Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pakistan Diary - Final

Realised that I haven't written about Islamabad-Rawalpindi and Multan at all. And, seriously, don't feel like doing it anymore.

But for my own sake, it's probably best to just key in a few quick thoughts, just for posterity.

The only really interesting time spent in Islamabad was when we went across to Daman-I-Koh, this rather nice tourist village right on the outskirts of Islamabad. It's really nicely done up with a lot of nice lights and trees and suchlike stuff. There's exactly one restaurant, and nothing else. It provides an extremely breathtaking panoramic view of Islamabad and the famous Faisal Masjid therein. The Indian team had gone there for one evening, and we, as usual, turned up.

Did my only other substantial story for the tour from Islamabad - the one on the Indians being forced to miss their practice sessions because of Muharram. It was a decent story actually. And though I ended up doing a fantastic three stories per day, this one will count as a special story simply because of the way I got it. But the blog's not the place to discuss it.

Pindi is where all the alcohol in Pakistan is brewed. Not indi actually, but Murree, a hill station just outside Pindi. So there is a lot of alcohol in the city, and there is in fact one whole booze shop there as well.

The place for CDs, cassettes, DVDs and suchlike stuff.

Interestingly, Multan is considered the home of Sufi music in Pakistan, but scout around as much as you want, you won't find any existence of life in Sufidom prior to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Really. It's non-existent. In fact, Lahore has a better culture of Qawwali. Every night, in some dargah or the other in Lahore, there is a concert. And I am told the standard is very high.

But if you want DVDs and stuff, go to Derrada Chowk, and to Kareem Centre there. It's a semi-circle of about 20 huge shops and all of them have massive stocks.

Anything else I remember? Nope. Seriously. Except that we were restricted to the ground and our guest house for the most part because of the riots across Pakistan following the Muhammad cartoons in a Danish daily.

Movie time

By the way, we have a full-fledged film festival going on at F-1160 Chittaranjan Park these days. Brought back a pile of DVDs from Pakistan, and we have been going through them one at a time.

And it's a seriously eclectic mix: From Battleship Potemkin and Birth of a Nation to Rocky 1 to 5. From Truffaut and Renoir to Star Wars. And from Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami to I Spit on Your Grave. Not bad, eh?

Started with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (obviously). Caught Memoirs of a Geisha (bad, bad, bad), then Mulholland Drive (fantastic), and then Chronicles of Narnia (not bad, fun) and then Amarcord (interesting, nothing more)....

Have a pile of stuff lined up, which should take care of everything for the next one year or so.

Musical compartments

Read this rather laboured and problematic (because it compartmentalised people, though in a not-too-serious way) article in the Hindustan Times' Brunch the other day...

The article wasn't worth much, but it got me thinking. Music, after all, has been a major part of my life like every other person, and I have always found it hard to compartmentalise myself in this regard.

Let's flip back to when I was asked the question back in 1998, during a bizarre introductory session at the Mass Communication course I found myself part of in Delhi: "Uhh...Grateful Dead, I guess. A bit of Allman Brothers. Very little Pink Floyd. Santana. Dylan. Janis Joplin. Phish. That sort of stuff," I answered. Glad at the end of it to note that not many people in my class had even heard of these people.

Now, this was a complete lie. Well, not so much a lie as a completely un-thought-out answer. True, these were the people I had listened to most in the phase leading up to the change of address from Calcutta to Delhi. Aaah, those evenings of humming to Ripple in a semi-conscious chemical-induced haze. 50 bucks in total between 10 of us: Okay, let's get 10 Alzolams, one small packet of grass...should be good. Someone would turn up with a 50 buck note and our evening would be made. The music would be constant though.

Anyway...but prior to that, I had spent most of my time listening to Kishore Kumar and other less-able Hindi playback singers. I had also heard a whole lot of Bengali folk, qawwali, Bengali film songs, English pop...Western Classical, Hindustani Classical - the whole hog really. And I rather enjoyed, appreciated most of these varieties. Not the English pop variety much, but most of the rest.

I still do.

Now I am 30. I earn a decent salary working as a journalist in a big television network. I am as consumerist as most people with my salary. I wear decent clothes (by my yardsticks of course). I have a few health problems, so I don't drink or smoke much. I'd love to, like I used to, which usually amounted to a bottle of rum a day. I read. Quite a bit. A watch a lot of films - again, everything from David Dhawan to Sergei Eisenstein. And I enjoy and appreciate all these varieties.

So where do I fit in? Do I at all? Of course, it suits me fine if I don't. Aaah, a rebel. Cool.

But why compartmentalise at all? Just for the sake of two unfilled pages, which have to be accommodated because of the imbalance caused by a few additional adverts!

Doesn't work.

Friday, February 24, 2006


...news is out that Jessica Lall was not murdered. She vanished from the face of the earth with a few mysterious holes around her face on her own. World order has been restored.

Pakistan Diary (Part VI) – Karachi

Am back in India of course. Got back on the 20th of February. Took a couple of days off. And then came back to office. Have another couple of days over the weekend. Not bad, eh?

Also realised that I never got around to blogging on some of the other centres I touched down in around Pakistan – Karachi, Multan and Islamabad-Rawalpindi. Also did a whole lot of stuff in Pakistan, which are now in some vague recesses of the mind. Yeah, already. All that remains top of the mind are the kebabs, the DVDs and the missed opportunities – Mohenjodaro, Harappa and the Khyber Pass.


Actually ended up going to Karachi twice – first for the Test match (about eight days) and then again for the one-day match (just over two whole days).

Is it because the Tests in Lahore and Faisalabad were so damn boring, or is it just the city – which grew on me from the moment I landed there for the first time? Though Lahore had all the culture and stuff going for it, Karachi is truly a cosmopolitan city, where the people look more accessible and regular, alcohol is actually available freely, and working (and getting work done) is a relatively simpler process.

Plus, the game was so good.

On the very first night, we met up with Jalaluddin, the former Pakistani medium pacer, who had become the first bowler to pick a one-day hat-trick way back in 1982. Went over to his house. Mushtaq Muhammad – former Pakistani captain and Hanif’s younger brother – was also there, in a state of serious drunken stupor. As were a couple of other former local cricketers.

What followed for the two hours or so that we were there was a whole lot of scotch-downing and talking cricket. It’s been my experience in the past as well – most memorably with Ajay Jadeja, Nikhil Chopra and Sunil Joshi in Abu Dhabi: Get cricketers a bit high, put away your recorder, camera, pen, and get talking. Ideally at night. What you’ll come away with are piles of interesting stories, which you should never use professionally, which can be the centrepiece of long chats with friends afterwards.

Which is what happened with Jalal and Mushtaq as well. Johnnie kept walking and Chivas kept regaling as the stories flowed thick and fast, Bishen Bedi and suchlike names were torn to shreds, shers were recited and the evening flowed into the night.

Incidentally, Jalal presented me with the remnants of the scotch bottles, and the following night, yet another Chivas was delivered home.

An even better experience was had with Saeed Anwar and Mohammad Yousuf (Youhana). Wanted an interview with the slightly reclusive Anwar. He granted me 10 minutes. Eventually gave me over two hours. Gave a long sit-down interview, gave me long speeches on religion, provided fantastic home-made sham-e-kebabs, and a lot more.

Anwar is Yousuf’s spiritual guru or some such thing. Yousuf comes over to his house to pray together. Which is what he did on that day. We lunched together. And a lot of rather interesting stories about Harbhajan and Yuvraj’s escapades were told and heard.

Similar interesting and enriching times were had with men like Zaheer Abbas, Sadiq Muhammad (another of Hanif’s test-playing brothers and Kapil Dev’s first Test wicket), Arif Abbasi, and even our very own Bapu Nadkarni, who had arrived to watch the cricket.

But that’s about the cricket.

Outside of that, as with the rest of Pakistan, a lot of good food was consumed. A lot of interesting sights were seen. And a lot of romantic conversations about cross-border love were participated in.

If you’re ever there, do make it a point to spend as many dinnertimes as possible at the Boat-basin. It’s the Karachi seafront. And houses rows of fantastic food shops. Good price. Better food.

Played (is that what you do?) bowling one evening. For the first time in my life. Did fantastically well, leading the Indians – the four of us – to a win over a Pakistani journalists’ foursome. Went caddying (or at least golf course walking) with some of the Indian cricketers at the Arabian Sea Golf Resort. And was among 100-odd Indian journalists presented with an ajraakh (a traditional shawl) at the Karachi Press Club.

The Karachi PC, by the way, is the only one in Pakistan that serves alcohol.

PS: Blogs on Multan and Islam-Pindi follow. Will be posted soon.

Monday, February 13, 2006

They have...

...Cuticura talcum powder, Jokes choco-wafers and Signal toothpaste here in Pakistan.

Pakistan Diary (Part V) - Peshawar

There has just been so much happening all the time in Pakistan - mostly to do with work - that I just haven't been able to settle down in front of a computer with all my thoughts in place. Thus no blogs, as I realised when I checked the site a while back. And since I blogged last - which was a deferred post in any case - we have moved in and out of Karachi (for the third Test), Peshawar (for the first one-dayer) and Islamabad-Rawalpindi (for the second one-dayer).

Am back in Lahore, where the tour had started from on 4th January (was it 2005? It certainly feels so). The third one-dayer is on. Was at the ground in the morning. Got to speak to Chris Broad, the match referee. So took a break from the game and came to this extremely slow-speed Internet centre to send the story back to Delhi.

And while I was in all the three aforementioned cities - Karachi, Peshawar and Islampindi - there were a host of things that I thought I desperately needed to blog on. But now that I am sitting down to do exactly that, the mind is a blank. And only a few snapshots seem in place.

Guns rule in Peshawar. Marketplaces have Afghani-looking people toting guns. They may or may not be security people and certainly not all of them are in uniform. The best place to check out guns of course is near the Khyber Pass, but you need visas to get there. And we weren't given any. So I checked out the second best option Peshawar had to offer, which was the gun-market near Kaarkhana (the busy market area of the city).

And it's really cool. I don't know too many gun names, but there were Lugers and Mausers and stuff dumped on the floor; Kalashnikov's hung proudly from hooks on the walls. M-somethings had pride of place, placed inside glass cases.

"Take as many as you want, boy...we are selling cheap right now," the shopkeeper told me. Why, you ask. Because M-new somethings are on their way, you are informed. The M-somethings will become aloo-pyaaz like in a few days.

You tell the massive henna-haired Pushtoo gentleman that you're from India and it might be a bother trying to ferry it across. And then there's the license factor. "Tum address de ke jaao, hum bhej dega," you are told.

Bollywood influence is all over, really. Veer Zaara is fresh in the mind. And that suggests it's time to get your ass out of the store.

Peshawar really is a charming, quaint place. A lot of Peshawar reminds you of North Calcutta. Some of it reminds you of Malviya Nagar in Delhi. None of it is like a really developed urban set-up and that means there's a nice relaxed air about the place.

You can eat as much dumba meat as you want, though it's not really advisable. Because most of it is cooked in the dumba's fat, which - like in the case of middle-aged Punjabi women - develops around the dumba's butt. That's not a serious problem of course. The problem really is that it is fat. And a lot of fat. And bad.

The place to go to in Peshawar if you really want to eat is Charsi's in Namakmandi. The shop is called Charsi actually, and it's not as if the kebabs are cooked in hashish smoke or something (which sounds yum though). The ground, first and second floors of the restaurant are normal sit down places. But if you really want a different experience, go to the terrace. You have platforms with carpets on them; take off your shoes and get on the platform; lean back comfortably, because there are takias dumped all over. Then place your order. Choose the khatakhat and the chapli kebab. Have it with naans. Oooh, mama!!!

Just across the road from Charsi's is the most fantastic selection of dried fruits you can imagine. But it's a bad time to shop for dried fruits because the prices are sky-high during the one-day match. Visitors from all over Pakistan and from across the border.

The Arbab Niaz Stadium is a terrible stadium. It's small. The ground is uneven. The stands are terrible. The media facilities are worse than in the smallest centre in Bangladesh. And the organisation sucks. The ground is made to accommodate 15,000 people. There were over 20,000 people in the stands with legit tickets. Another 10,000 were waiting outside the ground with legit tickets. The result: madness.

When we reached the ground, the media door (just a door, not a proper entrance) was locked. It was locked from the inside and the key had been thrown away or something. A stampede was certainly in order, because of all the additional people inside and local boy Afridi batting...strangely, it didn't happen.

It took about 20 of us more than an hour of banging on the door and calling all the influential people we had numbers of before we were let in via the Ten Sports entrance.

Couldn't go to the Khyber Pass like I mentioned earlier. Didn't have the visas. But saw a lot of footage from when the Indian team was taken their for a tour...it's breathtaking. Throw in all the history and romance attached to the Khyber Pass, and it really was a costly miss. At par with missing out on trips to Mohenjodaro or Harappa, both of which were within touching distance from various centres that we were based in at various times. But had to be missed because of time and visa constraints.

More later...

Friday, February 10, 2006

Pakistan Diary (Part IV)

Never got around to writing anything in Faisalabad. Actually, there really wasn’t anything to write on the godawful city/town. Faisalabad really sucks. It’s like a cross between Kanpur and…what…maybe Visakhapatnam (dunno, never been there). The ground was easily the best place to be in the city. And though the Test match was the most boring I have ever watched at a ground, it was worth hanging around at the ground simply because there was absolutely nothing else to do.

But I did manage to take some time out to get around to the Lasoori Shah Road around the Ghanta-ghar, where Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was born. Well, he wasn’t really born there, but went across almost immediately after Partition when still an infant. The house is bang in the middle of a really busy industrial belt in Faisalabad…but it’s like a haveli. Huge, with a lot of lanes and passes through it.

The most interesting part of the set-up is that there is the Lasoori Shah’s dargah just opposite Nusrat’s house, and apparently wherever in the world he was at the time, the great man would make sure he went to the dargah on the 7th of April every single year (an auspicious day for some reason) and sing his throat off. Or, at least, that’s what everyone in the locality vouches for.

And then I managed to get some time with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Not a patch on his uncle (obviously) as a singer, but seeing that he has become substantially important in India as a playback singer, it made sense to meet up with him. He sang for me too, but it really wasn’t memorable by any stretch of the imagination. He is okay. But really not much more. He is a sweet guy though, and has a really, really sweet cousin/manager, a chap called Khushnood, who misses no opportunity in treating you to kebabs and various sherbets.

But that really was all that Faisalabad had. Nothing else. Which makes it imperative that I move to talking about Karachi next. Karachi, absolutely the best city in Pakistan. More on it in some time. Or some days…

Allah Hafiz as always.