Farewell Karachi

My last spell in Pakistan has ended. I have relinquished all my responsibilities there. Looking back over my four years they have been immensely rewarding. I have always received a very warm welcome. I respected at all times the advice of our security chief and he ensured my time passed fruitfully and safely. Thank you Brigadier. My excursions tend to be relatively short so I accept that my impressions may not reflect fully life and attitudes in the country but I have had many deep and lengthy conversations with well-educated people of very differing outlooks. The flights to and from Pakistan are invariably a chance to engage someone. My last flight revealed that one 30-year-old businessman regarded the great Imran Khan as a ‘closet fundamentalist’. I am more familiar with his cricketing exploits. Yet nobody questions his integrity. Hence his appeal in a country that suffers more than most from corruption. Many regard him as a potential kingmaker, likely to hold the balance of power at the next elections.

I heard some very strong views about the inconsistency of the stance the USA adopts towards Pakistan. Please remember these are not my views. But I also heard a great deal of self-criticism. There is little that is black and white in politics. I read as many books as I can and always look out for something good on Pakistan or by a Pakistani author. On this trip I read two books. Mohammed Hanif’s Our Lady of Alice Bhatti was excellent. I had already read his work A Case of Exploding Mangoes and I enjoyed that too. My second read was not locally focussed being Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s The Ancient Curse. If you have never read Manfredi I recommend him highly, especially The Alexander Trilogy, a sort of factional account of the life of Alexander the Great. The point of reading these books is to broaden my understanding of what makes the country tick. And its enjoyable.

Hence one of my excursions was to the Sunday Book Fair at Frere Hall. This was the view on the approach:

Frere Hall

The black dots in the sky are birds – Black kites. I was also treated to close views of Hoopoes!

What a stunning piece of architecture and inside is the Sadequain Gallery, which I was privileged to visit on a private tour last year. I had not previously been aware of his work and it is well worth a look. Here is the entrance:

Sadequain

But I was there to browse. The fair is a reasonable size and the variety of books very wide.

Book Fair at Frere Hall

Here are some photos from my hour and a half there:

The Bookseller

The Browser

Browsing

Islam for Beginners

Simply Read

And eventually I found someone who probably wasn’t that interested in the books:

From browsing to dozing

I ended up buying three books. I bought a book on Egyptology, a novel set in Karachi and an excellent book on Pakistani cricketers, most of whom I had seen over the years. Remember partition was 1947 and I am 1957 vintage. By the time Pakistan was established in test cricket I was old enough to follow it. And my home county of Glamorgan fielded the great Majid Khan and later Javed Miandad. In those days we could play a bit. And I loved watching the spin bowlers. The quickies were the macho men but the true artists were the leg spinners and off break bowlers. Whether it was Inty for Pakistan, Chandrasekar for India, Deadly Derek (Underwood) for England, Johnny Gleeson for Australia or Lance Gibbs for the Windies……… I loved watching the ball kick and lift.

After that I returned to the guest house behind the high walls. My regular cohabitant was the cat. We were only on nodding terms as he was a bit nervous but we passed one another each day.

Karachi cat

I also read the daily paper and enjoyed the style of writing. It tends to be rather colonial English and has a certain nostalgia about it. It is called DAWN.

DAWN

Its archives are online I discovered. How I chanced upon this was the guest house piano. It has clearly seen better days and I suspect most pianists would give it a miss.

Not so Grand Piano

Closer inspection revealed it was from J D Bevan, Lahore.

J D Bevan, Lahore

And being a man with a sense of curiosity I searched for Mr. Bevan on the internet and found this in the DAWN archives:

“Crossing to Charing Cross make interesting reading. To the left at Regal was Ranken & Co., civil and military tailors and outfitters. This tailoring concern had branches at Calcutta, Simla, Delhi, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Murree. Established in 1770 in Calcutta, it was among the first tailoring concerning “on Special Appointment” to the Company, and later on the governor-general. Then came the Civil & Military Gazette Press, followed by Cutler Palmer & Co., wine merchants. A few shops later came Smith and Campbell the Chemists and then was Richards & Co., drapers and tailors. Next door was Walter Locke and Co., gunsmiths and then was the shop of Mr. J.D. Bevan, the piano dealer.”

So there we are, Mr. B was around in company form as long ago as 1914. I rather suspect he is not there now. And I doubt if his piano has been tuned since. Perhaps the guest house will organize a centenary concert for it.

Another excursion, brief as it was, introduced me to the music of Rahat Nusrat Ali Khan. This chap is a mega star with punctuality to match. His voice is crystal clear and as powerful as any I have heard. I enjoyed the performance very much. We left early but I could still hear it back at the house! This was the best I could do from the seat on the lawn with only my iPhone to use:

Rahat Nusrat Ali Khan

And this is what travel is all about to me, whether it is for business or pleasure or a combination of the two. New experiences. I am delighted to have been given this opportunity and a brief evening visit will stay with me for many years to come.

There is so much more I want to say about the country and the people. But I am tired. Like my camera I need a recharge. Leave me to gather my thoughts. I have no penchant for politics and my message here is simple. No issues are ever exactly as the media portray them.  As someone famously once said, give peace a chance. I’m off to recuperate.

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6 thoughts on “Farewell Karachi

  1. Lovely read as usual. And some nice images – i particularly liked ‘Sadequain’ and From ‘Browsing to dozing’. Still hoping to see you make your way to Mumbai again Andrew!

  2. The book stalls look like fun, and Frere Hall is such a handsome building I’m confident it would have been replaced by banal high-rise here in Hong Kong.

    Welcome home !

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