Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Babar Khan

Finally managed to get in touch with Babar Khan - my old friend. Babar sb and I have been in touch over email regularly for the past six-seven years. And, in a sense, we are sufficiently close friends.

But obviously we have never had the chance to meet. The closest we came to meeting was when he was in Chandigarh for a conference once. But it was only a two-day stay.

He is in Lahore. And when we go back to Lahore for the one-dayer between India and Pakistan on the 13th of February, we are scheduled to meet.

Promises to be one of the more constructive events of my stay in Pakistan.

PS: Just re-read the 'Observations in Pakistan' post. And realised that it's only full of criticisms. Which was definitely not my intention. So will write another post soon on the 'Other Observations'...

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Pakistan Diary (Part III) - Some observations

1. It is as conservative as people have claimed for all these years. At least the Punjab part of Pakistan - that's Lahore and Faisalabad. There's no little surprise waiting to spring on you; no seriously modern-thinking man, no seriously cool woman, nothing.

2. I believe that when we go to other countries, we come back thinking the people in the concerned country are seriously concerned about political and social issues. That's wrong, because we end up speaking only about the country in question with the people from that country. At least a big chunk of our talk/chatter revolves around asking questions about the methods and madnesses of the countries concerned, and we come back getting a warped picture of the people.

3. But, as far as religion is concerned, Pakistan - like most other Islamic nations - is knee-deep in the concepts. References to Allah happen in every sentence...namaaz is read (adaa-ed) five times a day...very few people do things that are not allowed. Is this something specific to do with Islam? No clue. But my reading is that unlike in other religions (or most other religions) Islam deals big time with peoples' day-to-day existence. It's not just about long-term obligations. It's to do with the entire social and private make-up of a person. From taking a leak to eating food to wearing clothes; everything is religion-based. Maybe that's the reason.

4. People are not as friendly as they have been promoted down the years. At least there are no freebies waiting for you everywhere you go. Unless there's something to be gotten in return. It's not a crime to be that way. That's precisely what 90 per cent of the world is like. But Pakistanis - since this rotten air of friendship and aman started blowing - have just been taken to such an unbelievable level of goodness, it was nice to see the truth. People fleece you on the streets and shops because they know you are Indian. It's cricket time, so people who look the same as the locals but speak with a different accent are obviously Indians. Easy as pie.

5. But it's true that most people have a lot of curiosity as far as India and Indians are concerned.

6. It's also true that the average person on the street - man on the street actually, because not many women are out, and when they are, they certainly don't come up to you and chat you up - is unimaginably obsessed about televsion cameras. And kaun sa channel hai is a question that comes out almost as a reflex action whenever a passer-by spots a guy with a mike. Weird!

7. I have talked about the food earlier, so won't touch on it here...but nothing's changed. I still eat/have more oil than meat when I go out and order something really interesting sounding. Unless it's a kebab.

8. Now to tell you about the sex bit. Pakistani men have to be the horniest - to add to being extremely chauvinistic - beings on earth. A huge chunk of their existence revolves around women, sex, paid sex, the works. Curiosity about India centres around the women in India. Indian actresses are discussed with their price tags in focus. Not the price they ask for to act in a film. But the price they will come for if an average person wants to have sex with her. Practically every Pakistani man I have met has a mistress, a couple of hookers lined up. Middle aged men with a wife and children. (All of them have more than one or two children, by the way) Practically all of them can bring you a woman for a price. You hear replies like petrol na ho to ghaaslet se kaam chalana padhta hai when answering a question as to why a particular Pakistani man is not married.

The biggest craze among the middle-class Pakistani man are the 'saaxy' songs. There's a well-established genre of popular music in Pakistan that is called 'saaxy'. 'Saaxy' songs talk about what a man can do with a woman's kameez and stuff like that. Certainly less risque than a lot of the mainstream stuff in popular Indian entertainment, but then...

Along with the 'saaxy' songs, Pakistanis live on what they call 'stage dramas'. Basically theatre-like stuff - dramatic nonsense acted out at the top of the actors' voices on stage - that is actually recorded and broadcast on cable television. Again, not risque at all, except that women dance fully clothed to songs like Kajra re but change a few words here and there and incorporate little anatomical details. That way...

That's about it.

The 'observations' have to do almost entirely with Lahore, by the way. Went to Faisalabad after that, and have moved to Karachi since. Haven't had time to write on them yet...will do so soonest. At least try and wrap up a Faisalabad Diary before leaving Karachi.

Allah Hafiz!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pakistan Diary (Part II)

Just haven't been able to find time after all the shoots and stories and sending feed and stuff to blog. Found some time today after ages, so makes sense to key in some basic nuggets and observations about the tour so far...

14 days in Lahore
Well Lahore, seriously, is a great city. There's apparently a Punjabi saying that goes "Those who haven't seen Lahore, haven't been born". It's not that great. And I am sure all major cities have a couple of saying along similar lines. But Lahore rocks in many ways.

I couldn't find time to do the Amit Varma-ish Sufi joint-hopping. Missed out on something quite fascinating going by what he had to tell me and what I read on his blog. But I certainly managed to hunt down some fantastic food places. The fuck-up though is that these people eat more oil than meat and that makes you kind of wary when you are just a couple of weeks into a 48-day tour. But the food is wow! It really is wow! I had some fantastic paya, some awesome shamis, raans, brains, gurda-kapooras, the works.

Haven't managed to ration myself on the beef I had promised myself. But that's not for lack of availability. Just some sensible avoidance of red meat+oil.

Spent most of my time in and around the Gaddafi Stadium (which these people pronounce 'Kazaffi') of course. Strangely, hardly anyone in Lahore - the average person at any rate - knows what/who Gaddafi is. Sad. But managed to take some time out for a bit of cricket history tracking.

The Bagh-E-Jinnah cricket stadium is actually from the 1880s, and has hosted a number of serious teams down the years. When the first India-Pakistan Test series was played in 1955 (when the first Test was in Dhaka and the series was drawn 0-0), it was the Bagh-E-Jinnah that hosted the match. There are records of some fantastic performances by names such as Fazal Mahmood, Khan Muhammad, Hanif Muhammad and Abdul Hafiz Kardar on the ground. It looks a lot like the British county grounds, with a lot of space and acres of green grass...sort of ideal for spending a quiet Sunday afternoon watching cricket, sipping a scotch or three...somewhat like the Lagaan experience, except I still can't bring myself to accepting the loinclothed verns behaving like maniacs on a cricket field. But that's another story...

Also in Lahore is the Government College. Now, practically every major Pakistani cricketer from Lahore had studied at the college, as did Lala Amarnath. Now that's big time history. Kardar - Pakistan's first captain - played for the college team, as did our Janaab-e-Aloo Inzy-bhai. It's a sprawling, magnificent colonial piece of work. Quite fantastic. Very quaint in bits. And absolutely littered with history. That was another sparkling experience.

Spent most of the rest of my time bickering with my colleagues. As they sniffed around town doing things I shouldn't be talking about, I scouted for little gifts for the family...and alcohol. The good side to this was that I managed to get quite a bit of time to myself, which I spent walking around town exploring various nooks and crannies. That was fun. Though a bit unsafe, which forced me to call off the process after a few days.

The cricket of course sucked. And the cricket in Faisalabad has sucked big time so far.
But I'll save the Faisalabad story for another blog. Also, I have a few observations about Pakistan and Pakistanis that I have to key in. Will definitely blog on that sometime. Sex sells, they say. The observations about Pakistanis involves a great deal of sex. So watch this space. And try to find a sponsor if you can.

Allah Hafiz!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Pakistan diary (Part I)

This could very well be the only part to the diary, but no harm in being ambitious, right?

In the middle of a series of mails to office explaining how busy I am and stuff, I sit down to write a blog post. Which is often a smart thing to do, of course. But my boss might not think so. Don't know if he reads this, but if he does - or has informers around - here's the logic: I am sending the feed for the day. I can't go out to shoot ordo any work because I need to be around the computer from which I am sending the feed. That's my excuse, honest!

Anyway...it's been five days here so far. And while it's primarily been work (some decent work at that), there's been a little time to soak in the world that is Lahore.

Landed. Checked into hotel (Holiday Inn actually). Paid a bomb to get a couple of rooms. Am sharing the room with an egotistic so-and-so of a cameraperson. But he's senior. You get the idea, right? Went out for dinner to Food Street the first night. Ate a few kebabs (didn't have any oil, Ajju)...rotis.

Have been watching the diet very strictly since and having my medicines (that's also for Ajitha's benefit).

Actually went to the Gaddafi Stadium, which has been such a familiar place for the past 20-odd years. It's a fantastic stadium. Not much by way of a pavilion, but it's quite stunning architecturally. There's also the National Cricket Academy just next to it, where the youngsters train usually. The main Pakistan team has also been practicing there.

Conveniently, I got a huge story on the second workday of my stay in Lahore. Fortunately. And conveniently. TV - for those of you who are not part of the set-up - is a mad world in that every single thing is competition-driven. The thumb rule for a reporter on tour - for example - is to not miss a single story and to keep getting exclusives. This is what's told to every reporter for every channel on tour. Which makes the whole thing a chicken-and-egg sort of situation. As a result, you spend half your time attending calls from journalists from other channels keeping track of what they have missed.

Anyway, I got the now-famous Raj Singh Dungarpur story - it fell on my lap, really - and that meant I could take it easy for a couple of days. Not just a couple of days, but actually till at least one more TV channel gets a big story. Really, one BIG story for a tour is a fair number.

The story has blown totally out of proportion, which has meant that my tourist-ing time around Lahore has been curtailed manifold. Just one evening/night of driving around the city. Around the centre of the city and around a part of the Walled City, that still houses tawaifs and host mujras...and sell extremely high quality leather sandals. There are 12 gates and 1 Mori around the Walled City. We could see only a couple. But plan to tour the entire place one of these days.

The food is good. Breakfast is at the hotel, so it's a virtual healthfood feast - juices and stuff. So I can go easy on the Grilled, Masala and Pan-fried cholesterol they serve at all food outlets. Dinner's a tad heavy - but seeing that it comes at the end of a long and hectic day...

The desk back in office is rather happy. Or so they would want me to believe. Which is always good news while on tour.

Karachi, Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Faisalabad and Multan form part of our itinerary. But there's going to be many more days spent in Lahore before moving on. Will try to make the most of it. And keep all my devoted readers updated.

Allah Hafiz!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

An end to 2005...

Okay year. Lots of stuff done with Ajitha. Strained for time of course. New work. Good work. Lots of work. Really strained for time. Went to Calcutta. Went to Kerala. Went to Bangalore.
Also travelled on work to Kanpur, Abu Dhabi, Meerut (yeaah!!!) and to Calcutta.

Rung in the new year in the best way possible. Yusuf (the ol' Begg) was over at home with a bottle of some fancy Australian wine. Had that cuddled up under rajais and stuff. Moved to a couple of vodkas. Dinner was some Hyderabadi biriyani and a chicken. And rounded things off with a kahlua. The bed after that.

Not too bad. And now it's on to another year of more of the same. Cheers!