I leave Lahore tomorrow, ambivalent about returning to my other life!
It’s been bonanza time for Tidings–I’m bringing back hours of interviews (students, teachers, visionaries, concerned citizens) about education in Pakistan, a Zeitgeisty story given recent revelations about Greg Mortenson and his story in Three Cups of Tea. Education, I am chagrined to say, has never been one of my interests but here, with appalling government neglect, the need is so profound and some of the solutions offered by civil society so interesting, that I found myself drawn in.
Some of the Tidings conversations were with these lovely people:
I quite like living in a medical household again! Dr. Iqbal is the only person I actually knew before I came to Lahore and we have spent hours talking about the ten years when he and my parents were in partnership. “The reason so many people remember your father and your mother,” he told me “is because of all the good things they did.” I had brought photos to share with him, one of them of my parents’ graves in Jerusalem. He looked at it for a long time and said: “Will you join me in prayer for your parents?” He cupped his hands under his chin in the Muslim way, we were silent together until he said “May their souls rest in peace.”
I went to the bazaar with Bilkeez, the household’s woman servant, and her two daughters, with her husband and Zahid the driver and general go-to man, for protection. I had wanted to travel by auto rickshaw rather than by car but was told it was too dangerous: you don’t know who the driver is, you don’t know where they’ll take you and you may get lice or other infections. In the old days we only worried about getting dysentery from unwashed fruit! I love bazaars–they are optimistic places with their chaos, bright lights, excesses of overloaded shelves and unrestrained gaudy, glittering women’s fashions. There are far more bearded men around now; to me they seem fierce and unfriendly as they turn away from meeting a woman’s gaze. All the shopkeepers are men. I’m still thinking about the shopkeeper with the long, black beard standing behind the counter selling ladies’ underwear. “It’s accepted in the culture,” I was told when I wondered why women wouldn’t be embarrassed to shop there. I am glad I didn’t take my camera–I would probably have regretted taking that picture.
Kind friends braved the traffic to drive me up and down the Mall Road, so I could look at the old Punjab Club, Gymkhana Club and Freemason’s Hall (now all well-maintained Government offices), the old Tollington Market (now a heritage site and future arts center), Ferozsons Book shop, Fazal Din the chemist, Rollo the photographer, Goldsmiths the jewelers, Nabee Bux the toy shop, the splendid British Raj General Post Office (there are still a few letter writers plying their trade on the pavement outside) and High Court buildings and the ZamZama or Kim’s Gun immortalized by Rudyard Kipling. They all look as substantial as I remember although some would not protest if a coat or two of paint were applied to them.
Sadia took me shopping and, disappointed that I couldn’t find the tunic shirts (kurtas) I was looking for, surprised me by saying she and Irum are having a tailor stitch three for me. I am waiting as I write for her to bring them to me. Tonight Beena is taking me to Cuckoo’s Den, a restaurant in the former red light district of the Old City operated by well-known artist Iqbal Hussain.
That’s Pakistan for you–and for me!