…..Islamabad …..the expatriate cliché was that the city was ‘twelve miles from Pakistan’, the distance to the nearest ‘real’ city, Rawalpindi ….. ‘half the size of Arlington cemetery but twice as dead’ was another witticism….
…Pakistan ….For although a Muslim state, it was riven by the Hindu caste system its inhabitants disavowed; thus Rajput looked down on barber and barber on the darker-skinned Christian and lower-caste Hindus, who were traditionally ‘sweepers’, street cleaners. The North-West Frontier and Baluchistan were overtly tribal with most matters settled by councils rather than the courts and administration inherited from the British. Even the feudal, plain provinces of Punjab and Sindh ran along the lines of tribe and caste. The writ of the government was feeble in most of the country, which hung together loosely on a dog-eared colonial structure of cantonments, district commissioners, railway signalmen and post office clerks. It also seemed to adhere to the empire’s old prejudices as laid down in its gazetteers………where ethnic groups and peoples were classified in such categories as ‘Criminal Tribes’.
The Nawab [of Bugti] had regaled us with tales of the Baluch, a warrior race who, with the Kurds, he said, traced their origins back two thousand years to Aleppo in Syria.
Balaach, the greatest medieval Baluch warrior hero, held that ‘War is looked upon as the first business of a gentleman and all Baluch are gentlemen.’
…….Punjabi is a language that lapses into profanity regularly….
….Partition ……..A Pakistani poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, wrote, ‘This leprous daybreak, dawn night’s fangs have mangled, this is not that long-looked-for break of day’.
Much of the country’s officialdom runs on Johnny Walker Blue Label, despite Pakistan’s law, which forbids the Muslim population to drink alcohol……….The least remarkable thing about Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-i-Azam (‘Great Leader’), once one accepts that much of the Muslim world runs on Johnny Walker, is that he ate pork, drank whisky and smoked fifty Craven A a day. More notable is that through sheer bloody-mindedness he created a nation-state. ….He was born to a middle-class Gujarati-speaking family of provincial merchants from the Shia Khoja minority. ……..Although Islamists had always hated him because of his moderation and secularism, most Pakistanis saw him as a sainted figure, blessed with the sort of virtues that are praiseworthy in others but undesirable for oneself…….he was a modern, liberal, stiff, secular, not very religious type of Muslim of Shia origin and his creation was a feisty, backward Sunni Muslim state dominated by Punjabis and Islamists.
Pakistanis lionize Akbar as a great Muslim leader, but in truth his legacy is unpalatable to Pakistanis official view of itself as an orthodox Sunni state…….there is some doubt whether he even died a Muslim ………he didn’t believe in the existence of Satan; he found Arabic religious commentaries on Islam muddled and contradictory; and he questioned the story of Koran’s genesis, doubting its heavenly origin and treating it as a historic document in a way that Islamic scholars five centuries later are only beginning to dare to consider.
The evening bore the usual hallmarks of a decadent Pakistani gathering. Vast joints of hashish were rolled; vast joints of hashish were rolled; vats of whisky sloshed down throats; and plans made for a journey that never took place.
There was much bragging, servility and sycophancy. ………And small, largely fabricated …….victories were celebrated.
Ghalib………whom many Pakistanis recite with passion and at length:
Na karda gunah ki bhi hasrat ki milay dad
Ya Rab agar un karda gunahon ki saza hai
Do give me praise for regrets of sins uncommitted
If there is to be punishment O Lord for sins committed
…Punjab …..a wheat basket divided by the bloodiest events of Partition; home to beefy backslapping ploughmen and the supplier of soldiers to armies for centuries. In spirit, it is earthy, humorous, with a firm grasp of realpolitik. ‘Don’t eat shit with a spoon, eat it with a spade,’ Punjabis say.
The country’s most affluent province, due to its agriculture and textile industry, is in many places as backward as any part of the country.
Multan ……its old reputation: a city of heat, dust, beggars and graves. …….the city’s two main saints’ shrines ……Rukn-i-Alam ……and ……..Bahawal Haq…….
The tomb of Bahawal Haq (also known as Bahauddin Zakariya) is an immense bastion of fired bricks……Haq’s tomb was erected near an ancient fire temple built by Hindus. It had once been home to a golden statue of a sun god which had been smashed by various invaders, several times repaired, and finally destroyed by the Emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century. The fire temple itself was destroyed again and again over successive centuries. Its last remains were finally extirpated in revenge for the destruction by a Hindu mob of the Babri Mosque in India in 1992.
……..Even 800 years after his death in 1262, Haq’s direct descendants own thousands of acres and wield considerable political power locally and nationally, his sainthood having been handed down from father to eldest son.
……Haq was benevolent as well as powerful. ‘If you give something to somebody,’ he once said, ‘you should give it with a flourish.’ It’s that flourish that you see all about you in Pakistan. It is in the salute to a stranger from a man working in a field; the hand that offers a stranger a seat or some food on a bus or train … or in the thwack that a minion gives to a fellow underdog to impress a new master.
Manners, charade, theatre, acting our roles with due aplomb; in Pakistan these things are as important as water, or more prized than the truth.
The magnificent dome covering the tomb of Rukn-ud-Din Abul Fath, known as Rukn-i-Alam, ‘pillar of the world’, gleamed like a white prayer skullcap. Supported by a brown brick octagonal drum that rests on a colossal, wider octagonal bastion, all ringed with strata of blue tiles, it is perhaps the fourth largest dome in the pre-modern world after Hagia Sofia, St Peter’s and Gol Gumbaz……….
In Pakistan the local name for Alexander, Sikander, is never far from people’s lips.
………I changed the subject by canvassing his views on politics………It was a game I often played in cities, asking for opinions about politicians, partly because I was always surprised by the forthrightness of the replies, and partly for the pleasure in seeing that the urban masses were under no illusions about their leader. In the countryside, where feudals exerted influence on every aspect of life, people were more circumspect……
He was the master of the Pakistani florid introduction………..
When he’d finished eating, he stood up to leave for some midnight appointment – here people work at all hours except the morning. Everybody instantly dropped their bowls, plates and forks ……and followed…….A scene that could have played out at Louis XIV’s court, it revolved around the Punjabi worship of power – nobody wanted to appear less than the most loyal of fawning disciples, nor to miss out on a morsel of favour that might fall from their lord’s hand.
…..the village. It was the usual Punjabi contrast of immaculate interiors and exterior squalor…..
Millions of Pakistanis were living in a state of medieval superstition, ripe for manipulation by mullahs, politicians and bogus holy men.
…..gouging one of his ears with a car key, as many Pakistani drivers like to do.
….the disregard with which well-educated
….the disregard with which well-educated Pakistanis so often treat their poorer compatriots.
…the old mixed culture of Pakistan, whose tolerance of heterodoxy was particularly strong in Sindh, a place suffused with Sufi spirit, where the lines between Sunni and Shia, Muslim and non-Muslim blurred.
….Chitral falls within the Pathan-dominated North-West Frontier Province …….the locals, ethnically , were Kho, speakers of Khowari. Known as Agha Khanis, they belonged to the Aga Khan’s Nizari Ishmaeli Shia Muslim sect, which here had adopted some of the ancient shamanism and ritual of the Hindu Kush and become a faith apart. Locals viewed both Shia and Sunni with some ambivalence. They believed in the transmigration of souls and they had their own mystical, ethical and metaphysical books (mostly written by their mystic, Khusro). Any elder could perform a marriage ceremony; people freely drank wine; and they were not fussed about the manner of slaughtering animals. ……now, Siraj said, an increasing number of Pathans were migrating to Chitral, raising fears that they would bring their violence with them.
…..the fairy-abode mountain of Tirich Mir stood centre-stage, a reference point for all Chitral. It was the stunning tower of rock ……The British traveler Wilfred Thesiger, recalling a landscape visible from its peak, of grassland, brown patches of bog and glittering water, wrote not long before he died .
The vast majority of the twelve million or so Christians in Pakistan traced their ancestry to the ‘untouchable’ Hindu Chuhra caste from Sialkot, Punjab, where mass conversions took place during the 19th century under British rule.
Its never long before a visitor to Pakistan is regaled with the following stanza, which is sometimes, probably erroneously, attributed to Khushal Khan, a great Mughal-era Pathan poet and warrior: There is a boy across the river/whose arse cheeks are like the pomegranates of Kabul in spring/alas, the river is wide and I cannot swim.
In his The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1905), the British soldier-turned-yogi Francis Yeats-Brown ……..noted while serving on the frontier in Waziristan, that ‘Sex life is more necessary in a hot country. The hysteria which seems to hang in the air of India is aggravated by severe continence of any kind. At the end of Ramadan, for instance, my fasting squadron used to become as lively as a basket of rattlesnakes.’
…..a Graham Greene line: ‘Scruples of cleanliness grew with loneliness like the hairs on a corpse.’
I set off …….to the shrine at Buner on the edge of Swat, the resting place of Pir Baba, a saint madly popular among the Pathans. ……..taking refuge in the fabulous gurdwara at Hasan Abdal ………shrine of Pir Baba ………The saint’s history is obscure…now Pir Baba is revered as a cave-dwelling philanthropist and mystic who had set up a leper colony in these hills….when the militants arrived ……They had driven out the area’s Sikhs and Hindus, who till recently had united with Muslims in gatherings, which included women of all those faiths, to worship here through the night in bewitched vigils of chanting and devotion.