Delusion Galore

Azhar Ali

Atmosphere around him was laden with heaviness due to his morbid mien. Contemplating a lively note was not only impossible, it was blasphemous. All the subordinates instantly switched to sepulchral slant as soon as they found themselves in his company. There was something eerie in the air you shared breathing with him. He smiled very rarely. If at all he did, it was blisteringly tinged with irony. No one ever saw him laughing.

Nothing moved, even in the civil sphere without his tacit approval, and a substantial number of notables were always at hand to pay homage to his ‘benign’ lording over the sparsely populated large tract of mountainous terrain, yet the ephemeral distraction did little to alleviate his exasperation and constant sense of being scrutinised. Trappings of his power as the commander of a paramilitary force in the country’s remote region, were awesome, but there was a constant bewildered, though somewhat skeptical, look on his face.

Though he had long gone past the retiring age for his rank, guaranteed extension after extension (seven so far) made him look immortal. Romantic and simple people of the backward district held self styled swami in great esteem. He identified himself, even if superficially, with them and condescended to participate in their public and private affairs. He seemed eternal, as did the military ruler of the state. ‘I can commit a murder for him’ he would sometime exclaim matter of factly. Everyone was sure that he meant it.

He was sixty and a confirmed bachelor. His clean shaven head and face, except for scant eyebrows, reminded one of a basket ball, which has been etched on by an idler mindlessly. His bulb nose, ear to ear mouth and expressionless face added to the ghoulish visage he did nothing to dispel. It was the face of a proud predator.

Having lived the better part of his adult life in paramilitary force deployed in mountainous and beauteous regions of then North Western Frontier Province, he seemed to have lost stomach for civilization. He had least interest in what was going on in the world and for that matter in Pakistan. Movies, music, politics, current affairs, literature and anything remotely linked to fine arts were anathema. Nor was the religion of any use to him. He had not asked for casual or privileged leave for fifteen years to visit his native city.

What made him thrive (or oblivious of pathetic and ludicrous existence?) was an open secret. Flanked by two ceremoniously dressed lads (due to the widespread poverty underage boys used to get enrolled by lying about their age) strutting to and from his personally designed teakwood office, spoke volumes of unchallenged power he wielded over the body of paramilitary force drawn from unsuspecting poverty stricken local populace.

He spent almost entire day in the office, despite the fact that there was very little office work to do. He would go to his residence at midday, but only to change into civvies and would be presently back to facilitate as many persons to bear witness to his stately station in life.

He welcomed reluctantly the pilgrims from civilized world, who came calling during brief summer to get scintillated by the nature at its grandest. Eternally snow covered craggy mountains nurturing luxuriant valleys among mostly desolate land held them spellbound.

He seemed to feel at a loss during brief encounter with official visitors. Ladies unhinged him. He would be on tenterhooks during the entire period blushing profusely and not knowing what to do with his hands. Blank look on his face and pain in unseeing eyes chilled the air and awkward silence seemed to persist forever.

On 17th August 1988, the military ruler of the country died in a military plane crash near Bahawalpur. The whole country was stunned, but the commander’s life came to a stand still. Knowing his special relationship with the deceased ruler, notables of the area came to condole with him. Instead they found themselves sitting face to face with a ghost. So paralyzing was the impact that next day he didn’t come to the office for the first time in eight years, Eid holidays including.

Within a couple of weeks he found himself deserted. Gone was the fawning obedience. Reverence had evaporated in thin air and was replaced with superficial protocol. His whimsical commands, he had got so addicted to for a decade, were not very tactfully ignored. It was coup d’etat. His heydays were over. He felt stripped and hounded.

The day before he shot himself in the head, he discussed casually and academically with the camp doctor the most painless way of doing oneself in. The doctor was not fooled, but was unable to do anything about it. His mother was flown from Gujarat to mourn his death after having been denied to rejoice in his life for the last fifteen years.

He chose to get buried in Chitral to give continuity to the farce that he was indispensable for the masses even after his death. But forlorn and in disrepair grave tells another story.

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