part of it without ever belonging to it.
He religiously denounced any sort of blind nationalism. His critics saw his thoughts as blasphemous, and his blasphemy was not confined to the nationalist politics only. He did not have great admiration for religion either. Sajid’s only admiration for Mullahs, as he said, was their art of narrating sexual fantasies.
The last time I talked to him, he was happy. He was working on a Balochi-English dictionary and was going to start a masters program. His wife and children were going to join him in Sweden. Despite our regular whatsapp calls, we had not seen each other for years so this time we switched to a video call. “Hey! You have grown old,” he said, upon seeing my grey stubble. I noticed he too was sporting a grey-ish stubble.
“We are the lucky people of our generation who have lived to turn grey. It is valuable,” he said. “We should accept it with grace.”
Now, I truly wish the old age, for which Sajid had so much respect, finds our friend back despite all his life’s absurdity.