My professional career entailed extensive and frequent travelling along country roads, eating at driver hotels and staying in Raj Era ‘Dak Bungalows’. In the process I was privileged to meet some unforgettable characters, for whom time appeared to have stopped. I also had some encounters, which for all purposes could be catalogued into the supernatural. Being an outdoor type, I enjoyed every bit of these trips including my extensive interaction with something called ‘Chaudry Compass’.

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The compass is an instrument used for navigation and orientation. It shows direction relative to the geographic cardinal points i.e. north, south, east and west. Its face usually consists of a diagram called a ‘compass rose’. This shows cardinal points in their abbreviated form e.g. N (north), S (south), E (east) and W (west). The device can be effectively used by aligning the corresponding geographic directions with the actual ones, usually the magnetic North. The compass face also has 360 degree markings clockwise with North corresponding to 0, East as 90, South as 180 and west as 270 degrees. These numbers allow the compass to determine bearings. The magnetic compass was first invented as a device for divination as early as the Chinese Han Dynasty somewhere in 206 BC and later adopted for navigation by the Song Dynasty during the 11th century AD. The first usage of a compass was recorded in Western Europe and Persia around the early 13th century AD. The most effective use of a compass is possible when its bearings are applied to a map or vice versa. Hence for anyone taking up a career that involves working in the field, the two become inseparable. There are however times, when this separation does occur for any number of reasons with ‘devastating effects’, that can only be mitigated by a device as old as history itself – ‘Chaudry Compass’.

This invaluable navigational aid can be found in any rural setting squatting on the edge of the road with its back to the traffic, totally oblivious of danger or squatting on a culvert peering into a handheld pocket mirror. It is at its ‘most efficient’ when spotted as a charpoy based group assembled under a tree with a rotating ‘hookah’ or ‘hubble bubble’ to complete the picture.

On one of my trips to the interior of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) area, I got lost and late for a meeting. No amount of consulting an outdated map could tell me where I was and how could I reach my destination. It was then that I spotted a middle aged individual trudging along the road heading in the same direction. I told my driver to stop the jeep and accosted the man, who responded with a barrage of questions – who was I? What was I doing there? Why did I want to go where I wanted to go? Was I lost? Why was I lost? I began to feel a bit of awe at the man’s grasp of security essentials, when talking to strangers, when the bombshell hit me, “I cannot help you as I am not a local. I have come to visit a friend. Can you give me a lift?”

On another occasion a query as to where could I hit the ‘gernailly sarak’ (the common rural reference to a metaled highway), I was told that it was “samnay bumbay de laagay” (there right in front next to the tube well). I thanked the source of information and continued driving for another thirty minutes passing many tube wells, but no road. Spotting another young man lovingly carrying a quail in his fist, I repeated the question and almost hit the roof when I was told “e laagay, bumbay de naal”. It took me another one hour of motoring to finally reach a police post, which guided me to the road.

I now recommend ‘Chaudry Compass’ to friends and wait for their feedback in a bit of practical fun. As for myself, I have since many years replaced this rustic two legged kind of navigational aid with a reliable one that not only guides me, but chides me if I don’t follow her instructions – I now have Google installed on my smart phone.