Introducing Mr. K. (and Mr. P)

The first time I went to Pakistan I was slightly on edge. It was not the most peaceful of places. Immediately before the board meeting I was sitting in the CEO’s office running through the agenda with him when suddenly the merry sound of gunfire rattled the neighbourhood and me. Er…. anything to be worried about? I probed. No, replied my colleague nonchalantly. We are close to the railway station and the workers are on strike. He stopped as if that explained everything.

The following day another colleague had a birthday and I suggested I might take him to lunch. My treat of  course. And so we jumped into the back of the car and drove off to the restaurant. Walking not allowed. Just in case. I tried not to notice the man next to the driver. He was cuddling a Kalashnikov. A few minutes later we pulled up outside the restaurant. As we did so, a car screeched to a halt behind us and two more men jumped out, also cuddling a Kalashnikov each. My Mr. K-carrier didn’t bat an eyelid. Somewhat alarmed I looked at my colleague. Oh, he said. They follow behind us. They are to protect you. Just in case. Of course I felt much better after that. Three potentially trigger-happy machine-gun toting bodyguards. K1, K2 and K3 I anointed them. In fact K2 was built like a man mountain.

I had had this treatment before but that had been in Lagos, 10 years earlier.  That was after one of our directors was stuck in traffic on the main road from the airport. Suddenly a gun came through his window and he was relieved of his laptop and phone. No harm done. In Lagos I was also touched at being told that I would not be staying at any of the best hotels but at the private home of a colleague and his lovely wife. Much too dangerous, he said, to stay at a hotel. Murder or bombs? I asked. Prostitutes, he replied. You can’t get past reception for them. Much better here. Indeed it was.

After my baptism of no fire in Pakistan I rapidly grew to love the place. Sometimes airport security was a little over zealous on domestic flights but on international flights I bypassed the normal immigration queues. My “Protocol Officer”, Mr. P saw to that. After my third or fourth visit the head of security, the Brigadier, asked what I thought of Karachi. I had to admit I had little impression of it as Mr. K and his chums never allowed me to go anywhere. Office, Safe House, Office, Safe House…. that was all I saw. Oh no problem, said the Brigadier. I’ll get you a tour organised tomorrow. And he did. And I survived. A casual stroll with a colleague and two very discreet security chappies lurking. Not a trace  of Mr. K.

Over the next two or three years they realised I like to take photos and one trip we held our board meeting in Lahore. And here I took the following images. See if you can spot Mr. K.



Shahi Qilla Fort






The mosqueguard

The roof



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:


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


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.


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.

No English country garden

The house crows serenade me. Gargling with grit in their throats. Every tree occupied. A kite peers down at me from his palm tree perch. A sunbird belts out its tinny song and flees. Pigeons dash to and fro. For a while the koels are silent. The skinny cat pads nervously along the path. Grey patterned flanks. Piercing eyes, full of hesitation and wariness. The warm sun showers the garden and construction noise wrestles with traffic din to dominate the backdrop. I rest, replete from a lunchtime barbecue, contemplating the absurdity of my confinement. The garden walls bespiked. An occasional butterfly dashes haphazardly across the lawn, looking in vain for reason to settle. The crows chorus is louder now. The kites’ yelps lulled briefly and the traffic drone surges. I am drowsy. The breeze jiggles the palm frond fans and the kites thermal higher. It is Saturday afternoon in Karachi and I am at peace.