Friday, 30 November 2018

Strings over Indus

Commissions had dwindled almost to almost a standstill. As tastes changed-the old making way for the new- the proprietor of the ‘Sitar Sales and Repair’ shop overlooking the rugged valley in the north of England, was looking at the future with some trepidation; albeit laced with some slight relief. David Croft- who two weeks earlier, had dispatched four hand crafted sitars to the director of Melbourne city orchestra in time for a music festival in early Autumn- which David very much hoped to attend- contemplated if this was to be the last of these orders. Only three options were available he thought: to sell as a going concern; to wind down the business, or to speak to Elizabeth to see if she would be interested, or at least, continue to give it a go for a while.

"It never used to take this long did it David? "
" No it certainly did not"....David replied to Harold Drasdo as they climbed up the Black Hill. It was in this unique English landscape bordering two counties, with its sandblasted rock faces and crags, that David Croft, Harold, Neville Drasdo and Arthur Dolphin had thought up the idea of forming ‘ The Bradford lads’ which evolved into a unique, working class climbers club, after the war. Going on to make its mark on British climbing and forging national and international reputations.

Returning home that evening David looked into the bathroom mirror, still a handsome man with somewhat sad eyes, tinged with resolve; stepping on the scales,  he observed how his weight had fallen significantly since the last time he checked.
The love affair started in the busy Pakistani port city of Karachi, bejewelled and bedraggled in equal measure. Arriving with the team, David was to lead on to Gilgit., The route chosen was to follow north, the lifeblood of cities, empires and civilisations, the mighty river itself ...The Indus.

It was just beyond the capital that they decided to stop as a final resting place before arriving tomorrow at the base camp. In the unforgiving heat, David left for a swim in a one of the Indus tributaries. While heading there he heard extended series of sound, vast and epic. In the market place a crowd gathered to listen to Sitar and Tabla players. The stringed instrument with its elaborate patterns, had a hypnotic effect that night which was at once both sobering and disorientating.

They had arrived on the Karakoram Highway, it was in these mountain ranges that the Indus which flowed west from its source in Tibet, was forced down south to where Karachi opens its mouth and pours the Indus into the Arabian Sea.

There she was within sight, Nanga Prabat ‘The Naked Moutain’ . This was majesty, captivating from the ground, but the higher you go the more the metamorphosis takes place. Slender shoulders and curves give way to ugly disfigurement and crooked teeth, the mountain literally becomes a Maw… a ferocious mouth. David looked at everyone in stunned silence, here we are, this is what they call The Killer Mountain.

Elizabeth Croft threw her soul into the business and the rapid transformation was astounding. Out went the dusty shelves and memorabilia, in came music workshops, art exhibitions, yoga and well- being evenings. A major music event was planned for the following summer. Gregarious and quick witted, Elizabeth attracted a new clientele which the existing shop could not accommodate. Plans were afoot to expand the premises. Local and national newspapers sent journalists to conduct interviews. Invitations arrived for business awards, local politicians jostled to have photographs taken. The editor of the prestigious culture magazine ‘Late Evening Style’- Russell Brook- Lewis had in particular shown early interest and Elizabeth enjoyed chatting to him.
Returning home after the dinner with Russell, opening the kitchen door Elizabeth walked out bare foot into the warm night air. The sky was the glowing synthesis of gold and black. Sitting cross legged on the grass, she was lost in thought for a long time. “This is really it...enchantment.!' Stretching her right index finger into the air, Elizabeth ran her finger over Russell’s eyes, over his cheekbones, his lips along the back of his neck.
Horror and pain comes to us when we are at our most happiest. Like an avalanche, it arrives without warning and tears the ground on which we stand, consuming us at once. "David did not want to tell you himself, but will be at home to see you ", Dr Stobowski said to Elizabeth

"It is a very aggressive tumour that has spread to his lungs and chest, a specialist in this area has advised me that it is terminal. There is treatment available to slow down the disease, but David has declined. Perhaps you can talk to him. We expect two months at most. Elizabeth, we are here to help anytime of the day and night and there might be other help available. I’m so sorry "


The Burial took place in the nearby Methodist church, a plot which had been bought by David next to Mary -Elizabeth’s mother. It was private affair, Elizabeth was accompanied by Russell, Dras and the remaining members of the ‘Bradford Lads’. The British Alpine club sent someone, the Pakistani Embassy in London- where David was on first name terms, due to his service to Pakistani tourism and mountaineering- sent a high ranking official.

Elizabeth returned home alone, sifted to through the many letters of condolences that arrived from UK and overseas. Some from editors of mountaineering journals, from university climbing clubs and members of the public. One letter was address Elizabeth Croft stamped Melbourne, Austrialia. Opening the letter, the director of Melbourne City Orchestra expressed his sincere condolences at the loss of David whom he got to know well and how the world was very much poorer without him.

Elizabeth open the card which included invitation to the festival and continued reading 
..rush and retreat, cadences of ebb and flow
Strings over Indus
take us to where we came...

Elizabeth’s back crashed against the wall and she slid down to the floor, tucked both knees close to her chest and covered both her eyes with her hands. 

Zafar Ramzan: 2018