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5 - Welcome to Faisalabad. We Love Cricket!It was a Monday morning. I couldn't hail a rickshaw for curry or rupees. Until I realised I was standing in totally the wrong area. I had been admiring the clock tower too much. The rickshaws didn't come all the way up to the clock tower and a whole jam of them was awaiting on the next main street over.
Buying food from a shop, the Pick and Choose store, the friendly man vigorously shook the dust off each product I pointed out I would like to purchase. I bought a bottle of Thunder Cola and some biscuits.
"How much?" I asked
"Whatever you like." came the confusing reply. I made a rough estimation in the loose change of rupees I had in my pocket and unloaded it into his grateful hands.
"Welcome to Faisalabad! We love cricket!" he enthused.
Back outside the Iqbal stadium it was the usual chaos and crush outside the main gate. There were plenty of school absentees, by the looks of it. I managed to negotiate passage through and locate my small, but determined, band of fellow countrymen. There were perhaps fifty or sixty of us altogether in various states of disrepair after the ordeal of getting in.
After the first hour or so of play, many of us realised why our part of the stand was so comparatively quiet and civilised. It had become the unofficial Ladies' Enclosure. Pakistani women nearly always covered up in most public places, but here many of them were letting their hair down. It was quite a startling sight in a country where public, outdoor life is almost always exclusively for men.
And Uncle Chacha Cricket, Pakistan's white-bearded wonder, was soon in full vocal and flag-waving swing, instigating the morning entertainment. As one local sign read, "There's No Second Uncle in World Cricket!"
This white bearded man, decked out in Pakistani green, was a walking conductor for all the chanting, singing and general noise making. However early and however few people, it made no difference to him.
Yet, his orchestrating was not all one sided. One particular tuneful delight was aimed in our direction:
"England People, Welcome! Welcome!"
His every last flourish was concluded by the now familiar deadpan, frozen pose of him standing with his arms held spread-eagled wide, his head rolled back and his eyes bulging for maximum affect, as he shouted out,
Then he carried on again from the beginning.
"Pakistan Zindabad!" the familiar chant went out."Long Live Pakistan!"
And when the "Action Replay!" moment arrived again, several of the England supporters stood up to join in with their own imitated versions.
There was soon little need for his services, as the Pakistani captain Inzaman ul-Haq, affectionately known as Inzi to his adoring fans, achieved his hundred. The place went ballistic. During the lunchtime interval, there was a parade of bagpipes. Pakistan were eventually bowled out after lunch. But there was still plenty of time in the day for a good old England batting collapse to get underway.
So some light entertainment distraction in the form of the match programme was welcome relief. It was a sizeably thick, glossy brochure, and you had to flick through at least fifteen pages of meaningless bureaucrat profiles before seeing anything vaguely cricket related.
The front cover looked very suspiciously like the Oval ground in London, rather than anywhere in Pakistan. It started from a full page portrait of Pakistani president Musharaff on page three, before working downwards to entire tiered pages of jobsworths, all with most-wanted style glossy photo mug shots and official titles underneath. The jobsworths were grouped into committees and sub-committees. I only counted seven of them, out of 150, without a moustache.
There was nothing cricket related until page fifteen. At the back of the programme was a jokes section. It was surplus to requirements.
Another page listed the history of previous cricket games at Faisalabad. One match several years ago was stopped by fog for five entire days. Some sceptics think cricket matches are five days too long already, but imagine that - stuck in Faisalabad for five days in the fog with no cricket.
Some of the player statistics had been totally made up or ridiculously exaggerated. One England player, yet to make his international debut at all, had already been credited with 62 caps and 241 wickets, figures that many retired international players would comfortably have settled for. Remarkable.
Just as we were all sitting there quietly laughing at the wealth of unintentional humour and bizarre statistics served up by the match programme, something dramatic happened.
At first, it sounded like a bomb had gone off. There had been an explosion across in the stand to our right, which abruptly stopped play. A loud booming noise and some strong vibrations reverberated around to where we were sitting. Everyone feared the worst.
Strangely no one panicked immediately. It seemed a gas canister had blown up inside the Pepsi drinks trolley. As we realised that there were no noticeable major casualties, or indeed damage, the incident soon became worthy of a few jokes. For the crowd in that stand, it gave a whole new meaning to the slogan printed on the match tickets which invited you to
"Catch the Excitement!"
And what would have happened if the trolley had been sponsored by Thunder Cola?
Where were the Stadium Renovation Sub-Committee (so proudly and prominently listed in the match programme) when we needed them to earn their money? Where was Shaukat Mohammed Nazir, who had boasted how proud he was to make it onto the Law and Order Sub-Committee this year?
Instead, it seemed that the Law and Order Committee itself would be taking charge, led robustly from the front by the rotund police chief. This man was like a fat controller, and seemed to take great pleasure in using his stick to shepherd over a large herd of other idle policemen to inspect the explosion damage. The "No Fear!" elite police just sat back in their seats as if nothing important had happened. There were some things that sticks could not prevent however.
It was roughly halfway through this extravagant procession that someone pointed out a bullet lying on the outfield. It could only have come from a policeman's gun. Were the two things related? It wasn't for me to say, it was for the Law and Order Committee to investigate.
Eventually, the cricket continued. England recovered, but still managed to keep the threat of a collapse alive, before a far more conventional reason halted play, bad light.
It had been another hard, stressful day watching cricket - there is such a thing, I assure you.
I felt in need of some attempted reinvigoration, so I stopped off in the Chiniot Bazaar, on the way back into Faisalabad, for a haircut, which turned into a shave, which turned into a massage. It seemed a suitable enough establishment. There was no queuing or requests to come back in half an hour. The man sat me down and we were underway.
Although, once he started, he was definitely in no hurry. Trimming the hair from my head was like sculpting a work of art. He might have struggled to stretch his sculpting out too long though, as there was a limited amount of hair to work with. Still, he went on to shave me twice - I needed it after my Afghan adventures - while his young assistant watched on. He added a rather unnerving complement on completion,
"Now you look beautiful!"
He stood admiringly staring at me in the mirror for an uncomfortably excessive period of time, before casting off my cloak.
Out came a strange vibrating device, which looked like a mini rubber iron. I glanced uneasily to see where it was going. This was to massage my freshly sculpted head, neck and even back. I was able to receive a scalp-rejuvenating massage for the equivalent of fifty pence. Job done.
If you ordered any food or beverage here, I was realising, you did well if only half of what resembled the original order actually arrived. For instance, green tea somehow became black tea, while milky tea commonly turned into a bottle of Pepsi with a straw. As long as it didn't explode, I was happy.
After pointing at various pots of food I wanted to make up my meal, a completely different, and rather hot looking, curry arrived. It certainly flushed the system out thoroughly, a useful side-effect perhaps considering it had cost just forty pence.
I had another pleasant night in my two pounds a night hotel. It was becoming a place of hellish restlessness and itchiness. The diesel fumes had made me drowsy in the day and by night, like a torturous whirlpool, I felt myself being churned and rotated into a world of Islam. Being stuck in a place for weeks on end on your own would, I was sure, send you to insanity. Or religious conversion. Then the noise of bodily fluids being emptied into the street down below shook me out of my mental malaise.
Sometimes, it didn't bother me in the slightest. Other times, I resolved to remember the miserable, depraving moments of travel like this in graphic detail. The cheap hole of a hotel above a noisy street market in Faisalabad. It was a life of grime. The room with dirt and stains everywhere, with its squat toilet, where I was once forced to shit blood as people coughed up phlegm outside in the street, which was in turn frequently congested with rotting piles of discarded food and animal rubbish. Just don't make things worse by dropping the soap down into the squat hole.
The toilets in the Iqbal stadium were some of the most disgusting I had encountered anywhere. The lights didn't work, the floor had been partially flooded and the urinals were full of floating turds swimming in stale pools. But there was nowhere else to go. Some guys went all the way back to their hotel in the lunch interval just to go the toilet.
Day three at the cricket. No explosions today. Only noisy Pakistani ladies, stirred on by Uncle Cricket, clapping and singing relentlessly. The man himself seemed to have found himself a young assistant, or willing sidekick. Before long, a familiar game of musical seats was underway.
Shahid Afridi, the crowd's favourite player, had got into trouble for dancing on the wicket. When the explosion had gone off and everyone was looking the other way, he had decided it would be a good opportunity to scuff his feet up and down on the pitch to make it easier for the Pakistani bowlers to get the England batsmen out. As if they needed much assistance anyway. But this was highly illegal and many of the England fans quite rightly derided and jeered him every time he was in the game. The Pakistani women just cheered louder and louder for him.
It had been a reasonably solid morning's batting for England. For reasons of superstition, it made me greatly reluctant to leave my seat. As my bladder could take no more, I stood up and Kevin Pieterson, or KP, went nuts. He scored his hundred with a big six into the crowd, then stupidly got carried away and got himself out trying to repeat it.
During the tea break, a champagne picnic in the dustbowl of worn grass outside the stadium was not really a viable option, so I stayed put to enjoy a marching band of bagpipes. Except, this being Pakistan, logic could never be allowed to prevail, so they were completely drowned out by some popular beat combos which aggressively thumped their way over the tannoy.
It was clear which one most Pakistanis preferred. The crowd went into a sudden frenzy. People were standing on their seats. Such impromptu provocative dancing inevitably led to some police intervention with sticks.
Outside the ground, I was again engulfed by the usual mob. Eventually, along with a couple of other guys, I made it to the lavishly expensive and upmarket Serena Hotel, where the players themselves were holed up, for the promise of a evening buffet. It made a change from street food, and there was the wonderful novelty of actually getting what you ordered.
It struck me that Pakistani people in places like Faisalabad now probably think that all people in England are like those in the Barmy Army. As I looked around at my fellow countrymen, I realised that the Barmy Army had a plentiful supply of real heavyweight contenders.
However, a huge Punjabi man had a stratospheric girth which made them and several darts players look positively anorexic. His long white shirt must have had a previous life as garden marquee somewhere. He didn't eat food, he engulfed it. In fact for consumption purposes, it might have made more sense just to sit or install him in the middle of the circular buffet stands themselves.
On a separate table sat what I took to be his wives and children, no skinny, frail things themselves. Like one or two other wealthy families, it seemed they were enjoying a family holiday in Faisalabad at the princely sum of one hundred pounds per person per night. And that was to say nothing of the food bill. Still it must have been worth it just to see the four faces of Faisalabad's clock tower.
Sometimes, I don't need to do anything to seek out incident. I just sit back and it comes to me. After another hard day at the cricket, I was sitting in a bar, an ice cream bar of course. A policeman with a moustache introduced himself. Apparently, he had been on duty at the cricket stadium.
"It is easy for you to see me," he said with confidence, "I am on Gate Two."
Well it wasn't that easy actually, to distinguish him from all the hundreds of other moustached policemen who had been standing around idly with wooden beating sticks in their hands.
Policemen with moustaches, they were everywhere. There was a picture of Michael Vaughan, the England captain, running in the morning paper while a policeman with a gun followed him like his shadow. The England captain, a man never seemingly ruffled at the worst of times, had an understandably slightly nervous look on his face with a swinging gun chasing his backside along the pavement.
"Police and army are only discipline Pakistan has. Very important." he said in a serious tone.
"Tell me, are police and army important in your country?"
I paused to think.
"Well, the Barmy Army do have a certain diplomatic role to play while overseas. As for the police, they do very important jobs like catching speeding motorists."
"Do they use sticks?"
"Not to catch speeding motorists, no. But they have special guns."
"And your police, they can hit people with their guns or sticks?"
"Not really no. They spend a lot of time in the office doing paperwork."
His eyes lit up.
"Yes. I think I would really like to be policeman in your country. It is very good job."
We moved on to cricket.
"Graham Gooch, he is my favourite." the policeman pronounced. "Many years ago, he has very good moustache, like Pakistani man."
It soon opened up a wide-ranging cricket discussion. After naming all time favourite cricket teams filled with players from all over the world and in all positions, we moved seamlessly on to commentators. He answered first.
"Geoffrey Boycott, I like, but he is difficult to understand. He speaks in old English, I think. He is like Shakespeare."
Geoffrey Boycott being likened to Shakespeare, that was a first.
It was confirmation of what I already knew. Pakistanis had an affection for cricket, which borders on the erotic. I was feeling like some fair-weather, Johnny-come-lately cricket fan, as my own inadequate absorption of cricketing fact and statistics was sorely exposed.
From this strange Boycott to Shakespeare analogy, we somehow moved on to discuss poetry. For me, it was an easily exhaustible subject. But for my new police friend, it was the polar opposite.
After clinically dissecting Hamlet, he commenced a lengthy recital of his own poetry. When a policeman starts reciting his own poetry to you, you sense something is not quite right. Luckily, a sore throat on his behalf prevented a full rendition. With polite forcefulness, I thoughtfully insisted he should not do anything to make his sore throat any worse.
"Hello Mister Ice Cream Buyer!"
I was getting a reputation, so I moved on to an adjacent bar for a fruit juice. A few seconds after sitting down, I noticed the presence of a camera crew lurking very unsubtly in the background. They were trying to film me. In the end, they surrendered any pretence of disguise, just came over and shoved the camera in my face, with an accompanying microphone. Apparently they were from a Pakistani cable television station. We were live and I was on..
What were my thoughts on Faisalabad?
I was more than diplomatic. "It is a beautiful city."
"Yes. Really?" the surprised reply came back. "Faisalabad, like sister to Manchester, yes?"
"Yes Faisalabad and Manchester the same, but better weather here." I replied.
I had to state my name and where I was from, before being handed a fairly free liberal reign to say anything I wanted to. A sizeable crowd of locals now surrounded me. The anxious man in charge of the production insisted I move around the corner to a more camera friendly location. Here, flat bread was being fried in a giant outdoor basin of spitting fat, with the backdrop of the clock tower behind. This was where I had to do another piece to camera.
The catch was that I now had to simultaneously flip the bread in the oil, Delia Smith style, while giving my thoughts on Faisalabad to the camera. The crowd behind me jostled to the point where it became uncomfortably heated. Just as I was finishing my piece, my eyes began to severely water. It served up the impression that I was shedding tears for such a beautiful city. An Oscar winning performance in front of the cameras it was not, but it had all the tears of an Oscar winning speech. It would never have happened in Manchester.
Day Four at the cricket.
Uncle Chacha Cricket got evicted from our stand, probably on the grounds of inciting too much noise and excitement. For some strange reason, the policemen now seemed concerned about offending or disturbing their foreign guests from England. Maybe it had something to do with reports of late night poetry recitals.
We were anyway constantly surrounded by the "No Fear" police armed with their guns. Some people thought that these 'highly trained, elite' officers only sat in the middle of the England fans for their own protection rather than the other way round. It certainly helped them to avoid the fat police controller.
Uncle Chacha was greeted with unreserved and affectionate fervour in the stand next door, but only after the police there relented to let him in. All the protracted coming and going was once again alternative theatre to the cricket.
Nonetheless, the cricket, something which had often been sorely neglected during plenty of the last three days, was entertaining enough for the morning session. Until a familiar favourite game took over as a distraction. It was time for musical seats in the crowd.
There were always just about enough seats to go round. It was simply a case of allocating them correctly. But procedures, or complete lack of them, had to be followed. It even reached the ludicrously bureaucratic lengths of one group of policemen evicting another group of policemen from the best seats around us. The police were moving the police.
At lunch, from our high viewing point inside the ground, we watched another favourite game taking place outside the ground - the cat and mouse chase of police beating men and boys back with sticks. Then the people gathered again and ambushed the gate. Both sides were as headless and directionless as the other. It was great fun to spectate, often an improvement on the cricket as it was more competitive.
After lunch, something very strange happened. The fat police controller, with his minions scuttling in his wake, marched across the front of our stand. Then he took a sudden and unexpected right turn, catching many of his minions out as he did so, to head straight for where the England supporters were sitting.
Suddenly many of the "No Fear!" police removed their feet from the seats in front and sat upright in the manner of children trying to look well behaved as their teacher returns to the classroom.
He introduced himself. I half-expected someone to have done something wrong, being in breach of some daft regulation or other. But no, he was honouring us with his presence to welcome us all and extol what a pleasure it was to be looking after us. He instructed free soft drinks and boxes of crisps to be dished out. There were no sticks.
Never one to miss a opportunity for publicity, as he realised his visit had attracted the attention of TV cameras, he sought to make himself look even more important and busy by making a mobile phone call. As if to say, "Yes, I am the man who is in charge. I am a very busy man." He was probably phoning his wife to ensure she had prepared enough food for his tea.
After the posing theatrics of the police chief, the camera and a man with a microphone began to edge their way along my row of seats. Following the previous evening's Tears for Faisalabad performance, I felt strangely destined for my second media appearance in under twelve hours.
But, half-relieved and half-disappointed, the interviewer opted instead for two more salubriously attired gentlemen, adorned with hideous mullet wigs circa Ian Botham 1985. He seemed to have a dual script in Urdu, and to general astonishment he remarked how peaceful and efficiently policed the cricket games had been. After a fourth consecutive day of collective ear bashing in the our stand and the ones around us, peaceful was not a word most people would have chosen to use.
Undeterred, he rounded off the interview in News at Ten style,
"This is Ahmed Hussain, for Aag TV, with the Barmy Army in Faisalabad. Goodnight."
Then he had his photos taken with the England supporters, and some more autograph books did the rounds.
Shortly after the camera crew had departed, the cricket came to life again after four hours of tedium. Freddy Flintoff snatched two wickets in two balls. The second wicket was especially sweet for England fans, as it was the cheating Afridi, who got out first ball. Back he walked, as we all jumped up and down celebrating. People were singing and dancing, savouring a rare moment of joy.
Then, when the celebrations had calmed we looked around and, as thousands of Pakistani fans were staring in our direction, realised that we would have to get out of the stadium in one piece.
But the ambush on the way out was no worse than usual. Not too many people had their arses grabbed. They do love cricket in Faisalabad, a little too much at times.
Day Five at the cricket. All the school children in Faisalabad seemed to have been released in one big flood into the ground, just as I walked through the main gate.
The local ladies were out in force once more, exercising their lungs and really letting their hair down. They were becoming more daring by the day. Before play had even started, one bossy girl was moving around to paint P A K on all the other girls' foreheads.
And of course, all the long hair had to be thoroughly brushed and make-up applied before play commenced. The must-have fashion accessories to complement all this were the large cardboard four and six signs, which they could wave about every time runs were scored. With England's bowling they had plenty of practise. They also had their own home made signs which mostly declared affection and sometimes marriage proposals for Pakistan's two best looking players, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Akhtar.
The ladies even had their own rather matronly looking female police women, who always seemed to be enjoying themselves more than their male counterparts. The really bold lady spectators would turn around to wave, or even talk to us.
The arrival of nearly every England fan into the stand generated high pitched cheers. It was almost like pop stars walking onto stage before concert. Most people embarrassed half-nodsd of acknowledgement, while others took great pleasure in milking it. Once the ladies got going with their organised singing, it was halfway between an enthusiastic school choir and the Hitler Youth movement.
Competing with them for his moment in the spotlight was once again the fat police controller. Somehow he had engineered himself into a very staged personal presentation ceremony with someone from England's team security officialdom. Co-incidentally, the television cameras had returned to record this moment of glory.
In suitable style, the England fans were obliged to supply a complimentary soundtrack of excessively enthusiastic applause and cheering. More and more people joined in, and everyone started to whistle the tune to "Who ate all the pies?"
The fat police controller beamed away in blissful ignorance, swept away by his ego's need for some lavish massaging. He may have walked around with the most important stick, but he was also getting his fair share of a different kind of stick.
The Punjabi Elite Force protection officers, who always seemed to get in the way when you wanted to watch the cricket, watched on in envy. One day they could aspire, or even graduate to this level of loafdom.
"Stick very important." one of them sat next to me insisted. "Necessary for law and order."
I wanted to ask him about the precise role played by the Law and Order Sub-Committee, but he was keen to emphasize the importance of having sticks.
"We cannot have people running around wherever and whenever they like."
Indeed. It brought to mind the Pakistani captain and unlikely cricket icon, affectionately known as Inzi to all of Pakistan. The weighty talisman for his country was still batting. It seemed like he had been batting for months, and it was unfair that he would not let others have a go.
But then this giant man, who was unashamedly fond of a gut bursting snack or four during the tea break, was used to batting. There was even a rumour that when the young, and presumably still relatively sizeable, Inzi was at school, he actually paid people to do his running between the wickets for him. Now he just feasted on the England bowlers.
As always the cricket rarely threatened to be more than a background sideshow, but now it was centre stage. Inzi was about to reach his record breaking hundred. Having already stacked up a heavy toll of runs, he again tucked into some English buffet bowling of the help-yourself variety.
The Iqbal stadium was catalysed into unseen raptures. It was a remarkable sound and the noise was deafening. A few quiet English men and women reluctantly stood up to join in the applause. They had hoped he might have declared for an lair rather earlier than he did, but Inzi was still hungry for more runs.
So, before long, it was England's turn to bat again, and they plunged themselves into an old fashioned careless batting collapse, the like of which had not been witnessed for days. The scores on the England batting score card - 0,0,9,0,1,0 - looked more like an international dialling code than a batting innings. We were twenty for four. Shoaib Akhtar was galloping in collecting English wickets for fun. As he did so, this handsome man was also still collecting a fair share of marriage proposals from behind the boundary.
The evening session saw England recover somewhat. I even found time to sign a couple of local autographs. This time it was a school exercise book being passed around. People were given the opportunity to write guest book style comments, which invited trouble.
One comment extolled the virtues of Faisalabad's policing standards and was signed off by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner of London.
Another comment criticised the woefully inadequate quality of cakes and pies available inside the stadium during the tea break. It was signed by a certain Mike Gatting.
The game of cricket petered out into a draw by the arrival of Faisalabad's hazy sunset. The final entertainment was served up by the presentation ceremony. The announcer began to list out what felt like every single dignitary and committee jobs worth. I thought we would have to come back the next day to get through all of them. Sadly, some of them would have to content themselves with an autobiographical description and photo in the match programme only.
At the end of the day, back in my hotel, I watched the cricket properly&on television highlights. I even saw a bloke in the crowd who strangely resembled my own self. Next to him, as the camera panned away, was a rather horizontally challenged, self-important looking but smiling, police chief taking a call on his mobile phone.
In my hotel reception, which was hidden away out the back entrance of some shops in the main bazaar, I rather optimistically set out to find an answer to a fairly straightforward request, "What times do buses to Lahore leave?"
Much muttering and chattering ensued. They looked at me as if I had just asked them to solve some abstract law of physics, so I attempted to re-emphasize.
"Bus station. Bus Stay Shun." I did some steering wheel actions with my hands and made engine revving noises.
"Ah rickshaw yes?"
"No. Bus Stay Shun!" I opened my arms into something much bigger.
A great deal of indecipherable chunter followed.
"Ah, Bus Stay Shun, yes." the man nodded in a very reassuring manner, which didn't reassure me at all.
Opinions were exchanged among an expanding assortment of individuals within earshot. Everyone had a comment to contribute, but there was nothing remotely of any value to me. It passed the tolerance level, where it all became too complicated. Pakistani efficiency was alive and unwell.
We, or rather everybody but me, had deviated off at a wild tangent from my original request. So I thanked each person in turn for their assistance, even though I was no nearer finding out the information I required. They all seemed pleased in a satisfied kind of way. The only person who wasn't really satisfied was me.
The saving grace of Faisalabad by night was once again eating delicious ice cream outside. Quite a lot could be overlooked or forgiven with this indulgent activity, I decided.
Poverty though, never quite disappeared out of sight. Many people seemed to sleep outside their shops or businesses, while for others, a sack of clothes on a quiet street corner of an alleyway entrance indicated no bed.
As much as I had to carefully sidestep these unexpected bodies, I also sometimes had to sidestep the numerous invitations to stop and chat.
A man with a moustache who wasn't a policeman came over. He was a teacher.
"Do you like Faisalabad?"
"Yes. The clock tower is very impressive and the ice cream is excellent."
"It is like Manchester, yes? I am teacher."
"What do you teach?"
"I am teacher of English."
"How old are the children you teach?" I asked
"Two hundred and fifty."
"You mean you teach two hundred and fifty children?"
"Yes, the children are two hundred and fifty."
"That is many."
"Yes. Tell me Sir, do you like reading English?"
"Occasionally yes." A note of wariness began to hover.
"I have some writings, which I very much like to show you."
"Tomorrow we can meet and I show you. It is many writing. You like reading English so I think you will like."
In various way I attempted to explain that I would not be gracing Faisalabad with my extended presence for a day longer. But I don't think he quite understood.
With the cricket finished, it was definitely time to leave Faisalabad. I saw the resplendent glory of the clock tower in all its glory for the final time. I never did get around to treating myself and looking at all its faces on the same day. Better to leave its magic undiscovered perhaps.
Sheep carcasses were being hung out in the morning sun. Men were still spitting in the street as I departed. A crowd didn't take long to accompany me to my rickshaw.
En route to the bus depot, I watched in live time as a man was sent sprawling off his motorbike by a nasty collision with a minibus. The accident made a heavy thudding noise. Unsurprisingly, he looked to be in heavy shock, but he did seem to be moving as a crowd of onlookers quickly closed in. The best he could do was shake himself down and assess the damage to his dented vehicle. There was no such thing as no claims accident insurance here.
Pakistan, a wonderful country until you want to get something done, or go somewhere.
"We do not like wastage of your time, Sir." the man said to me with incredulous sincerity.
At the bus ticket office I was told I could have a ticket, but not straight away. I had to return to exactly the same spot in ten minutes time to comply with the company's official ticket vending processing system. After all, why let just one person do a job, which could uselessly employ five or six other people as well? It was little different to the process for a foreigner to buy his permit so he could purchase alcohol if he wished. Much easier to just bribe someone to get what you wanted more quickly.
And more seriously, it was likely that a similar bureaucratic mindset and tradition were applied to administering the earthquake relief money. Instead of costing me an extra unnecessary ten minutes, that might be costing peoples lives. That had less trivial and far more important consequences.
The bus was on time. They even offered around a selection of daily newspapers, so I could relive England's under par cricket performances once more. The highlight for me, however, was to be found underneath the big bold title of Markets and Business Coverage. Tables of statistic columns were lined out. Nearly all of them were filled with N/A - Not Available, or Not Applicable? How typically Pakistani to go to the trouble of printing out so much so meaningless.
For some reason, one man was walking up and down the aisle of the bus filming each passenger individually. I couldn't tell whether he was some bus security bloke or just an over enthusiastic tourist keen on detailing every last moment and passenger of a Pakistani bus journey. But I was too busy enjoying the unintentional humour from the first paragraph of the lead story on the front page. Short and Snappy it wasn't.
"The parliamentary leaders of combined opposition have finalised the Terms of Reference of the Parliamentary Committee for quake-affectees rehabilitation."
I don't think the Sun would have summarised the matter in quite the same way.
Lower down the page I learnt that the opposition had
"previously rejected the relevant Terms of Reference for being ambiguous."
I was finding Pakistani newspapers to be unnecessarily and obtusely long-winded in their wide-ranging analysis, but magnanimously vociferous and defiant in their independence.
I looked out of the window and saw fertile plains. It was the approaches to Lahore. The bus passed through some comparatively exclusive looking suburbs. Donkey carts trotted past expensive looking house compounds. Men stood on the wooden platforms behind the horses casually controlling the reins, making it look very easy. There seemed to be a college or university, which proudly titled itself, Brains College. Bicycle stands of neatly balanced citrus fruits lined the roadsides.
A slogan for some electrical product or other on a billboard caught my eye. It read,
"Super National Appliances - 100% Imported!"
On opening my mouth outside the bus, it did not take long to taste the polluted traffic fumes of Lahore's congestion. A city where the internal combustion engine ruled. My little friend Osama's words rung in my head.
"Hey, you have not lived if you have not been to Lahore."
Or was it you will not live for very long if you stay in Lahore? First impressions made me see why others called Lahore Lahorrible. But then first impressions are not always fair. Purchase 'Batting for Pakistan'