The First Night of Torture Cell

torture cell

By Malik Siraj Akbar
“Sometimes when my uncles got together, they would go into a corner and talk about a mysterious thing called sex. It sounded wonderful. I prayed that it would not go away before I grew up.”
[The Other Side of Me, Sidney Sheldon]

I was born during Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime. Normally many of us in Pakistan these days take pride in citing such coincidences. It looks like leaving a ‘positive impression’ on one’s readers or listeners that ‘yes, I grew up during the gruesome martial law days. I was born as a Muslim and the State of Pakistan forced me to be a re-born Muslim.”

I was only five when Zia, the ultra-Islamic dictator, perished in an air crash in August 1988.

Yet, Zia’s legacy continued. I was brainwashed and spoon-fed a lot of Islamic stuff at home as well as at school. While children of our age elsewhere in the world delightedly harped about cartoons and music, we spent a considerable amount of time discussing with our compatriots about Life after Death. We coveted Janaat (Paradise). We endlessly speculated about the beauty of the Hoors
(the beautiful women promised to the ‘faithful men’ who would qualify to Paradise).

Among all topics that we kept guessing about the First Night of Grave (Qabar ki Pheli raath) topped the list. We spent hours and hours discussing how the first night inside the grave would possibly feel like. Would we wake up inside the grave once we are buried? Would we converse in Arabic, even if we can’t speak that language, with Munkir Nakeer, the angels, according to the Islamic belief, assigned to inquire the dead man about his life performance? Will we have the same memory and senses while we interact with the angels? These questions increased as I grew up.

Then there was the 1990s when I entered my teens. Pakistan had resumed its journey towards democracy. We were entering an age of ‘liberalization’ and openness of the society. Our VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders) played Indian movies. We mimicked all that we watched. Now, the interest of people of my age slightly diverted from hardcore religion to more intrinsic affairs such as girls, beauty, romance, marriage and sex.

The next mysterious thing my peers and I kept on talking about at the college cafeteria at recess time was the first night of wedding which is so beautifully called Sohagrat in Hindi/Urdu. “What actually happens on that particular night,” was the starting question that continued for years with “possibilities” and “strategies.”

The first night of Grave.
The first Night of wedding

The first night of Grave
The first night of wedding

Wedding. Grave. Grave. Wedding. Grave. Wedding. The first night. ? ? ? ?

I entered my 20s with another martial law in place. Pervez Musharraf, the military ruler, had publicly declared war against the people of my province, Balochistan.
“I will hit you [the Baloch leaders] in a way that you don’t know what hit you,” thundered the General on a TV channel.

The state intelligence agencies began to whisk away people and put them into torture cells. It was the first time we, as university students, had heard about the agencies. Agencies were a new but fascinating topic for us to discuss inside our hostel rooms. Agencies were a new phenomenon. Discussing about them was just like talking about ghosts. Some of us believed in their existence. The others did not.

“But I don’t believe that the agencies do exist,” said one of my friends as we sipped black tea in my Room No 10 at the 2nd Block of University of Balochistan in Quetta one winter evening.
“Why don’t you believe in agencies,” I slapped.
“What the fuck is wrong with you guys?,” my friend almost shouted, ” What is it that you guys keep talking about? Agencies. Agencies. Agencies. I don’t believe in agencies. You guys are simply out of your minds. It is ridiculous when you say some people dressed in plains clothes come like a UFO (unidentified flying object) and take people away. And people suddenly go ‘missing’,” he argued.
As time passed, discussions whether agencies exited or not echoed in Balochistan’s class rooms, hotels, shops, mosques, homes and even kitchens.

While we debated the existence of ‘Faristhas’ (Angels), as we locally called them, the latter rapidly captured the whole of Balochistan. Their influence increased. They began to engineer elections. They approved and disapproved transfer and posting of all officials. They tapped journalists’ phone calls and invited them for ‘friendly advice’ in cantonment area. They followed political leaders’ movements. They whisked away five thousand people. Put them into torture cells. Denied them access to judicial justice. No body knew where they had gone. We called them ‘disappeared’ people. There were so many of them that it was hard to keep a right count on all of them.

Now many of us believe in the existence of agencies. But that is not what we keep talking about.

The first night of Grave.
The first Night of wedding

The first night of Grave
The first night of wedding

No. No. These days we do not talk about the first night of grave or wedding. We imagine about the first night of torture cell. We keep talking to ourselves and our friends how the first night of torture cell would feel like. Many Balochs are certain about being taken to a torture cell one day or the other. So all that we keep talking about is what questions the hosting intelligence agencies would ask. How severe the torture would feel like. How much space the small and dark cabin ‘reserved’ for one’s confinement would occupy?

Today, I met a lot of people who talked about Qambar Chakar’s first night at torture cell. “What do you think they could have asked him,” asked a class fellow of Chakar. The other said, “do you think they have beaten him up severely? “ Do you think he has met Zakir Majeed and Chakar Qambarani inside the torture cell?

I don’t know, guys.
I have experienced none:

The First Night of Grave
The First Night of Wedding
The First Night of Torture Cell

3 thoughts on “The First Night of Torture Cell

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