‘Will you take the union meeting tomorrow?’ Said Bill Andrews, ‘I have something to do at Morgah. There’s only one item on the agenda that needs a decision; any other points coming up, you can defer for consideration.’ Neither he nor B liked the monthly meetings with the labour unions, and B felt that the Morgah visit by Andrews was only a cover to miss the usual three hours of listening to talk, most of it without a substantive purpose. He always came away from the meetings with mixed feelings of exasperation and unease. The union leaders represented an assortment of personalities, from the insincere deferential to the convinced ideologue. These latter were seemingly engaged in a war with the employer’s representatives opposite them and any courtesy shown would be interpreted as a weakness. At the same time, they deplored the respectful, sometimes almost obsequious manner of the other types who sat with them. B was fair by nature and had not the political mind to play on the evident opportunities presented by these differences. Bill Andrews liked the meetings less than he did. George Stiven had given too much ground in the past, whilst Burridge had antagonised the union to such an extent, that his recall would have been necessary even if Bill Andrews had not been posted here. ‘Nawab will be present again; in an advisory capacity only of course,’ concluded Andrews. This didn’t cheer B up at all; in fact quite the reverse. Nawab had been taken on as personnel officer a short time before, and already had infiltrated himself into so many activities. B had been forced to warn him off intriguing amongst his staff. Because Nawab was an intriguer, a subtle weaver of webs between, above and around people. There was no doubt that he was a clever practitioner. The slow-witted were quickly netted when Nawab moved in amongst them, to be co-opted, knowingly or unknowingly or to be neutralised. The Europeans generally saw quickly enough that he was some sort of trickster, but seemed unable to perceive how he performed his tricks. Nawab had many faces, those of an equal, a fawner or a superior came easily enough to him. He exuded a stange aura, that of someone who knows more than ever he lets on about, one who has secret friends in high places. One could see the changing reflexes in his ever-moving eyes; the eyes of a plotter, and the most morally unattached B had ever seen, set in a face, mildly scarred by smallpox. When conversing, he stood restless, weighing every word, and maintaining pace in a quick, alert, mercurial manner, that always seemed to be one jump of those around him. If he was supposed to be a company agent, you felt sure he was also a double agent, or a triple one.

Nawab met B on his way to the meeting. ‘Mr Mason, where is Mr Andrews?’ ‘Hello, Nawab, Mr Andrews won’t be coming to the meeting.’ ‘That is unfortunate; we need to be very vigilant at this meeting.’ ‘Why especially at this meeting?’ ‘The National Labour Syndicate has sent representatives.’ ‘We’ll tell them they can’t attend without notice.’ ‘They have been invited by the union.’ ‘How did you know?’ ‘Iqbal Ghafor told me.’ ‘The union has no right to make such invitations without giving us prior notice.’ B was shooting in the dark, but it was evident that Nawab didn’t know the protocol either. ‘It would not be wise to object; they can cause a lot of difficulties for us.’ ‘How, Nawab?’ ‘There are many things that are being done that are outside the labour laws.’ ‘Such as?’ ‘I am compiling a report.’ They reached the building where the meeting was to be, a storeroom that had been cleared and filled with an odd assortment of chairs and a couple of old desks, side by side, to serve as the centre table.

Their question-and-answer routine ended as they entered to find the union side already in occupation. Salaams were exchanged. There were six men present, the usual four union representatives, and two others who were strangers to him. As he walked with Nawab, he had briefly considered refusing to join the meeting with the two unionists present, sprung on him without notice. He had only to walk out after a preliminary question; there were precedences for such action. But he was aware that the union was adroit at capitalising on grievances about European arrogance and superiority, and knew there was a theoretical line between forcing and surrendering that needed to be followed; a line that, in practice, he never seemed able to find to his satisfaction. ‘Before we open the meeting, Mr Nawab, will you please take the names of those present?’ ‘Mr Iqbal Ghafor has invited Mr Sulieman and Mr Siddiqui of the National Labour Syndicate to be present at the meeting.’ Nawab’s whole attitude changed as he spoke; he was now a put-upon victim of the Company Management. ‘It would be both helpful and polite if prior notice is given by either side  when such invitations are given.’ As Nawab translated this for some whose English was not strong, the restraint in the storeroom changed  and was replaced by a rapid discussion in Urdu amongst the union representatives. At this point B’s fears grew even stronger that he was in for a drubbing.

After the discussion had gone on for some time one of the two visitors addressed him in correct, but peculiarly accented English. ‘Mr Mason, we regret we are not welcome at this meeting. We have come a long way to be here, as you have from your country. You and your management are welcome here in our country, but you must remember it is not your country. You are visitors here and should respect our customs, just as you are obliged to obey our laws. We are not slaves to be told what we can do and what we cannot do. Maybe that is the way the capitalists deal with their workers in England…….’ The man was a non-stop talker and evidently a trained partisan, possibly one of the many recently returned to the newly created country of Pakistan from studying in the Soviet Union. He seemed to have a powerful and persuasive personality and B could feel himself becoming trapped in surges of anger, irritation and isolation as he listened to the seemingly endless lecture that had begun as an attack and was now continuing as a recitation of revolutionary doctrine. The speaker had hi-jacked the meeting. Even though some of the people present would not understand all his words, there was a total silence from them. B was alone. He knew that Nawab would be rejoicing at his uncomfortable position. If he interrupted and tried to talk the other down there would be bedlam and he knew that with one against six, bedlam would serve their purpose. He could imagine the rumours that would abound about his treatment of the special visitors. ‘……we believe that the attitude of your management needs to change….’ ‘We had better get on with the agenda,’ B interrupted, speaking to Nawab.

The talker broke off and switched into Urdu, repeating his words of correction and castigation to those with poor English. There was no doubt that this was studied humiliation. B’s interjection was brushed aside; they wanted him to leave so they could say, as they had done with Burridge, that he was arrogant and would not listen. He would not leave. So, what could he do? Let it run its course, to be lectured and humiliated? The thought was unbearable; to put up with this for three hours? he found himself cooling down as the talk continued in Urdu. Let them carry on; he would withdraw his mind and sit it out. He was under observation though and, as he relaxed, the first talker switched again into English. ‘I have been listening to some very serious complaints against your management, Mr Mason. It seems that there is a total disregard for the protection and safety of the workers. Your management seem to be indifferent to their dignity as human beings.’ ‘Utter rubbish!’ He regretted the words as soon as they were said. ”Oh, you will not listen?’ ‘I will listen if you will talk in reasonable terms.’ B began to hope he could develop a dialogue. Things just had to improve. ‘How can we discuss anything if you abuse me?’ ‘I did not abuse you.’ ‘You said I am not reasonable.’ ‘What are these points?’ Even when speaking in monosyllables, his words were distorted and then this distorted version was relayed back to the others in translation. He was on the hook and, short of leaving the meeting, he would have to stick it out. he was in a minority of one. Feeling oppressed and frustrated, cornered and vulnerable, he sneaked a covert glance at his watch…..

MAY 1950