It was in 1996 that my friend Wali Mohammad Manganhar of Shahdadkot arranged for us to travel to the most fascinating natural sight in all of Sindh: Toshangi. HT Lambrick, Deputy Commissioner, Larkana in the 1940s called it the Grand Canyon of Sindh. He was right on the ball.
Here is a rift in the Kirthar Mountains west of Ghaibi Dero (seat of the Chandio Nawab) with walls 200 metres high and a blue-green stream of considerable depth at the bottom. Where the rift opens up at the southern end, the stream, too, fans out to form a lovely tarn. In this placid sheet of water, there lives a colony of gavials. The whole place is straight out of the wildest imagination of a designer of film sets.
Our guide and mentor was the unbeatable Hasil Chandio of the tiny settlement of Rahu jo Aitho. It was a goodly walk from his village to Toshangi and we had to stay overnight in Lohira with Hasil’s kinsfolk. Early on that March morning, we climbed up a large knob of rock to marvel at this remarkable chasm. Created first, perhaps, by an earthquake and then enlarged by millions of years of flowing water, it was indeed a grand canyon.
On the return journey, as we approached the village of Lakhay ja Kunda, we were met by another of Hasil’s relatives. Sarwar Chandio, alias Teeru (because as a child he used to imitate the call of the partridge), was a jovial, ever-smiling man. He was hardly the image of a ruthless brigand that Hasil said he was believed to be.
As we drank his tea with the butter-smeared roti, Teeru told us of the army raid on his village in 1983. Earlier, the army had announced that all criminally-inclined persons of the village were to surrender; but, because there were none, no one was turned in. On a cold January day, the predawn silence was shattered by the brazen sound of a bullhorn announcing that the village was surrounded by the army that had come to take the criminals.
Both sides began shooting at each other until the army won. Some men fled into the hills but Teeru, along with many others, was arrested to end up in Sukkur jail. There, he spent the next two years. I cannot judge Teeru. I trusted him when he swore he had never been a bandit; I was moved by his kindness and hospitality and I enjoyed his endless jokes. He was one hell of a likeable chap. But what intrigued me was the weird tale of his freeing from jail.
He said it was sometime after midnight in March or April 1985 when the cell doors were suddenly thrown open. The inmates were rudely awakened from slumber and ordered to get out and fly. In the brightly-lit courtyard of the jail, Teeru saw ladders placed against the walls. Together with 41 other men, Teeru climbed the ladders to be met with similarly placed ladders on the outside. Once over the walls, the men split into parties of twos and threes and, as they had been directed by their rescuers, ran for the forested banks of the Sindhu River. For several months, Teeru lived a fugitive’s life. He eventually returned to his village where he was still a wanted man when I met him.
I cannot be a judge or jury over Ghulam Sarwar Chandio, alias Teeru. I do not know of the crimes he says he did not commit. But what he told me of the freeing is bizarre as bizarre can be: not a shot was fired and going by the arrangement of ladders inside the jail and out, it was as if some supreme power had orchestrated the affair. I remember very vividly reading with horror the news of the 1985 Sukkur jailbreak. We, Pakistanis, have very short memories; the jailbreak is no longer part of our memory.
It was the darkest hour of our night-of-eleven-years when the accursed Incubus blighted this once-happy land. He met his deserved end three years later. But those who abetted him in his crime of totally criminalising Sindh (and the rest of the country) are still alive. Only they can tell us what was really made to pass in the Sukkur jail on that night in 1985.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.
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