My old man often said life was like a story book. He would add that some of these story books were bland, while others were exciting and colorful. This excitement and color stemmed from the author’s own experiences. The world is full of people, who pass their entire existence yoked to a routine that loops three hundred and sixty five days of every passing year. Mercifully, at the other end of the spectrum, there are life’s explorers, who search for and make new mysterious and exciting discoveries, cached away in memory, only to be ‘pulled out’ on wet, wintry evenings.

I was lucky that my professional commitments offered me countless opportunities to fuel my footloose nature. My driver must have considered me odd because of my frequent forays into little used rural roads and spots at odd hours. These incursions provided me with stories that became grist for my columns. Some of these stories like the two this week were like something out of the television series, ‘The Twilight Zone.’

Ever experienced something that can best be described as the sound of silence? I was told of this phenomenon by an old friend and wasted no time finding the truth for myself. It took me almost two hours to reach the chairlift at Pindi Point in Murree. I had brought a portable tape recorder to record my observations and as I put it on, I made myself comfortable on the cold plastic seat which would carry me from Pindi Point to Cliffden Camp and back. It was a bright spring day full of bird song and all the other music of nature making its way to me from the forest below. Midway through the ride, I noticed suddenly that all these sounds ceased. I floated it seemed, into another world, as if I had entered a sound proof room. It was an uncanny feeling; peaceful and pleasant. The eerie silence compounded every other sense, and I was suddenly more aware of everything I saw. A few seconds later, my chairlift emerged from this strange, silent bubble into a world full of normal clamor. When I returned home, I played my tape only to discover that it had recorded everything, including an absolutely silent track of about twenty seconds corresponding to the time I had passed through the quietness. The incident occurred many decades ago and I have yet to find an explanation for what I experienced – was it a temporary loss of hearing, I sometimes wonder, due to changing pressure, or was I privileged enough to have heard the sound of silence?

In another story long ago, one of my professional commitments led me to be driven on the service track that runs along Khudwala Canal in Central Punjab. I had heard reports of strange happenings on this stretch of road, but had dismissed them as local tales to discourage night time travel. I appeared to have dozed off when my driver remarked that a dog had begun running alongside the vehicle. I looked out of the window and saw what appeared to be a large canine wearing an old fashioned collar, pacing himself with the jeep. I settled back in my seat with the knowledge that dogs frequently chase traffic on rural roads. Five minutes later, my driver gave a startled exclamation asking me to look outside the window. I was amazed to discover that the beast was still loping along, parallel to the speeding vehicle with effortless ease. I had begun to feel a little uneasy when the jeep swung into the gates of the canal rest house where I was staying. I looked back to find that my mysterious fellow traveler had disappeared. I still haven’t been able to account for the fact that the dog ran beside a vehicle doing sixty miles an hour for almost half an hour without showing any signs of fatigue. I have therefore stored the incident in my book of experiences as supernatural. If any of my readers ever drive along lonely canal roads at midnight, beware, for they may find themselves in the company of a canine from the colonial past looking for its master, who lies dead and buried of cholera, in some remote inspection bungalow.

I suppose in a world full of quick logic, it is difficult to comprehend the occurrences of things we can’t really account for. Still, I think they are important. Sometimes as amusement, sometimes as a moment for introspection, and sometimes to recognize the limitations of our own imagination in a time where we are keen to think science has found the answers to everything.

The writer is a historian.