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With love from across the border

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Different facets of a fascinating country: Zeb and Haniya (left) and a meaty paradise (right).
Different facets of a fascinating country: Zeb and Haniya (left) and a meaty paradise (right).

HINDOL SENGUPTA

More on the little luxuries that you just can't help fall in love with when in Pakistan.

The book store to beatall bookstores in thesubcontinent, this timeI went in to buy onebook on the talibanand came out withnine...

As promised, since the last time I wrote this column, I have made one more trip to Pakistan. This time I smoked honey cigars in Lahore, shopped at the Islamabad's spectacular Saeed Book Bank, heard Abida Parveen sing and went down tunnels dug by the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in the Hindukush hills of Bajaur in the north-west frontier province of Pakistan.

As promised, I spoke to Noor Rahman who still promises to swing by Delhi.

As promised, here is the second of my two-part series on all the things I like (should I say love and face more hate mails?) about Pakistan.

A song, what else?

Someone in Pakistan told me that this is the ultimate song of the lonesome soul. This voice is that sublime thing, music that cleanses that tedium of the mundane. Zeb and Haniya's Paimana from their album “Chup” strings melodies from melancholia and seeks solace from the silent. When you listen to it, you will seek its meaning. Here's what the words, partly in Darri/Farsi and partly in Pashto, mean:

Part one, translated from Darri/Farsi: Paimana bideh ki khumaar astam;/ Man aashiq-e chashm-e mast-e-yarastam;/ Bideh, bideh, ki khumaar astam… (Bring me the glass so I may lose myself;/I am in love with my beloved's intoxicating eyes; Bring (the glass), bring (the glass), so I may lose myself…)

Part two, translated from Pushto: Dilgeer garzama labela taana;/Khabar me waakhla, raasha jaanana;/Khabar me waakhla, raasha jaanana;/Tarso ba garzay te bela mana?(You have captured my heart and I wander aimlessly without you;/My love come/return, and see the state I'm in;/My love come/return, and see the state I'm in;/How long will you wander without me?)

For all the Atif Aslams and Stings and Junoon, this song is Pakistan to me.

Saeed Book Bank in Islamabad

Add this bookstore to the list of India-Pakistan rivalry. A bookstore so big that it is actually called a bank. The book store to beat all bookstores in the subcontinent, I have found books I have never seen anywhere in India at the three-storeyed Saeed Book Bank in leafy Islamabad. The collection is diverse, unique and with a special focus on foreign policy and subcontinental politics (I wonder why?), this bookstore is far more satisfying than any of the magazine-laden monstrosities I seem to keep trotting into in India. This time I went in to buy one book on the Taliban and came out with nine, including a delightful hardbound collection of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's poetry.

The meat

Yes, that's right. The meat. There always, always seems to be meat in every meal, everywhere in Pakistan. Every where you go, everyone you know is eating meat. From India, with its profusion of vegetarian food, it seems like a glimpse of the other world. The bazaars of Lahore are full of meat of every type and form and shape and size and in Karachi, I have eaten some of the tastiest rolls ever. For a Bengali committed to his non-vegetarianism, this is paradise regained. Also, the quality of meat always seems better, fresher, fatter, more succulent, more seductive, and somehow more tantalizingly carnal in Pakistan. I have a curious relationship with meat in Pakistan. It always inevitably makes me ill but I cannot seem to stop eating it. From the halimto the payato the nihari, it is always irresistible and sends shock shivers to the body unaccustomed to such rich food. How the Pakistanis eat such food day after day is an eternal mystery but truly you have not eaten well until you have eaten in Lahore!

The leather

Let me tell you that there is no better leather footwear than in Pakistan. I bought a pair of blue calf leather belt-ons from Karachi two years ago and I wear them almost everyday and not a dent or scratch! Not even the slightest tear. They are by far the best footwear I have ever bought and certainly the most comfortable. Indian leather is absolutely no match for the sheer quality and handcraftsmanship of Pakistani leather wear.

The roads

Yes. Yes, you read right. The roads. I used to live in Mumbai and now I live in Delhi and, yes, I think good roads are a great, mammoth, gargantuan luxury! Face it, when did you last see a good road in India? Like a really smooth road. Drivable, wide, nicely built and long, yawning, stretching so far that you want zip on till eternity and loosen the gears and let the car fly. A road without squeeze or bump or gaping holes that pop up like blood-dripping kitchen knives in Ramsay Brothers films. When did you last see such roads? Pakistan is full of such roads. Driving on the motorway between Islamabad and Lahore, I thought of the Indian politician who ruled a notorious —, one could almost say viciously — potholed state and spoke of turning the roads so smooth that they would resemble the cheeks of Hema Malini. They remained as dented as the face of Frankenstein's monster. And here, in Pakistan, I was travelling on roads that — well, how can one now avoid this? — were as smooth as Hema Malini's cheeks! Pakistani roads are broad and smooth and almost entirely, magically, pot hole free. How do they do it; this country that is ostensibly so far behind in economic growth compared to India? But they do and one of my most delightful experiences in Pakistan has been travelling on its fabulous roads. No wonder the country is littered with SUVs — Pakistan has the roads for such cars! Even in tiny Bajaur in the North West frontier province, hard hit by the Taliban, and a little more than a frontier post, the roads were smoother than many I know in India. Even Bajaur has a higher road density than India! If there is one thing we should learn from the Pakistanis, it is how to build roads. And oh, another thing, no one throws beer bottles or trash on the highways and motorways.

And oh, here's the best thing. Indian rupee is worth almost double the Pakistani rupee, so everything is at a 50 percent discount. Naturally, I love Pakistan!

Hindol Sengupta is Associate Editor, Bloomberg UTV


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