Thursday, September 30, 2004

remembering parmagianino in an ambassador hubcap


Hot afternoon. The low, once riverside, walls of the Red Fort passing on the left.

On the right, the reflection of the autorickshaw I'm travelling in, both spherical and elongated at the same time, in the spiralling convex chrome hubcap of a slow Ambassador taxi, moving parrallel in the traffic.

a bit like the convex mirror in which parmaginiano saw the reflection that he painted on a wooden demi-hemisphere.

of course, i don't know that then.

the hubcap reflection brings two memories -

one, a shot in a movie. the camera person reflected in the polsihed chrome of an ambassador hubcap. the hubcap of a taxi belonging to a sikh driver - a survivor of savage riots of 1984. a film called Delhi Diary, by Ranjani Mazumdar.

another, a half memory, of an interview with David Duchovny read years ago, DD whose Fox Mulder character i idolized through high school. a half memory, of him reciting lines from a poem about a man called parmaggio looking into a convex mirror. snatches of a poem read before google.

but now - i quickly called monica, who i knew to be at home, comfortable in her love for poetry and her mean abilities to tweak information out of dubious googled data. i gave her the words - parmaggio, looking into a convex mirror.

half an hour later, i knew that it wasn't parmaggio, but parmigiano, and the poem was "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror", by John Ashbery.

the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Memory is actually a fun-house.

As Parmagianino did it, the right hand
Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
What it advertises...
- John Ashbery

Sunday, September 26, 2004


What interests me is how Islam chooses to remember the beginning of its history.

How its time starts ticking.

The Hijra calendar, the normative starting point of Islamic history, begins not with Mohammed’s birth or death, or even the revealation of the Quran.

It begins with a journey, and with flight. Muhammad leaving from Mecca for Medina.

All histories, even our own little insignificant ones, I think, do, or should, begin with journeys.

The passing of time cannot be marked without the passing through space.

Vector quantity in Physics. Displacement rather than Distance.


Displacement. The first hijra was a flight, a running away to find more hospitable territory.

That first displacement mapped the vectors down which world history would move.

The history of Independent India and Pakistan begins with the massive transfers of population from Punjab, Bengal and Sindh – the hijrat of the uprooted. Refugees, Musafirs, Sharaharthi.

I, a grandchild of refugees, am defined by the journeys I’ve made. Lucknow-Cochin, Delhi to Daulatabad, Amarkantak to Maheshvar, Dilli to Lahore…

Something I wrote, when writing about the Purana Qila, one of Delhi’s grandest and most forgotten monuments, which sheltered an even more forgotten refugee camps for sixteen years –

“Since its inclusion as an important element of the British plan for their new capital, the Purana Qila and its pasts have become vital to the narrative of the Empire and later, the Nation. Since then, there has always been an attempt to ignore, and to remove, the histories of the banal, the quotidian, the everyday, from ever having happened here. The Sound and Light show, which is as official a history of the Qila as you can get, has the Yamuna as its narrator, history as a river, flowing down the great events of the past of the nation, towards the sea of Independence. But as twentieth century histories around the Qila prove, it is the flotsam and jetsam left by that grand narrative current, the stories of migration, settlement and displacement that make the histories of a city, and give meaning to its monuments.”

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Further Vogon Poetry, and Walking/Writing the City….

So yesterday Neha V. calls up while I’m being driven to office in Sethi’s
car, and says –
We’re doing a version of The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Plays,
and this friend of mine thinks that we’re all to bourgeois, and wants to
shake things up by putting in really shaking up, revolutionary type
poetry. So tell me stuff quick.

So within five minutes, I suggest really three shaking up type poems,
brutal, tender and downright brutal in turn….

The Missoula Rape Poem by Marge Piercy

Jab Teri Samandar Aankhon Mein(When in Your Ocean Eyes), By Faiz
Sabse Khatarnaak(The Most Dangerous), by Paash.

… As Neha said, which felt good, You’re the only person I know who I can
call up in the middle of the day, and expect to actually fulfill such an
insane request at short order.

Of course, one wonders what happens to a bourgeois Arthur Dent and Ford
Prefect when they’re strapped in and subjected to such intense poetry… a
fate worse than Vogons.

Of course, in a remarkable case of coincidence, which could only be thanks to the Infinite Improbability Generator that powers the Heart of Gold spaceship, Monica, a couple of days earlier - STOLE A HARDBOUND OMNIBUS COPY OF FIVE BOOKS OF THE HITHCHIKERS SO CALLED TRILOGY, AND I HOPE THE CAFE OWNER READS THIS!!!!!!

THIEF! thief! and since the hacker ethic is that all knowledge (and by interpretaion, all literature) WANTS to be Free....

Hail to the Thief!

… that, along with two hundred and fifty people turning up to watch the
first public screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 in Delhi, (a camera print
bought in Palika Bazaar…), pretty much summed up the weird and wonderful
week that passed.

Hail to the Thief indeed!


We wrote a proposal, about a man named Darashikoh Shezad, a character from
that great book about Lahore, called Moth Smoke.

In the proposal, Darashikoh walks through a city of dogs, and the idea is to confuse the reader as to whether it is Delhi or Lahore... invoking the names that Partition and Migration have brought to Delhi. Quetta High School, Lahoriyan di Hatti, Pindi (as in Rawalpindi), Shahdara....

Shehzada Darashikoh, of course, was a historical character whose later history is much more bound up with Delhi than Lahore...

So if we walk through 21st century Delhi with Darashikoh Shezad, in the footsteps of 17th century Shehzada Darashikoh....

Darashikoh's palace, near Kashmiri Gate, was given to the Brits when they took control of Delhi in 1803. It became the British residency. The part they preserved, almost unchanged, was his library. The library where he wrote works like The Mingling of the Oceans, Majma-ul-Bahrain, comparing the mystical traditions of Hnduism and Islam, and findin similarities. in 1843, The Delhi College came to this compound, while the ASI had its own library in the same space as Dara Shikoh's. Later the space went to St. Stephen's College, then to the Delhi College of Engineering, then, five years ago, to The Guru Gobind Singh Instiute of Engineering and Technology.... phew...

From there, you cross the north end of Chandni Chowk, now full of pirated electronics goods, where Dara Shikoh was once paraded in rags, bound, a prisoner of his brother, Aurangzeb, who won the war of succession that followed Shah Jahan's illness....

From there, you will come to the Jama Masjid, the reat congregational mosque of Delhi. When Old Delhi was still young Delhi, when the Jama Masjid had just been built, an Armenian Jewish convert to Islam came to Delhi
and settled on the steps of the mosque. He'd had an illusttrious carrer. After conversio to Islam, he followed many of his trader countrymen, and came to India, where he very soon dispensed with clothes, and started going around stark naked. Then he fell in love with a sweet voiced Hindu boy, Abhay Chand. Then he settled on the steps of The Jama Masjid, and started reciting the incompelte qalima, La Ilaha... There is No God... becuase he believed that revealation could only come after negation... and all of this is from his official hagiography...

Dara Shikoh was one among his fan following. And hence, when Aurangzeb got rid of dara Shikoh, he behaded Sarad too, on charges of heresy...

But just the fact that on the steps of the grandest mosque of the Empire, at the brand new 'centre of the circle of Islam' (markaz i dayra Islam), such a character could flourish and have a fan following, says something for seventeenth century India. That the man's memory is still popular, and his devottes still include members of all communities, says something for twenty first century Delhi....

When the British reconquered Delhi, in 1857, they turned the Jama Masjid into barracks...

Friday, September 10, 2004


this is a rehash -

something i wrote last september 11, but i don' think the relevnace has faded any... particularly after beslan....

For a little while, a few nights ago, I sat in a room with a blind dog, as it bumped against walls.

He was an old dog, new to the space. So old that he had inoperable cataracts in both eyes. and he'd been in the room for only a couple of days.

A few days before that, the only person around to take care of him had been murdered. By the time her body was found it had started decomposing.

Her friends decided to take care of the dog, and brought it to their place. Where they also held a party, on what would have ben her birthday, becuase that's the way she would have wanted it.

Which is how i happened to be in the room with the dog for a little while.

As i sat in the room with the dog, while the party continued outside, I had a profundly banal revealation. For there was no reason that doddering, old, blind dog shouldn't have died years ago; except, it fells strange writing this, the humanity of those who took care of it. Isn't it the desire to preserve the most fragile, the most delicate, the most, well, useless thing; that makes us human?

It could have been so easy for her to put the dog to sleep... but she didn't. And there were many other lives she touched, with the same humanity, the same care for fragile things; she was a counsellor and a designer; and now perhaps it's not so hard to see the links between them. She wanted to open a chocolate shop.

It would have been so easy, perhaps, for those whose lives she had touched to turn to thoughts of revenge and retribution, of fear; and maybe they did. But they also came together to celebrate her birthday so shortly after her violent death. Chocolate was eaten, and wine was drunk; and despite all the sadness, there was much laughter, too. Her violent death had reminded us all of our own fragility; and perhaps, briefly, made us more human.

The dog too, eventually, fell asleep.


What were you doing on 9/11 before the TV switched on?

Before I started jumping up and down in front of the TV set yelling 'Long Live the Revolution'? That evening I was in love, and had been with a person I deeply cared for; new love is such a fragile thing. And then there I was exultant, jubilant; with what i can only think of now as... bloodlust. The logic of death falling from the skies onto the heart of murderous Empire was a logic that I totally subscribed to. The logic of spectacular, violent revenge. Even though I knew then, didn't we all, what was about to come?

The relationship, the love that had been so new then; was limping by the time September 11 came around next; it had disintegrated completely and in a spectacular WTC fashion, by a couple of months ago. And it would be so easy to blame 9/11 and all that has followed; the zeitgeist that haunts us all... But does everyone else conduct their love-lives like American foreign policy? when the slightest hurt, the slightest misunderstanding, the faintest sign of a disagreement, is met with a rage and deep hurt of truly epic proportions; the B-52s raining bombs from the sky before the heavy artillery kicks in, and what happens to the other person is collateral damage...

Much of what I have written and filmed since 9/11 has been, in essence, mourning for what the juggernaut of violence unleashed has, and can, do to to our fragile lives, and to those of people around the world. And yet, rage, like violence, is a performative act; Shiv's taandav is very astute mythology. I have perversely enjoyed the spectacle and power that rage brings; the power to just blow the other person away. my creative mourning has often seemed to be both premonition and hypocrisy.


There are other ways of dealing with hurt.

With much more grievous hurt, with much more terrible loss.

it took me a death, a party, and a frantic blind dog to realise that.

to forego revenge and retaliation and instead, to weave together again the fragile web that binds us together; to raise a toast to 'cherry, wherever she is'; to not 'be strong'.

... That night i wished to be fragile; I was fragile. I did not wish for armed guards, I did not fear the dark, not becuase I could fight whatever came at me, but becuase I knew that I existed not becuase I was strong. What kept me alive, all of us alive, are the fragile ties that bind us and crisscross our lives; and act as trampolines when we fall... we are all the blind dog.

I cannot change the past - 9/11, Baghdad, or Cherry's murder. i cannot change the future.

what i can do, perhaps, is to be gentler with the world and with myself; and especially with the ones I love.

in the words of lucky ali, 'kar kya sakta hoon, de sakta hoon main thoda pyaar yahaan par, jitni haisiyat hai meri...'

I think Cherry would have approved.


saw this brilliant pakistani film yesterday, the whimsical and elegaic, and very, very funny 'World ka Centre', mourning a world that disappeared in the days that followed 9/11....

11th September 2001, Lahore, Pakistan. A young man, Hasan, is leaving for New York later in the day to begin what he thinks will be a life of Western ease in modern America. He fills the wait saying goodbye to his friends who persuade him to have a farewell party. Someone brings the booze, another scores some hash, another turns up with a porno movie. Meanwhile the women in Hasan life lie around listening to J.Lo and watching Bollywood movies… World Ka Centre is a blistering insight into contemporary urban Pakistani youth seemingly untroubled by their Muslim upbringing, a digitally shot reflection on the repercussions of 9/11 in Pakistan that provides a powerful reality-check for both the West and the East...

Rum and the Wherehouse

Have you looked at this site? asked Shuddha.


So I did. I looked at the Wherehouse.

And found an image of a bottle of rum, with a ship traversing, a big many masted affair.

and so -

a conversation remembered with one who was a
friend, part of the process of becoming a past
tense in each other's lives -

the ship crosses the ocean, right to left(like the
arabic soon to be lost in the new world), belly
full of slaves.

slaves bound for the sugarcane plantations. from
where the 'matured cane juice' is extracted,
fermented, and becomes XXX rated rum.

'When you drink rum, you are drinking a whole
ocean of exploitation and slavery'...(the story of
thor and the bottomless horn...)

'I will not drink rum again'

'And the history of slavery will go away?'


Rum is a repository, a memory of the sweat of slavery.
Coke is a symbol of American global hegemony.

Rum and coke is my drink of choice.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Sophia, Janmashtami and the strange case of the Iraqi sprinter...

In Manipur, it is Krishna's flute which is said to play every time the wind gently whistles through the bamboo groves.

This posting is only tangentially connected to Manipur, being about Janmashtami, Krishna's birthday.

(But an interesting book to look at, connecting state violence, globalisation, Manipur and the mainstream north; is this gripping fiction in Hindi by Uday Prakash, 'Peeli Chatri Waali Ladki' - 'The Girl with the Yellow Umbrella.'
For non-hindi readers, a collection of his short stories is just out from Katha, translated into English - 'Short Shorts, Long Shots'. This is the best link I could find in a hurried search - )

Anyways, back to Janmashtami - night.

And party, which had nothing to do with Janmashtami. But with the imminent departure to amreeka of a friend who is very much of a Krishna figure... with the appropriate twist of being queer, and being quite the activist for opening up queer spaces. Way too much Beefeater's gin.

Then Sophia and Ponni ask me about the quiz I conducted last week (or was it the week before that?)

Then i asked them the question I asked in the quiz, and which made me ask many questions about the categories of knowledge,and 'knowledge' creation.

Cut to quiz -
question 74 - The Strange Case of the Iraqi sprinter -
Alla Jassim, 18, from Iraq, is considered to be one of the best female athletes in the Arab world. But she's been finishing last in her Olympic heats becuase of a peculiar problem. What?
(notice how a quiz question is constructed like a short, short, short detective story. All you have to do is gues the twist in the tale....
.... what's the twist you give?)

first answer - she was running in 'Islamic' clothes...

- The team, three representatives of one of Delhi's premier technology colleges, looks at me hopefully; and I almost laugh them off stage...
- I knew you'd say that, I tell them. (What else could they say with all the media images of Iraqi being about Moqtada Al-Sadr?) Can we think beyond sterotypes? Iraq used to be a secular country till the Americans started bombing it....

Once specifically asked to think beyond stereotypes, someone actually came up with the answer...

Alla Jassim, eighteen years old, her training disrupted by bombings in Baghdad, was so inured to the sound of gunfire and loud explosions that she had one of the slowest reaction times to the starter's gun...

Sophia and Ponni, appetite whetted by that first question, ask for another. In the middle of a party. (Knowledge production is afucking intoxicating thing. Even more so than Beefeater's.)

So i ask -

- Why is the number 16,108 important in Hindu mythology?

- blank stares, then -

Ponni - number of words in the Vedas?

Sophia - It's the number of Krishna's wives.

It is. It is the scripturally given number of Krishna's wives. (Ye doubting thomases, check page 116 of 'The Culture and Civiilsation of Ancient India in Historical Outline' by D D Kosambi...)

.... Ponni and I - HOW DID YOU KNOW?

Sophia- I didn't. I just sort of guessed. Seeing all those images of Krishna everywhere today... (wicked grin...) I'm the only Muslim in this room and I get this, about Krishna! (positive glee...)

Sophia. Wisdom. Knowledge. Doing unintentionally what quizzers (as a separate and distinct cultural breed of human beings, compeletly enmeshed in the consumption and production of knowledge as commodity, more so than most human beings, even more so than the larger sphere of academia to which they belong.... ) do. Processing the sensory/information overload that we are all subject to, everyday, and suddenly seeing the pattern - the twist that will complete the tale.

But if the sensory/information overload that we are subjected to is slanted, if somethings, in what constantly assaults you are privileged far, far more than some other things, if there is no 'democracy', so to say, of information... even the best quizzer's ability, not to 'remember', but to 'know'/guess - to sense the patterns, the twist in the tale, the elegant symmetry with which a fact-story is constructed, is short-circuited.

(Apologies to Wittgenstein -
1. The world is a collection of facts, not of things.
1.1. All facts are narrative facts.
1.1.1. All facts can be constructed/told as stories. The aesthetics of story telling are important markers of the 'veracity' of facts, like Jules Henri Poincare's insistence on the 'elegance' of mathematical solutions and scientific 'truths'. Information 'asymmetry' distorts facts, and hence distorts the world.)

krishna's birthday had so many images of krishna hitting you from all over the place, so taht was the pattern that sophia, wisdom was almost 'meant' to see, with the startling clarity of insight.

... if moqtada al-sadr and 'religious' violence is all you hear about from iraq... how hard does it become to guess the story of eighteen year old Alla Jassim, and the peculiar problem of the starter gun?

further on manipur

This should have been in the last posting -

That evening when I came home and described watching the Manipur footage to Monica, she said -
"And we dare to pass judgement on Abu Ghraib..."

or to misquote the Bible,
Look at the juggernaut tank in your on eye before pointing at the ak-47 in your brother's.

Monday, September 06, 2004

...Manipur seems like a scream to me now...

What is weird about my own reactions to images of violence and brutality is this - how easily the horror of it seems banal, as my mind provides a soft rock soundtrack as acoompaniement to men and women being flogged and brutalised . i watch a vcd of clips of the brutal state violence taht has been happening in manipur, images noticebale by their absence from the mainstream tv channels, and my mind plays 'america' by simon and garfunkel...
...all gone to look for....

.. and not so long ago, i used to cry in war movies...

The 'footage' in question was a collection of 11 clips on a vcd, got to sarai by a lokesh, with a background in the psu (progressice student's union), sourced through a manipuri friend , who was part of the protests, and who studies in delhi... (like thousands of other students from the north east coming every year to delhi, victims of the enforced centralisation thast makes them to come to the alien heart of their nation's capital to study, because all they've been given back home is the freaking curfew...)

another friend from the north east, pineng lhovum, made a film last year, in which she spoke about how good it was to be in delhi. and i was surprised - for being a 'chinky' in delhi is an experience of marginalisation and ridicule... two things never stop in delhi - sadak ki khudai or chinky ki chudai... but when i saw the clips from manipur, i realised why Delhi would seem like paradise to her, compared to back home...

i saw a man running down an eerily deserted street, in flames. i saw army and police whipping and flogging non-violent protestors to remove from them the gates of a government building. i saw tear gas and rubber bullets fired at point blank rrange. i saw young men, barely adult, made to whip each other by Indian Army soldiers and then to collectively roll in the mud, head over heels, with the police walking behind... it was ridiculously like watching public-school sadism -with sub-machine guns.

and all of this as a result of a legitimate protest to take away the army's power to do these horrendosu things....

the armed forces special forces act, whcich after the current round of repression, will probably continue, as it has for the last 46 years....

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is a harsher version of the ordinance that Lord Linlithgow passed in August 15, 1942 to handle the Quit India Movement. In 1958, it was clamped on parts of Manipur, which were declared "disturbed areas." In 1965, the whole of Mizoram, then still part of Assam, was declared "disturbed." In 1972, the Act was extended to Tripura. By 1980, the whole of Manipur had been declared "disturbed." What more evidence does anybody need to realize that repressive measures are counter-productive and only exacerbate the problem?

Juxtaposed against this unseemly eagerness to repress and eliminate people is the Indian state's barely hidden reluctance to investigate and bring to trial cases in which there is plenty of evidence: the massacre of 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and the massacres of Muslims in Bombay in 1993 and in Gujarat in 2002 (not one conviction to date); the murder a few years ago of Chandrashekhar Prasad, former president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University student union; and the murder 12 years ago of Shankar Guha Nyogi of the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha are just a few examples. Eyewitness accounts and masses of incriminating evidence are not enough when all of the state machinery is stacked against you.

- Arundhati Roy

None of this footage has been shown on any of the 'independent' media channels. and yet, much of it has been shot by 'authorised' camera/media people - shooting events from the side/pov of the armed forces...

someone has made the attempt to put this footage by anonymous authors together, and now hopefully this cd will be put on the web, by karim and others at sarai...

will the 'anonymity' (lack of known 'author' figure) of the footage take away from the horror of the violence it represents? will the circulation of this anonymous cd, without an author figure, lessen its claims to 'truth' value?

which brings me to an interesting question that aarti asked at the campaign against censorship, films for freedom workshop a few days ago...

why are documentary film-makers, so opposed to censorship, not amenable to the massive copy-cultural production (of music, for example) happening in a million basements in delhi alone... why don't they get a thousand cds of their films burned and circulate them in the public domain; which is the most effective way of circumventing censorship?

Aarti located their discomfort in the 'ghost of the author' that haunts documentary film-makers, who happen to be largely english-speaking elite types... the desire within us all to be authors and authorities at the same time, with our distinctive authorial voices making us 'authorised interlocutors' in any discourse....

The authorised interlocutor is someone who can jump into the
fray of the discourse and speak his/her mind without anyone doubting what
Arundhati Roy in the 'God of Small Things" called their 'Locusts Stand I' or,
what in legalistic latin is "Locus Standi" and in filmi Hindi is called
'Aukaad' as in "saale, apni aukaad samajhke baat kar, nahin to kaan ke neeche
yun bajaa dunga" - you get my drift.
- Shuddha

does the circulation of the anonymous manipur footage, outside the space of the 'authorised' media, let us think of a way in which anonymous, un-authored, non-authored texts/testimonies can be paid attention to/have their own weight, independent of the weight of the authorial name, when justice is measured in the balance...

is there a possibilty?

i am reminded of william gibson's latest novel, 'pattern recognition' , and the footage:fetsih:forum, which holds possibilties open not just for 'documentary'/testimonial un-authorship; but for 'creative'/fictional un-authorship too....
in pattern recognition, the footage:fetish:forum is a cult which develops around footgae posted anonymously on the web... footage that is anonymous not only in the absence of the name of its maker, but also in its absence of identifiable locale, or even time-period...

it is a compelling concept, in a compelling, provocative book, making us think of many things....

am attaching links to a q and a with william gibson...

Five hours' New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythm....

Sunday, September 05, 2004

vogon poetry and the art of bicycling as video games...

The prelude is always vogon poetry - a tribute to Sikander

Vogon Poetry is poetry written by Vogons, a fictional race in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Vogon poetry is of course, the third worst in the universe. The second worst is that of the Asgoths of Crea. During a recitation by their poetmaster Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in my Armpit One Midsummer Morning" four of his audience died of internal haemorrhaging and the president of the mid-galactic Arts Knobbling Council survived only by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos was reported to have been "disappointed" by the poem's reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his 12-book epic entitled "My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles" when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save humanity, leapt straight up through his neck and throttled his brain. The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paul Neil Milne Johnstone of Redbridge, in the destruction of the planet Earth. Vogon poetry is mild by comparison.

Listening to it is a similar experience to torture as seen when Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect are forced to listen to the Vogon captain's poetry prior to being thrown out of an airlock.

Oh freddled gruntbuggly thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
Groop I implore thee my foonting turlingdromes.
And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon,
see if I don't!
- Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz

Knock softly on a door
And turn away
When you're glad that he voices inside
Can't hear you
and your arrythmic interior monologue
played by a percussion orchestra on drugs.

'Be still my beating heart' meets
'Destiny knocking on the door', con brio
And you're glad that it's not just Beethoven
Who could filter out the flotsam cacophony of the exterior world.
But so can the lovers inside
Friends you suddenly don't want to meet.

The heart a sudden vaccum that nature abhors
As you jettsion a history of (be)longing
While descending
the steps.
The atmosphere a sudden crushing weight.
You equalize the pressure
By pumping air into the tires
Of a bicycle
dusty and deflated with neglect.
Your sweat drips.

Monday evening, I cycled through the streets of Zakir Nagar, as dusk gradually deepened.
Ashoka Park is a green border, beyond which the relative regulation of the DDA, and of rich men fencing off their Punjabi baroque castles in New Friends Colony, ends. And begins the chockful teeming maze of streets of Zakir Nagar.

Zakir Nagar might look like a faintly timeless urban place, with its haphazard firetrap architecture, its winding lanes, its reckless rickshaws and endless pedestrians might look like everyone's image of usual Indian chaos... but Zakir Nagar is not timeless.
in fact, most of Zakir Nagar is about ten-twelve years old, a late-ish modern, largely Muslim almost-ghetto, built largely, as it were, on the ruins of the Babri Masjid.

(Those who live in Zakir Nagar, pardon the hyperbole.)

So no, it's not historical. And no, it's not chaos either. Cycling through the crowd at a pretty good clip, dodging, wheeling, braking, steering, following, overtaking - and still having the time to smile as the children who scurry six inches past your front wheel run to dangle from the back of a passing rickshaw, I realise how compeltely i'm liberated here from the logic of flyovers and six straight lanes - urban planning that expects you to zip past every place expect where you have to go, so that the city remains pretty scenery that whizzes past the window, and nothing more.

Zakir Nagar probably gives a shit... i don't think the residents here are particularly happy about being almost totally ignored by Delhis' flyover/grid pattern/green area development schemes. Its not the sort of place where you can call 'South Delhi' type friends, though that's what Zakir Nagar comes under. But I am almost delirously happy as I cycle through, constantly alert and exhilirated - decolonisation of the mind happening on the bicycle. I grew up in wide-streeted suburban Lucknow, with a distatste for winding lanes, and could not stand the crowds of the Old City. The ideal town of my imagination was somewhere in North India yes, but a North India which was architecturally a clone of the American Mid-West.

.. and you realise that as soon as you are in the scenen totally, ....... it's like cycling through zakir nagar ia an acade video game, only real. and when you play/ride it like that - it's one hell of an experience. you're in it, literally and metaphorically - totally, man...

.... all of this was written back in the beginning of July, saved as draft, and never got back to...

I was about to write about how Zakir Nagar, and bicycling as a video game, is liberating, and takes you away from the 'geometries of power' that operate in planned Delhi, surveillance Delhi....

Zakir Nagr is on the banks of the river, so as evening faded away... i was on the grassy banks of the river, in the light/time that is called 'godhuli' in Hindi (the dust of cows coming home) as bufalloes were reluctantly herded out of the the river, as small children yelled 'sister fucker' to each other in distant curlew calls, as the traffic passed swiftly over the toll bridge in long shining candles reflecting on the river... I thought of many things.

I thought of the ox-herding pictures in zen buddhism, and the quiet sadness at the threshold of wisdom i was experiencing as i sat on the grassy banks of the dark, oily river was very, for lack of a better word, Zen.

I thought of Ravi Agarwal, environmentalist and photographer, and his desire to work on the Yamuna...

When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry crowds, it was magic for them. They were farmers, fishermen, attuned out the rhythms of ecology and production, and a food surplus appearing out of seemingly nowhere would have been an act of awe and wonder. Today, for all our connection/awareness of the realities of production, Jesus could just open a supermarket and no one would blink.

But what of the fish? The fish still live, in polluted rivers, in fouled ponds. The environment, for a fish, is not a dim, distant concept, but a lived, struggling, reality. In legend the Yamuna is the sister of Yama, the god of death. The pollution of the river might make that seem an apt naming. But there are still fish in the river, part of an ecology, constantly struggling, evolving. And we are connected to this life through our acts of consumption. Not just through supermarket shelves, but from the fresh catches of fishermen displayed on the roadside. The moment of consumption is the paradoxical, tenuous moment of ecological connect...

Then the light faded completely, and I left.

On the way home, I got a bug in my eye...

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

lahore and a 4 min film?

shuddha sent this today...

dear Joy, Iram, Taha and Anand,

you guys could think (time permitting of course) of sending something
simple, short and effective for this, either individually, or together,
in small groups, or both



-------- Original Message --------
Subject: aar paar 3: call for entries
Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2004 22:34:42 -0700 (PDT)
From: h mulji <>

/Please circulate widely | Apologies for cross postings/

* *

*Aar** Paar 3*


Aar Paar 2004 is a public art project between artists in India and
Pakistan* *

* *

Artists are invited to submit short films , or video works no longer
than 4 minutes.

Fifteen entries will be selected by a Jury of artists and film makers.

The selected works will be projected in open air public spaces as well
as educational institutes in Mumbai and Lahore, between November 2004 to
January 2005.

reminds me of the whole pakistan trip...

of Lahore via Ahmedabad and DV8, a journey over three months, two nations, and endless borders of the heart...

Prelude, February, Delhi.

We've made happy hours start half an hour early in the name of
India-Pakistan friendship. We sprawl, downing pitchers of beer, F, U C and I
(and how i wish my name began with K), in DV8, Regal Building. They're from
Pakistan, students from Lahore here in Delhi for a conference, and we've
known each other for less than a week. But we've bonded over the pleasures
of public drinking in the middle of the afternoon and then going shopping in
Connaught Place.

In what U will later characterise as 'typical sub-continental style', they
invite me to Lahore, with C promising an afternoon of drinking Murree beer.
Relationships have just thawed between the two countries after over two
years of closed borders. Perhaps it is only the reckless optimism of mild
inebriation, but with talk of the forthcoming cricket series, and the
possibilities of Indians getting visas to watch matches, it doesn't seem
that fantastic to think of crossing the border for a drinking session.


Of course, there is many a slip betwixt the beer mug and the lip. I read,
aghast, as the cricket is nearly called off because of the possibility of a
defeat to Pakistan, which would take a bit of the shine off India, the sort
of ball tampering that reverse swings electoral fortunes. Then the series is
on again.

I meet Mike Marquesee, whose book on sub-continental cricket, 'War Minus the
Shooting', is pretty much a classic study on how jingoistic nationalism has
hi-jacked the sport of one day cricket. Now that the cricket is over, and
trophies and hearts have been won, it might be difficult to remember, but
back then, in February, cricket for war rather than cricket for peace seemed
an equal possibility. History was on the side of cricket for war. India
Pakistan encounters have, previously, turned neutral venues into zones of
war and battle cries. India Pakistan matches have led to riots in India. And
now , the two teams were going to be playing a month and a half of cricket
in the sub-continent, in front of tens of thousands of baying fans, their
passions fuelled by MNC advertisements which are more nationalist than thou,
staking their claim to belong...

It could get really nasty. Especially becuase this is the initiative of a
government which has advertised, over five years, its attempts to make peace
with Pakistan and always ended up making war. The bus was followed by
Kargil, The Agra summit was a fiasco, the Parliament attack, for which an
innocent man was sentenced to death, led to a near war situation for two
years, and the stoppage of all cross-border movement... dreams had been
betrayed too often.

Mike wanted a delegation of people to go for all the matches as 'cricket
lovers for peace'.
This was before we knew that whole cities and stadiums could be just that.


The lines and lines of people outside the Pakistan embassy, queueing up for
cricket visas is something else altogether.
I wonder if they would stand in lines so long for matches being played in
Sri Lanka or Bangladesh or even in India.
I think not, and am happy with that thought.

History says, Don't hope
On this side of the grave
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave...

I con my sister into buying me a ticket for the Lahore test online on her
credit card.


First One Day International, Karachi/Delhi/Lahore

I watch the last eight overs of the first match in time honoured yuppie
fashion. on a big screen in DV8, guzzling beer, and cheering loudly
everytime we get a wicket and groaning every time they hit a boundary. I am
too drunk to be ashamed of the fact that the crowds in Karachi are cheering,
and have been cheering, for both teams. But I do remember being in DV8 a
month ago.

F writes that night -
So you guys have finally avenged Sharjah?! but what a match it was! i
watched it in complete sobriety in our largest auditorium with 200 other
students... but ofcourse would have much preferred my usual leather sofa and
a couple of beers at DV8.

And still later that , long after the fireworks have died down, I catch U
online -
- I don't care how much I believe in Indo-Pak peace and how much I don't
believe in nationalism, but if you'd been in DV8 today, in that final over,
I'm sure we'd have had a fist-fight.
- I'm pretty sure we would have. ;-)


Second One Day International, Rawalpindi/Ahmedabad.

I feel like having a fist-fight with someone. Anyone.

I've reached Ahmedabad in time for the second ODI and am wandering around
Teen Darwaja, the elegant fifteenth century triple arched gateway at the
heart of the Old City, surrounded by the bustling commerce and terrible
pollution that so characterise the city. Across one of the arches of the
Teen Darwaza is strung a banner that reads, 'Bhartiya Cricket Team Ne
Haardik ShubhKaamna, Teen Darwaja Hindu Muslim Vyapaari Mandal.'

I know that the banner wasn't there for the India Australia series. I know
that in all his post-riot, pre-election speeches, Narendra Modi always
invoked 'Mian Musharraf', as if the head of state of Pakistan was the
biggest problem facing the government of his state. I know that the riot hit
areas of Gujarat are still apt to explode at the least provocation, and
anything can be provocation. I know that a minor riot (one in which a only a
few people die) has started because of a game of gali cricket, in which a
Muslim kid went to recover a ball that had accidentally been hit into the
precincts of a Hindu temple. Give or take a couple of years, and it could
have been Irfan Pathan...

I know that in Gujarat, to be Muslim is to be constantly subjected to the
Tebbitt test, and those banners across the Teen Darwaja, and elsewhere in
the city, are the only guarantees they have for peace.

A frayed, fraught peace, but in Gujarat, 2004, even that is a lot to expect.

I fervently wish that India loses this game. What riles me is that as a
Hindu, I have the freedom to wish that in public.


Fourth One Day International, Lahore/Junagadh.

The last Nawab of Junagadh used to get his dogs married in elaborate
ceremonies. Came partition, and he wanted to acceede to Pakistan, which was
separated from his kingdom by about five hundred kilometres of Indian
Gujarat. So plans didn't quite work out, and he fled Junagadh for Pakistan,
taking with him two Hindu veterinarians, and so the story goes, leaving his
wife behind. They still show Junagadh, status undefined but separate from
India, in maps printed in Pakistan.

So I'm in Junagadh, and I manage to get into a hotel room in time to watch
the Indian innings. After watching four quick wickets fall, I give up on the
match, disgusted, and go off to check mail. There's a mail from F.

am on my way to the 4th ODI...hope we kick your butt today.. keep a look out
for me on tv!!!

I rush back to the hotel. Jungadh might not have made it to Pakistan, but
sattelite TV ensures that Qadaffi Stadium, Lahore, makes it to my hotel
room. I look for my friends, but it's too late. Though someone else sees
them on TV, and phones U from Delhi, 'Hey I saw F on TV.'


Fifth One Day International, Lahore/Nowhere.

By conservative estimates, there have been eight thousand Indians in Lahore
for the one day internationals. By all accounts they've been won over by
Lahore. By people going out of their way to make them feel more than at
home. Auto-rickshaws refusing to take money, shopkeepers giving discounts,
perfect strangers inviting them over for dinner. And yet all the same
stories happened to me four years ago, when things were fairly frosty
between India and Pakistan, when I was part of a student group in Lahore a
week after the Kandahar hijacking. It's not just the hype, there's something
else here... something warm and deeply human that manages to co-exist with
the hatred and hostility which are undoubtedly part of our complex
relationship. But there is the hype, too, and I have never appreciated it so
much. I feel like going around Lahore wearing a T-shirt which says, "I'm an
Indian, hug me", except that I'm sure everyone would.

" It's become the New status symbol in Lahore to have Indian guests. People
have been inviting Indians home off the streets. People have been begging,
borrowing, stealing Indian guests, so that they aren't left out."

But the best story of them all, which I heard from Yasser Hashmi, Faiz's
grandson, was about Old Anarkali Bazaar, on the night of the final match.
'There must have been about two thousand Indians in the street, and India
had won the match. But nothing untoward happened, and everyone was cheerful,
and the street was packed. My father was with me, and he turned to me and
said, "This is what Lahore used to look like [before Partition]. I never
thought I'd see it like this again in my lifetime."'

Apparently the Indians in Lahore even hired dhol-wallahs and danced, and no
one seemed to mind particularly. Considering that a lot of the Pakistani
audience started rooting for India once it was apparent that they were
winning, I don't see why they would.

I was glad, in a way that I didn't catch the final match. I was on a train
between Gujarat and Delhi, getting regular updates on the match from the
cell-phone of the guy on the berth across. I don't want to know what would
have happened if we lost. I wasn't quite sure I wanted to know what happened
after we won. We explode fireworks everytime we win against Pakistan, and we
did that this time too, so what has changed? Mobs in Baroda surrounded Irfan
Pathan's house to celebrate India's victory, but supposing that Pakistan had
won, and hammered Irfan's bowling in the process, what would the mobs have
done then?

I was glad that I went to sleep on my berth, and the cell phone went out of
range, and I only caught the excitement of the night before second hand in
the next day's newspapers.


First Test, Multan/Delhi

I get hope from the empty stands in Multan. It should be easy getting a visa
for the Lahore test.

There aren't that many people milling around for cricket visas outside the
Pakistan embassy either. Maybe fifty. But the line of people waiting for
'normal' visas to Pakistanis as long, as patient, and as hopeless looking as
it has ever been. These are people who don't have access to credit cards and
online booking, these are people who need to cross the border and be in
other towns and other times from where/when the cricket is getting played.
For them it is still a long, torturous process, while us cricket visa
seekers are asked to come back the same evening.

Maybe the unprecedented handling of fifteen thousand visas at short notice
by the Pakistan Embassy gives some hope to these people, becuase a precedent
has already been set for visas being cleared, fast. There are people asking
about business visas and being directed to yet another gate. This is
certainly new. And welcome.

What is interesting about the cricket line, when we come back in the
evening, is that lot of the people there are from (Indian) Punjab, and have
already crossed the border once for the Lahore one dayers, and are now
waiting to get back again. my favourite are these two young girls from
Amritsar, chattering away in Punjabi, who had gone on their own to Lahore
the first time, and have now come all the way toDelhi (the visa camp at
Amritsar being operational only for the crazy rush of the ODI's) to get a
visa to go all the way back to Lahore. All the talk of enemy country seems
to just have disappared down the toilet which we once eupemistically
labelled 'Pakistan', after just one visit to Pakistan. These girls are now
venturing into 'enemy territory' again, this time on an eight day visa.

Unfortunately, now that the hype is largely over, and the cricket crowds are
missing, they aren't allowing people to cross the border by foot as they did
for the ODI's. You have to pick your mode of transport and stick to it. I
choose the bus, which is expensive, and has limited tickets, but gets you to
Lahore in twelve hours, four days a week. On the train, two days a week, you
have to wait eight hours on either side of the border, and that's not an
experience i want to repeat, certianly not in the April heat. However, the
first availaible bus ticket, (which you only get post-visa, which already
mentions your mode of transport) is for the 7th, half way through the Lahore
test match...


U writes - "and after today's performance, i'm so not wiling to watch pak in
the second a sign of protest..."
I find myself praying once again for an Indian defeat. I'm afraid that if we
win as obscenely at Lahore as we did at Multan, the famed Pakistani
mehman-nawazi might just dry up.... Rahul Dravid obliges by choosing to open
and our top order getting creamed.

Can I get you something from Delhi?
really dont need anything (unless you can bring along DV8 - but i doubt
that's feasible).


Day Three of the Lahore Test

At 6.00 in the morning the PTDC bus leaves from Delhi. They have ash-trays
in the backs of the seats, something unthinkable on DTC buses, on which it
is illegal to smoke. On the bus are a Hindu couple from somewhere near
Peshawar, an old Sikh lady from Bhopal on the way to somehere near Multan to
mourn a brother's death. There are halves of cross border couples crossing
over. It's a much more complicated pattern of movements and memories than I
had thought possible.

I seem to be the only one crossing over with a cricket visa. The customs
officers on the Pakistani side laugh at it, tell me the cricket is nearly
over, India's lost five wickets in their second innings, and wave me through
without even opening my bag. I should have sneaked in some alcohol.

Five kilometres past the border, as the sun is setting, we travel to Lahore
on a road running along a tree lined canal, people lolling on its grassy
banks. I had missed all of this last time, coming by train, when the customs
checks enusred that we travelled long after darkness had fallen.
It'a beautiful, poetic way to enter a city, on a road along a tree-lined
canal, as the sun sets on a summer evening. Even the wailing sirens of the
pilot car guiding the bus seem musical.


I've never felt more comfortable being Indian than in Lahore. That was true
last time, when I came at a time of stress and tension, it was even truer
this time, when I came at time of peace and overt friendship.

After dinner at Cucoo's, the hip rooftop restaurant at Heera Mandi,
overlooking the beautifully lit skyline of the Old City, dominated by the
Badshahi Mosque and the Fort, F and I saunter into the mosque at nearly ten
o' clock, and at around ten thirty, we come to the Gurudwara.

At ten thirty at night, the sewadar of the gurudwara lets us in, long after
everything has shut down, to see the the gurudwara, and shows us the room
where the Guru Granth Sahib is put to bed, as it were, showed us the places
associated with Guru Arjun, and then shows us Ranjeet Singh's samadhi. He is
mildly amused that an Indian Hindu man and a Pakistani Muslim woman have
come together to see one of Lahore's Sikh gurudwaras. As we are leaving, he
asks us to wait another minute. 'You are from India', he says, 'you know
these things, but I have to show her something.' We are both curious. He
takes us into his room and then gives F a saropa, a robe of honour given to
esteemed visitors, and a pen, becuase she is a student. The pen is a cheap
ball-point, but what matters are the wishes that go with it.

F will never hesitate about going into a gurudwara again, though she was
slightly scared at first.
Both of us are profoundly moved by the gates that are opened for one in
Lahore by the accident of being born Indian.


The next morning, F and I entered Qadaffi Stadium without a single ticket
between us.

I had a photocopy email confirmation of my ticket which I waved at the
security guards, and they pointed to some other buliding where I needed to
go to get the actual ticket. - Buut the match will be over by then, I said.
So they let me in, and F along with me, who didn't have a ghost of a ticket.
On the way inside, we both noted these incredibly hot Pakistani police women
in salwar kameezes and visored caps, totally unlike the burqa clad machine
gun wielding aunties featured in Indian newspapers. Some of them even had
bright red lipstick on. Really hard to miss, but the media somehow did.

By then, India was pretty much out of the game. The Pakistanis needed to
score forty runs to win. But Indian supporters were still dancing in the
half-empty stands. Except that some of the Indians were in fact, Pakistani.
The most enthusiastic of the dancers in our enclosure, waving an Indian
tri-colour and dancing to peppy Punjabi bhangra numbers from that side of
the border (yes, there is!), being played on the stadium PA during the lunch
break, said he was from Lahore when I asked him. I wouldn't have believed
him, except his companions sitting behind us, were calling him a fraud
Hindustani. And a gentleman from Delhi was dancing with him, and this in the
middle of a fairly ignominous Indian defeat.

Perhaps our fraud Indian was doing it for the TV cameras, perhaps not.
Either ways, a Pakistani posing as an Indian at a India-Pakistan match in
Pakistan would have been considered impossible, if not insanely suicidal, a
few years back.

Now - "Students from Government College, Lahore are going around pretending
to be Indians. They get discounts on everything."


Being an Indian also gets me to meet the Indian cricket team which I don't
think I could ever pull of back in India. They've come to meet the students
at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. I'm hanging around LUMS,
gatecrashing a conference, becuase the match got over a day too early. It's
obviously been arranged at short notice, because it's officially the fifth
day of play. There'a huge crowd of people pushing and shoving to get into
the auditorium, an hour before the team arrives, and I don't think there is
any possibility of me getting in, as I stand far at the back of the pushing,
shoving crowd. Then F tells them that I'm Indian. And I'm there inside the
packed audi, waiting for my team to arrive, joining in the loud chants of
'Balaji, Balaji'. In my head i try to imagine IIM Ahmedabad(or even JNU for
that matter) crowds yelling 'Akhtar, Akhtar' if Shoaib ever hoicks Balaji
for an impudent six on an Indian ground. I give up.

I want to personally thank the Indian Cricket Team for not letting security
concerns bother them, and coming to Pakistan in spite of all the tremendous
pressure on them, and playing beautifully. On the field and off it. They
made it possible for me to be here without any agenda except meeting friends
and drinking beer, and visiting a city I love. Like people can do in other

I fall in love with Rahul Dravid. He's diplomatic, articulate, and tackles
the thorniest of questions with a sincerity and innate good humour that has
the student audience eating out of his hands.
I fall as much in love with Balaji as the Pakistanis have, with his
endearing grin and weirdly Tamil English, and his self-deprecating desire to
be a comedian.
I totally fall in love with Pathan, who handles dumb questions with an
effort, rather than just dismissing them. Someone asks him if Pathans get
girlfriends in India.
- ' What do you think, looking at me?' Claps and hoots from the audience.
A kid asks him a question which seems to wound him. Have you ever considered
playing for Pakistan? I don't know whether the audience cheers the question
or boos it. I can't quite figure out.
- 'I'm proud to be an Indian', he says softly. ' There's no chance of me
playing for Pakistan.'

Someone, somewhere in India, in a different form, at a different time, must
have asked him that question before.
Perhaps it's too much to hope that it will never be asked again.


Last time I was in Lahore, I was struck by the similarities with
Delhi/India. The image I used was that of a mirror. What I forgot then was
that mirror images mean lateral inversion. Inside outness, right side turned
to left side. This time I paid attention to the differences.

Qadaffi stadium is one of the most beautiful stadiums I've been to. Compared
to the general neglected shitiness of Firoz Shah Kotla, it positively

(Some) Public Transport Buses are air-conditioned, and for prices not much
higher (and lower in real terms as compared to India) than in Delhi. The
drivers drive safely, the conductors are unfailingly polite, and announce
advance stops gently over the PA rather than banging the side of the bus and
hollering. No one picks fights. People give their seats to older people
without being asked. The women sit in a separate section, unless they're too
many of them. I thought that all Punjabi cities were rough and ready and
full of attitude and braggadocio - apparently not. There is a long story
behind the only time I heard someone (apart from myself) say behen****. But
that's a story to be told later.

(Incidentally, behen****, or BC is the name of a commercially unreleased
song by this popular Paki band called Noori. It is available though on the
Internet, a recording made in a LUMS auditorium for a student crowd. My
reaction the first time I heard it - what a song!!! the sacred and profane,
the sad and the ironic, love and hate and amused, cynical despair coming
together in such a layer of meanings and possible interpretations ... and
the very daring of just using those words in a public performance... so who
is this guy, and where was this performance???? So yeah, Lahore also has a
booming young, quirky, creative music scene, where artistes and bands write
their own songs, perform them to widespread popular acclaim, and are even
discovering alternative distribution networks.)

Lahore, as compared to Delhi, seems to have an active, intelligent urban
conservation movement going. In Old Anarkali Bazaar, the famed Food Street,
house fronts have been restored by an initiative of the National College of
Art, with the active participation of the residents, and are lit up at night
by discreet moulded lighting. The effect, while strolling up and down the
pedestrian street with its outdoor tables, is indescribably beautiful. All
the monumental buildings, The Government College, Lahore the NCA, The
Badshahi Mosque are all lit up at night with soft, yet directional lighting,
which makes driving through Lahore at night a visual pleasure.

Also, you can actually go up close to the monuments in Lahore, which makes a
huge difference, since Lahore seems remarkably chilled out and non-anal
about security, especially for a town thirty kilometres from a very recently
hostile border, especially as compared to Delhi. In Defence, where I am
piling on at C's apartment, the door is constantly open, and people keep
coming and going till three in the morning. At LUMS, the first time i walk
in, the guard doesn't even stop me to take my name down in a register, he
just 'salaam aleikum's me in. And he doesn't even know I am Indian, which
generally excuses all Lahori lunacy. I enter the Punjab Civil Secretatiat on
the lame (but true) excuse of wanting to look at Anarkali's Tomb. The
security guard offers me some tea.

The houses in posh parts like Defence and Gulberg are most certainly not
Punjabi Baroque the way Def Col and GK are. They are tastefully designed and
graciously spread out, and low rise, with grassy broad pavments along the
roads, not yet inundated by endless tons of cars. (Possibly becuase of
military restrictions on house height, but still) And the Mall is one of the
most beautiful public thoroughfares in the world, with sections of its
central verge eighty feet wide, and covered with flowers.Now, if only the
auto-rickshaws converted to CNG...


On my first evening in L ahore, I went to take a leak in a loo in the
basement of the Islamic Summit Minar, a tall monumnetal tower, which marks
the 1974 Organisation Of Islmaic Countries Conference, and marks Pakistan's
turn towards Islamisation after the defeats and dismemberment of '71.

On my second evening, I am taken to Pappu Sain, a man/institution who playes
the dhol every Thursday, by the mazaar of Shah Jamal. Thousands of people
gather on Thursday nights to listen to the complex rhythm patterns he beats
out of the simple dhol for hours on end, with the help of a bit of bhang.
People dance in whirling dervish ecstacy to his rhythms, as the audience
around them, gathered in a circle, sways, entranced, and passes endless
joints of charas forward. This is working class religion, and the whole
connection with the higher beings is mediated through a frenzied bacchanalia
here, and one wonders about Islam making Pakistan a puritan, fundamentalist


- Indian boy, get your passport. We need to get some beer.

Beer is too bulky for the bootlegger to deliver, so my passport buys us a
crate from a permit room at the back of the Pearl Continental, where the
Indian team was staying. As a barbaad Hindustani kaafir, as i call myself, I
am free to drink myself to hell. Which rule applies to pakistani kaafirs
too, giving them a hell of a lot of economic opprtunity.

Murree Beer really rocks, and should definitely be imported to India very
soon in the future. Bolskaya Vodka, on the other hand, is strictly rot gut,
but effective.


I do more in Pakistan than just drinking my promised beer, though.
I wander the city, alone and with friends, and discover the little secrets
that make all the difference between home, and away.
Like the best roadside strawberry milkshake in Lahore. Like the best DVD
collection in Hall Road, like Pak Tea House where Faiz and his companions
used to sit back in those days.

I attend a class on 'Faiz and Ghalib, Poetry of Protest', in chaste Urdu, at
the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Possibilties of this happening
in any of the IIM's? I don't think so. Possibility of a course like this
happening as part of the curriculum offered by Delhi University for a
liberal arts degree? I still don't think so. But, of course, the LUMS fee is
insanely expensive, compared to all but our IIM's.

I feel so at home here that I know that I'm in a foreign country.
I feel more comfortable, more secure, more wanted, more privileged, in
Lahore than I feel in any Indian city, even in Delhi.

It's my second last night in Lahore.
The auto rickshaw driver and I spend half an hour looking for a house
becuase I remember the address but have forgotten the directions. By now
he's discovered that I'mIndian, so doesn't mind the search, and even refuses
to charge extra money. Then, even though I have told him to leave if it's
getting too late, he waits for me past midnight. Then on the way back, as
we're speeding down an empty road, a car emerges as if from nowhere, the
driver swerves to avoid it, and the auto crashes into a road side
construction at high speed, and its front is completely smashed. In the
back seat, I am almost completely unhurt, even calamities being generous to
Indian vistors in Lahore. But the drivers' face is bleeding profusely from
cuts from the flying glass of the broken windshield. (That's the only time I
hear behen**** in Lahore as he curses at the car's driver.) A guy on a
motorcycle comes and picks up the driver and takes him to a nearby hospital
while I walk there. I'm with him as he gets stitched up, and till I'm sure
he's out of danger. I call on the contact number he's given me. Then, as I'm
about to leave, I try and give him money to pay for some of his medical
treatment. Even in pain as he is, lying there, getting stitched up, the
first thing he says, refusing the money, is 'Aap mujhe sharminda na karein.'


On my last day in Lahore, the bruises hurt, and I can understand a bit of
Muhammad Sami's pain as he regulalrly gets hit by the Indian bowlers while
playing his gritty knock.
The cricket has acquired strange shades of the mirror-world similarities
that Indians see while visiting Pakistan and vice versa. In Lahore, bowler
Irfan Pathan had played a gritty knock of forty nine. In Rawalpindi,
Muhammad Sami, playing a gritty knock, is run out on forty nine, by Irfan
pathan. In Multan, Inzamam was run out without scoring a single run. The
same happened to Rahul Dravid in Lahore.

Mirror world - Like being hit clean over the top for an exhilirating Sehwag
six over the boundary, the geo-strategic Indo-Pakistan gret game has seen
thousands of Indians cross the border in what can only be called in
retrospect, a superb statesmanly stroke. Though many thought that it was too
fanastic an idea to work, a reverse sweep of the Mike Gatting variety.

And now fiteen thousand(?) Indians have visited Pakistan, in Karachi,
Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, and Peshawar, and they have discovered that it's
not such a bad place to be. I wonder, at four in the morning, as U and C
drop me off at Faletti's Hotel to catch my bus back, whether I'm the only
one feeling sad about leaving, sad about saying goodbye...


Mirror world - lateral inversion. The Indian team may have won the test and
one day series. The Pakistanis won our hearts.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

Even if the miracle is sponsored by Samsung, and the forces behind the sea
change are a military dictator, a right wing nationalist government, and
American geo-strategic visions of the future...

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