Sunday, March 27, 2011

Paint the city red

The Street Art Competition, aimed at purging the city of wall-chalking and restoring it to its original splendour, concluded on Sunday. The event, a brainchild of the Message Welfare Trust (MWT), was participated in by 1,000 students from various institutes.

Wall-chalking is prohibited by the Punjab Prohibition of Expressing Matters on Walls Act 1995. The basic aim of the competition was to remove wall-chalking that is a blot on the face of the city and render the so-called talking walls to talk about the beauty, culture, traditions, art and attributes of the country, with a view to depicting a positive image of Pakistan all over the world.

Dilating upon the background of the event, MWT official Rizwan told Pakistan Today that the competition was first held in March 2010 under the theme “Pakistan Our Home.” The competition, popularly known as Street Art Competition (SAC), is the first of its kind in the history of Pakistan. It all started off as an idea to do something out-of the-box against the nefarious practice of wall-chalking,” he added.

Students painted the walls in Gulberg, Faisal Town, Dharampura, Garhi Shahu, and Garden Town in four phases. Around 250 walls were painted in order to raise awareness among the masses about the issue of wall chocking. The winner of the competition will get Rs 25,000 prize, while second and third winners will get Rs 15,000 and Rs 10,000 each.

Appreciating the MWT’s effort, citizens said it would not only help to restore the city’s beauty but also stop the practice of writing on the walls once and for all. Surprised at the quality of work by the street artists, people said they were as good as a Picasso.

Colourful walls are now given an amazing look to the city with paintings of historical places and words such as ‘love’ and ‘peace’. Citizens, who pass by, pull up their vehicles and watch the paintings in admiration.

Organizers said that the City District Government and the Master Paints supported them all the way. They claimed that if their support continued, there would be no reason why the city was not rid of wall-chalking Participating students said that this new trend polish up their skills and would open a window of opportunity for talented youth. [Pakistan Today]

Update: Hashim Bin Rashid writes this: Drive by the wall opposite the centre point, you see monuments painted next to calls for peace, depictions of culture and a call for togetherness. Amidst these paintings of hope, is a painting of an old woman in despondency, a theme the the City District Government Lahore (CDGL), a partner to the project, does not allow. The painting somehow slipped through their gaze. However, Yasir, a chartered accountant, paints what he calls is the true reflection of the society around him. Mudassir, an organiser, says that CDGL strictly forbade them from projecting negative themes – even if they show reality.

Therefore, they chose six ‘positive’ themes: education, peace, culture, hope, monuments and truck art. To this, I wondered if these paintings and painters could hide the truth of what they felt about the society around them. I moved to the next painting. A couple of paintings to the right of the despairing old lady. Three girls and a boy from SIMS are making it. It shows their imagination of the cultures of Pakistan. Baluchistan is on top, Punjab at the right, Sindh on the left and Pakthunkhwa on the bottom. In their constructed imagery, numerous contradictions are revealed.

The man, who represents Baluchistan, has a huge turban, a jet-black beard and sharp pointed eyes. He looks more like Muhammad bin Qasim than a Baloch. Below it, is the image of the culture of Pakthunkhwa. There is a woman in a full veil, a shoe and a man. That is their connection. I ask one of the girls, Hira, I believe, and she responds, "This is the culture of Pakhtunkhwa. It is repressive." I ask back, "But there is an alternate tradition; Bacha Khan and the Red Shirts. This tradition is an anomaly." And she responds, "No, but this is what it is now."

I wish to ask, "So why did you not represent the present cultures of the other three provinces?" but I let the question fade. She is being true to the Pakthunkhwa she has been introduced to. There is no positive image for her to show. And what of the Baloch? He stands alone with a sarangi and a date tree. "What is Baluchistan?" I ask. "It is this that we depicted," she says. "It is barren land." "But what about Sui Gas? Why not make a gas pipeline?" "Yes, we could have," she says. Her comments reflect a sincere ignorance - only that the space for sincere ignorance appears to have run out.

The next painting I looked at was one that included a sculpture of a village woman with a matka on her head and a luscious flow to her clothes; green and purple, with which stand its makers; students of Naksh College of Arts in the Bhaati Gate, Muhammad Adnan, Rizwan, Ahid Kamran and Tehreem. The conversation with Tehreem remained the most interesting when I asked, "What did you depict?" "Our culture... A village woman... She is beautiful," she replies. I turn to the boys and ask, "So how many of you would accept such a woman in your college?" They break into a laugh and say, "She would be unique." I respond, "Yes, she would. You would all laugh."

To this, Tehreem responds, "Dress does not matter. It is the thought that matters. The thought needs to be modern. The dress can be traditional." Thus, by positing the dichotomy between dress and thought, Tehreen unintentionally concedes the death of the thought associated with the dress she wishes to preserve. The unrealised irony is in the representation of culture chosen by these children who exhibit only traces of that culture - their creative output is nostalgia, longing and sense of loss. What is it not: a path for the future. However, amongst these paintings, there are articulations of a path for the future. Peace is the symbol that illuminates them. The dove makes an appearance in every second wall painting. Even the attempt by the State to conceal the truth is subverted by the chosen symbols: the painting of the peace of the dove means the rejection of the present violence.

The peaceful dove conceals the vultures that mar the present. The symbol that hides is itself the symbol that reveals. The dove only attempts to neutralise them. Amongst these paintings is another by students of SIMS. Imran, Usman and two more friends combine the dove, the symbol of peace, provinces of Pakistan and the flag of Pakistan. Their message is unity and togetherness. To the right of these, is John Lennon's famous line, "Give peace a chance," and to the right of this a local slogan, "The peace sixer (Aman ka chakha)"

Imran explains the idea behind his paintings to me, "The constitution is that that is supposed to unite us. But the whole of Balochistan is against us. It is only by giving them rights that we can bring them together." "How do we give them rights?" I ask. "The system must change. We have tried this system and its many permutations for 63 years. It is fatally flawed," he says. "So what forms the basic of this new system that will produce the hope of your image?" I ask. "Communism will not be accepted by the masses. It must be through Islam," he says. "So you've read up on Marxism then I presume?" I query. He turns to show me the hammer and sickle painted onto the back of his shirt and smiles.

I smile inside at the contradiction between his shirt and his speech. But I like his hope. I like that he found his symbol. And I like that he does not stereotype the provinces. He even adds Gilgit and Kashmir to make Pakistan’s six provinces. I look at another painting. There is a woman dressed in village attire opening her hands to the words, "Our culture has been curtained." Punjab University students Aiza and Zainab make the painting. I go up to talk to them. "What is the idea behind the painting?" I ask. Aiza speaks, "Our culture is in curtains. That is what we are trying to depict. Jeans are acceptable; but, traditional attire is not." Zainab chips in, "We want to depict the richness of our culture which has been given up by adopting Western culture." The only thing I find strange is that they tell me the theme they chose was truck art. realise this truth hidden from them: it is not the West that killed culture, it is the modern state… Most are trapped within what Partha Chaterjee (an academic of note in India) calls the postcolonial complex. A class of individuals caught between modernity and tradition. They depict a culture, which is not a part of them. They celebrate the traces of it that they are able to experience. What is worth preserving is worth projecting - but not worth adopting. And I do not blame them for such. I only suggest that there can be better use of these symbols - uses more relevant to a future.

And yes, I never asked the real question I wanted to ask, “Where, in their paintings, were the painters themselves?” Everyone was depicting something without doing what Sadequain was a master in, depicting himself within a painting.

A painting may conceal a painter's self or reveal it. However, selves were revealed in these paintings but through a process of hiding, the painters showed no such awareness. It is an aside that I admit I am filled with hope as I walk amidst these youngsters who paint. And retain hope that if they keep acting upon the faith they possess they shall surely grow into political and cultural maturity. At the moment, they are beset by the contradictions of their times and trying to answer back (and as a writer I am one amongst them). I reflect on them - and critique them - only because as their brush paints an image onto the wall, they begin to communicate to a public.

Communication is a powerful act. And it is an act that must be reflective. And it is true that these youngsters communicate themselves to the public. And I respond as one of the public: absorbing their ideas and answering back with my ideas.

Related: Pakistan slide show

Friday, March 18, 2011

First Train to the Border

As you read this, the first train originating in Karachi and passing through Hyderabad and Mirpur Khas will have already steamed across the frontier into Munabao station in Rajasthan. Indeed, the first return train will be just about now pounding across the sand dunes en route to Karachi. ‘Steaming’ here being a figure of speech, for the trains are no more worked by those grand old machines of yore, those coal-burning (later furnace oil), smoke-belching steam locomotives. Today a modern diesel juggernaut will haul the train.

Again, now the journey will not require the tedious change of trains at Mirpur Khas, where in the old days the broad gauge line ended. From here onward it was a metre gauge line and this section was known as the Jodhpur Railway (JR). Time was when many of those lovely old workhorses wore little badges above the pony wheels in front that said JBR – Jodhpur Bikaner Railway.

My first introduction to this line goes back to 1987 when inspired by Paul Theroux’s absolutely readable book The Great Railway Bazaar; I was doing a series of articles titled ‘The Little Railway Bazaar’. Though the distance from Mirpur Khas was a mere one hundred and thirty-three kilometres, the journey to Khokhropar took nearly nine hours which made for a great journey and a wonderful peek into Thari culture. Things were then much easier on this sleepy little section of Pakistan Railway and when I got bored in the carriage, I rode in the engine where the driver and his sidekick treated me to yarns and endless cups of tea brewed with water drawn from the locomotive’s boiler.

The stations set by little villages with typical Sindhi mud-and-wattle houses of the peaked roofs (called chaunra) were delightfully ancient-looking with camels and donkey loitering on the platforms. And as the train pulled out children ran alongside laughing and waving. The more daring among them even jumped upon the running boards of the carriages to ride a few metres before leaping off as the train picked up speed. Speed, by the way, was never more than thirty kilometres an hour.

At that time (1987) the border crossing of Khokhropar had been closed for over a decade and a half. Consequently, my fellow travellers were all local Thari people. Although there was just one daily back and forth service between Mirpur Khas and the border, Station Masters along the way told me tales of the days when travellers came from all over Sindh and headed across the border to meet with relatives in India. But that seemed like history for a whole generation was well into its teens without having known of this connection with India. Not long after my adventure, while all other metre and narrow gauge lines were closed, this one was reduced just one back and forth service a week.

Recently when there was talk of the service being reopened I had imagined they would use the old metre gauge line. I was pretty excited for though I had no desire or reason to go across that border, I saw my chance to ride a steam train once again. At some point in time, the ride from Mirpur Khas to the border was therefore certainly on my agenda. But when my editor called to say I ought to go look at it, I thought why not. Particularly as I was going to be in the area. I called my friend Ishfaq Khattak, that good railwayman who cares for railway heritage, and he said I ought to meet up with Shamim Shirazi, a second generation railwayman from Karachi.

And so it was that we met up in Mirpur Khas. Ishfaq had earlier surprised me with the tidings that the service was no longer meter gauge, but that the line had been upgraded. A bit disappointed I was nonetheless astonished that so much work had been done in such a short period of time. I mean, since partition we have steadily closed line after metre and narrow gauge line without replacing any of those with the bigger gauge, and here we were talking of up-gradation. I did not ask, but I secretly harboured the fancy notion that some other railwayman who also cared for heritage would have thought of interlacing the old metre gauge line with the new broad gauge. That would mean tourist steam trains of the smaller gauge running up to at least the border.

At Mirpur Khas railway station, I discovered that I was wrong about interlaced lines: the old tracks were uprooted and there instead lay the new broad gauge line. This meant, sadly, that the old metre gauge workhorses were out of action forever. An era had come to en end in Pakistan. My friend Pervez and I made the yatra to the steam shed to photograph, perhaps for the last time, the locomotives parked there. I had come back after exactly six years and surely when I return again, they will no longer be there.

I had hoped we would be able to ride a motor trolley to the border, but with only eight days more for the first train to run, there was a great flurry of activity. Even as we planned to drive out along the line, there was one senior railwayman on inspection ‘doing trolley’. Motoring out meant that we would not be going exactly along the line but would be able to see only the stations. But that was the best we could do.

We left Mirpur Khas early and the first stop was Pithoro. In the old days this was a junction where one changed trains to go around the Mirpur Khas-Pithoro-Digri loop, a circular service that started out from Mirpur Khas in the morning and fetched up there in the evening. In my memories of 1987 Pithoro was a forgotten and lonely station miles from nowhere. This time around it had a fresh coat of whitewash. The main siding was of course broad gauge now, but a side platform still had the old smaller gauge. On the platform was a bilingual sign: Change here for Jhudo loop line. Who knows, if someone up at Railway Headquarters is still toying with the idea of running a metre gauge service around the loop.

A long line of shingle hoppers was parked on one of the two lines, and a bunch of railway gangmen were cooking early lunch (or late breakfast?) near the station entrance. Other than that there seemed to be a lull in up-gradation work. Shamim Shirazi promised that Chhor would be in frenzy. So we declined the Station Master’s offer for tea and drove on to Chhor.

As my metre gauge had train pulled into Chhor in February 1987, there were playing children and rummaging goats on the platform and the tea shop was crowded with men. This time around the tea shop was closed, but the place was a veritable hotbed of activity. Men all over the place. On the east end of the platform they had set up their grinding machines and in showers of sparks were busily tooling strange looking pieces of twisted steel. Behind the two lines of BKW cars, earth moving machinery hauled shingle this way and that. ‘They’ve been working round-the-clock to meet the 18 February deadline,’ said Mohammad Younus, the Station Master immaculate in his navy blue uniform.

Since we had been warned we would not be permitted to use our cameras at Khokhropar by paranoid rangers’ men, we opted not to go any farther. Younus ordered tea and biscuits and we sat in his office and chatted. Shirazi said that the full one hundred and thirty-three kilometres of line had been upgraded in seven months – which would be a record of sorts. The Station Master brought out his register to show us that the last once-a-week MG 6 Down passenger train to Khokhropar had steamed out of Chhor on the thirteenth day of June 2005 at twenty-five minutes after seven in the evening. The next day, 5 Up left this station for Mirpur Khas at thirty minutes past the hour of nine in the morning.

‘And the chapter was closed.’ Shirazi said with fitting finality.

Upgrading of the line began from Mirpur Khas outward and though I did not ask, I suppose metre gauge shingle hoppers and freight cars would have brought out the first shipment of materials and equipment. This was confirmed by the Station Master’s record. The last metre gauge down train carrying ballast and broad gauge sleepers left Chhor on the last day of September at twenty minutes after eight in the evening and passed through empty on the way back the following morning at six. This train was hauled by locomotive number YD 522 that I had photographed the day before in the Mirpur Khas steam loco shed.

On the penultimate day of 2005, the first ever broad gauge train into Chhor was hauled by diesel engine number 4488 and pulled in at thirty minutes before midnight. Had they been awake at this hour, this would have been a special treat for the people of Chhor. But in all likelihood, this epoch-making event passed by unnoticed, uncelebrated. The Thar Express, as they call it, will be a once-a-week service leaving Karachi every Saturday afternoon to reach Munabao in the early hours of the following day and return every Sunday. India will reciprocate similarly from the other side in the middle of the week. As the line has been hurriedly upgraded, the speed out of Mirpur Khas will initially be restricted to less than fifty kilometres per hour to be subsequently increased to twice as much.

My friend Abubaker Sheikh said a private Sindhi television channel had interviewed people living along this line. There was excitement, he reported. People were looking forward to the commercial activity that reactivation of the line will bring. This, however, will not be a gift of the Thar Express. Originating in Karachi, this train will stop only at Hyderabad and Mirpur Khas and then speed haughtily past these little Thari stations without pausing. Shamim Shirazi confirmed, however, that at some later point in time, a local passenger service will also be run from Mirpur Khas to Khokhropar. That is what will actually revitalise this part of the Jodhpur Railway.

At some point, hopefully within my lifetime, when the two immature nations of Pakistan and India will have waived the condition for citizens of either country to enter and exit from the same port, I will ride the Thar Express out. In Rajasthan I will do my yatra of Mount Abu and then go on home to Jullundher. Until then this journey must wait – at least so far as I am concerned.

Salman Rashid is author of eight travel books including jhelum: City of the Vitasta and The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day in Dera Ghazi Khan

There were many things on schedule when one travelled from Multan to Quetta by road instead of rail: to see the tomb of Ghazi Khan, to visit famous Fort Monro and familiarize myself with this less travelled rout to Quetta.

For those who take their chance for the first time to the city, it might sound too good to be true but Dera Ghazi Khan (D G Khan) in the past was known as Dera Phullan Da Sehra — ‘land of flowers’. “The canal skirted its eastern side, fringed with luxurious gardens of mango trees, while ghats lined the bank, thronged in summer by numerous bathers.

Ghazi Khan Mirani son of a Baloch chieftain Haji Khan founded the city on his own name on the tract between Suleman Range and River Indus in 1474. Bannu-Dera Ismail Khan-Jacobabad, famous trade route of the ast ran through the city. It developed into a very beautiful and prosperous city of that time. Till 1758, eighteen princes of the Ghazi Khan’s family successively ruled the city and bore the names of their ancestors”, wrote Mr. Bruce in his account in 1869. Kalhoras, Durranis, Mughals, Abbasis and Sikhs also exercised control over the city before it fell to the British.

Mighty River Indus had been steadily and gradually shifting its course westwards for a long time. D G Khan remained on the mercy of the River and great floods occurred in 1812, 1833, and 1842. It was completely washed away in 1856. The River now flows over the site of ancient dwelling.

The founder Ghazi Khan Mirani would not be able to recognize the ‘new’ city that was planned by British engineers on the principle of ‘Grid Iron Pattern’ - all roads and streets meeting at right angle - and built on present location between the period from 1900-1910 about 15 Kilometres downstream on the bank of Manika Canal near the tomb of Ghazi Khan Mirani.

Let us just assume it: D G Khan was a great town on the bank of Indus in fifteenth century. Does the town even exist? Yes, only in history books. Many things combine to show that D G Khan was a gem in the time gone by.

One of the most exciting buildings of the past is the tomb of Ghazi Khan Mirani. The tomb was built in fifteenth century on an octagonal plan, like shrine of Shah Rukn-e-Alam in Multan, with battering walls and corner turrets. Standing in front of the tomb, dismayed, I could feel the depredation and vandalism that would have few parallels. Dome and upper story of the tomb have vanished. The main entrance to the chamber of the tomb is in the East with two smaller doors in the northern and western directions are stripped of the gates. There are 11 mud graves inside the tomb and a graveyard has spread around the tomb. The walls are pitted. The pitchi cari and calligraphy inside the tomb is also fading. The slabs of stone painted with floral and geometric designs are falling. Once magnificent and imposing tomb is now sinking in ground. No body comes to lay flower or pay respect to the dead Baloch Sardar. In the past it had also been used to keep the animals. Relics of the tomb are certainly precious.

Unfortunately, currently, D G Khan, more than any other Pakistani city, lacks sensitivity to its heritage. The condition of temples, dharam shalas and gao shalas is even worse. Most of them have been converted into residential quarters, some are being used as waste receptacles and from few others even the bricks have been taken away. “To retain the heritage and history of the city, at least two temples situated east of Tounsa-D G Khan Road and whatever is left of Ghazi Khan’s tomb should immediately be declared as protected monuments”, says Hashim Sher Khan, a social activist who has written to many national and international agencies including UNESCO for this purpose, “but to no avail” he adds. D G Khan of Waderas, Sardars and Tumandars and patriots like Sher Muhammad who made world Pakistani as part of his name seem to be on its way to decline.

Hashim Sher Khan says, “Dera Ghazi Khan is the cultural capital of Pakistan. It is not only geographically situated on the junction point of all the four provinces but is also a place where their cultural traditions meet”. Besides legendary hospitality, the most famous cultural symbols I encountered in the city during my stay are hamachas and tabaqs.

A son of the soil, Dr Ghulam Fareed once narrated a tale about his childhood to Raza Ali Abdi (BBC). The tale reads, “Big charpoys (coats) are found in every nook and corner of the city. These coats serve as open drawing rooms in the localities. There was one big coat in front of our house too. The day I left D G Khan for higher studies, I saw people sitting on that coat: talking, relaxing, and sharing. I saw the same people sitting, doing same things, once I returned from England after 15 years. Only they had gone a little old.” D G Khan is famous for big charpoys locally known as Hamachas throughout the country.

Another thing for which D G Khan is famous is tabaq meaning cooking utensil with wide mouth. Nanbais prepare meat and beef dishes in these utensils. British traveller Alexander Bern who came to D G Khan in 1936-37 wrote that there were 1597 shops in the city out of which 40 were of nanbais. Once the new city was inhabited, the nanbais also migrated and set up their shops in Pathar Bazaar. Now most of them have developed and converted their shops in modern eating joints but you can still find any thing from Nalli Nihari for breakfast to Siri Pae for dinner if you like. The only difference is that Tabaqs are made of cast iron instead of clay these days. Names of Ustad Allah Yar, Ustad Qader, Ustad Allah Ditta and Ustad Muhammad Siddique who were the best Tabaqis of their times are still remembered with respect.

As per the legend, the throne of Prophet Hazrat Suleman (A S) once landed on the hill range known as Suleman Range. Next to the city on the route to Quetta is Fort Munro Peak in Suleman Range. The first thing that came to my mind after turning on a rocky road to Fort Munro from village Khar (or Kharar) was a famous couplet that was composed by poet Mustafa Zaidi who was once a Political Assistant in Fort Munro. The poet lived here soaking up the scenery and isolation while contemplating his own future and love life. He composed, “Inhe pathroon pe chal kar agar aa sako to aao, mere ghar ke raste main koi kahkashan nahin hey”. The going on the road these days is bad that gets worst in case of a light shower. Later, I also visited the library that was established by Mustafa Zaidi but now it has been converted into an office of some government department. By the way, who wants to read these days?

Pacco Qillo

Jalal Hameed Bhatti

Pacco Qillo - Days of glory (left) - days of decay and encroachment (right)

A sketch of the Pacco Qillo (c. 1845) drawn by Lieutenant Edwards during the British occupation of the city shows the majestic days of the fort when it was mostly intact and in a good state of maintenance (above top and two recent photos at the bottom taken by me from the train).

Pacco Qillo or the strong fort is a centuries old landmark of the present day Hyderabad city in the Sind province of Pakistan. I had only heard of the place in history books but never saw it till some years before when I happened to have gone to Karachi by train. And there it was vividly visible from the train window, the sadly dilapidated Pacco Qillo, badly encroached, and in poor state of maintenance.

The fort was build by the Kalhora chif Ghulam Shah Kalhora on one of the three hills in the present day Hyderabad in 18th century (1766 to be precise). The fort was built on a higher ground due to the changing course of the River Indus as the official residence of Ghulam Shah Kalhora. The massive half-a-square kilometer (about 36 acres) garrison was completed by 1768, which also served as the court of Ghulam Shah Kalhora as well.

The fort braved the atrocities of time but finally succumbed to its almost demise and present day decayed form when the Muslims migrating from India in 1947 sought temporary refuge in inner premises to make room for their residences. But then they made it their permanent abode and continue to do so till date, turning this famous landmark into a permanent locality.

The outer walls (as seen above right) have also been breached to make shops. No one seems to be really concerned about the continuous decaying and encroachment of this important landmark of Hyderabad city and an archeological site of Sindhi culture.

Read more about Hyderabad (Pakistanpaedia)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Best Rare-Bird Pictures of 2010

Raja Paurava and Alexander

We do not celebrate Paurava; we name no roads after him and do not teach our children of his lofty character because he shines in our pre-Islamic darkness. But can we today name even one leader possessed of just a shadow of the integrity and character shown by Raja Paurava?

I lament that we in Pakistan, those of us whose ancestors converted to Islam, insist on denying our pre-conversion history. For us, it simply does not exist. We invent tales of imaginary ancestors having arrived in the subcontinent duly converted to the ‘one and only true faith’ from some place in Iran or Central Asia. Pride of place of course goes to all those who subscribe to the yarn of their ancestors’ heroic overland trek direct from Mecca. I know of families who possess genealogical charts connecting them to prophets of yore and, in one case, even to Adam himself!

Consequently, everything that transpired in this great and wonderful land of the Sindhu River before the arrival of these august (albeit imaginary) personalities was Kafir. To be proud of it is criminal; to acknowledge it negligent of religious duty. Not surprising then that some of us even have a problem mentioning Moen jo Daro and Harappa.

Since all our imaginary Islamic ancestors came from the west, we somehow got it into our heads that all those who came from that direction were also necessarily Muslims. An ‘historian’ at Taxila once told me that Alexander the Macedonian was one of Islam’s greatest heroes. Similarly, on a visit to the village of Mong (Mandi Bahauddin) many years ago, a man floored me by not only commending Alexander as a personality of the Scripture but also for reviling Paurava (Porus in Greek) as a Hindu. But history remembers Raja Paurava as a man of rare character.

The Battle of the Hydaspes (Jhelum River) was fought in the year 326 BCE on a beautiful morning in late May after a night of torrential rain. The crystalline blue sky would have been piled up with cumulus when Paurava’s Punjabis advanced to meet their foe the Macedonian, Greek, Scythian, Persian and even a brigade of Punjabi troops from Taxila. From even before day broke, it was a hard fought contest. And before the sun had started to wester, the Punjabis were in disarray. The battle had been lost.

Arrian, the Greek historian, writing four hundred years after this epic battle pays tribute to Raja Paurava thus — and there can be no greater tribute for it comes from a foreigner: ‘Throughout the action Porus proved himself a man indeed, not only as a commander but as a solider of the truest courage...his behaviour was very different from that of the Persian King Darius: unlike Darius, he did not lead the scramble to save his own skin ... [but] fought bravely on.’

With all his units dispersed, Paurava, himself grievously wounded in the right shoulder, eventually submitted to an old philosopher friend of his and permitted himself to be led into Alexander’s presence. Arrian recalls that encounter: ‘[Alexander] looked at his adversary with admiration: he was a magnificent figure of a man, five cubits high and of great personal beauty.’ The cubit being variable in various parts of Greece, this figure would yet mean that Paurava was no less than seven feet tall! And Alexander of middling stature would have had to look up into those dark eyes and the sweat-streaked face.

It was then that the famous exchange took place that even the most ignorant among us know of. What, asked Alexander, would Paurava wish that the conqueror do with him and Paurava replied that he wished to be treated as a king. This much we all know. But Alexander had a farther query. ‘For my part your request shall be granted. But is there not something you would wish for yourself? Ask it.’ And Paurava the Punjabi who we are ashamed to claim as our own said that everything was contained in this one request.

Peace was made between the victor and the vanquished and it has been said that this was one battle where both sides emerged victorious. Alexander returned Paurava’s kingdom to him and shortly after the death of the king of Taxila asked Paurava to look after the affairs of that kingdom as well. Just three years after this great battle on the Jhelum, Alexander died under mysterious circumstances in Babylon. That was June 323 BCE. Within years, the great Raja Paurava was assassinated and the story seems to have ended. But not quite.

In 44 CE, Taxila was visited by a Greek philosopher named Apollonius. The philosopher’s account (kept by his diarist) tells us of two temples, one outside the city walls and the other by the main street leading to the king’s palace. Both temples had large copper plate murals adorning their walls. The murals depicted scenes of battle from the struggle that had taken place on the banks of the Jhelum River three hundred and sixty-seven years earlier.

The account marvels at the finesse of the renditions: the colours and the forms were as though one were watching a real scene frozen in time. The murals in both the temples depicted Raja Paurava in defeat. The account goes on to tell us that these murals were commissioned by Raja Paurava when news of the death of Alexander arrived in Taxila. Consider: Alexander was dead in distant Babylon, his Greek garrisons in the Sindhu Valley had deserted and Paurava was now the unquestioned master of this country. As sole sovereign, he could have ordered the murals to turn history around and depict him in glorious victory and Alexander in abject and shameful defeat.

But the Punjabi king was not just great in physical stature; he possessed also a soaring spirit and largesse of the heart that few of us know. The king ordered the murals, so it is recorded by Apollonius’ diarist, in order not only to acknowledge his friendship with Alexander, but also to preserve history as it had actually unfolded. In his wisdom the king knew that the creative passage of time was bound to alter history.

When the murals were put up, Taxila was what we today know as the Bhir mound. Two hundred years later, the Indo-Greeks shifted it to the remains we today call Sirkap. It is evident that the murals were admired to be moved to the new city. In the subsequent two hundred odd years the city was rebuilt several times as the various cultural layers show. Each time the murals were safely removed to a new site or they would not have survived three and a half centuries. Finally, in 25 CE Taxila was levelled by a severe earthquake. And when nineteen years later Apollonius arrived, the city was being rebuilt under a Parthian king and the murals had faithfully been reinstalled at the brand new temples. History was not permitted to be tainted.

We do not celebrate Paurava; we name no roads after him and do not teach our children of his lofty character because he shines in our pre-Islamic darkness. But can we today name even one leader possessed of just a shadow of the integrity and character shown by Raja Paurava?

Salman Rashid is a travel writer and knows Pakistan like the back of his hand.

Burcu Çetinkaya in Pakistan

Burcu Çetinkaya, the famous Turkish turbo-charged racer car driver is presently touring Pakistan to realize her childhood dreams and to foster the Pakistan-Turkish brotherly ties in her own way. She adored Benazir Bhutto as her hero in her childhood and tales of friendship between the two countries always had a yearning in her to visit Pakistan.

Now grown up, robust and tough, Çetinkaya has made her in name in racing cars, an otherwise men dominated sports. She is the holder of Turkish Ladies Champion for five consecutive years and her zeal is nowhere near for giving in.

Besides her love for Pakistan and idolizing Benazir Bhutto, the floods of 2010 left a great impression on her and since then she wanted to come to Pakistan and feel and share the pain and anguish the Pakistani flood victims have endured, besides her curiosity to visit this much talked about lands from her ancestors.

She is also here to talk to Pakistan women about motorsports and to encourage and inspire women in general. Her sponsor, Red Bull, is organizing the trip. She is already meeting athletes, students and media during her ongoing 10-days visit to Pakistan (25th February-5th March). She is also the chief guest of an exclusive Red Bull Dakar Rally 2011 screening in Karachi and will also be hosting the event. She will also address students at top universities in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad to share her experiences as a female car racer.

Car racing is a developing sports in Pakistan and every year a desert safari cum race is held in the Cholistan desert, besides display of vintage cars on the roads from Karachi to Islamabad. In a tragic car racing incident, recently five people including children were crushed to death when a motorist lost control over his high speed car in a race organized in Bahria Town Rawalpindi. Adam Khan of Pakistan has also been making headlines in A1 car racing recently, though he is not seen anymore.

Lately, female drivers like Sonia Khuhro, Ghazal Beg and Urooj Mumtaz have also made headlines as they too have joined the ranks of daring drivers to participate in Xtreme Autocross Championship since 2009. The recent race of Xtreme Autocross Championship was held in Karachi recently.

Çetinkaya’s presence in Pakistan will definitely inspire youngsters to venture into this costly and challenging sports. Welcome to Pakistan, Çetinkaya and we wish you a pleasant and memorable stay in Pakistan. [JalalHB]

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ranni Kot Ja Dharrail

Ranni Kot Ja Dharrail (Dacoits of Ranni Kot), an opera concert at the Mumtaz Mirza Auditorium of Sindh Museum proved to be an event of the season in the cultural capital of Sindh, Hyderabad, as a team of artistes filled the air and many believed that Shaikh Ayaz, the great Sindhi poet and versatile literary figure, was reborn.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The ambidextrous wonder from Ghotki

I had asked the manager of the dump where I was staying in Sukker and he said it would be no problem locating my man: every tonga wallah, every street urchin would know where to find him. And so I got off the bus at the small town of Ghotki in Upper Sindh and told the tonga driver where to take me.

A short ride; a walk through a narrow street and I was led into a furniture workshop where several men were working. "That's your man," said my guide pointing to a skinny, boyish character squatting on the floor and diligently rubbing away with sandpaper on a piece of woodwork. The man looked up, dusted his hands and came bounding towards me in a barrage of greetings. It seemed he had just been waiting for me. Conscious that he was famous in his own way Kafeel Bhai had, in fact, been waiting for just anybody to come around.

There will be few long haul trucks in the country that do not carry the legend "Kafeel Bhai ko salaam. Mashoor-e-zamana Right arm, left arm spin bowler of Ghotki". When I first noticed this sign in the early eighties I took it as a joke but its pervasiveness was astonishing: every single cross country truck had apparently tarried long enough in Ghotki to have been struck by this "world famous" spin bowler. Having passed several times through the town and never having time enough to stop and investigate I had resolved to check my man out this time. And so it was that I was being hugged by an ebullient Kafeel Bhai who in his own words in the uncrowned king of spin bowling.

A man who can safely get into the Guiness book of World Records if for no other reason then for the speed with which words spill out of his mouth, Kafeel Bhai appears to be the man who has waited too long to tell the world what he had always wanted to tell. Sadly, he had never found it ready to listen and now I with my camera bag was his window to this world that had so far ignored this prodigy. "Tell me everything about yourself," I said. "No, no. You ask, you ask and I'll tell everything. Everything I'll tell you." The following transcript of the recording is devoid of embellishment or corrections; it is Kafeel Bhai as he sees himself and the world around him.

He was born Kafeel Ahmed Siddiqui in 1958 at Ghotki. His father a native of Jhansi (India) is a veteran Muslim Leaguer and, as I was told, a close associate of Mr Jinnah who called him Khalil Ahmed Pakistani in view of his services to the cause of the new nation. After Partition the family migrated to Ghotki where Kafeel went to school which ended with matriculation. Even as a child he possessed remarkable ability with the paint brush. But small town Pakistan was hardly the place to put this artistic talent to good use, moreso since the family was sufficiently well off for Kafeel never having to worry about a profession.

While still in school in the early 1970s Kafeel started to play cricket as a left arm spinner with the ambition from the start of getting into the national team. Jim Laker who had taken a record nineteen wickets in 1956 was his idol and for the sake of Pakistan Kafeel wanted to be the one to break this apparently unbeatable record. And so with a self painted portrait of Laker in front of him for inspiration he taught himself to spin bowl with the right arm "just like Laker". But he had the "added ability of being able to bowl with both arms and could have floored the finest batsmen with the great variety that could be offered in a single over".

The station of a true artist is at the top, therefore, Kafeel never wanted to play small time cricket: his one and only goal was the national team. He watched others play at the district and divisional level, occasionally bowling a few demonstration balls. That was all. But fortune passed him by; he was ignored by the selectors. The best playing years were wasted in the long wait and now he has given up the game because it does not become an artist like himself to play small time cricket. The man who could have turned the world on its head with his remarkable ability and won a great name for himself and country is heartbroken.

The dream of taking 20 wickets for Pakistan slowly began to recede into the distance and with it Kafeel started to lose sight of reality. At this point I asked him to demonstrate his bowling. He went home for his flannels while his colleagues told me that a team of Frenchmen arrived last summer with the request for him to paint some transport planes in France. Our man refused: whatever he will do will be for Pakistan not for some two bit country like France. His colleagues also said Kafeel had never physically touched money and is known never to have asked to be paid for his work. Shortly Kafeel arrived in his aging flannels that accentuated his spindly legs and took us to a nearby garden where he showed us his amazing ambidexterity. But since I cannot tell a googly from silly point or anything else I wasn't the best judge.

The desire to be well known was obsessive and since the selection committee for the national cricket team had passed him by he thought of another way of making himself famous, at least within the country. With his paints and brushes in a wickerwork basket he prowled the truck stands outside Ghotki which fortunately for our hero lies on the National Highway, the artery for all cross country lorries. When the truckers were not looking he moved quickly from vehicle to vehicle leaving a trail of the legend of the greatest spin bowler the world has never known.

One day the mad painter was caught in the act: short (1 m, 57 cm) and skinny (not more than 45 kg) our man was hauled in front of a jury of big, angry truckers. Not to be daunted he used his gift of the gab. He told them how their trucks would go faster if he were allowed to paint his message on them; they would consume less fuel and best of all they would look pretty. The men laughed; they thought he was crazy and Kafeel Bhai new he had made an inroad. From then on they did not mind him. Sometimes, however, there were truckers who had not heard of his fame and they got rough with him. But he was never beaten up, only pushed about a little bit. Other times he was allowed to write his message only after he had painted a typical truck scene or two on the vehicle. The fame that he had craved slowly came his way without media help: every single trucker in the country was acquainted with his name and was hauling it across the length and breadth of the land.

So is he satisfied now with the distinction he has earned? Of course, why else should "educated people like yourself come to sit at my feet? Only because I am famous and everybody wants to see me. I have defeated you and the rest of the world. I wanted to be well known and now the whole world knows the name of Kafeel Bhai." But now he does not play cricket anymore. Now he is just the artist who paints name plates and who has since the death of his brother given up painting his legend on cross country lorries.

In his heyday he would not "spare" any vehicle. Car, truck, tonga, donkey cart, bicycle. Sure enough, I was shown several donkey carts trundling about town with greetings to Kafeel Bhai. Once he was even forced by a group of outlaws to write his message on their Kalashnikovs. Some days later these men were done in in an encounter with the police who came looking for our man. His fame saved him any trouble that would surely have been the lot of a lesser mortal. "I did not even spare lotas and latrines." This was too good to be passed and so I was taken to a mosque where the latrine doors carried greetings to the greatest spin bowler of all times. Inside, the message was barely legible on the battered lotas.

Like Kafeel the cricketer who bowls with both arms, Kafeel the artist can write and paint with both hands and the script does not show any sign of awkwardness. He can write right side up and upside down or he can do a mirror image of Urdu or Sindhi script. He is good in his work yet he never asks for money. Why? "An artist is priceless and it is bad form to seek recompense for your talent. A truly great man never asks others for money." But Imran Khan who is building a hospital with donations is not a truly great man; he is great by accident. When one begs one becomes "third class". Great men do not beg. If people want to pay Kafeel for his labours he simply holds his pocket open and without touching the money takes it home to his mother.

We said our farewell in the crowded bazaar and he told me marriage for him was the last priority but before that he wanted to achieve the "height of fame". As I was leaving I asked if I could do something for him when I got home. But there was nothing to do anymore. "The time to do something for me is past." In the bazaar everybody seemed to know Kafeel Bhai. "Like rivers that fall into the great ocean they all come to me. But never the reverse will happen." Men, young and old, Hindu and Muslim, Sindhi, Punjabi and Mohajir came up to him and he greeted them one and all by kissing their hands. For the love that Kafeel has for his fellow humans there is no barrier of language, race or creed. As my tonga pulled away I saw him surrounded by a host of men and then he was lost in the milling crowd.

Salman Rashid is author of eight travel books including jhelum: City of the Vitasta and The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Step Up and Fight Premature Aging with Skinceuticals

Aging is a natural process that everyone would experience at some point in life. It is due to the fact that as you grow older the body tends to slow down and starts losing its ability to produce proteins and collagen that are necessary to keep the skin looking soft and smooth. And while this is the hard truth, what’s even more alarming is the rate of women that experience premature aging. As the term suggests, a great number of individuals are now seeing the signs of aging at an early age.

A lot of factors can contribute to this such as lack of sleep, unhealthy eating habits, excessive smoking and drinking and too much exposure to the sun. Even with the millions of dollars spent by various skincare companies for research, there is still no known cure for aging. But there are ways on how you can reverse the signs and slow down the process. The use of products from Skinceuticals can be a great help. It is loved and trusted by millions of women from all over the world because of one reason: it works.

While others might claim superior quality, Skinceuticals actually delivers this promise. Formulated using only the effective anti aging fighters such as powerful dose of anti oxidants, it can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in no time. The skin care line is able to do this using a three step guide that includes prevention, protection and correction.

The Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is considered to be one of their top selling products. Its prescription strength medication is available for everyone as it can be easily found in most pharmacies and beauty stores. Imagine being able to achieve beauty at half the price compared to paying a visit to a dermatologist. This is what Skinceuticals offer, affordable skincare for everyone to enjoy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Marvel in the Chapper Rift

Salman Rashid

"Seh ghwari?" says the man sitting at the mouth of the tunnel: "What are you looking for?" "I am looking for the old railway," I reply in broken Pushto as I huff up the hill. The man does not smile, and he is not even trying to be funny when he asks if I don't think I am a trifle late to be looking for the railway -- the last train on this line had run exactly fifty one years and eight months earlier. I smile and pass on and he tells my friend I must be mad. Three hundred metres away lies the yawning maw of the Chapper Rift that has been the raison d'etre for the journey; a journey that I had dreamt of for the last seven years.

When, around the early years of the 19th century, the Raj became paranoid with the fear of a Russian invasion of India there was, among other things, a great flurry of railway building to reach Afghanistan and eventually Central Asia in order to pre-empt Russian influence in those countries. And as Russian railways inched across trans Caspian desert regions, sub continental railways reached on the one side into the Khyber Pass and on the other across the treeless Kachhi desert on the border between Sindh and Balochistan on its way to Sibi at the foot of the Bolan Pass en route to Quetta. Simultaneously another line went north from Sibi to Harnai and Khost where it turned west to reach Quetta via Bostan. This was the Kandhar State Railway (KSR), for that is where it hoped to reach before skirting the mountainous regions of Afghanistan to Herat and head north for Merv in modern Turkmenistan.

But the KSR never crossed the frontier: the buffer stops in the dusty town of Chaman virtually tread on the Durand Line. And even before it got as far as the border the railway was a stop and go affair that was to change names twice. In a Victorian attempt to fool the Russians into believing that they were up to anything but sneaking by railway into Afghanistan, the government of India gave this project the ridiculous title of "The Harnai Road Improvement Scheme". Subsequently the idea of crossing the frontier was dropped and the railway was renamed The Sind Peshin (sic) State Railway (SPS) and the first train to run this route arrived in Quetta in March 1887. All that remains of this line today is a sleepy branch between Sibi and Khost with a twice daily service carting Marri tribesmen to remote homesteads and Pathans working the coal mines at Sharig.

Seven years ago in Khost at the end of a free wheeling jaunt I had been offered a ride to the Rift by the friendly Station Master. In the end, however, the jeep was not available and I had to make do with a graphic description from the talkative man. That and the words of Berridge (Couplings to the Khyber) had been my only knowledge of the place: "An extraordinary freak of nature, it is a gigantic crack cutting at right-angles across a series of synclines and anticlines. The whole mountain range has been split open with this great crack athwart of its contours, and down the chasm thus formed flows the river from the valley on the higher end of the rift to the lower."

I knew I had to see the Rift for myself when my father, himself a railway engineer who had worked in the area, talked of what he called "the most outstanding feat of railway engineering in the sub continent", and so together with my friend Shahjehan Panezai I set out to retrace the defunct line. But while the railway was pushed out on a northwesterly bearing from Sibi to Khanai and then southwest to Bostan and Quetta, we choose to drive in the opposite direction.

Khanai is deserted and the line, not broad gauge but tiny narrow gauge, stretches eastward across the treeless expense into oblivion. This is the disused Zhob Valley Railway that once connected Bostan and Zhob and was the highest narrow gauge line in the world and the longest in the sub continent. Another rare distinction it had was that between the stations of Bostan and Khanai both broad and narrow gauges were interlaced on the same sleepers. But today even the narrow gauge has lain disused for almost eight years -- a victim of improvement road transport and official inefficiency.

Beyond the station we turn east on the road to Ziarat. If there was ever a station at the little village of Kach, it has gone but the men in the bazaar point us in the direction of the B & R rest house and say it originally belonged to the railways which changed hands after the closure of the line. This seems a little hard to believe for it is not the design prescribed by some long forgotten engineer and faithfully followed for all railway rest houses.

Outside the village a pair of stone pillars stand in the small stream. The bridge is no more but across the stream an angular cutting in the rock marks the route of the railway; indeed, across the stream we are following the alignment of the old railway which, in turn, had followed the ancient Kandhar-Chapper Rift-Sibi caravan route. We go through tunnel number 15 (built in 1886, says the dado in the middle) and shortly afterwards the rocky landscape on our left gives way to the wheat fields and fruit trees of legislator Noorjehan Panezai's village, Manrang. On our right we are hemmed in by the first of the anticlines which is simply an elongated hill folded above the earth's crust like pastry giving it a rounded rather than a jagged crest.

The dirt road becomes black top as it rises through the folds of these hills and soon we are on the crest looking into the wide valley at the bottom. We can see the embankment that was once the railway line but Shahjehan tells me that nothing remains of the stations of Mudgorge and Mangi. As we go over the top onto the other side we see the embankment coming in from the lower valley. Then the tunnel becomes visible -- a dark semi circle in the bleached limestone, and soon we are in the dry river bed with its six stone columns; once again without the bridge.

Here as the line comes up from the lower or Sibi side of the valley it makes a wide loop to gain height, goes through the tunnel and over the bridge before it climbs into the Rift. But the rounded sides of the anticline do not even afford the narrowest shelf for the line to be laid on therefore a "shallow gallery-like tunnel" is cut into the hard limestone. Six hundred and seventy six metres of this gallery give way to a proper tunnel 197 metres long, which Shahjehan dissuades me from entering for fear of snakes and, he believes, porcupines. Beyond the tunnel is the yawning crack of the Chapper Rift -- the artistry of some prehistoric earthquake, and stitching this tear is the spectacular Louise Margaret bridge named after the Duchess of Connaught who opened it in March 1887.

From tunnel onto bridge into tunnel trains once made their way across the Rift and down a conglomerate slope, for this was the only way a train could have ever crossed this landscape. But if it was the Rift that made this line possible it was eventually the Rift itself that put paid to it: on the night of 11 July 1942 a rain storm sent a roaring torrent through the crack. Even in the best of times regular patrolling was required on this lonely five km stretch of line in the Rift and when on the morning of the 12th the patrolling team arrived they found a 30 metre length of line festooned over a gap in the embankment.

As it was the Rift had a long list of minor accidents and washouts and now the authorities knew that they had finally and irrevocably been defeated by nature. The line was abandoned. Since Europe was fighting its Great War every single steel fixture between the stations of Zardalu and Khanai was taken up to be put to "better use" as munitions and all that remains today of this spectacular piece of railway engineering are the embankments, tunnels and piers for bridges. Few people visit this Victorian relic and even fewer pause to marvel at the tenacity and dedication of those brave men who first pushed through this hostile country armed with plane table and theodolite to plot the course of the future railway.

We drive on to the deserted station of Zardalu which comes to life only when contractors from neighbouring coal mines ask for wagons to collect their loads. Khost, end of the line for modern trains, is made just after midday. Idrees Chaudri, the Station Master, orders tea and sends for old Haji Gul Mohammed, who claims to remember the dismantling of the Louise Margaret bridge. He says the complexity of the problem defeated the best railway engineers until a Sikh offered to do it.

However, the passage of five decades has simplified the memory of a highly complicated engineering job and the old man says that the Sikh ordered half a dozen wagons filled with rocks to be taken into the tunnel at the mouth of the Rift. The bridge was tied to them and the wagons allowed to roll down the slope, bridge and all. Of course the story cannot be complete without the grisly oriental twist and Gul Mohammed tells us that in order to prevent the Sikh from undertaking similar assignments the authorities had his hands chopped off! Berridge writes that a certain "Harnam Singh was the bridge inspector in charge at site", and he also tells us of the difficulty of the dismantling job -- a far more intricate problem than old Gul Mohammed would like.

We decline the Station Master's offer to stay for lunch and return the way we had come. At the mouth of the Rift we pause once again and Shahjehan says this must have been the most dramatic railway journey in the country, something that he would love to have experienced. I cannot but agree with him, but the best would be to do it as Berridge describes it: With the closing of the upper reaches of the SPS, Baluchistan lost one of its most impressive show-pieces. In its heyday, the railway often used to fit a seat on the front of the locomotive for visitors, and in 1922 the Prince of Wales, later to become the Duke of Windsor, traversed the Chapper Rift on a silver-plated push-trolly.
Salman Rashid is author of eight travel books including jhelum: City of the Vitasta and The Apricot Road to Yarkand