Retired Pak official turns writer at 78, pens book

New Delhi: A septuagenarian retired Pakistani official, who served many years in the border areas along Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, has come out with a book of stories that gives a rare insight into the traditional and honour-bound culture of the forbidden regions.

"The Wandering Falcon" by former Balochistan chief secretary Jamil Ahmad is a collection of interlinked stories that shows from inside in a remote and impenetrable culture.

Set in the decades before the rise of the Taliban, Ahmad`s debut work takes us to the essence of human life in the forbidden areas where the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet.

Today the `tribal areas` are often spoken about as a remote region, a hotbed of conspiracies, drone attacks and conflict.

In "The Wandering Falcon", this highly traditional, honour-bound culture is revealed from the inside for the first time.

With rare tenderness and perception, Ahmad describes a world of custom and cruelty, of love and gentleness, of hardship and survival; a fragile, unforgiving world that is changing as modern forces make themselves known.

With the fate-defying story of `Tor Baz`, he has written an unforgettable novel of insight, compassion and timeless wisdom.

"It is true, I am neither a Mahsud nor a Wazir. But I can tell you as little about who I am as I can about who I shall be. Think of Tor Baz as your hunting falcon. That should be enough."

The boy known as Tor Baz – the black falcon – wanders between tribes. He meets men who fight under different flags, and women who risk everything if they break their society`s code of honour.

"In the tangle of crumbling, weather-beaten and broken hills, where the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet, is a military outpost manned by about two score soldiers.

"Lonely, as all such posts are, this one is particularly frightening. No habitation for miles around and no vegetation except for a few wasted and barren date trees leaning crazily against each other, and no water other than a trickle among some salt-encrusted boulders which also dry out occasionally, manifesting a degree of hostility," the story "The Sins of the Mother" begins.

"The Sins of the Mother", the first of the nine stories of the book published by Penguin, is about a couple from Balochistan who risk everything by fleeing from their tribe.

Born in Jalandhar in 1931, Ahmad began his career in the region in the 1950s and was an official in the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul at the time of the Soviet invasion in 1979.

At the time of his posting in the Frontier Province, he acquired a working knowledge of Pushto and the fluency continued to improve with increased usage. This helped him interact freely with the locals.

At one point, with the help of some friends from the Afridi tribe, he walked into the Tirah Valley, the heartland of the Afridis. This initiative created quite a stir, as it was the first-ever venture into this territory by a government representative.

He was encouraged to write by his wife Helga, who painstakingly typed the handwritten manuscript on a typewriter with German keys. He lives in Islamabad.