Zerky in Hussainiwala

December 14, 1967
Hussainiwala, West Pakistan

Dear Zerky, we are camped tonight at a Pakistani government rest house about a mile from the Indian border. When we spotted it late this afternoon, we decided to take advantage of it by putting off crossing the border into India until tomorrow morning. We asked the caretaker here if we could we please park our bus inside the fence and spend the night here. He readily agreed that we could, but then an hour later as we were cooking supper, we were approached by a Pakistani Army officer who informed us that we are not supposed to be here. This rest house is for military use only. After questioning us thoroughly about who we were, where we had come from, where we were going and why, he finally told us we can remain here for one night only, but under no circumstances are we to leave the fenced in compound. So tonight we are both guests and prisoners, which does not comes as much of a surprise. Much of our reception here in Pakistan has been this weird concoction of one part official government harassment mixed in with an equal portion of personal welcome on behalf of the Pakistani government’s official messengers.

It all started with our Road Permit, a special kind of permit for automobiles that you can only get from a Pakistani Embassy outside of Pakistan at the time you get your entry visa. In no other country have we encountered such a document. On it, they write down your exact route and your entire itinerary inside Pakistan. Any change, “whether voluntary or not, must be immediately reported to the police,” it says on the permit which then goes on to say that “no photography of bridges, dams, head works, communication centers, cantonments, etc. is permitted.” This was obviously designed to thwart spies and saboteurs, and you—Zerky—you have been issued one too, so don’t you get any bright ideas. Your permit has your picture on it and you have been designated a spy, or maybe a saboteur.

Zerky's Passport

I should hasten to add that the same Pakistani government official who threatened to shoot you also welcomed you into their country with all the delight and amusement reserved for small children everywhere. All across this northeastern section of Pakistan, we get the impression that we are in an intensely militaristic nation. There seems to be tension everywhere. Here at Hussainiwala—the only border crossing between West Pakistan and India—nervousness is understandable.

Soldier in West Pakistan

Four years ago, this was the scene of the India-Pakistan War over Kashmir, a war neither country believes is over. You are at one of the tensest, most dangerous borders in the world.

As we came down from Rawalpindi today, the population began to press in upon us. Our speed over the narrow one-lane highway, built in the days of the British, was gradually slowed by an increasing concentration of people, carts, bicycles, rickshaws, donkeys, horses, cattle, bullocks, water buffalo, camels. By the end of the day, it was rush-hour stop and go. Our speedometer never registered thirty. This crunch of humanity came to a mind-boggling climax outside of Lahore, our first major Pakistani city. Lahore has a population in excess of three million people, so I was determined to stay out of it at all costs. Entering its outskirts, we watched intently for signs pointing the way to the Indian border a few miles away. We are on the only through road between India and the western world; surely there must be some kind of bypass around such a huge city, but there was no such bypass. Inexorably, as if we were slipping ever more deeply into a black hole, we were sucked into a flood of traffic cascading us downwards into the center of this giant city. “Hang on to your hats,” I yelled, as we and a highway full of trucks, cars and buses lurched our way into the heart of Lahore, as if we were icebergs going down a series of rapids. There was nothing we could do about it; we were caught up in all the traffic, and turning around such a madhouse was out of the question. Fortunately, we were moving so slowly that it was impossible to run over anyone. Incased in our two and a half tons of good German steel, people and animals just kept thudding harmlessly off the sides of the bus. Helplessly lost in a sea of chaos, we were squashed down onto the subcontinent. After three thousand miles of deserted high desert and mountains, this new and bountiful concentration of sights, sounds, and smells serves as a harbinger of better things to come. Then, after more than an hour of glorious abandon, we found ourselves at last washed up onto a narrow ribbon of crumbling asphalt that in this part of the world goes by the name “metaled road.” Somehow we had accidentally stumbled back onto the “highway.”

Tonight we are on the threshold of a new world, one in which time appears to be of little consequence and the space in people’s lives compressed. For most of the villagers whom we passed along the road today, a through route to Karachi or Bombay must seem as irrelevant as a rocket to the stars. When people go traveling here, it is probably to the next village on foot or by ox-cart. If you don’t make it in one day, well, there’s always the next, and, if not in this incarnation then in the next.

As we finally approach India, I am trying hard to gear myself up psychologically to not being in a hurry, and am trying to resign myself to lots of flat tires and twenty-five miles an hour. It isn’t easy. Today we had our fourth flat tire in three days. Prior to that, we had had only one on our entire trip.

Now once again, some notes from JoAnne’s Diary. December 14, 1967. Bill’s total frustration at not being able to explain to the soft drink vendor that he wanted to buy the two Coca Colas he held in his hands, bottles and all. He ended up having to give them back, after which he left thirsty and empty handed.

December 15, 1967. Upon leaving the rest house this morning, a grand old Pakistani presented me with a small bouquet of roses. He told me he had worked at that rest house for forty years. Then, while going through Indian immigration, an Indian presented me with one more rose. The Indians and the Pakistanis, they are having a War of the Roses. What a fine way to arrive in India!

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky

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