The life of Tor Baz, the “falcon” who wanders through the tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan, is described from the time of his birth [to refugees of their tribe] until his marriage. In The Wandering Falcon [ISBN 978 1-59448-827-6], 80-year-old Jamil Ahmad provides a deeply moving account of tribal life in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while telling the story of a young man, Tor Baz, who was born into, and grew up in, an extremely difficult situation.
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Tor's parents are refugees from their tribe. They travel for three days through a desert sandstorm arriving, finally, at a fort. The subedar [official] gives them water and then asks if they want anything else. The man says “Yes, I wish for refuge for the two of us. We are Siahpads from Killa Kurd, on the run from her people. We have traveled for three days in the storm, and any further travel will surely…”
He is interrupted by the subedar who says that he cannot give them refuge. “I know your laws well, and neither I nor any man of mine shall come before a man and the laws of his tribe.” However, he does agree to given them shelter “…for as long as you want to stay.”
Gul Bibi, Tor's soon to be mother, and her lover, take shelter in one of a series of rooms that had been built fifty years earlier, during WW I, when the fort was very crowded. After the war they were unoccupied; many crumbled.
At first, the couple did not come out of their room, becoming more courageous later. Soldiers provided them with food. To reciprocate, the man starting fetching water for the troops. He would load up his camel with water skins and visit the springs twice daily. Also, he brought, as a gift, a few baskets that Gul Bibi had woven out of date-palm leaves. As the contingent of soldiers changed, the departing soldiers would leave anything they could spare. Eventually, a son was born to the couple.
One winter morning, a Siahpad on a camel came and asked questions of the subedar about the couple. The subedar warned the couple who prepared to leave. The soldiers packed provisions and the three left the fort.
Six days later the Siahpads approached. Knowing what their fate would be, the man killed his wife by shooting her in the back. He, then, reloaded and shot the camel.
An old man, the leader of the group, and Gul Bibi's father, spoke with her lover. When he asked “Who is the boy?” the lover responded “Your daughter's son.” The shivering boy “…was nervously fingering a small silver amulet that hung around his neck on a gray-colored string.” Then Gul Bibi's husband approached, wanting to know who the father of the child was. Instead of responding to Gil Bibi's husband, the lover said to her father, “He is her son…That silver amulet is hers…Do you not recognize the amulet? She always said you gave it to her to ward off evil spirits.”
The old man did not reply but, instead, picked up a stone. The other men in the group did the same. In a few minutes the lover was dead from the traditional punishment for adultery -- stoning.
After the group left the boy was completely alone. He walked over to the camel, ate a little food from the bags, drank some water, and then lay down, “…squeezed against the dead camel…” as another sandstorm approached.
Some time later, a group of seven men [Baluch outlaws] and four camels arrive at the water hold. Finding Tor Baz, their leader, Rosa Khan, decides to take the small boy with them. The outlaws are eventually killed. The subedar of the town in which they die, Ghuncha Gul, takes Tor Baz won his travels.
So begins the wandering of the falcon.
He moves through Federally Administered Tribal areas which have become “…a political quagmire known for terrorism and inaccessibility.”
He witnesses all the extremes of the human condition and behavior – hatred, poverty, honor, deep love, brutality, and humanity.
He sees dishonesty when Dawa Khan tries to avenge the murder of one of his cousins. However, the murderer had died a natural death leaving a widow and two young sons. Dawa Khan is waiting for the boys to grow up, so he can kill them. However, they will not wear the shalwar, signifying the transition into manhood. Since the traditional code was clear that revenge could not be visited on women and children, and the young men did not want to be killed, Dawa Khan would probably never get his revenge. The men would probably wear the dress of children until their natural deaths.
He sees various faces of hospitality – given graciously when an old Kuki Khel woman gives him a meal of coarse millet loaves, chicken with lentils and butter milk, but ungraciously when they ask for walnuts and corncobs. Apparently “…the Kuki Khels have the sweetest corn and walnuts in the world and hate parting with them.” However to refuse would be considered, in their tradition, to be an insult to guests.
Tor Baz, eventually, comes to a town where there is a sale of women every Thursday. Women who are thin are, literally, fattened up, until the sale.
Tor Baz buys Shah Zarina, a woman who was sold to him and with the idea the he would bring her to the brothel. He marries her and she is spared that fate.
He still wears the silver amulet.