Thursday, April 08, 2010

The road to Multan (29 March 2010)

Let me confess that when I started my journey towards Multan, I had certain pre-conceptions about South Punjab. I was all aware of the recent "Talibanization" of Pakistan, especially the fact that the Taliban brand has taken foothold in Punjab too!!! Hence, I took the road trip with a certain sense of trepidation and adventure and let the driver use the famous and infamous Multan-Mianwali Road instead of the motorway! Yes I did expect to see the roads filled with Go America Go slogans or extra ordinary surge towards Islamization, like wall chalking to enforce purdah, anti movies and music etc. My imagination was fertile with the activities of the Lal Masjid moral police of 2006 and before.

However, as the car moved along and left central Punjab the things I noticed most were large wall advertisements of hakims promising treatment for all kinds of male sexual problems, mobile phones, soothsayers and black magic practitioners who supposedly solve all problems include bringing your lover to your feet and sending you to america! Come Minawali, I notice a impressive university building, NAMAL which will start its first session in Fall this year and is affiliated with Bradford University UK. Had lunch from a roadside hotel. Note it was not a driver hote. My driver thought it was safer and more respectable to take me to a proper hotel. Upon entering the restaurant felt a bit intimidated with the hall full of males in traditional garb and features that are hardened with life. I sensed a momentary unease and made sure that my chador covered my body and head fully and asked to be seated... The manager said that he will find a room for me and pointed to a waiter for help. I said, no I am OK if u can give me a corner place to sit but they insisted and i was taken to a room on the 2nd floor of the hotel. I was told that they are having a party downstairs and i will not be comfortable there. Of course i did not expect any women to attend the party and hence felt better sitting in a room to have lunch... The food, chicken curry (even though they had a selection ranging from all kinds of Pakistani and Chinese dishes) served by a young flirtatious waiter was extremely delicious! The lunch was uneventful otherwise.

Multan was still 4-6 hours away. My excitement started fazing out when i saw several accidents on the way. Combined with the fact that it was hot and i had forgotten my ID card at home I started worrying a bit. To distract myself I took out my camera and started shooting anything that i found interesting and was possible to be snapped!

Throughout the event I did not notice anything peculiarly different than my previous trips to this region in 1998, 2003, 2004 and 2007 with the exception of dryer rivers and inundation of the region with mobile phone company ads. Politeness, piety, purdah, and poverty, seemed the same, perhaps the later perhaps had increased in the last few years. During the whole journey the only thing I could think of was the sufis, saints and the legendary lovers from Punjab and Sindh who seem to be the biggest source of inspiration and comfort for people who live there.

However, I knew that the notorious Pak-Afghan border region of DI Khan and Wana are not too far and could not stop thinking about the terrorism and its causes. I had also heard about the seeping of such ideologies from the borders to Waziristan and then to Punjab. However, at the same time I could not reconcile with the fact that the lovers love stories and sufi teachings could or would embrace any form of Talibanization. Where do I find an answer to such an anomaly, if there is such such thing. Is the desperation for survival so bad for some people that they would give up their traditions of generations of non violence and agree to blow themselves up to kills others? I could not see any form of such desolation. Of course my trip was too short to make any judgment about what was actually going on there. Should I also try to find my answer in conspiracy theories which purports that the streak of violence in Pakistan is mediated by India and Israel! Whatever the answer is, the fact remains that terrorism is a sad reality of Pakistan and terrorists come in all forms, shapes, colors and ethnic groups. Perhaps my I was also bewildered by the fact that we talk about sufism crushing the slafi brand of Islam but I do not see how that could be done when the followers of saints could be lured to the dogma of vengeance and intolerance.

I guess my journey made me realize that more than terrorism, Pakistan's biggest threat is looming crisis of food, water and power shortages for the fast growing population. The general public seem not to care or know about Blackwater, details of KL bill, the Mehsuds and the Bradars. They just want to survive and let others survive.

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