When Time Stood Still

It was purely by chance that I dropped by to attend a lecture being given by Dr Samar Mubarakmand, the nuclear scientist. I had some time on my hand before my next engagement and I thought it would not be a bad idea to sit down and listen to him and in the post lecture session meet up with some friends sitting in the audience.

So I took my seat and listened in. Dr Mubarakmand was trying to make a point about the courage of one’s conviction and how all elements of nature conspire to help you succeed, if you’re are determined to make it happen. He was illustrating his argument with an example. It was the fateful day of May 27, 1998, a day before Pakistan exploded the nuclear device in response to the Indian nuclear explosions about a fortnight earlier (11 and 13 May). Preparation was in full swing and the tunnel in the Ras Koh Hills was being rigged for the explosions. Dr Mubarakmand had just come out from the subterranean shaft into the mud hut for a breather. The temperature was a searing 52 degree celcius, when the driver of his Toyota Hiace told him that the vehicle needed some urgent repairs. The nearest workshop was at a distance of four hour’s drive at the border town of Dalbandin. The place had to be evacuated the next morning for the explosions, so the driver was told to rush and get the repairs done before the scientists and technicians closed shop and moved out of the ground zero. Dr Mubarakmand then went back into the tunnel to supervise the preparations. He says he walked up and down the 1.3 km length of the tunnel to make sure that everything was in order and after about two and half hours he came up again for a break and a cup of tea at 2pm and found the hiace standing outside. Fearing that his driver hadn’t left and that he would be late for the evacuation, he called him out. The driver ambled out from his rest station and told him that the repairs had been done. Not possible, thought the scientist. A roundtrip counting for the time spent on repairs should have taken at least nine hours. The time that had elapsed after his last conversation with driver was only two and a half hours. How could it be possible? To convince him the driver showed him the receipt of the repairs from the roadside workshop. The mechanic wasn’t at the shop and the driver had to go to his home to get him to do the repairs. This meant some additional time to the entire job. How did it happen in two hours? In Dr Mubarakmand opinion this and other incidents that happened in Pakistan’s quest for nuclear convinced him that time actually stood still to help all those involved in making sure that the nation remained safe.

The next day after having evacuated the test site, Dr Mubarkmand and a small team of men waited for explosions from an observation post at safe distance away from the GZ. If I heard him correctly he said they were 20 kms away. The button had been pressed. The time was 15:15 hours Pakistan Standard Time. The date was 28 May 1998. Ordinarily it would take 35 seconds for the computer to translate the orders and send the command for the detonation. The stipulated time had passed and everything stood still. Would it happen or would it not? The men waited with bated breath. Five long seconds later the earth shook. The team members of Chaghi I were thrown off balance, as seismographs from Sydney to New York registered the signature shocks of five simultaneous nuclear explosions. The strategic balance in the subcontinent had been restored. The tension and apprehensions off the past days evaporated. The team of tired and hungry men uncorked the bottles of tepid water and shared a packet of peak freens zeera biscuits to celebrate the moment. They had succeeded against all odds as time and tide had waited for them to make it happen. Providence was on the side of the steadfast. Their perseverance and faith had paid off.

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Wollaton Park – the Manor of the Dark Knight

Nottingham is known for Robin Hood and his band of merry men, who lived in the Sherwood Forest and robbed the rich to pay the poor. No one knows if he was a real person or a fictional character but Nottingham proudly uses him as a brand name. Legend has it that he was a heroic outlaw in English folklore, who was a highly skilled archer and swordsman. Traditionally depicted as being dressed in Lincoln green, Robin Hood became a popular folk figure in the late-medieval period, and continues to be widely represented in literature, films and television.  References to Robin Hood are found in the ballads of the fourteenth century.

Another character made Nottingham his abode in the twenty first century. In 2011, key scenes from the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises were filmed in Wollaton Park. Wollaton Hall was featured as the latest Wayne Manor. Movie was released in 2012. The location was well chosen by Christopher Nolan for the final instalment of his Batman film trilogy, and the sequel to Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008). The film grossed over $1 billion worldwide at the box office, making it the second film in the Batman film series to earn $1 billion. It is currently the 16th highest grossing film of all time, the third-highest-grossing film of 2012, and the fourth-highest-grossing superhero film of all time.

Wollaton Park is actually a deer park and home of Wollaton Hall, Nottingham Natural History Museum and Nottingham Industrial Museum in the heart of Nottingham. The Park is enclosed by a red brick wall at the start of the nineteenth century. Originally spread 790 acres (3.2 km2), land sales have reduced the park to 500 acres (2.0 km2). The park is home to a herd of red deer and fallow deer. At most times you can see them sitting in front of the Hall. You can go quite near without offending them. Other wildlife of note at the park includes a large corvid roost made up of rook, jackdaw, and carrion crow. Other notable species present at the site are populations of jay, nuthatch and sparrow hawk. Migrating wildfowl grace the lake in the winter and species of note include gadwall, northern shoveller, Eurasian wigeon and tufted duck. There is a good diversity of fungi present, especially in the winter months, mainly found near the wooded areas and the lake. A walk around the lake is most enjoyable.

In this park, during World War II American troops of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, were billeted here, waiting to be parachuted into Europe, which they did in June 1944. A small plaque commemorates this event.  Subsequently German prisoners of war were billeted here for employment in the locality between 1945 and 1947.

Wollaton Park is often used for events such as cross country races and music festivals. The park is often visited by physical fitness buffs and I saw a military style boot camp in progress, while I was there.


In search of Regimental History

This summer I utilized my brief stay in London to search for regimental history. I was looking for information on two people – one a celebrated Victoria Cross winner and the other an unknown second lieutenant. Subedar Mir Dast won a VC on the battlefield in Ypres, Belgium in April 1915 and Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed left the battalion in Malaya to join the Indian National Army (INA) sometime during the Second World War. While little is known about the later, the former is well documented as a war hero. His name is inscribed on a memorial for VC winners in Hyde Park.

I had seen the photographs of both of them. The portrait of the VC holder is proudly hanging in the regimental officers’ mess. A group photograph less prominently displayed at the time I joined the battalion in October 1976 was that of the officers of the 1/13 Frontier Force Rifles circa 1939. The sepia colored shot shows only one Indian officer among the British officers. He bears the name Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed. There is no record of what happened to Mahboob Ahmed because the unit went into captivity in Malaya. Mahboob joined the Subhash Chandra Bose (SCB) led Indian National Army (INA) at some undetermined date. Thereafter the track goes cold. The unit was re-raised in 1945 in Rawalpindi but quite obviously Mahboob wasn’t part of it. He had forsaken his loyalty to the King Emperor. By joining the INA he had thrown in his lot with the nationalists. I remember asking the old mess waiter Abdul Rahman aka Mana, who was with the battalion during captivity in Malaya about the Indian officer in the photograph. He remained behind in India and became an ambassador was what I could remember the old man telling me. Last summer someone gave me a photocopied autobiography of Colonel Mehboob Ahmed, who had served as the secretary of Netaji. The biography written in Urdu informed me that Colonel, a native of Patna had died a brokenhearted man because his dream of an independent India was not fulfilled. It did not give any details of his military background in the Indian Army, nor was there any mention of his diplomatic career. A little research did reveal that although INA were not reinstated in the Indian Army nor in the Pakistan Army after partition but some of them were given civilian positions. One Mehboob Ahmed or Mehboob Hasan served as the ambassador of India to Canada. There is also information about Colonel Mehboob Ahmed, a former military secretary of SCB, as a senior official of the ministry of external affairs deposing before the parliament in 1972 about Netaji.

The purpose of my visiting the National Archives near Kew Gardens was to find out about both of them. The National Archives is housed in an impressive building in a beautiful suburb of London. It is at the end of the underground line to Richmond and a brief walk brings you to the National Archives. The entry is free. You get a membership card which has an extended period of validity. A short instructional tour on the computer tells you how to access the records. Further inquiries can be made with the assistants sitting in the Archives to help a visitor. I was able to access the citation of Mir Dast. On one side of the facsimile of the citation was a handwritten note stating that it had been transferred to the India Office Library. When I asked about the transfer from an assistant, I was told that all records of the Indian Army had been shifted to the India Office Section of the British Library. If I was lucky I could find Second Lieutenant Ahmed’s record there as well.

So I caught the next train to the British Library in the heart of London. I found the edifice of this world known library again very imposing. I was quickly issued a membership card and given detailed instructions of how to handle historic documents. I placed my request for the citation of Mir Dast VC and service record of Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed. I was told to wait for 45 minutes before the staff searched for the records. After the mandatory wait I was given torn folio containing the London gazette notification of VC holders of First World War. The name of Jemadar Mir Dast VC of 55th Coke’e Rifles (FF) bore the entry bore the number 820328. Where is the citation asked? We don’t have it and if you want to know further about Second Lieutenant Ahmed contact the AG’s Branch of the Indian Army in the South Block of the Indian Army Headquarters in New Delhi.

So where do I go from here. It won’t be bad idea to write to South Block for Mehboob Ahmed but what about Mir Dast’s original citation? Where do I find it?   Any ideas?