(From solitude) A soldier’s lone long walk


This book is simply amazing. It is unique and non-traditional. Although the author, Tahir Mahmood, is apparentlya latest entry into the English writers’ club, yet his short stories have off and on been appearing in newspapers as well as on web portals, which was taken as a happy surprise by many keen readers.

F Z Khan

Outside my self-imposed solitude, the fear of coronavirus has gripped, around the globe, as the demon has started wreaking havoc across continents. Messages on social media and talk shows on TV have added dread and scare to further spread of the virus. I, beside seeking mercy from God, have taken refuge in my books putting in the study room shelves. Here I have “A Lone Long Walk” in my hands that is just a new arrival.

This book is simply amazing. It is unique and non-traditional. Although the author, Tahir Mahmood, is apparentlya latest entry into the English writers’ club, yet his short stories have off and on been appearing in newspapers as well as on web portals, which was taken as a happy surprise by many keen readers. “A Lone Long Walk” is his first book that has recently hit the bookstalls; the language, style and technique of the book is so attractive that I read it twice during my ongoing corona-quarantine ‘solitude’ at home. One wonders how and why would a man with tactical background write a non-military, non-traditional and pure-literary book, that too in prose, which is a difficult form of expression even for the native English. In Pakistan, English prose and short story writing is very much rare – hardly there are mentionable names in this field; there was a need to fill this gap and Tahir Mahmood seems to have done it well.

While going through his various short stories (keep in mind the order) like “Traveller”, “At Crossroads”, “Choice”, “Line”, “Riddle”, “Red Roses in the Courtyard”, “She Lives in the Garden”, “Where Cherries Grow”, “Rise and Fall”, “Mortals Immortals”, “Dust” and “Solitude”, it seems that a title of stories is so carefully chosen that it completes the circle of life of a ‘Traveller’ that he is. During the course of his ‘Lone Long Walk’ and the process of thought, he comes across hardships of life, love and sacrifice, call of duty, parting of ways and loneliness in the end. The same process bears lessons into the philosophy of life from dawn to dusk and birth to dust. It is like the diary of Vagabond, wanderer of Wasteland or the vagrant of Great Expectations.

One realizes that a ‘soldier’ too feels, thinks and observes like us. He too is a human. He too has a heart. He too dreams of a life of his choice, though, obviously, he is trained in a manner, as a soldier, that ‘duty’ comes in the way of his choice as first priority. The love of Motherland runs supreme and that is the message of the 110-page book of only 28 short stories in row. This makes the reader think whether a gun-carrying soldier can really have such a fine-tuned pen in his other hand? Written technically correct, symbolically meaningful and metaphorically evocative, “A Lone Long Walk” is a must read in one go of a 3-4 hour long sitting. It is a precious addition in the latest times with lasting impact. Like Bano Qudsia’s Raja Gidh, the reader will need to reread it because it gives an added taste of philosophical soliloquies once you re-intrude in the author’s kingdom of ‘solitude’. In first attempt, one gets taste of the sweetness of the language he uses, and in the second read one understands the depth of his message.

The generation of today’s soldiers had opened its eyes amidst the dreaded war on terror. There had been no respite, since early 2004, either on frontiers or on inside fronts – they confronted the enemy and the enemy shadows head-on – which on one hand has battle hardened our jawans and officers and on the other hand changed their lives from training drills to real-time operations, mostly at the cost of their lives. The tragic part is that the WOT has cost over 70,000 lives, beside everything relating to social fabric, cultural life and economy, but the most prideful of all is one shining example, which many of us miss to mention while the contemporary world doesn’t forget. That shining example is, not a single soldier or officer of Pakistan’s armed or civil forces has ever turned his back from the ‘call of duty’ – unlike other nations who have ratio of deaths, suicides, drug uses, desertions and hypertensive brawls with fellow soldiers due to pressure of forced operational duties. Tahir Mahmood’s narration from “Choice” to “Nomads” throughout the pages revolves around this fact, which he proudly mentions in every story. Sometime, his ‘call of duty’ argument over the ‘call of love’ embarrasses the reader but, given the hard fact of battlefield, where seeing death eye to eye is not just fiction but real – the author therefore chooses being a soldier, not a lover. His “Lone Long Walk” proves that ours is not a Candy Land, but the most sacred of all Motherland. We have to save it and protect from all evils and odds, and that we will.

Outside my distanced ‘solitude’, the fear of death is dancing in the streets as twenties of suspects and infected people have been picked from my area and shifted to hospitals. Once again, the Pakistan army has been handed the task to come in the aid of civil administration and fight the monster. Equally exposed and vulnerable, as they are human too, the jawans and officers, doctors and paramedics are doing their duties in order to save the lives of the people. The personnel of Rangers and police have cordoned off the entire vicinity where I live, all the exit points towards Murree Road have been sealed fearing further spread of the deadly demon.

The soldier’s ‘long walk’ continues; this time he is out to probably brave the biggest of all challenges of life. The task is gigantic. I am sure our jawans and officers will win no matter how grave the challenge is. Look, howTahir Mahmood sums up his book in thesewords? It seems as if he is thinking ahead of time;the relevance of his lines with the newborn enormous challenge is amazing: “The struggle for ‘good’ passes through the garden of life where rose blooms next to a thorn. Thus, incongruity also needs to be understood as it sows the seeds of evolution and progression. Who knows the value of peace more than a proud soldier who actually has to undergo the rigors of war? Yet, the desire for peace never deters him from war. The struggle for survival and quest for beauty go side by side, and reach the zenith of wisdom that embraces all through divine compassion and forgiveness”.

The author is freelance columnist based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]