On the road …again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
On Getting Arrested
This chronicle comes so many years after the fact, that the Footloose Forester was not sure that he would ever write it into his memoirs. At the time, and for many years afterward, he could not decide whether relating the story to anyone at all would come across as an angry outburst, as a disingenuous excuse, as a screed, or as a gratuitous version of what happened to him in Pakistan.
The other issue in crafting a chronicle entry about life “On the road….again!!!” was simply about whether to file it under dreams or nightmares in the Truth is Stranger Than Fiction folder; or in the You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up folder. Additionally, whether the subject matter should be listed under the category Legacy Story, Inspiration, Close Calls, or elsewhere? A good filing system helps to recall and to retrieve things, even bad memories.
Anyway, getting down to cases…..the Footloose Forester got arrested when he was in Pakistan. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer who was originally assigned in the desert town of Bahawalpur on the southern border of Punjab Province, just west of the Cholistan Desert and just north of the Sind Desert. As visitors to Pakistan in a category other than as tourists, we volunteers were required to register with the local police and to sign out and sign back in whenever we traveled outside of our district. It was a big inconvenience, but we were resigned to tolerate that rule.
The biggest nuisance was the size and composition of the travel log that we were required to carry; and to present it to the local police at our destinations. It was a thin fibrous mat of crude, grayish colored paper that was at least 14 inches long and 10 inches wide. The outsized form was designed to accept numerous signatures, covering several trips; and was intended to last as a chronological record. The nuisance factors (there were several) included the fact that ink from old fashioned fountain pens bled into the porous mat fiber and instantly gave off a smudged and messy appearance. Most of the signatures were recorded with fountain pens; or with even more antiquated quill pens, that were hand-dipped in ink before they dripped onto our travel log. But the biggest nuisance of all was what to do with the outsized form that was just stiff enough that it would not fold neatly.
As the Footloose Forester recalls (present tense) the details about those nightmarish episodes, he is reminded why he is convinced that some events in life are hard-wired into our brains. The tale about the Pakistani travel log is one of them, even as it emerges from his memory banks some 49 years later. Thus, it is now speculated, that cumbersome travel log of the Footloose Forester got him arrested.
According to the rules, a foreign traveler like the Footloose Forester in Pakistan who intended to be absent from his home district more than 24 hours, was required to sign out with the police before departing from town; and to sign in with the police at the intended destination within 24 hours. Upon return, he/she was again required to sign in within 24 hours. That is the simple version of the rule and the routine that was an accepted practice. Now for the first of many twists and turns.
The Footloose Forester was on the road dozens of times during his 21 months in Pakistan. Thus, his stiff, ink-stained and over-sized travel log became increasingly dog-eared and wrinkled as it went in and out of his suitcase or duffle bag. When a few of those trips were to the desert and primative government outposts, he had no choice but to fold the document, just to make it fit into his travel gear. It was not designed to be folded, but there was no possibility that it could ever remain clean and perfectly stiff. One time, and after a trip into the desert during which he used his duffel bag to pack his things, he went to a clerk at the Bahawalpur Police Station and asked for a new travel log form. The Footloose Forester even offered to pay the few annas it cost to replace the hand-crafted form. No dice, he was not allowed to replace the form.
Eventually, the story came to a climax when he returned to Bahawalpur from Peshawar, just a week or so before he was planning to leave the country upon completion of his Peace Corps service. He had been transferred to Peshawar some three months earlier; and although he was hoping to go there with a new travel log, or to gain fresh registration status in Peshawar, neither of those options was allowed by the police in Bahawalpur. So, here he was, with three more months of field travel under his belt; and three more months of smudging and abrading of his already crinkled travel log. But when the Inspector of Police in Bahawalpur was asked to sign off, he got very angry at the appearance of the travel log.
The Inspector of Police, who was in fact an Englishman who attended the same Roman Catholic church as the Footloose Forester, did not take pity on the travel worn Peace Corps Volunteer and his ragged looking travel log. Instead, he said that the document was a disgrace; and then told a subordinate to make an arrest. But the story has other twists and turns.
When a hapless Footloose Forester complained that he was aware of the shabby appearance of the travel log, but was denied the possibility of replacing it at an earlier time, he politely inquired what exactly he was guilty of that warranted his arrest.
It may have been accurate to describe the demeanor of the Inspector of Police as being unsure of himself at that moment, but people in positions of authority do not like to be challenged; thus he again turned to the subordinate and told him to make a case against the Footloose Forester. That case was: Violation of the Registration of Foreigners Rule. Once again, a subdued but cocky Footloose Forester challenged the purported violation by asking to see the wording in the legal code of Pakistan.
At this stage, it is prudent to mention that truth is stranger than fiction; and that some things you just can’t make up. When a junior clerk escorted the Footloose Forester into a small adjacent room, he opened a thickly bound book containing legal codes. There he pointed to the exact wording of the charge relevant to Violation of the Registration of Foreigners Rule…..of the Government of India.
Despite the obvious false arrest because the Footloose Forester was not in India, and the legal code used as a basis of his arrest was not procedurally proper, the terms of his arrest and subsequent court appearance went forward. Looking back to 1966, the Footloose Forester still sees that page in the legal code regarding the violation of the Registration of Foreigners Rule….and the symbol of the Government of India at the top of the page.
The key to his conviction in court was the exact wording in the Registration of Foreigner's Rule. A traveler, any traveler, was supposed to report within 24 hours. What the rule did not say was whether the 24 hour deadline referred to the time since departure from his last destination (Peshawar, some 800 miles away) or his arrival at his home of records. The Footloose Forester reported back into the police station at Bahawalpur within 12 hours of his return, but it was several days after he left Peshawar, because his passport had been locked up in the safe at the US Consulate office in Lahore. A no-win situation. In any case, he was never going to be able to travel between Peshawar and Bahawalpur and sign in within 24 hours of departure ... if he took poor man transportation. Again looking back, he remembers that he took the train from Peshawar; transferred to another train in Lahore; disembarked to take the ferry boat on the Sutlej River; switched to a horse-drawn tongo on the outskirts of Bahawalpur; and arrived at his old home town after dark. Checking in with the police early the next morning didn't earn any brownie points.
On the heels of the February 2015 controversy regarding NBC journalist Brian Williams and some disputed facts about an incident in the Iraq War in 2003, it is reasonable to question the veracity of old stories that are widely circulated. Terms like "dissembling" and "mis-remembering" are now part of the Brian Williams controversy. But that was only 12 years ago. So when the Footloose Forester now has the audacity to describe in some detail a series of events that happened 49 years ago, some people might well shake their heads in disbelief. Luckily, or unluckily, the Footloose Forester has an official record in his files mentioning his arrest and conviction in Bahalwalpur, Pakistan in September of 1966.