Salinity Control and Reclamation Project (SCARP)

There is something intriguing about the timing of my graduation. Our country had split in two parts as war broke out between India and Pakistan in 1971. And this happened precisely at the time when we were preparing for our final exams of engineering. With great fanfare and blowing of trumpets an elected government of Pakistan Peoples’ Party headed by Bhutto took over the reigns of whatever was left of Pakistan after creation of Bangladesh.

Democracy had spread its wings after more than a decade of military rule and we were singing anthems for government of the people, by the people and for the people. Very little did we realize the meaning of democracy, the meaning of freedom. We took it for granted that we were free to do anything that we liked oblivious of the fact that our right of freedom ends at a point where the right of others is endangered. And this happened exactly with me.

Fresh Graduate and Unemployment

I had a degree in my hand which proclaimed that I was an engineer. I was on streets looking for a job. In the beginning it was a fun going out for interviews which enabled me to meet my friends as they were also searching jobs for themselves. But as the series of these interviews were getting prolonged, the ominous fear of being unemployed was showing its signs on me. Most of the boys who were fortunate enough to get hold of jobs were the ones not even comparable with me in terms of academic excellence which made me think there was something wrong with me.

I shared my anxiety with Ali Nawaz Shah (may Allah be pleased with him. He passed away soon after he finally got a job). He also happened to be a Petarian and was running from pillar to post like me, for a suitable job. And he said:

“The yardstick of getting a job is not a degree that we are holding in our hands. We have to do what others did if we are serious about getting into our professional life”

“What is it that we have to do and which we have not done so far?” I enquired from him.

Ban of Jobs by government in Pakistan

Ali Nawaz Shah informed me that the elected government had stopped all ministries from recruitment through normal channels of bureaucracy and conventional rules of appointments, and all appointments were being done on the orders of ministers. Those who had political links were given appointment orders of their choice. They were following the proverbial phrase “make hay while the sun shines”.

Political influence for getting a job

Politics had never been my cup of tea. Beside politics, I found it below my dignity and honour to stand at the doors of these ministers and seek their pleasure rather than relying on my hard-earned degree of engineering. I opted to sit back home and not to hurt my conscience by knocking the doors of these pseudo rulers. If this was what the politics was and if this was what the democracy was, I will do anything but I will not surrender at the cost of my self-ego.

Democracy worse than dictatorship

Such are the perils of sham democracy. Indeed, we hate the dictatorial rule and always look for democracy to spread its wings on us for the welfare of public at large, but sadly the democracy that we have seen, is worse than dictatorship. But can we slam democracy and sing the songs for military rule? Certainly not. Charlie Chaplin had once said:

“I love to dance in rain as nobody notices my tears gushing out of my eyes.”

There is a famous saying in Sindhi language that the mother of scoundrel, a thief, weeps secretly in a corner so as not to be noticed.

We were also experiencing the same predicament. We wanted to have democracy but we hated the democracy imposed on us, a kind of democracy to which we could not even dare to criticize openly.

Job in Salinity Control and Reclamation Project (SCARP)

A friend of my father was posted in Sukkur as project director, Salinity Control and Reclamation Project (SCARP), a subsidiary of WAPDA. He proposed to my father that he could put me in his project on work-charge.  I was not interested as this post was temporary, relating to that project only, but I had no choice, as doing something was better than doing nothing. And hence I agreed to this work-charge offer. I was asked to join their Larkana office, and this was all verbal without any thing in writing.

The executive engineer, Mr. Rajpar asked me to select the route and to design open channel drains passing through agricultural land in Badah and Bakrani areas of Larkana district, which I did as I was fresh from the college. The subject of fluid mechanics was taught by our illustrious professor Dr Haji Mahmood Memon, and surveying was taught by Mr. Abdul Majeed Brohi, which helped me in accomplishment of my first professional assignment of physically conducting survey on the ground and of designing the channel.

First day of job at Salinity Control and Reclamation Project (SCARP)

My first day of going out in agriculture lands and commencement of my survey work was quite adventurous as people gathered around us and were inquisitive about what we were doing. I told them that government was planning to lay an open channel for draining out salinity and waterlogging from their agricultural land which in turn will improve the yield of their crops. The locals of the area didn’t appear to be comfortable as they thought that the land falling in this scheme would not be available to them for agriculture purpose. They tried to appease us to alter the route and tried to influence us in whatever manner they could. 

Second Visit of Field Survey

After a gap of few days when I resumed my survey work, I noticed a huge hutment in the center of proposed route which I had earmarked on the ground on my last visit. This hutment was erected within a week and was made of bamboo pillars with thatched roof and thatched walls. More than a dozen children were sitting on floor in a huge veranda and were reciting verses of holy Quran in chorus. As I entered the place I was greeted by an old man with a long white beard.

“Welcome to our madrassah (place for Islamic teachings). Can I help you, young man?”

“Madrassah?” I enquired. “I was here about ten days back and there was nothing of this sort on my last visit”. 

“You are mistaken young boy” He replied. “I have been teaching Quran to the children since decades here. This is a holy place and a shrine of a Sufi saint whose grave is inside the room. People come here from far off places to pay homage to him. Those who are deprived of a child visit this shrine and they are bestowed with a child”.

“Baba jee; you seem to be a pious man and it doesn’t suit you to talk like that. I am sure as death that there was nothing here on my last visit only ten days ago. There was no such shrine here”.

The old man was visibly shaken and in a fit of fear and anger he admonished me. “Don’t speak against this saint. If his curse falls upon you, you will be doomed”.

Using religion for own desire

I realised that it was useless talking to him anymore as he was doing all this with preplanned agenda and I knew that he will never be convinced with my argument. I quietly left the place and resumed my survey work. But this episode raised many question marks in my mind. We claim that Islam, like any other religion, teaches us to speak the truth. But this old man was making a mockery of Islam and was shamelessly using his religion as a shield for the sake of saving a few acres of land. 

Visit of WAPDA Chairman

A few days after completion of my assignment of design, survey and layout of salinity control drains, Mr. Rajpar (Executive Engineer) informed me about the visit of Chairman WAPDA. He asked me to accompany him to Sukkur to receive the WAPDA Chairman at railway station. I had an inner feeling that Rajpar was satisfied with my work which made him quite comfortable with me.

His Assistant Engineer Arbab Ali Sangi, was a diploma holder and an elderly man who was fond of always boasting about himself and physically doing the least bit of his office work. On the day we were to receive the WAPDA Chairman, I opted to dress myself with my best outfit not only to look good and stand out among all other receptionists but to impress the Chairman so as to get my appointment regularized in WAPDA.

Welcome of WAPDA Chairman by Salinity Control and Reclamation Project (SCARP)

A good number of people had gathered at Sukkur railway station along with Salinity Control and Reclamation Project staff for a befitting reception and I was wondering as to why did he choose to travel by rail when he could have easily opted to take about an hour’s flight from Lahore to Sukkur. My curiosity took the better of me and I couldn’t resist my temptation of finding it out from my boss.

“It is a luxury to travel by rail if you have a saloon like the one our Chairman has.” He spoke. “You are asking this question because you have probably no idea of how comfortable these executive parlor cars are.”

Indeed, I didn’t have any idea of these dedicated rail compartments and Rajpar was smart enough to notice my curiosity written large on my face.

” Hold your breath my dear. Let this reception be over. I will take you round the parlor to see it for yourself.”

The bogie was detached from train and was towed to a platform in the railway siding exclusively designated for this purpose. We were about thirty people led by Project Director Salinity Control and Reclamation Project (SCARP) who was a friend of my father and who had posted me in Larkana on verbal orders. I was somewhere in the middle of reception team along with Mr. Rajpar.

I warmly shook hand with the Chairman. Barely did I realise that I had jerked his hand a little harder as we used to do in Petaro in a military style. The Chairman stopped in front of me for my introduction. I told him that I had recently joined his organisation and that I had done my graduation in civil engineering only a couple of months ago.

Words by WAPDA Chairman

“Young man; you are looking too good in your costume. But I would rather like to see you in a dangree(dungaree). If you wear these royal apparels at this early stage, you would be playing with your professional career as an engineer. This is your time to work hard. Aim at becoming a successful engineer first, and then you will have all the time in your life to dress up yourself at your sweet will.”

My Reaction to Chairman’s words

I was dumbfounded. My head was spinning. It looked to me as if the blood in my veins had stopped flowing. Chairman had taught me a lesson which I would remember for the rest of my life. Success doesn’t come that handy. One has to toil hard to grab it.

And by any stroke of imagination, even if success knocks at your door too quickly without bruising your body and without testing your perseverance, you should be mentally prepared that it will be short-lived and will abruptly leave you high and dry in a similar way as it had come to you prematurely. There is a famous saying that success appears before work only in a dictionary.

I had selected the best suit for this occasion and I was wearing an expensive fragrance with a romantic aroma in order to impress the chief guest. But all this went against me and I was unceremoniously discarded by him as a persona-non-granta. I must have been in this state of shock for quite some time. And when I composed myself, I saw that the reception ceremony was long over. Rajpar had a typical grin on his face and was looking at me with curiosity.

“let’s go” he said. “You wanted to have a look at Chairman’s saloon. Besides, you need to cheer up now”.

Special and Luxurious Room for VIP in Train

The saloon was a complete housing unit. From drawing room to dining area with a vast kitchen, a conference room and not to forget, a luxurious bed room with equally luxurious bathroom, it was a palatial house on wheels. My thoughts were wandering and I was literally pulled out of the quagmire I had encountered a couple of minutes ago.

This was an ideal house to go out for honeymoon. You roam around different places of your choice and when you come back home with your love bird, your house-on-wheels with all its luxuries, is there for you. I wish I had this saloon for celebration of my honeymoon. But only if wishes were horses.

My Short Stay in Larkana for Salinity Control and Reclamation Project Job

I was not sure of duration of my stay in Larkana since I was there only on verbal orders. I therefore decided to stay in a hotel rather than acquiring a rented house. On weekends I would join my family in Dadu which would take me a little more than an hour’s drive on my 70 cc Honda motor cycle. Now I shudder to think of long drive on a bike but during those youthful days, such adventures were a pleasure. One fine evening I was having tea on a road side cafe that I met my old friend Zubair Asadullah Tunio, kit no 327, Latif house.

Finding my old class fellow

We were together in Petaro for five years and then we continued our company in engineering college for another four years. He graduated in electrical engineering and was looking for a job. On his invitation to come to his house, he and his elder brother Faqeer Hidayatullah Tunio insisted that I stayed with them. His brother had recently retired from the post of Principal, Government College Larkana.

We had close relationship with this family ever since I joined Petaro. In spite of my reluctance to stay as a guest with them, Faqeer Hidayatullah said that I was like his younger brother and that he would not allow me to stay in a hotel. The pressure was heavy and I couldn’t say no to him. I stayed for four months with them and I felt as if I was with my own parents.

Salinity Control and Reclamation Project

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