Symbols of the world's religions

               

JOURNEY TO QUETTA
1940

Margaret Craske

 
The bus trip through central India had not been a comfortable one. The heat was intense. New tires were needed. Several times the drivers had had to turn us out on the road — sometimes where there were trees and sometimes not — while they blew up the tires or changed them. And it was an exhausted crowd that arrived in Multan in northern India, where we stayed for a short time before crossing the mountains to go to Quetta. We found Multan was cold, and out of our bedding rolls we produced whatever warm clothes we had brought.

As it happened, one of the only really nice garments I managed to bring to India was a lavender-blue woolen coat. The evening of our arrival, Baba called us to tell us His plans for crossing the mountain pass leading to Quetta. As I came into the room, He looked at my coat and made signs of approval, then turned to Norina, whose clothes almost invariably came from the name dressmakers of the day — Worth, Chanel, etc. — and spelt on the board, "Why do you not dress as well as Margaret does?"

There was quite a silence in the room. Everyone knew the difference between clothes off a peg and the other kind; in fact at intervals we had heard all this from Norina, who was shocked into silence by this subtle twisting of values.

The passes through the mountains after the winter season were only just open and were still dangerous. Not from the weather, but parties of brigands had been descending from the hills and killing the season's first travelers. Baba was adamant about our going that way. He had new tires put on the bus and arranged for most of the men to go to Quetta by train! The women were to go in the bus, while the girls would travel in the car with Him.

The first place at which we stopped for a short time was a large village by the name of Dehra Duzi Khan. The villagers seemed amazed, and stood round the bus staring and pressing their faces on the windows to get a look at the busload of women. I am sure that messages were sent straight off to their cousins, the brigands, about such strange travelers.

After some hours of driving we came to the river Jumna. It looked about a quarter of a mile wide and had to be crossed by the most unsafe-looking pontoon bridge. Not a nice firm structure, such as an army might have built, but a very wobbly affair, seemingly of planks run across boats.

Baba's car crossed easily enough, but the bus...! A poor little man, evidently some kind of bridgemaster, pointed to a notice saying that nothing weighing over one ton would be allowed to cross. The bus, with all the bedding rolls on top, which in any case gave it a top-heavy look, and all the women inside, certainly exceeded that. Donkin, who was driving, became all British officer and ordered the man to let us pass. So, leaving the man wringing his hands, we went down a sloping river bank and onto the bridge.

The boats rocked from side to side, and inside the bus all the older women got out their prayer beads, and the name of Baba rang through the bus. Halfway across, a rain and windstorm came down the river. Not too bad, but enough to add to the rocking of the bus. The worst of it was that we knew that if the bus rocked side-ways into the water there was no hope for any of us.

We could not get out. There were only small entrance doors which could not have been opened. It was the greatest relief to reach the other bank.

After some more bumpy driving through a forest, the bus arrived at a small building on the side of the road, which turned out to be a British Army outpost.

A red-faced colonel came to look at the bus and, at the sight of its cargo of women, looked as if he might at any moment be seized with a fit of apoplexy.

On the hillside near at hand was a dak bungalow where we slept that night and the next. All the time we were there the colonel, I suppose fearing danger for us, kept his men working and digging very close to the house.

The next day the weather changed to a kind of drizzle, and there was nothing to occupy the time. I was sitting gloomily on the edge of a low wall when Baba came along and sat beside me. He sat there for a minute or two and then, to my surprise, spelt on His board:

"If I asked you to, would you die for Me?"

This shook me up. After a pause I said, "I should like to answer that question truthfully and not just emotionally. Will you give me half an hour to settle it in my mind?"

Baba went away and at the end of half an hour He returned, sat down and stretched out His hands questioningly. I was thankful to be able to say "yes" and to have no doubts in my mind.

Early the next morning, we climbed into the bus and jogged along until we came to a wide plain surrounded by mountains and filled with small huts. We stopped there for some little time. The villagers welcomed Baba vociferously. I think He must have visited them on the previous day. They crowded round Him, telling Him they would like to show Him their treasured racehorses. Baba, absolutely shining with loving interest and acting as if it were the one thing He would wish to do, had them bring out the animals and, urged on by His vitality and interest, they raced the horses along a length of railed-off ground. They were a pathetic set of animals, but the happiness that Baba gave these poor people, and the way they were drawn to Him was a kind of miracle. It was a contact with Divine Love. They felt it but did not know it.

The village itself consisted of small huts, out of which the women, with the lower part of their faces covered with a yashmak, practically crawled to carry food to their menfolk, who were obviously their masters. I do not think that women's lib would have approved such behavior.

Then, across the plain from out of the entrance to the mountain pass tore a car which turned out to be the British mail. On the roof, cross-legged, sat a soldier in a white tunic with a red fez on his head and with the longest rifle I had ever seen stretched across his knees. It turned out that on its return journey we were to join this outfit, and it would escort us through the danger zone.

Another soldier of the same type appeared from somewhere and got onto the front of our bus. Baba and the girls squeezed into the bus with us, and at a sign from the mail van, both vehicles took off to cross the plain towards the pass. Somehow I don't think anyone took the danger seriously. It was too much like something from the early cinema days, when incidents like this were usually accompanied by a gallop on the piano. I could almost hear it.

As we drove through the pass, Baba kept pointing out rocky paths where the brigands had, the week before or two days before, descended and demolished a few travelers. This went on for quite some time. Then suddenly it was discovered that we had lost the mail car! No one knew where it had disappeared. We did not see it again, so were really on our own, except for the man with the rifle.

Soon after we had arrived at the end of the pass and were jogging along quite comfortably, we came to a riverbed. It was wide and had no water in it, but was not firm enough to take the bus; therefore, about halfway across we stopped suddenly, having sunk into the sand.

We all got out to lighten the weight. Our guard stood with his rifle ready to fire at the first sign of any attackers. After a time, some planks were brought and the bus was released to start again on its journey.

We arrived in the late afternoon at our scheduled night stop, and as we drove into the village a British Army sergeant cycled up to us and said casually that we were late and that they had been thinking of sending out a search party to look for us.

We arrived at a dak bungalow. It then turned out that our food was running short and that supper was to be omitted. Baba came round with a box of Frear's cream biscuits and gave us each one.

The next thing that happened shows, I believe, why we had not been attacked. Baba had communicated with the head of the village where we spent the morning, offering to take his son to Ahmednagar and have him trained as a film operator in the local cinema. The man accepted, and this fine-looking boy had traveled with us, sitting in front with the driver. I imagine that the father had sent a stern message to the hills saying that we were not to be attacked.

Although one biscuit had constituted our supper, a more substantial meal was produced for the boy. One of the Western women must have taken it to him because he refused it angrily, saying, "I will not be fed by white-faced pigs," and demanded that he should be sent back home. Having served his purpose, he was sent back the next day.

The following morning the bus went on to Quetta, and this time the roads were civilized and safe.

 

THE DANCE OF LOVE, pp. 95-100
1980 © Sheriar Press, Inc.

               

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