The phone on the wall rang and B got up to answer it. ‘Is that you, Mason?’ Asked Braund’s voice. ‘Some bad news, I’m afraid. Word has just come through that Jinnah is dead. There is to be no work tomorrow. We must all be seen to observe that as well. Are the others with you? Tell them to stay away from the offices. Oh, and tell Whitmore, as well. You can reach me any time at my bungalow.’ It was not totally unexpected news. There had been rumours that the Governor General of the new Pakistan had been ill for some time, but had insisted on continuing to work a gruelling schedule when he should have been more attentive to his health. This was bad news, as Braund had said. Bad for the stability of this fledgling country, Pakistan, of which he was the Founding Father, that he was dead just thirteen months after he had brought his People home.

‘I expect Liaquat Ali Khan will take over,’ said Dan Gill, when B had passed on the news to the others at the table over  lunch at the Chummery in B’s bungalow. Dan was the oldest one present at the usual lunch time Chummery gatherings, a geologist who was shortly to leave for an academic post at a British University. He was the only one of the group who spoke Urdu fluently and had any knowledge of the country’s politics. ‘I think I’ll go hunting tomorrow with Tudor,’ said Tony Burridge, a portly ex-major newly arrived from England; ‘and I’ll catch up on my letter writing,’ from Dan, whose wife had already left to set up home in England. ‘I suppose I’d better do the same,’ said B. ‘After I’ve read these,’ tapping the pile of letters that had just been delivered. ‘It’s a good long siz in the sack for me,’ said Blair Liddell, the fourth member  who had recently arrived from Burma. Blair was, like B an ex-RAF flyer, the most dashing debonair one of the group with wit and charm wasted in this Punjab backwater where the Oil Company they worked for operated.

The lunch group broke up, conscious of a welcome day-off ahead but aware that it was fenced around with the necessity of their keeping low profiles, so as not to jar the mood of mourning for a lost leader, that would already be affecting their Pakistani neighbours. The letters were duly read, and afterwards, as expected by B, he was transported into the realm of lingering nostalgia and yearning. As he sat in the shutter-darkened adobe bungalow reading and re-reading each letter, his mind re-capturing and dwelling on details of remembered pleasure and pain, so that a complex sense of pride and unworthiness subtly infiltrated his mood, until he was taken over completely by what we term, ‘home-sickness.’ Less than a year in this vast strange land there was time to think of his past and, at twenty four, he had tapped a vein of introspection becoming vaguely aware at that time that all relationships contain a surface tension, like water drops, and one’s ego comprises the outer skin of our inability to merge our identities completely with another’s. By trying, we discover our own loneliness in life.

Dan was proved right and it was Liaquat Ali Khan who emerged as the successor to the departed Quaid-I-Azam. His confirmation as the new leader meant for him an early political tour of the Muslim League support centres around the country. It was the Punjab’s turn some time late in December, and an invitation to attend the rally at Pindigheb was received by each member of the Attock Oil Company senior staff. There were not many acceptances partly because this was seen as a political event, and also because no wives were invited. There were five only who had decided to accept the invitation and these fitted into two cars with two drivers. Wally Whitmore, the new Storekeeper and B travelled in Harry Ward’s Buick. Harry was the Drilling Superintendent, a craggy, experienced American roustabout of about fifty years of age. He was a man with considerable influence in the Company. Blair and Dan travelled in a second car. It would be Dan’s last function in Pakistan after many years of valued service.

A very large marquee had been erected on open ground some way from the small town and was reached over a walk-way of light, colourful floor rugs, locally made, and called numdahs. These were laid in pairs on the dry, sandy earth and on either side of this unusual path, aligned with  the rugs were small, whitewashed boulders at a metre or so distance that gave the way an air of extra distinction, and also served to keep the crowds of local people coming from the outlying villages, at a distance from the rugs, as the important personages they had come to see moved past towards the entrance of the marquee together with other guests.

A group of army pipers stood on each side of the entrance, blowing into their bagpipes with great energy, but much of the sound coming from their instruments was lost in the open air, or drowned out by the babble of the crowd. The marquee must have covered an area of about 5,000 square yards; its length being about 80 to 100 yards and the width 50 to 70 yards. A cover had been placed over lines of poles that had been embedded firmly into the ground; a fringe of the covering, stitched in curves, hung down over the sides with castellated endings. Attached to the outer rows of poles were canvas-material walls from the ground to the height of a tall person, leaving a gap of about three to four feet between the top of this outer skin and the castellated cover above, thus serving admirably the need for ventilation. From a distance, this great structure appeared like a medieval commander’s encampment. One of Alexander the Great’s mobile headquarters, perhaps when he was once here with his invading army, as there was nothing in its construction that could not have been used thousands of years before.

The Attock five moved slowly along with the other guests, between the crowds of curious villagers on either side. B was taking snapshots with his new camera, a Voitslander Besser with a Zeiss lens that opened out to a bellows formation, which he had bought in Rawalpindi and was worthy of a more adept owner. All about them were local landowners, military chiefs, well-off traders, tribal chiefs and party members. This region was the heartland of the Muslim League and a strategic location in its operations; it lay close to the partly un-administered territory lying close to the Afghan border, populated by tribesmen with long historical memories, living in remote, fortress-like villages, overlooked by watch-towers. These frontier tribesmen were always aware of the possibilities of jihad and looting. To the northeast lay Kashmir, with a Muslim population ruled over by a Hindu prince, and now occupied by troops of the new Indian State. To the south lay the barren Salt Range, between the great Indus and Jhelum rivers, and below that and to the west were the Sind and the Baluchistan provinces, with their ethnic differences and fierce local loyalties. So, it was in the Punjab that the Muslim League’s torch burned the brightest, and from where the governing class of the new country of Pakistan was recruited, in the towns and also the rural back-waters like Pindigheb. It was here that Liaquat Ali Khan had come to show the faithful that he was aware of their power and potency.

Inside the marquee there were chairs and sofas placed around the sides and in rows with long tables between. They made their way to a corner of sofas. It was warm but not unpleasant. They either chatted desultorily or watched the scene and the faces and dress of the people who were coming in through the gap in the curtain wall, filling the vast open area within. The loud noise of voices and the shrill pitch of the pipes outside did not abate as the entourage of the new Prime Minister appeared. He was dressed in traditional garb, with tight cloth trousers in white and a white buttoned tunic. On his head was an astrakhan cap. The first part of his circuit of the assembly was along the side where the Attock group had risen to their feet. A quick whisper from an aide who preceded him and he was shaking hands and chatting easily with each one of them, as his instinctive political ability enabled him to take in, and adjust to, any pattern of human grouping or conduct. ‘We are very pleased to know that you are helping our country with your various skills and experience,’ he addressed them in cultured English. ‘We welcome you and wish you all success, so that your achievements will be our country’s gain.’ He made a slight bow and passed on. ‘Nice man,’ said Blair, half seriously, half humorously and he spoke for all of them. There was no doubt that Liaquat Ali Khan had the gift of charm.

The leader’s group circulated around the marquee, meeting and exchanging greetings, then they moved to the platform and seated themselves. After an interval of time a number of petitioners made their way towards the platform and stood expectantly, supervised by aides who released them, one by one, to approach  the Prime Minister. Some removed their footwear before stepping on to the platform, some would make low obeisances on approaching him; one or two knelt to touch his feet with their lips; and some would salaam as their only greeting. All uttered the words of their petitions, producing pieces of paper, many of which would have been written on by professional scribes, for a fee. This went on for some time, while waiters moved around providing soft drinks to the assembly and when all the petitioners had had their say, aides went around the gathering inviting individuals up to the platform for more personal introductions and talks. These were most likely to be the real power brokers of the region. One young agent approached the Attock group. ‘Liaquat Ali Khan would have much pleasure…….’ He addressed Harry and gestured towards the platform. ‘He wants to speak to me?’ Asked Harry. ‘Yes, he would like.’ Harry concealed his surprise beneath his ponderous demeanour. Up on the platform he was engaged in conversation with the Prime Minister seated next to him; the four watched every movement. Harry lounged back, placing an arm along the back of the sofa on which he sat partly, B guessed, so as not to be over-impressed by the occasion, and partly  to ease the tension of his exposed position. Five minutes later he was back amongst them, as laconic as ever, as he fielded their questions.

But now it was time for speeches which was the most time-dragging part although Dan attempted to translate, but stopped when the high flown rhetoric became too amusing for fear that someone would be unable to stop a grin or a laugh. As the speeches came to an end, files of waiters entered the marquee carrying abundant food and more soft drinks. These were placed on the tables and the eating and circulating began. There was, of course, no alcohol served. Many Pakistani’s approached their group, mostly to speak with Dan who seemed to be popular and well-liked. His Urdu was quite adequate but much of the talking was conducted in English for the benefit of Dan’s four companions.

There was plenty to talk about on the way back as the car made its way cautiously amongst the country people with their goats and water buffalos moving along the tracks. How a little more than a year ago this land had been a possession of the British Empire and the man they had just seen who had been a subject of the King Emperor, was now the leader of a new State. How would this work out? Harry left them back at Khaur and Wally came into the Chummery for a beer. Dan and Blair were already there and Tony was just back from his hunting trip. ‘You missed an interesting event at Pindigheb, Tony,’ B started off, as they settled down with their drinks. ‘You’re welcome to it,’ said Tony stroking his silky moustache, ‘I couldn’t be bothered with those jumped-up peasants, who are only where they are, because a Socialist Government handed it all to them on a plate.’ It had to be handed to Tony, he always presented things in a different, if predictable light. The newcomer, Whitmore, could not resist the bait. ‘Now, look here Burridge,’ he began, half humorously, ‘if you had seen Harry Ward, lounging up there on the platform of honour, like a Roman Consul, you would have thought it a day well spent.’ Burridge’s blue eyes sharpened; ‘I don’t know why he doesn’t stick with his oil wells,’ he replied, ‘what’s an American driller doing with Pakistani politicians?’ This was too deep for the others and, as no one wanted an argument, the talk turned to love and marriage