I can still feel the smell of coal

Hannah Lake - Quetta 1982

Hannah Lake – Quetta 1982

Mild smell of burning coal coming out of chimneys, cool breeze, dry air. We had just come out of train to join our father in Quetta, who was already there a month ahead of us to do his staff college. My first step out of the train, with a haversack on my back, which contained toys more than my clothing. Moving out of the railway station and going towards the cantonment was an entirely different feeling for us.

“Papa!, why do they have that cloth wrapped on water pipes of all the buildings”, was my first question to my dad. Papa was excited to hear the question from his 4 years old boy. He told it was very cold there and the water would freeze in the pipes which could block the flow of water and damage the pipes too.

I can still recall the very pleasant morning when I came outside to witness my first ever snow fall. Small flakes of snow falling on the ground just like if someone was spinning a quilt made of cotton. The feeling to walk on snow in the lawn was just like walking on a carpet placed in the garden. Making snow man was a common thing, but I had to do something unusual. I started rolling a small piece of snow. Towards the end of ground the snow carpet rolled into a round bundle. A few more bundles and I had made a lion with the snow. The cones from the pine tree and pieces of broken wood provided the finishing touches. I wish digital photography was available in those days too. I had the pleasure of riding a snow-lion for almost a month till the snow melted.

Getting lost and on the verge of being kidnapped is another (now interesting) memory from my early childhood. Urak – a nearby picnic spot; some 20kms from where we lived, was commonly visited by our families. A time when we used to pick up apples directly from the trees in the farms and owners used to say – “eat all you can, all free”. On a certain occasion our family shifted from one picnic spot to another within Urak. I somehow lost my way and when the family realized that I was missing. They started to look for me. I was found in the surroundings of the place being taken away by some men, who claimed they were planning to hand me over to the local management.

Last year in 2011, I had a chance of visiting Quetta again on a cousin’s wedding. More than 3 decades had passed and I was anxious to locate something I was familiar with. Every thing was different now. Couldn’t find the same smell of coal. Quetta was not as barren as I saw this time. The fear of violence was in the air and the fragrance from my childhood was no more there.