Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Expect The Unexpected

Boy am I glad to be in Pakistan. That's perhaps not a phrase you expect to hear every day, but it's true. I feel much more welcome here than in India. I don't feel like I'm regarded as a walking cash machine any more. When people come up to talk to you here it's not to cheat you out of your money with some scam or overpriced inanities, or to annoy you with 20 questions without once bothering to listen to your answers. Here they are actually interested in you as a person and what you have to say. Politesse is the rule rather than the exception. It just feels more civilised: the streets are cleaner (there are almost no human turds to negotiate whilst walking along for a start), the traffic, relatively, more ordered, the shops less arbitrary in their pricing policies and you don't need to hang on to the outside of a bus to get a ride. I wonder how this can be so, as I've always been a firm believer of the homogeneity of human nature, and yet here are two countries where the people share a lot of common ground and yet my experience in both is so different.Perhaps I've just been unlucky in India (or lucky in Pakistan), who knows. But it's strange how different the reality of a country is from the image that is built up by the medias. In fact, throughout my journey there is only one thing that has been consistent in my preconceived views of countries: that they (my preconceptions) are always completely and utterly wrong.

So here I am in Lahore ( a name that, no matter how hard I try not to, makes me imagine an upper-class, French call-girl), the cultural capital of Pakistan. And I was made to recognise the fact the minute I arrived at my guesthouse. I had barely signed in when the owner, Malik, a well known figure on the Sufi music circuit, herds everyone together and off we spped to a "Sufi mystical music festival" where we were treated to whirling dervishes, pumping dhol rhythms and some awesome qawwali singing. The next evening Malik wasn't feeling up to going to the festival as he had had a few beers, so instead he brought the festival to the guesthouse by inviting over a Sufi band to jam on the roof just for us. Certainly better than the usual places I've been used to staying in where my pickiness ran along the following lines:

Do you have a bed?
Do you have a roof?
Perfect! I'll take it.

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