Monthly Archives: July 2011

Pakistan, the first journey.

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A PASSAGE TO PAKISTAN.

I set off from Heathrow that August. I had gone to a clinic just before boarding the airport bus and been informed that I did not have a fatal disease. Quite good timing. It was indeed good to be spared a terminal illness. It was doubly good not to be going abroad for a couple of months in the knowledge that I had a dreaded malady.

I fly with Turk Hava Yollari – Turkish Airlines as they are now. I remember nothing of the flight out. I spent a couple of hours in Istanbul airport. As I walked from the aircraft through the disembarkation bridge I came into the terminal. Suddenly I was dazzled by blazing light and strong heat. I thought at that moment that the sun of Asia had hit me. It was a foretaste of Pakistan. Of course many Turks will tell you their country is EUROPEan and not Asia. I think that that is balderdash.

I flew on through the night to Pakistan. I sat beside a Pakistani who was perhaps ten years older than me. He was tall, slim, good-looking and attired in a  cheap dark blue western suit. I tried to strike up a conversation with him. He waved his hand from side to side and indicated he spoke no English. He managed to communicate that he spoke only Italian because he had lived there for several years. How odd –  a Pakistani who spoke Italian without first having learnt English.

To my other side was a cute, slender young blonde. She was Danish and like your average Scandinavian spoke flawless English – in her case with an unmistakable American accent. Her nose stud, hair bandana and tie dye skirt marked her out as a Hippy chick and no doubt a believer in the virtues of free love. It was a shame I did not keep in touch with her. She went to an Atlantic college. She had a Pakistani friend at school and she was going to visit her. THE delectable Dane told me she wanted to go on to study art.

As the plane slowed down and circled around to land I began to ask myself what I was doing. What a place to visit. Pakistan fascinated me as did South Asia in general. I was curious about the new military government. My money would go far in this poverty-stricken land. However, an Islamic state seldom attracts the fun crowd. I had been offered to do on a debauched lad’s holiday to Thailand with Thomas and Horace my prep school mates. I had turned it down. I had hoodwinked my old school out of a few hundred pounds to go to Pakistan on the basis that I would be retracing the footsteps of an old boy of the school who had carved out the British Raj and given the jihadis what for well over a century before.  In fact I would not be venturing into the tribal areas as I did not wish to have my testicles stuffed in my mouth but I did not tell the travel grants commission that. I could easily have spent the loot on sleazing it up down the decadent dens of Patpong. I could have penned a tale of daring in the Hindu Kush and sent it back to the travel grants committee. But muggins here passed off the opportunity to defraud the old school and I did more or less as I said I would. I did at least visit the right country.

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ARRIVAL

I landed in Pakistan’s Quaid i Azam International Airport late at night. This is the main port of entry of the whole country and is in Karachi – the largest city though not the capital. The airport was clean, calm and well-organised – the very opposite of the rest of the country. In the queue I met some wiry Danes who were there for rock climbing. I saw some Asiatic men with those wind-burnt features that speak of steppe, desert and snow-bound peaks. One of these men of indeterminate race had a curly grey beard just starting to go grey. He spoke good English and I noticed he held a Danish passport but he told me he was Afghani. Many Afghan refugee fetched up in that liberal land and became citizens. Denmark being the country that gave the world Danish bacon, outre porn and the highest rate of birth outside wedlock it was the antithesis of the medievally intolerant world of ultra-Islamism that was Afghanistan at that time.

I went through customs without having drugs planted on me. Before I knew it I was out in the arrivals hall. I prayed that the cash machines would be generous. It worked for me. Soon I had picked a hotel from my Lonely Planet guide – borrowed from the library. Before I knew it I was in a cab driving through the empty streets towards Hotel Dubai. As we left the airport car park I noticed a small military base. This made an immediate impression on me. Here was a country where the military had a conspicuous presence. I must confess to being an enthusiast for the rule of General Musharaff.

Around midnight the car parked outside the hotel I had selected. It was for the price and location that I chose it. The driver rattled the locked slide across metal gate. The receptionist came down and in I was. The hotel was grotty but that was what I had been expecting. The lavatory was a squat pot –  well not a pot, a squat hole in the ground but that does not rhyme. I had studiously avoided using these the year before in India. I had crossed cities to avoid them before. This time I got used to them.

The grime encrusted carpet and bad taste decor made the whole experience oddly exotic.

The next day I checked into a neighbouring hotel that was a little cheaper. The new hotel was no worse than the first I got to know the area well. Despite the postal address the place was known as Iraq Road. The streets were grey and the sun was bright. There were innumerable dingey shops selling electrical goods and hideous western clothes. There was  strong preference for sickly colours.There were power cuts most days and then countless generators would start up and create a din as they spewed out dark fumes. The atmosphere was almost inky.

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SOME OBSERVATIONS

Although I am no fan of Islam I will say this for it – it does encourage kindness towards outsiders. I was very well-treated by Pakistanis. The great majority were helpful and generous to me despite being much poorer than me. The hotel staff all wore Pakistani clothing. In quiet periods they crouched on the floor behind the reception desk to eat food from plates on a tray. They asked me to join them and they fed me. I asked on whom he thought was the best ruler of Pakistan. He said Zia ul-Haq. I asked why and he said because he enforced Islam strongly. One of the receptionists was a slim and dark skinned young man  with a pointy short beard named Suleiman. He told me he was a Christian. I was surprised but of course they are Pakistanis too and why should they not wear ordinary Pakistani clothes? His name is a version of Solomon. He was a Protestant to be exact.

Nine out of ten people I saw on the streets were male. I was to discover that in the hinterland this amount of female presence on the streets would have been considered scandalous. Yet there were some women around.I went to an internet cafe that was run by a young woman. Here in Karachi at least one could see a female face. I found the higher up society one went the more broad-minded people were. The illiterate classes were the most obsrucantists in their religious observances. They tried to gain respectability by being ultra puritan.

I saw some well-appointed buildings such as the Supreme Court of Sindh. I notice the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys of Pakistan Club. What about the Old Girls’? I went into St Patrick’s Cathedral. It was the day of the last Empress of India’s hundredth birthday. There was a statue of the saint of our isle at the gate. There he stood robed in a green vestement, crowned with a mitre, bishop’s crook in hand with his face finished off with a sage’s white beard. One Sunday I was so bored stiff that I actually heard mass. As I WAITEd I was spoken to by an old Pakistani. This slim, bearded man wore glasses and a pale blue shalwar kameez. This surprised me as for some unknown reason I assumed that Pakistani Christians would wear western garb. Why? Christianity has nothing to do with such clothes. He asked me to make a donation to the church. I opened my wallet and I had only  rather large denomination banknote. I said I had only something big. ”But this is for the church” he insisted. There was not a bat’s squeak of embarrassment about asking in his voice. Faced with that authoritative tone I handed over 1 000 rupees. He quickly put it in his wallet. I do not know if it ever saw the inside of the Church’s coffers. Only now do I wonder if I was had.

When mass started I saw that almost every other person wore traditional Pakistani attire too.

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THE SIGHTS.

I spent a couple of days visiting various sites in that huge city. I went to thE qUAID i Azam Mausoleum. The Mausoleum was bright white – the only clean thing in a fairly unwashed and tatty city. It is built up high – almost like a pyramid. I was a little underwhelmed. The Mausoleum though dignified is not large. One climbs many steps to it and the traffic whirls around manically below. Inside the Mausoleum those who come to pay their respects to the dear, departed father of the nation do so in soft tones. Four sailors stood sentry – one at each corner of the tomb. The Quaid was in many ways the heir to the Mughal emperors. These were Muslim emperors who ruled India from about 1500 to 1707. His mausoleum is a cheap imitation of theirs. Like their tombs in Delhi and elsewhere at the centre of it lies his actual tomb – a stone coffin inlaid with grouted leafwork imagery. It is very poignant to me. Whatever feats one may have achieved in life – however magnificient one was in the end one is just a man and a dead one at that. That is the symbolism I divine from a tomb so small. Every two minutes the officer in charge of the sailors gave a blast on the whistle and they would stomp to a new position, changing corners. They went around in a circle as it were. I felt that the whistle blowing rather detracted from the silent solemnity of the place.

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WHO WAS THE QUAID-I-AZAM?

Quaid-i-Azam is a name that is applied to many buildings and institutions in Pakistan. It means ”The Great Leader”. It is a title given to Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He was the first Governor-General of Pakistan and the Speaker of the National Assembly. The Governor-General was more or less the Head of State. In fact the British monarch was the Head of State of Pakistan until Pakistan became a republic in 1956. Until that time the Governor-General exercised the competence of the Head of State on behalf of the far distant monarch just as happens in Australia today.

Without going too far into a history lesson, Jinnah was the man without whom Pakistan almost certainly would not have been created. It was he who turned the Muslim League from being an organisation campaigning for Indian Muslims to being an organisation that campaigned for Indian Muslims to have a country called Pakistan. Jinnah died within a year of Pakistan becoming an independent country. His emaciated and frowning features adorn many a room in Pakistan.

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GOING NATIVE

I had a light blue shalwar kameez run up for me. The smiling little bearded tailor had a black mark on his forehead. I was soon to figure out why so many Pakistanis have these. As they lean forward for their orisons they rest weight on their foreheads as they touch the ground. This black mark develops from putting weight on it when in the attitude of prayer and it seen as a badge of pride – the surefire mark of a pious MuSLim.

I spent a couple of hours in a fruitless attempt to get some student railpass. I spent some of the time perusing ”Pakistan – a dream gone sour” by Roedad Khan. The title says it all. Khan came from the NORTh West Frontier Province of Pakistan. He was a leftist supporter of the Pakistan movement in the 1940s. He became a civil servant and rose to the top of the bureaucracy in Pakistan. He served the political masters of the day despite his misgivings about all of them. This book is intriguing – an insider’s view of what happened at the top of Pakistani politics. He praises Zia ul-Haq’s personal integrity and modesty as contrasting with  Z A Bhutto’s bombast and snootiness. He observes that the referendum that gave Zia ul-Haq a supposed mandate to rule was largely a sham. In the end the book is a lugubrious comment from an honourable administrator. The outlook for Pakistan looks bleak. It has got even bleaker since that book was published.

As I was intending to be in the country for over a month I had to register with the police. I took a hotel receptionist with me to sort it out. We were in the police HQ. I had to wait a couple of hours. A small bribe got this down to about 10 minutes.

I went into a bank for some reason. It was in a small tower building – the Shaeehen Complex. Shaheen means eagle and is the name of one the Pakistan’s nuclear missile systems. I am not sure whether this building was named in honour of the Pak nuclear programme or not. The handsome young teller saw I had a guide-book and voiced surprise that I WAS trying to get around Pakistan with the aid only of that slim volume. He told me his name was Shadab and gave me his number. I leapt at this overture of friendship.

I called Shadab later. I asked him what he made of the military regime, ”actually we shouldn’t even be talking about this stuff on the phone.” It was  telling reply. The walls had ears. He spoke about one of his colleagues, ”you know that female who was sitting beside me at the bank?” I cannot remember what he said about her but I remember her being pretty. This phrase has stuck in my mind because of the Subcontinental distinctiveness of the usage of the word female.

I went to meet Shadab at a hotel where a computer fair was on. A Pathan taxi driver took me there and then refused to take a fare, ”you – guest.” I was impressed by this extraordinary liberality towards a rich infidel. I sat in the lobby and read  current affairs magazine. A slim and oily young Pakistani minced over to me. He wore tight trousers and a shiny shirt. Long, lank hair was swept down diagonally across his forehead. ”Bitte schon”, he greeted me in German. He then gabbled a bit of German at me  a language I did not understand at tht stage of my life. He then switched into English and told me he was a teacher of German. He eyed me in a disconcerting manner. He smiled at me with his twisted gappy teeth and fluttered his suspiciously long lashes. I could tell he was as queer as a three pound note. I am not anti-gay but prefer for gays not to crack on to me. How could I intimate to him that I was not interested without accusing him of a felony? Only now do I look back and wonder if he was a rent boy who tried to pick up clients at the hotel.

Just in time Shadab showed up. The gay said he wanted to spend some time with me. Shadab told him firmly that I had to come with him and had no timesit there. Off we went. Shadab looked at some computers but bought nothing. HE Was quiet at first and I feared it would be a dull evening. Fortunately I had misjudged things and he became more loquacious. He told me he was doing and MBA. He asked me if I know what it was ANd I did. He drove me to the Clifton Beach area that evening. We had some fruit drinks. Shadab told me why it was good that Pakistan had been created –  the Indians would not give them rights. I thought that this was so much tosh and that it was Pakistan that discriminated against its religious minorities whilst India did not. However, I kept my mouth shout on that one. This habit of keeping my opinions to myself was something I was going to have to get used to in Pakistan. He talked about joining the Pakistan Army. I thought if he was going to do so he would have done so already. Again, I kept shtum about that one. He had his elder brother with him – I shall call him Javid. Javid did not speak such good English and worked with their father in the family carpet business. Shadab was 26 and short compared to me. He had good features and had been a male model. In the car I asked if they were Punjabis – no. WERE THEY Mohajirs – wow! They were clearly impressed that I knew of their community. Their father had fled Shahjahanapur in India at the time of partition. They are URDU SPEAking. Their language is Hindi written in Persian script and with some Persian words. It is the official language of Pakistan but only Mohajirs speak it as their day-to-day language. They are a majority in Karachi and a few cities in southern Sindh. In the rest of the country they are a small minority.

Shadab and his brother told me about walking through shopping malls to try to pick up ”chicks”. Their pronunciation of chicks was a little off and their lame imitation of Western culture was to me contemptible. However, I felt sorry for them. Here they were in a Muslim country only trying to live with the freedom I took for granted. They were at least freer than most other Pakistanis. They lived in the most liberal city and had money. He took me to his house  in the prestigious Defence Colony district and had me wait with his brother by the door. He went around into the garden – presumably to ask permission of his parents. Then he introduced me to his parents. His father was about 70 and very tidy – his hair slicked to the side. He wore Western clothes and had a packet of cigarettes in his breast pocket. His mother was decorously reticent and smiling and wore Pakistani dress. The family consisted of three boys of whom Shadab was the youngest and a little sister who was a hefty teenager. She beamed but did not say a word to me. That would have been tantamount to fornication.

The father on hearing I studied history said – ”History – Henry VIII marry a girl and next day he cut the head off.” I couldn’t help thinking maybe he was conflating Tudor history with Arabian Nights. I did not think it prudent to correct him. Henry VIII never executed a woman before he was married to her for at least 2 years.

There was another Pakistani couple there who were having a bit of a spat. They lapsed into Urdu which was discourteous. They warned me to be careful in Pakistan – not to be too trusting of people.

The father was a serious-minded man who spoke very directly. THEY asked me what I did. I was an undergraduate. They asked where. When they heard I went to Oxford SHadab mouthed ”wow” at me.

They treated me to some mango ice cream and some other flavour. They asked which I liked better. When I said mango a cry of delight went up.

Shadab told me he did not drink his whole family did not. He showed me around the whole house. It was large and well furnished over three floors. He showed me a photo of a relative who played cricket for Pakistan. He was showing off in a way that I considered to be poor form and distinctly immature. He was plainly elated to have a white friend. I was a status symbol. On the roof of the house he smoked but said he never did so in front of his father because that would be disrespectful. He took a meditative drag on his cigarette, ”Islam is a very hard religion. It says if a boy does not pray after the age of 12 to bet him.” He was surprised I was so young – he thought I was much older. Looking back at the photos of me then I look so boyish. I realised how free I was – how free of my family. Shadab disliked being told what to do by his father but he nevertheless went along with it. I felt like suggesting he move out but thought the better of it.

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DANGERS

On the main street near my hotel a wizened little old Pakistani with a silvery beard asked me if I wished to buy hashish. I loudly refused. I always made a show of saying no in a very emphatic and stentorian manner. I wanted there to be no way anyone could accuse me of buying drugs. If I had I probably would have been arrested on the street corner. Dealers are often partners of the police – setting people up to get nicked for a share of the bride the imprudent Westerner pays to get out of chokey.

I often went about my cab as I did not know the bus system. There is no underground railway there. The city of ten million souls is crying out for one. The traffic is very overcrowded and the lack of road sense makes for a veritable demolition derby. The city is so polluted by exhaust fumes that the atmosphere would almost choke an ashtmatic. On Sundays the roads are pleasantly empty. SOMETimes a taxi driver would not understand what I was saying. He would get out and call over the first man in a shirt-pant he saw, ”bhai sahib” – meaning ”brother sir”  which is a polite way to address a stranger. Wearing a shirt and trousers rather than Pakistani clothing marked on out as an office worker and therefore one who spoke English. The office worker would be asked to translate.

I did take a bus on one occasion. I was wearing my spanking new shalwar kameez. There was no door to the bus – an open doorway. This was dangerous because someone could fall out but Pakistanis are indifferent to safety. It is all the will of god and they just accept that. In a country of 150 000 – many of them in dire poverty – with a rapidly growing population life is cheap. The black of doors and the glassless windows brought welcome ventilation in the packed and otherwise stifling bus. The passengers were almost all male. Female passengers sit in the front near the driver. SOME affable English-speaking Pakistanis spoke to me. They told me about their work in various companies. They handed me business cards and asked me to contact them should anything go wrong. I got off the bus and immediately felt a sharp prick in my finger my right ring finger. I ignored it and walked on. Then I notice drops of blood on my shalwar kameez. Blood was pouring fairly fast from my finger. I felt I was bleeding like a shaheed. The handle by the doorway of the bus must have had some sharp part to the metal. I had gripped it as I descended. I was close to my hotel. I got home and cleaned and bandage the wound. I was a little worried as Karachi is not a clean place and that handle on the bus doorway must have been filthy.

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THE OUTGOING BROTHERS WHOSE NAMES I FORGET.

In a a low grade restaurant I dined on greasy rise and lamb curry – my favourite Pakistani dish. The table had a wipe clean plastic table cloth. Cauldrons of food bubbled away happily. On the next table two boys about my age chatted to me. They wore tasteless western clothes and they had the Pakistani habit of turning and spinning their hands to show the palm – pointing the middle finger and forefinger at their interlocutor as they spoke to emphasise a point. They spoke fractured English and invited me to their house. When I went by cab to their house the next day I saw Pakistani flags were everywhere as Independence day was coming up.

I got to their house near Shaheed-i-Millet Street. This name means ”martyr of the nation.” It was not a handsome house. It had two storeys a courtyard.  They brought me into their drawing-room. It was large and largely empty with bare white walls and a bland carpet. The two brothers were of modest stature. They greeted me with a handshake. As they shook my hand they would put their left hand on their heart in token of their sincerity. I notice many Pakistanis doing this and I started to copy it. It took me a little while to shake off the habit when I got back to the British Isles. One of them said to me, ”you are very beautiful you know.” He was far from beautiful himself although I did not give him the benefit of my assessment of his pulchritude. His comment was not making a pass at me. In a country where boys hardly get to see girls and homosexuality is not acknowledge they become un-self-conscious and recognising male beauty. They had an elder brother with a full beard. He looked normal but did not make eye contact. He did not speak so much as grunt. They explained that their big brother had mental problems. One time they got a phone call from the police in Chaman on the border with Iran. Their brother was found on a bus to Iran. They used his identity card to found out where he lived. The big brother had got on the bus for no particular reason.

Their mother and sister came in carrying trays of tea and snacks. These females wore Pakistani clothes with a headscarf draped loosely over their hair. They were short and fat. They looked ugly and semi-Chinese. I suspect that some inbreeding had gone on. In Pakistan it is quite acceptable for first cousin to marry first cousin. Moreover, sister and sister marry brother and brother from the cousin’s family.  For example Prince William marries Princess Beatrice and Prince Harry marries Princess Eugenie. Then this is repeated down the generations. The daughter of William and Beatrice marries the son of Harry and Eugenie. They keep doing this – reinforcing and reinforcing bad genes. I know that European royal families have done this. Elizabeth II is the second cousin to her husband Prince Philip. However, marrying first cousins has been taboo since William and Mary although it is not illegal. Since the 1940s the British Royal Family has at least eschewed endogamy.

One of the brothers suggested that I go into the clothing business with them. I told them I knew nothing about it and did not wish to. They accepted that straightaway. Later they told me what they made of General Pervez Musharaff. It is as though the butcher who kill the goat try to become the barber who cut the hair. He told me that the British rAJ WAS very good and excellent government. They expressed support for the late President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, ”ok he was corrupt – little bit” he conceded.

These boys were amicable and giving as are so many Pakistanis. We went for a walk to a hilltop park. In the playground I notice a model of a nuclear missile. The Pakistanis were so thrilled that they had become a nuclear power that they were enthusing even toddlers with the joys of mutually assured destruction. Whereas buses in India are adorned with colourful  kitsch portraits of Hindu deities in Pakistan buses are covered in images of nuclear missiles. They paint the missiles in dark green army camouflage. Why? SO you do not see it as it hurtles through the sky at 10 000 miles an hour? So you do not see it when they parade it through the streets on Independence Day?

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I FOLLOWED MY NOSE TO THE NORTH, TO THE NORTH.

I decided to go north. I went to the railway station the day before to purchase a ticket. As I queued beside the scrum at the ticket counter a Pakistani approached me. He was about 5’8”, slight, very pale for his nationality and he had a comically oversized moustache. He was Masood. He was a 27-year-old accountant and he wore what Pakistanis call a shirt-pant. That is to say Western clothes – a shirt and pair of smart trousers. It was a dark green hair of trousers rather too big for him – Pakistanis always seem to wear belts with trousers even when they do not need them. I dislike this. Above his billowing trosuers was a very pale green shirt. He looked like Borat’s shorter bother. He asked me where I was going. I told him to Garhi Khuda Bakhsh Bhutto, Moenjodaro and Larkana and he told me he was going in that direction and he suggested we travel together. He seemed trustworthy and perhaps rashly I accepted. I was still not sure I would go with him.

However, on the evening in question I did show up at the railway station just in time. I had been going by taxi and thought I might be late. I considered that this could be a positive thing because of course Masood might be up to no good. In the event I got there on time. The station was not large or imposing. Masood was waiting eagerly on the platform for me. The tickets were little pieces of grey cardboard.

I boarded the train. The difference between Pakistani trains and Indian trains is immediately apparent. Pakistani trains are much worse. This one hadn’t been repaired in years and was none too clean. The whole contraption creaked. I only remember seeing mail passengers. Ere long our train was rattling its way northwards. I spoke to Masood a little but was still withdrawn – not knowing whether he was an honest person or not. I spoke to a plump off duty Pakistani policeman who was in our carriage wearing a shalwar kameez. He resembled a teddy bear. He had dark skin for a Pakistani and thick hair. His bushy moustache set off his impressive pectoral beard. He told me he was part of the police anti-corruption cell. Pakistani certainly needs to combat corruption being one of the most corrupt countries on earth according to the IMF.

I drifted to sleep on my bunk. I awoke in the morn as dawn broke over a pink sky. Soon we got off at the station for Mohenjo-Daro. This is a town so well known that even my spell check recognises it! Not having been robbed by Masood in my sleep I began to trust him and speak more freely to him. The sun rose rapidly as so did the temperature.

We ate in a tiny unclean little restaurant in the village. The tables and chairs were plastic and tawdry ads for coca cola adorned the place. Some wretched beggars gathered outside. I said to Masood should I give something to one poor old woman. If you do then everyone will come. I heeded his advice. This old woman was brazen enough to show her face. I notice that every woman here – and there were not many about – wore a blue all over burqa outfit. A gauze in front of the eyes allowed her to see out. I was hardly to see a female face between Mohenjo-Daro and Lahore. I had grown up in the middle East where females nromally go out under a black abaya – hiding their face. I had never thought about living under fundamentalist Islam from a female perspective. Now I did. ”They are treated like prisoners” I protested. Masood’s face expressed discomfort. ”It is their tradition you know”, he demured. Looking back on it I feel sorry for him and I feel guilty about my tactlessness. Masood had some sympathy for my point of view but at the same time felt honour bound to defend the customs of his nation. I had put him in an invidious position. I thought it was dreadful that these poor ladies were not even allowed to show their faces. Of course if one grows up in such a society and everyone else behaves like that one may never question it. One may accept it or indeed be positively happy. One may see it as honourable to maintain feminine purity beneath the veil. It is just like in Western culture girls go out on the town of a Saturday night clad in no more than hotpants and a boob tube. For us this is normal and even commendable. One seldom questions it. These Pakistani ladies may feel sorry for the Western womenfolk who feel pressurised to expose themselves to such shameful lasciviousness. However, I suspect, given an equal choice, most women in the world would opt for something closer to Western mores. At the very least it must be fearfully hot under those robes. On that day it was getting very hot – especially when lugging my rucksack and other bag around. I had foolishly worn black  jeans – black, just the colour to attract the heat.

.A bus load of German tourists went past to the ancient ruins. I am not sure how I knew they were German. Masood found out for the locals that once a week a charter flight came to the local airport carrying a planeload of gora log grockles. Gora log means ”white people.”

We went on by horse-drawn carriage a mile or two. Then wer came to the mounds and ancient streets. The houses still stood but the roofs did not. I had read about this ancient town since I WAS 9. It is about the oldest town in South Asia. It is not very memorable. A boy 100m from the ruins tended a camel. The boy paid no attention to the ruin or me. I suppose he had lived there all his life and the ruins meant nothing to him. Apart from the camel herd we had the place completely to ourselves. Masood went off to answer a call of nature and squatted down in the bushes.

We had been able to leave out bags at the two floored rectangular musesum there. Later we looked around its uninspiring exhibits of shards of pottery recovered in aracheological digs. I saw a plaque commemorating the fact that President Ayub Khan had been graciously pleased to perform a tour of inspection there in th 1960s.

We went on to Larkana. We got there by bus. We rode on the roof of the bus. It barreled along the narrow road at a good 40 miles an hour. There were perhaps 50 inside the bus and 20 on the roof – and a crate of chickens. The trees were just about head height as I sat. The bus conductor climbed out the window and collected the fares. He held on with one hand and then took the money with his free hand. Then, to my horror, he let go of the bus and just balanced as he counted the takings. I do not know how he didn’t tumbled over and dash his skull open on the tarmac. It was certainly some way to travel – an exhilarating experience. This was air con class! It was a ride to dine out on. Shade trees lined the road and drainage ditches were there for when the monsoon came. We passed many houses. Often they were made from reeds or were on room shacks. The people here were dirt poor. The landscape was very flat but the fields were emerald bright with rice and crops.

We got down at Larkana. I put my rucksack on my back and under the noon sun I was soon perspiring liberally. I was reminded of the line in Lawrence of Arabia about the Nafud Desert – it is the sun’s anvil. Here the sun hammered down on me. We walked through the shabby streets with open sewers. The stinking black water there made a gruesome sight. The odd dank side street that we passed looked at least to be seductively cool. People started when they saw me. ”They are surprising to see you” , noted Masood. Maybe 1 in 10 000 people in Karachi is white. In the interior of SINDH It must be more like 1 in 1 000 000. We went into a pharmacy for some reason. The air conditioning was a blessed relief. The pharmacy seemed incongruous – an limpid island of Western civilisation in a rather primitive and very poor town.

We got a taxi to Garhi Khuda Bahksha Bhutto. This village is the ancestral home of the Bhutto clan. We passed many black banners hung from tree to tree across the road. The banners bore slogans in Urdu which Masood told me related to the Bhuttos. He told me ”you would not have found without me”. He was only too right.

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GARHI KHUDA BAHKSH BHUTTO.

As I WANted to find this place in SINDH I had th right man. He was a Sindi and from the village of Dhairki. Dhairki is in the north of the province near the border with the Punjab. In this area of north Sindh they speak Seraiki. He spoke SERaiki and Sindhi at home. He learnt Urdu as the national language. He spoke English. I believe he spoke Punjabi as he lived in Lahore. He wished to learn Farsi as many people in the North West Frontier Province speak that tongue.

I had also chosen the right man as his family were supporters of the Bhuttos – like most people in SINDh. If I had asked someone who backed the wrong party I would have been given short shrift. Pakistani politics was very polarised between the Pakistan People’s Part and the Muslim League. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is an heirloom of the Bhutto family. Masood told me when the 1988 election was held he was 19. The voting aged was 21. He had three  ID cards all with his right name but all saying he was 21. He voted three times. I asked if the senior PPP officials were aware that he cheated on their behalf. I wanted to believe that the PPP high command were not in on the electoral fraud. He said they must have been because they wanted credit from the leader Benzair Bhutto for getting as many votes as possible even if by unfair means. If is perhaps churlish to moralize. If the other party was cheating its arse off they may as well play dirty too. If they do not then they will be disadvantaged and have no hope of winning. Masood grew disillusioned with the PPP’s corruption. They turned out to be little better than the PML (Pakistan Muslim League) or the military government of General Zia ul-Haq. He was no longer involved in politics.

There was a huge flattened rally ground in front of a very large building. The large building was edged in turquoise and midnight blue tiles. There were many public lavatory cubicles. It gave me some idea of how many people gathered here for political speeches. The building had only a ground floor and there was a first floor which had been started but abandoned. The caretaker told Masood the situation and he translated. The PPP government built this mausoleum when they were in office. When the PPP lost office the project was discontinued. The PML government were not going to pay taxpayers’ rupees to honour the leader of the PPP. Inside that building were the graves of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his ancestors. This Mausoleum is supposed to be PPP’s answer to the Mausoleum of the Qaid-i-Azam. The PPP have accorded Z A Bhutto the title of Quaid-i-Awam – ”the leader of the people.” None but a PPP partisan uses that term though. While Jinnah is a man who is near universally exalted in Pakistan, Z A Bhutto is a deeply divisive figure. Z A Bhutto was Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1971 and then from 1972 to 1977 President of Pakistan. There is something to be said for him but much to be said against. He was overthrown by the military in 1977. He was found guilty of murder. He is widely believed to have ordered the assassination of many of his opponents. However, it is generally held that he was not guilty of the particular killing of which he was convicted. It begs the question – why not charge him was a murder he actually committed? WOuldn’t that be a lot more just and better for the image of the military regime. I do not understand. Anyway he was sentenced to death and despite a chorus of appeals for clemency from most governments he suffered death by hanging in 1979. I am against the death penalty but have little sympathy for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Anyone who models themselves on Mao Zedong is dangerous indeed. He did at least avoid a flirtation with Islamic fundamentalism – this was to stain the reputation of his successor – General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq.

PML members supported the military government. The urged Chief Martial Law Administrator Zia ul-Haq to do away with the wretched Bhutto. They were jubilant at the death of Z A Bhutto. They handed out sweets to mark the occasion. Being Pharisaic Muslims they could not crack open the champagne although it would not surprise me if a few did that in private. Though much of the Pakistani elite professes Islam they often thin that obeying its strictures – like taxes – are for the little people.

I walked into the large building with a very high ceiling. The floor was tawny earth. I saw several small graves. This had been a typical outdoor graveyard. During Benazir Bhutto’s time as Prime Minister they began to construct this huge building over the graveyard. She served twice — 1988-1990 and then again 1993-96. I think it was during her second term of office that the built this building or rather half-built it.

A Bhutto family retainer was there. He did not speak English and spoke to Masood. Like just about everyone in the interior of Sindh he wore Pakistani clothes and had a moustache. He showed us Zulfiaqr Ali Bhutto’s grave. It was a high tomb such as one would see in a European graveyard for a rich man –  a big rectangular box. There was an embroidered satin cloth on it edged in cloth of gold. The dulcet smell of flowers wafted around the place. Masood bought more flowers there to scatter and add to the powerful aroma. The graves of various other members of the family were there stretching back some generations. The Mausoleum building was perhaps 100m by 100m.

When Z A Bhutto was given the long drop his corpse was flown from the now demolished Rawalpindi Prison to a nearby airfield at Larkana. Bhutto family retainers met his coffin. One of the servants who had known him since boyhood described the cadaver of the martyred Bhutto, ”He looked like he did when he was 16 – his face shone like a pearl.” Then it was taken by helicopter to the village where after namaaz i janaza – family prayers – he was interred. Little did I know when I visited that grave that his daughter was also to be killed prematurely.

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SUKKUR

Masood and I traveled by minibus to Sukkur. I sat in the very back. Two children – a girl and boy – sat in front of me. I think I had been given the biggest seat but still the leg room was insufficient. I almost had my knees up my nostrils. I had to sit diagonal to try to squeeze in and even then my knees were jammed against the seat in front. I was uncomfortable. I was hot, tired, dehydrated and irritated after the day. I had seen a lot though.

Fortunately we soon got to Sukkur. It sits astride a large river. We walked over a bridge and saw boats made of reeds. Thick rushes lined the rushing river. Looking at those muddy waters I was struck by the strange serenity of the place. I asked Masood to take a photo of me there. He said he could not because the bridge was considered a military installation and we may be arrested on suspicion of espionage. Pakistan had a poor relationship with India. Pakistan often said the Research and Analysis Wing (the Indian secret service) was spying on them. No doubt it was. As we passed the bridge I saw a teenage boy in a black shalwar kameez shirt and white trousers. Masood informed me that one could tell from the boys garments that he was a Shia. Shia are the minority Muslim sect. About 10% of Muslims worldwide are Shia. I suspect that in Pakistan it is lower than this. Curiously some of the most prominent Pakistani families have been Shia – the Jinnahs and the Bhuttos. There is some extreme anti-Shia bigotry among a handful of Pakistani Sunnis. There have been cases where Shias have been murdered by Sunnis for sectarian reasons in recent years in Pakistan. Surely the fact that the founder of the nation was a Shia must stand them in good stead. On the other hand for Sunni extremists Shias are not even Muslims and furthermore the Quaid was a bad man for making Pakistan merely a homeland for Muslims instead of an Islamic State. The Hardliners wanted Sharia law to be the law of Pakistan. Frighteningly in some regards it is now the law of the land as well as the law of the Koran.

In Sukkur we found a place that would let us take a shower for a few pennies in little cubicles. I needed that! The dusty streets wound this way and that. Sukkur is the site of a barrage across the river and in the event of a fourth Indo-Pak War it would be a top target for the Indian Air Force.

Masood told me about dacoits – pronounced ”DA – kooz”. These are bandits who roam the interior of Pakistan. These armed robbers once stopped a bus that Masood’s brother was travelling on in the middle of the night. The dacoits took everyone’s wallets but did not harm anyone. I became a little worried. I knew that Westerners had been kidnapped in Pakistani for ransom money. My father had voice this concern before my departure.

We found our way to a bus to go to his home village. I said I would only get on if I could get a seat and it looked jam-packed. WE climbed aboard and Masood asked a man to vacate his set because I was a guest. The man happily did so. They are an exceptional people, the Pakistanis. Try doing that in the British Isles. Excuse me Mr Britisher, would you please give up your seat to this 20-year-old because he is a Pakistani and we want to be nice to foreigners. You would be lucky to escape with an unbroken nose. I sat down and savoured the seat, it was amply big. As usual on Pakistani public transport everyone I saw was male. Everyone had either a beard or moustache. They probably all wore Pakistani wear. Well what would one expect. In America they mostly wear American clothes and not Pakistani clothes. I was aware that being white, clean-shaven and in Western clothes I stood out like a syphilitic prick. I was worried that someone might tip-off the dacoits that there was a good ransom to be had.

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DHAIRKI

Our bus roared down the road as evening drew on. It was a journey of up to an hour. It was close to sunset when we alighted in his home village of Dhairki. As I got off the bus by the front door I saw a hijra climbing onto the back door. She, as they are known, is a transsexual. Normally they are castrated men. She was wearing a garish dress of purple, pink and violet. She was adorned with too much makeup making her look very pale but that is what rings their bell in Pakistan. SHE WAS short and rotund. Her face was not ugly though. She stood hanging on by the handle to the back door facing her public. She cried out gaily in her raspy, scratchy voice. Several men looked at her excitedly and hooted their merriment. She blatantly was enjoying the attention. It is too bizarre for words. In a land of the strictest moral represssion it is unacceptable to see a woman even in body hugging or semi-revealing clothes. Homosexuality is punishable by life imprisonment. Yet for a man to be castrated and to titillate sexually frustrated youths is quite permissible. These poor boys could eye her up and lust after her and persuade themselves that they were not really gay because ‘she’ did not have balls or perhaps a dick. I asked Masood why someone would become a hijra. ”For money” he said. I had seen plenty of hijras in India but India is not at vehemently illiberal as Pakistan on sexual matters. Hijras exist for religious reasons there – to be present at the birth of a child and absorb any homosexual tendencies the child – if a boy – might otherwise have. A few Pakistani and even Indian men pay for anal sex with hijras. Masood had told me about the chalk and paint messages on many mud buildings we passed by on the train. These messages mentioned sexually transmitted diseases and how to cure them.

There was a main road bisecting Dhairki. A few rundown restaurants and grim little shops lined it. We walked down a couple of unpaved and unlit streets to his house. Everyone wore Pakistani clothing here. Most of the houses were made of mud. It was a small one storey buildings and I only ever saw two rooms of it beside the bathroom. The house was cluttered with old wooden chairs, grimey sofas and one small bed. The floor was of turquoise stone with speckles of different colours decorating it. The white walls were bare. An old television set flickered in the corner. I met maybe 20 of his relatives only one of whom stands out in memory’s view. I did not meet a single male relative of his – not even a baby. His male relatives were, in some cases, comically hairy. Their jet black beards were so dense that these men looked like little bears with hair coming out almost from their eyes.

I was served a tasty meal there. One of Masood’s relations carried it in on a tray. It had been brought in from the female quarters. The ladies of the house observed strictest purdah. Purdah is the Urdu for ‘curtain’. That is to say these live away from the eyes of men. They go out as little as possible and when they do they do so only under the cover of their burqa. This is considered an honourable way to live. They took me to one of those roadside cafes for a treat. In a manky little restaurant on wooden benches we were served what they called falooda milk. It came in old coke bottles. I drank some and instantly disliked it. This slightly yellow milk was discoloured by the nuts and spices they had put into it. I found it impossible to hide my distaste. My hosts took it well. I never tried that drink again.

That evening we sat on some chairs outside his little house. Under the stars we chatted a little. Some of his relatives spoke some ENGLISH. Masood acted as interpreter much of the time. He told me his ancestors came from Turkey. Perhaps they were Turkic people from Afghanistan or another Central Asian country. His father died some years before. His father had been very pro-British for running the government so well – ”my father LOVE the Britishers.” I have only known Indians and Pakistanis to use the word Britishers. I have started to use it too.

I remember one of his relatives. This youth stands out in mind as he was the only one without a beard or moustache. Perhaps because he was too young at 17 to grow one. He was fairly dark-skinned, lean and wore glasses – sometimes. HIS hair was carefully brushed and he sat byronically. He spoke a little English but was timid. Masood told me this boy had been married for two years but had no children yet. Masood asked him if he was happy in his marriage. The boy smiled with embarrassment. ”From this we can tell he is satisfied – he is more than satisfied”, Masood quipped. I reflected that it was not bad  as a boy to be getting a regular shag from the age of 15. Masood told me that he himself was due to wed his cousin. Have you met her I inquired. In Pakistan that is not an idiotic question. ”Thrice” came his reply in delightfully antiquated English. Almost all weddings are arranged in Pakistan. As one’s blood relatives are the only one whom one gets to meet it makes sense to marry them. At least one knows what she looks like and how she behaves.

We went to sleep in the main room. I was given the bed as an honoured guest. Masood and a few of his relatives dozed on sofas. I was worried that the dacoits would have got word that a Christian was in town. They may come with their guns in the middle of the night and whisk me away to their hideout while they demanded a few lakh rupees for my uncircumcised self to be returned. I got through the night managing not to be abducted.

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A TOUR OF INSPECTION.

The next day Masood and his family decided to take me to see the tourist hotspots of Dhairki. I was feeling dispirited and wondering why I had come. I was anxious to get on to Lahore. The town was small, unclean, dull beyond words and I was anxious that the dacoits might come for me. I had come to trust Masood implicitly. If he meant no good he could have robbed me by now. Try as his relatives might to defend me from the dacoits if these ruthless thugs came well-armed there was nothing Masood’s clan could do to save me.

We walked out on another blistering hot day. We walked down the dirt road. I saw the ubiquitous open sewer by the roadside. Effluent trickled past. Masood told me that the saddest thing was that there was enough public money to put all the sewers in pipes underground which would work wonders for public health. Meningitis, encephalitis, cholera, typhus, typhoid and many more must fell people because of these open sewers. The public money intended for sanitation was filched by corrupt bureaucrats and local politicians.

We went to visit a local small time politician. This man was short but had an enormous belly and a fearsome moustache to crown his ample jowls. He was very unpleasantly arrogant as only a small town statesman can be. He was like a Pakistani bad guy straight from central casting. I shall call him Iqbal. He was a member of the Tahrik-i-Insaaf. This political party – translating ”the movement for Justice” was founded by Pakistani national hero and cricket captain Imran Khan. Khan’s party had a meteoric rise and flop in the space of a couple of years. They failed to gain a single seat in the 1996 elections. One of the first things Iqbal did was to show me a photo of him with Imran Khan. Pakistani politics is almost tribal. The loathing between the two major parties – the PPP and the PML – is so intense as to be almost violent. It goes far beyond the sparring between Labour and The Conservatives of Republicans and Democrats. Pakistani politics – in the countryside at any rate – is almost feudal. Landlords will deliver the votes of thousands of their tenants. The Bhuttos were major landlords. Bhutto was a very unconvincing socialist. Like many socialist doyens he was also a snob and a boaster. ”My family have owned not thousands of acres of land but tens of thousands of acres.” He refused to give it to the peasants though. His rodomontades were very distasteful. One thing this vulgar man never learnt from his British classmates at Oxford is that a gentleman does not crow. A true aristocrat is content with himself and feels no need to show off.

Later I was taken to see two schools. I went into one schoolroom very close to Masood’s house. The classroom had no door on the doorway. I saw a class of children of about 8 years old – girls and boys – seated at ancient wooden desks. I was surprised that their young schoolmarm wore a headdress but immodestly showed her fetching face. The bare stone walls were cracked and the roll down blackboard was tattered. The children were attentive and impeccable in conduct. It makes me think of the British Isles where classrooms have state of the art equipment. The solution to under achievement or appalling misbehaviour is always to throw more money at it. Here these children were learning in the most rudimentary of conditions and their conduct would put their British counterparts to shame. 50% of the population of Pakistan were illiterate at the time. These children appreciated being in school. Their parents had to pay for them to attend even a state school. It was either learn to write or else face a life of the most back-breaking toil and unremitting poverty. British children take education for granted – it is even compulsory till 17. They often resent it and rebel against it. Such are the wages of over generosity. Because school has no cost the pupils sometimes think it has no value. A couple of them performed a song routine they were rehearsing for Independence Day -”dil dil Pakistan” –  ”heart heart Pakistan.” This was long before the accursed day of 9/11. That day was ghastly not only for the 3 000 murders but also for the anti-Muslim bigotry it provoked. It was not right to be prejudiced against Muslims after 9/11 – it never is, never was and never shall be – but unfortunately that is how some people are going to react in such situation. A great fissure opened between much of the Muslim world and much of the Western world – it had been opening  for some time but that event ripped it wide open. I hope those children I met in that classroom thought back to my visit to think that white Christians are not all bad. I am not a Christian but I was brought up as one – they would view me as one.

I was taken to another school in a small two storey mud building. The last person to visit it was Imran Khan. I a young undergraduate who had achieved nothing in my life was being put on the same rung as the cricket star solely on the basis of my nationality. Who says the Pakistanis are anti-British? I was in a small, uninspiring and overcrowded classroom of girls and boys – all aged about 11. The girls and boys sat intermingled –  odd that. The children were given a chance to practise their English on me. ”What is your name?” and ”What is your father’s name?” were the only two question. I remembered being asked. I was asked the same ones by several children. Pakistani being a sexist country the did not ask about my mum. On one’s identity card it has one’s father’s name or if one is a married woman the husband’s name.

The teacher told me that one boy was named Saddam. He was called this because he was born in 1991 and his parents were admirers of the President of Iraq for standing up to America. There was another child there and he was a Christian I was told. I asked him if he was a Protestant or a Catholic. He was the latter – like me.

Masood asked me if I wished to see the church. I did and was taken there. I was a short walk. It did not resemble a church –  it was a small white rectangular building down a narrow lane with  low brown brick walls around it. There was no spire or cross on the outside. There have been many murderous attacks on Christians in Pakistan. It does not pay for them to advertise themselves. That would be seen as provocative. The doors were wide open. An aged stubbled doorman sat by the door fanning himself. I went on. The floor was linoleum and there was a little altar with a modest tabernacle and cross. There was no seating. I do not remember seeing any other Catholic iconography about. I knelt on the floor and recited a few childhood prayers for the sake of old times.

I was brought to see a factory. There was a series of large chimney pipes and some single storey buildings that hummed with machinery. I was told that an American company owned it but there were no Americans here now. I saw only Pakistanis. Being an untechnical person I cannot remember what contraptions I saw. I was taken through to some canteen for a snack.

Masood later told me he met some Western cyclists in 1993. Apart from that I was the first Westerner there in years.

In the late afternoon we went by car a few miles into the countryside. On a bed with a hammock like structure made of leather straps two old men rested. They had a mud bungalow behind them. They had a mangy dog to guard them. We spoke – via Masood. They looked so old due to their white beards. I asked if they remembered Partition. They had been born after it! A hard life had aged them quickly. There was a man-made pond with wish in it. A 16-year-old boy climbed into some large metal bowl and used it as a boat on that pond. He wore a cloth to cover his male parts. He had trouble not capsizing and he and we all laughed about it.

They gave me a rifle to shoot birds. I fired a few shots but never hit a thing. I was concerned lest the rifle later be used for a murder that was then pinned on me. The landscape was arid  – almost desert. Thorn bushes and low trees dotted the uneven ground.

I met another boy of about 16. I shall call him Mehdi. He was darker than average for a Pakistani and wore little round glasses. He had tousled hair and like virtually everyone wore a shalwar Kameez. He was a serious but not a humorless boy. His father was a teacher and Mehdi spoke good English. His one slip was when he did not understand something he said ”what?” rather than something more courteous. He wanted to go off and be an officer in the army. This is the most noble pursuit in the eyes of Pakistanis. He told me he did not want a war with India but if one came Inshallah we shall beat them. Allah was on their side and the Muslims were not defeated, well they were but very few times, he corrected himself. I asked him if this was the first time he had ever met a native ENGLish speaker. Mehdi told me that it was. His English was all the more startling bearing in mind he had never had a chance to use it with an Anglophone. I asked him why he did not take the train and travel around Pakistan. He told me his family did not have enough money. I felt bad at my crass insensitivity. I should have thought of that. Pakistan was cheap as chips for me but for a boy from a middle class family in a small town train fares were steep.

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”CHALO LAHORE” – ON TO LAHORE

The next morning I got up and we were going to head to Lahore as I had said I wished to. Masood agreed. We walked to the main street and were due to catch a bus to the railway station. On the main road I met a fairly tall Pakistani of about 30 who was the only person in Dhairki I distinctly recall wearing western clothes. His black jeans, patterned T-shirt and baseball cap were a little incongruous amidst the off white sea of shalwar kameezes. This round-faced man exuded an air of confidence and jollity. He asked where I was from. I told him Ireland. He immediately told me that he held the IRA in high regard for their valiant efforts. I told him plainly that I hated the IRA and they were terrorists and most people in Ireland did not like them one bit. ”They fighting for freedom”. I replied that we already had freedom and the IRA were trying to take it away. He smiled and did not retreat one bit. Patently he was not well-informed on the complexities of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Soon we stood on the platform as the sun beat down on the little railway station. A few minutes late the train hoved into view. We were aboard in a moment and rushing towards the second city of Pakistan as I buried my nose in a book about the country by Emma Duncan.

We got out at Lahore a few hours later. The main railway station resembles a fortress. The British Raj authorities had intended it as such in case there was ever mutiny in the city. It is a noble building. We got a rickshaw to Masood’s flat some miles across the city. He lived in a decent flat overlooking an area of open ground. Untended plants grew on that open space and there was a little murky pond there. A few other Sindhis – all of them students lived there. I cannot remember their names and only two stand out in my mind. One of them was a skinny boy whom I shall call Iftar. He was short, thin and constantly smiling – not in a maniac way. He had a dark complexion and a quiff – yet he was not too vain. The other was Muneeb as I shall call him. Muneeb was of the same modest stature and physique as Iftar – not overbearing. Muneeb had a  Charlie Chaplin moustache. Both were not much more than 18. Some of the students spoke Seraiki which the others could not understand. I all sounded the same to me – incomprehensible. Why did they all stick together? They came from roughly the same area. There is also considerable anti-Sindhi prejudice. In both India and Pakistan I have heard the trope – if you see a snake and a Sindhi on the road, kill the Sindhi first because he is more poisonous.

The flat was clean considering that half a dozen young men lived there without the feminine touch to keep the place ship-shape.

In Lahore kite flying is the passion of many. I often say people fly them in the early evening.

On my first afternoon we had a walk around the central area. One of Masood’s mates asked me if there was a special Oxford accent. Had he detected my plummy tones? I think not as his English was not up to much. I told him there was no special Oxford accent although there was an upper class accent. Maybe that was what he was driving at. I never told them the name of my university. The streets were not as wide as in Karachi and there were no skyscrapers. Karachi was a medium-sized port on the Arabian Sea when it suddenly became the capital of the newly created Pakistan. Within a couple of years its population had increased tenfold. Its expansion continued over rapidly for decades. Even when the capital was shifted to the purpose-built site at Islamabad in 1962 Karachi continued to grow exponentially. Lahore is in the middle of the historic province of the Punjab. This is a province in which Muslims predominated in the west and Sikhs in the east – with a goodly scattering of Hindus across the whole. When Partition came to India in 1947 the thankless task of drawing the line fell to a British don and civil servant Sir Cyril Radcliffe. It was impossible to draw a line that was remotely fair or logical without angering everybody. It was touch and go whether Lahore would be awarded to Pakistan at all. In the end it was. Lahore though was the traditional capital of the whole of the Punjab and in the 18th century the capital of a Sikh Empire. It is much more historic than newcomer Karachi.

We walked around the ruins of the old fort. Its reddish walls still stood sentinel. The place was in a poor state of repair. THERE were no signs explaining what was what. This is a common disappointment in places of historical import in South Asia. However, refreshingly one was free to clamber here and there. Grass and bushes sprouted from the cracks in the many rocks there. From the fort one had a good vantage point to survey the whole romantically chaotic swirl of a city. There was no sea breeze to waft me, unlike Karachi. The sitting heat of a Punjabi August beaded my fair forehead in glistening perspiration.

Along the street from that storied fort stood a Sikh Gurdwara – or temple. Its golden dome glinted in the sunset. I had seen one orange turbaned Sikh riding his scooter through Karachi. There are very few Sikhs in Pakistan. They used to rule Lahore. At the time of Partition they and the Muslims were, in all too many cases, at each other’s throats – I mean literally. The Sikhs who remain have often found it prudent to keep a low profile. Not all of them are part of the Khalsa. Not all of them observe the rules about not cutting the hair on their heads or never shaving their beards –  wearing the special undergarments, carrying a comb and knife. The Sikhs in India are among the most nationalistic Indians – they are well-over represented in the military, their homeland (the Punjab) is on the frontline with Pakistan. There is no other country outside India that has a large Sikh community. I do not call 500 000 Sikhs in the UK large.

We went to the main mosque. It is an impressive structure but not the most attractive I have seen. As I stooped to remove my sandals I felt a cord go around my neck. I was frightened and grabbed at it and ripped it off. I turned to see what I was holding –  a garland of fragrant little white flowers. An oldish woman had put them around my neck to force me to buy them. She was not wearing a burqa or chador –  now I saw why she felt no need to hide her beauty. She had hideous burns on her face – the victim of an acid attack I wondered? I felt sorry for her but did not put it. It is not right to put a cord around someone’s neck without asking them – especially from behind!

With a pair of Masood’s chums I sauntered into the mosque. I do not remember anyone staring at me. There are a handful of pale-faced Pakistanis from the extreme north of their country. The army of Alexander the Great passed through what we now call Pakistan. People say his soldiers married local women and some stayed behind. Some historians think there is something in that. In certain remote valleys  there are fair-skinned folk who could pass for Europeans. Alexander of Macedon left his mark on the place in terms of cities named in memory of him such as Iskanderun. The boy’s name Iskander is a version of Alexander.

The chums did their ablutions – Muslims have to wash before praying – and performed their prayer ritual as I had a look at the place.

I saw fewer women about here than in Karachi. To smaller the city and the further north and west one goes in Pakistan the more traditional it become. In the North West Frontier Province females are almost invisible. From now on I shall call that province Frontier as the did in Pakistan for short at the time. There was a family living in the flat above us. When they saw me going out one day on the back of a scooter with Iftar the girls called out from behind the curtains to me ”I love you” and giggled. That evening they came to visit me. There were four fat sisters – no brothers. Their pudgy faces were blemished – they were not veiled. They spoke with confidence in reasonable English. The contrast with Dhairki was marked. Masood would not dream of letting me meet a female relation of his from a new-born to a great-grandmother. Here in the big smoke four girls aged about 13 to 23 had trooped down into the flat of another man to visit a Christian foreigner – they were not chaperoned. I suppose many of these women are heavy because they have no chance to take exercise. Sport for women hardly exists.

I visited the Minar-i-Pakistan. This means the tower of Pakistan. It was here in 1940 that the Lahore Declaration was made. It has since been dubbed the Pakistan Declaration. I refer to it by its original name since the word Pakistan does not appear once in it. The Minar-i-Pakistan marks the spot where the Declaration was made. Muhmmad Ali Jinnah, leader of the All India Muslim League, made this declaration calling for the Muslim majority areas in the north-east and north-west zones of India to become independent states. It even implied that there should be more than one Muslim country in India. When asked by a journalist whether he meant one Muslim country or two Jinnah said that he meant one. We know that Pakistan was founded in 1947 with West Pakistan and East Pakistan. East Pak split off in 1971 and became Bangladesh.

Jinnah read out his declaration in front of a huge crowd and the world’s press. On that occasion Jinnah spoke to the assembled foreign journalists in English. The crowd groaned as very few of them understood English. Jinnah being from Karachi and having spent most of his life in Mumbai did not speak Urdu – the official language of Pakistan.

The park around the Minar-i-Pakistan is very crowded. There is hardly room to sit down. Many paths criss-cross its short desicated grass. The tower itself it supposed to be white but has been stained a pale grey by the acrid pollution. It is narrow and is almost triangular. I walked up. The stairs are too narrow. The white walls were stained black where a million shoulders had brushed the marble. The lift was under repair and sparks from the joiner’s blow torch flew around wildly. The view from the top was fascinating but I cannot say serene.

Sometimes it rained as it was monsoon. As the rain came down the pond in front of the building filled up and a chorus of a hundred frogs croaked the night away in celebration.

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INDEPENDENCE DAY

ON 14 AUGUST – Pakistani independence day – I arose early. We went to a stadium to see a military parade. It was a roasting hot day. We got there to see the place deserted – it had been cancelled owing to a bomb threat. There are a great deal more of them now. I think it was the place that the Sri Lankan cricket team were attacked a decade later. tHERe WAS A RETIRED midget submarine on a pedestal outside the stadium. I liked seeing the soldiers’ uniforms. They had black berets and their shirt tails hung out of their baggy trousers. It looks a bit too relaxed for a military uniform but it suits the climate. Shadab my Karachi friend was one of the English-speaking secular elite – as a mark of this he shaved his face and wore Western clothes. He told me that Pakistani clothes made him feel too casual – it made him laze around. Well – they are like pyjamas.

Later we took the bus to Waggah Border as they call it. This is the only legal land crossing between India and Pakistan. With 150 000 people on one side of the line and 1 000 000 000 on the other one would expect there to be staggering numbers of people crossing daily. In fact it is only a few hundred. What a loss of trade! Around there the land is as flat as a pancake. The green field are covered in grass. There are only a handful of trees. Trees line the road for shade though. I could see some guard towers a hundred metres or so the side of the road on both sides. Masood did not go with me – he entrusted me to his mates. He said if I wished to take a photo – ”enquire, eh.” As Pak was run by the military they were very sensitive to issues of espionage. They are very worried about RAW spying on them. In this case it was risible. These soldiers were within plain view of hundreds of Indians in a little amphitheatre on the Indian side of the frontier. Hundreds of Pakistanis were there to egg on their side. The civilians were like crowds at a football match – high-spirited and partisan.

The Pakistani troops wore grey tunics and baggy trousers. They had white boots on with puttees. Their hats had pigrees on them – stiff pieces of silk that stood erect. The Indians were in a beige dress uniform. The Pakistanis seemed to be selected for their height. Apart from these soldiers I only ever met two Pakistanis who were taller than me. These men strutted around as proud as peacocks. They huffed as orders were barked out in a stagey fashion that was almost beyond parody. They puffed their chests out and did extra high kicks of their legs. The Indians went in for much the same overblown display. Crowds on those sides chanted and hooted. On my side the crowd – every one of them male – cried ”Pakistan – Pakistan – Pakistan”. There was genuine fervour but I did not sense any belligerence on either side. Just as well – these soldiers did not carry guns. That was just as well in case someone got a little carried away by all this chauvinistic posturing. The soldiers marched so fast that it lost any martial dignity. Though India are supposedly their deadly enemy the whole spectacle was totally coordinated with the Indian Army. At precisely the same moment they haul down the flags and shake hands before slamming the gates shut.

We took the bus home. In the centre of Lahore it seemed that every male in the city was on the streets. Traffic was even busier and more crazy than ever. Men tooted their horns in celebration of the national day. I saw a van crash into a motor rickshaw but it looked like no one was seriously injured. The atmosphere was jubilant. We walked around some of the central streets. Boys began throwing fire crackers. These French bangers are illegal in the United Kingdom. They made an awful racket. The boys liked to be really audacious and throw them into a crowd of other people. They threw them at us and the ear-splitting bang made me furious. Outside an ice cream parlour some teenager boys threw whizz bangs at the police. The police had a sense of humour failure and lashed out at the youngster with a few well-aimed blows of the lathi. A lathi is a stick about a metre long that police in this part of the world use for crowd control and summary justice. I have never seen one unjustly used. I wish that police in my part of the world used them on rioters.

I managed to get back on a motor rickshaw eventually.

Walking down the street a few huge buses rumbled past. They were packed inside with men and boys leaning out of the windows. Some were crouched on the roof. Every last one was in Pakistani dress. Every post pubescent face sported an untrimmed beard. Many had green headdresses with a long band flopping off the back of it. They carried the black and white striped flag of the Jamiat-i-Islam. This is the Islamic fundamentalist party. These fundos jeered and laughed at me. When I say fundamentalist in Pakistan I really mean flat earther, adulteress stoning, gay bashing, hand chopping, sot scourging, Hindu hating Jew genociding  fundo – THAT sort of fundamentalist. They were amused to see an infidel yet somehow not hostile.

Masood took me another night to the house of his friend. I shall call him Mubashir. The house was big inside but again hardly furnished. The dining room was badly lit with white stained walls. Mubashir was an accountant and rather tall for his race. He had the obligatory moustache. He told me they say the England and Wales accountancy exams. I was surprised but pleased that this manifestation of the informal empire still existed. I met his father briefly. This shrunken old man who seemed not quite all there. He pumped my hand like a well handle and smiled moronically but his eyes were far away. Mubashir had a younger brother whom I shall call Ejaz. Ejaz was a teenager with a breaking voice. He was weedy framed.

The next day Ejaz drove me around on the back of his scooter. I went to the British Council and red a bit. He got bored and complained we soon left.

I went to Pizza Hut with Iftar on one occasion. It is considered a very smart place to eat there – well beyond the price range of the man in the street.

I regret not visiting the red bazaar. That is the red light district. It had a barrier across the road to it. Police stood there. What went on in the red bazaar they would ignore but the iniquities committed in there had better not spead out to the rest of Pak. I did not intend to partake of the flesh ther – just to experience sin city. One of my schoolmates Graneville had been there the year before. He described seeing the nautch girls there dancing as ”about as erotic as a visit to the abattoir.” Their looks left a lot to be desired. Nautch is an honourable term for an elegant concubine. Now they were refered to by the more disparaging Urdu term – tavaif, roughly ‘whore’.

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ISLAMABAD.

After a few days in Lahore it was on to Rawalpindi by train. The city is called ‘Pindi for short. Masood took me to the railway station. We had a chat on the platform. I praised him for being a reasonable man. It would be very easy in Pakistan to be swept away by bellicose rhetoric laced with religious mania. There is an awful lot of that about from any number of demagogues. Masood did not think like that. He was bravely moderate and wanted a negotiated solution to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. There are plenty in Pak who would say that Kashmir is their – and they will never yield an inch of its sacred soil to the Hindu aggressors who have outraged the honour of Muslim womanhood.

Masood led me to my seat on the chair car. It was late at night. He found my seat – I was beside a couple of boys of about ten years old. They are likeable little chaps. ”You gonna have a nice time with these boys” said Masood in an avuncular fashion. Once he was gone I chatted to the boys. They told me about their school life – the study of Islamia was the most important subject it seemed. They asked me sing them a song. In a low tone I sung them an Irish republican song. They listened intently but did not catch most of it. One of the father’s came along. He was a clean-shaven, upbeat man – young to be the father of a child of that age. He was keen to talk to me. WHEREAS Europeans take summer holidays by the seaside in the Subcontinent people take summer holidays in the hols where it is cooler. Pindi is not quite the hills but it is higher than Lahore and therefore cooler. Pindi is the jumping off point to get to the hill stations such as Muree.

I slept most of the journey. I awoke to a drizzly dawn as we pulled into Pindi. I got a cab from Pindi all the way to the capital Islamabad. I checked in at a decent hotel there and completed my slumbers. The en suite room was the best I had stayed in Pakistan. The hotel was all white.

Outside the streets were wide and the traffic infrequent. There was a lot of open space. The city was verdant. Hills could be seen in the distance. Tall and broad trees shaded me. The whole place was calm and serene. I quickly decided it was by far the most pleasant city in Pak. It is however a little dull. It was only just over 30 years old when I visited it. Why is it that countries that cannot afford to move their capital?  Brazil, Tanzania , Pakistan and maybe more. Haven’t they more pressing problems to sort out?

I went to the British Council. I saw a poster on the wall – education is the best economic policy we have. When I am reduced to  reading most of the day I know I have been in a place too long. I walked around the city. The central boulevard was impressive. It was used for military parades and lines showed the soldiers where to march. I saw the hotel where President Asif ALI Zardari was almost assassinated by a massive truck bomb some years later. One of the streets was called Constitution Avenue. Perhaps it ought to have been renamed Autocracy Avenue as the constitution had been suspended.

I went to the King Faisal Mosque. It was a huge hulking white building and fairly aesthetically pleasing. It was right on the edge of the city. It was named after the King of Saudi Arabia who stumped up the cash for it. SAUDI Arabians have funded many religious projects in Pakistani – especially the indoctrination of the young in a rather obscurantist brand of Islam. The mosque inside is plain but pleasant – a clean red carpet adorned it. For those of you who do not know a mosque is empty inside. It is a space to pray. Plant patterns may be used as decor. There can be no animal or human images int he detail in case this leads to idolatry. There is the nihab in the direction of Mecca . this is a recess in the wall. The faithful pray in the direction of Mecca. There the Kaaba – a meteorite – is considered a gift from god. Why couldn’t he give them something more useful or fun like winning lottery numbers?

Outside I saw the tomb of General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. He was killed when his plane crashed in 1988. Who killed him has never been proved. The tomb is very small – a white sepulchre, not enclosed. I saw a sticker on it – I love Saddam. Zia ul’Haq called himself a true soldier of Islam. He was not anti-wESTERN. He could not afford to be. India was backed by the USSR. He needed arms. He was diplomatically isolated after the execution of Z A Bhutto. When the USSR sent troops into Afghanistan many in Pak were worried that the Red Army would storm over the Khyber Pass and into Pak. Therefore Pak sucked up to Uncle Sam and was armed gratis courtesy of Mr and Mrs Taxpayer USA.

I should have gone to Abbotabad Fort and a few other nearby places. That was the fort where Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif was imprisoned when he was overthrown.

Nepal. Travel writing

Standard
My travel writing often ends up as a memoir. It would perhaps be better to stick to selected highlights but here goes nothing.

I touched down in Kathmandu’s King Tribhuvan airport on February when I was twenty years old less one. I do not remember feeling any emotion. I was relaxed. I had conquered all before me. I had been to a prestigious school and still enjoyed the delusion that this counted for something. I had been admitted to a stupendous university and the world was at my feet.
In the baggage reclaim area I saw a blonde British girl of my age. She had a hoarse voice and a loud public school mien. She was not pretty. She was with a woman whom I took to be her mother.
I filled out the immigration form as I waited for passport control. I spoke to a British girl a few years older than myself. She was kindly and smiley. I told her I was here on my gap year to help children. She had done the same a few years before. I told her I saw the part on the immigration card saying that tourists were not allowed to work even to do charity work. I asked her what to do about that. ”Oh you just ignore that and do it anyway.” I am an honest person and do not like to get on the wrong side of officialdom. So I completed my form and on I passed. I did however break that rule about no charity work.
 I walked through into the greeting area. There was a press of bandy-legged Nepalis standing around mostly in their tight white cotton trousers and pink grey caps. I did not have to study the crowd for long to see a sign with my name on it. It was held by a man in his 30s. This moustache wearing Nepali was tall for a man of his race and wore glasses. I identified myself and he greeted me with a deep smile beneath that black facial hair. He put a plastic garland around me. I was amused and pleased by this distinctly South Asian gesture of welcome . We walked out to a waiting four-wheel drive.
I do not remember saying anything on the half hour drive. We passed a gold course right beside the airport and that surprised me.  It was on dun earth and not grass. The road we drove on was busy. There were not many cars and such as there were were small and boxy. There were many multi coloured trucks belching out black fumes and low ceilinged buses packed to the rafters. The city was rather low-rise. There was still plenty of greenery around. There was something surprising. Here I was in the Himalays – the highest mountasin range on earth – and I could breathe with no difficulty. Furthermore, I could see no mountains. The Kathmandu Valley is rather flat. Normally one can see no mountains – that is because the haze is so thick. Occasionally the haze lifts and one sees in the distance mountains shooting up. They rise like a wall. The Himalayas are quite spectacularly big – it is hard to find the words to convey just how giganti they are –  they dominate and even block off the whole horizon.
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THE HOUSE
We parked on a narrow street. There were a few stone houses around. The man helped carry my bag. We took a footpath perpendicular to the road and wound past some multistorey houses. I noticed that the land had sunk away on either side of the path. That path was built up on a bank of earth to keep it above flood waters. I came to a 4 storey building – more like a block of flats. I was brought in.
I was greeted by a very fat and unattractive Nepalese woman named Lacchi. There was also Bimla. Bimla was 40 or so and would have looked good but for a cruel case of acne. It was astonishing that she suffered from it at her age. I was there in the corridor exchanging perfunctories with them when out of a bedroom down the corridor emegered a young white female. This brunette with small eyes introduced herself as Anne. She was American. I was relived to meet her. I had no idea that there was to be another Occidental staying there and she would make my stay much more agreeable. Anne was maybe an inch below average height and was only a touch well-nourished. She was good company.
Lacchi was a nun with Mother Theresa. ”I cry many tears when she die” said Lacchi. This immense woman had left the order for reasons I never discovered and come back from Calcutta to her native Nepal. Her nun’s vow of sexual continence cannot have been a challenge to honour with looks like her. I was to discover that she had a wicked sense of humour and enjoyed crude, sexual jokes more than most.
Bimla was the headmistress of the school. Weeks later I found out that she was married although her husband only visited her once in the 4 months that I was there. She had no children.
Living in the house was a 14-year-old named Ranjita. She had the dark complexion, the beady eyes and the moon face of a low-caste Nepali. I never heard of her father. Her mother lived nearby and was our washerwoman.
Anne came from a Mid Western state. She had a boyfriend back home and she had managed a bar before she came out. She was 25 and had been to some unknown college. She was a Democrat in politics of decidedly advanced views. She supported gay marriage and she was stridently pro-Choice. I do not know what she was doing working for a Catholic charity. We had some disagreements on these issues but they never became heated. She had volunteered for a rape crisis centre and held feminist opinions.
On the top floor of the 4 storey building lived the owner of it. He was a man in his 40s who had retired from being a teacher of English in the Gurkhas. He was a Nepali and was a pleasant type but a man of few words. He had a little moustache and glasses. He sat around in his shell suit all day feeling pleased with himself. His wife was there and she always wore a massive red Hindu dot on her forehead. She plucked away her eyebrows and seemed a little scary. They had a son who had just started university. He was skinny and strummed his guitar when he was not on his motorcycle. Looking back maybe he would have made a godo mate for us but we never tried to befriend him and he never spoke to us. They had a son of about 12. The whole family looked Chinese. Nepal is sandwiched in between India and China. Some folks look Chinese and some look Indian. Some look like a mixture.
Living with them was a girl of about 10. I cannot remember her name but this ugly little kid had an evil look to her. I remarked at breakfast that she was Be’elzebub’s little helper and this caused gales of laughter. I later baptised her Satanica. The name stuck. I have to feel sorry for Satanica. She had very hooded eyes and she was a full-time servant in that house. I do not know where her parents were. They dressed her decently, the family, in boyish clothes. She spoke some English but never went to school. It was a dreadful life for one so young but I had no sympathy for the poor child at the time.
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THE HILL SCHOOL.
The next day I went to the school with her. I shall call it Hill School. It was in a mud building and was the most over crowded and shabbiest school I have ever seen. It was a 2 mile walk. Despite the large number of children and their difficult conditions the seemed upbeat and were very well-behaved. One of the more daring 10 year olds asked if I had a girlfriend. I foolishly said yes which was a lie. Having said this I felt I had to keep up the pretence for months. Anne told me the Nepalese found it curious and hilarious that Occidentals had girlfriends and boyfriends.
I met Krishna Lama. He was 28 and was a slender Nepali with a slender moustache. He was soft-spoken and agreeable. He was a teacher at the school and had been helped a lot when he was younger by the Roman Catholic Church. ”I come from a very simple family” he said – meaning they were poor. He would not have been able to continue his own schooling and become a teacher if it had not been for help from this charity. He spoke good English. He was married and had a 2-year-old son. Anne later told me that she thought the marriage was on the rocks. Krishna spent almost no time with his wife and in all his free time stayed away from home. He seemed to have little interest in his child. I never met either his wife or kid despite seeing him almost daily for 4 months.
I was to find out the Lacchi was not the sort of Catholic of whom the late Mother Theresa would have approved. A previous American volunteer had a liaison with a Nepalese by whom she became pregnant. ”I had to take her for abortion” Lacchi said unemotionally. Anne’s jaw dropped. I was oddly unmoved even though I was totally against terminations at the time.
Each morning I would hear some pottering in the kitchen. The wild dogs would be barking at each other out in the darkness. Before the dawn Ranjita would tap on my door and say, ”breakfass is ready.” I would go through to the dining room and be served out of plastic bowls. French toast, omelettes, eggs and such like. Anne would much with me.
We would wend our way to school through the filthy lanes. I saw a wayside shrine along the way. An idol stood in its little white house on a plinth. Garlands adorned this tiny temple. Incense and burnt offerings were left at the foot of the pedestal. The road was unpaved. Two storey houses and the odd shop lined the war. Nepali men crouched on their doorsteps chatting and smoking. The women were kept busy. I walked with Anne of occasionally by myself. One time when I was walking by myself Lacchi told me she saw me and I WAS muttering to myself. I was faintly insane even then. In those days I had the presence of mind to put one paw over my cakehole to try to hide the fact that I talked to my only equal.
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REINFORCEMENTS
I had been there not a week when I was given a pleasant surprise. Two English boys would be arriving.
They came into the house and I met them in the corridor. They were my age – not quite as tall as me. They were courteous but standoffish. They both had northern English accents. They had heard I was Irish and – as they later enlightened me – were very surprised at my fruity accent. Their names were Phil and Michael. Phil was slimmer and had light red hair. He was athletic nd I think even wore an English footer shirt the first time I met. Michael was not as athletic – ironic in view of the fact that he then trained to be a sports coach. Mike had longish black hair and piercings all down his left ear. They both came from Lancashire and had attended a Catholic public school called Stonyhurst.
I got along reasonably well with them at first. After about a week I said something at breakfast that Phil did not like. I do not remember what it was. He did a slow mock punch past my face and said, ”ooh I missed.” I do not remember feeling a reaction – fear, anger, insult or contempt for him. Fortunately our relationship improved. Soon we were hitting the bars of th tourist district Thamel. It became one big pissup. I was getting drunk 7 nights out of 7. I must have spent more on a night’s beer than most Nepalis earned in a month. Our favourite watering hole was Tom and Jerry. It was owned by two Nepalis who went by the names Tom and Jerry – presumably not their real names. Other gap year volunteers frequented that place.
I met several old boys from school in Kathmandu. Going half a world a way one would not expect to bump into people one know’s just by chance. I shall adapt their names only slightly. Tim Whitestone, Christian Sandys, Padraig Valley, Tobias Forest, Carl Matthews, Ted Page and more. They expressed little curiosity for Nepal and mostly talked about what was happening on the King’s Road. There were many other public schoolboys and public schoolgirls there too.
On the few nights when we did not hit the town we would sit outside in evening around a campfire – it could be chilly on a February evening in Nepal. Mike had a guitar and would sing doleful songs to it. There was one that celebrated Guy’s Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. I remember some of the lyrics, ”Hey, hey, hey/ Nothing is impossible in your own powerful mind/ On the fifth of November.” Mike sang with panache but I doubt he knew anything about the Gunpowder Plot. This song suited his saturnine temperament.
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MANU
In a house just across a stretch of open ground stood another tower block of 4 storeys or so. The ground floor flat was occupied by a Nepalese woman of 30-odd named Manu and her two daughters Nanu (8) and Sanu (6). You may think I am making this up but I am not. The names and ages were in alphabetical order – did you notice that? I do not what became of the little girls’ father but he was not on the scene. Manu was tall for a Nepalese and had a cookie dough complexion. She was slim and not bad-looking. She was a primary school teacher but spoke minimal English. In that one room flat lived Manu’s two brothers who were a little younger. They seemed to laze around playing the guitar all day.
The little girls played with us on the open ground between the two houses. We would give them piggy backs. They treated is like rides in the playground. Having said that I never saw a playground in all my time in the country. In those innocent days people did not imagine that any man who was fond of children had improper intentions.
A couple of weeks after Phil and Mike got there it was the birthday or Nanu. I was getting on better with the Lancastrians at this stage. I at first agreed with Phil and scorned the invitation. I was not going to some tot’s party – let’s hit the bar and see if we cannot score with some of the gap year girls! Game on!
Then the little child with coal-black eyes came and asked me herself to come to her party. I hadn’t the heart to say no. I then disappointed Phil and he said he was pissed off. He went into town on his own and got chatting to a group of chicks. He did not get off with them but he was as proud as though he had.
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BACKGROUND ON PHIL
Phil had a girlfriend back in Blighty. He kept a diary and he had agreed that she could read it upon his return. She was an undergraduate at Keele University reading English. He had met her on the beach in Wales a couple of years before. He showed me a photo of her and she was plump lipped, pale and desirable. What a lucky duck to have someone to bone from the age of 16. Phil was a good lad and though he window shopped he never so much as snogged any of the birds we met. I was of course maintaining the pretence that I had a girlfriend named Amy. She was a real person but not my girlfriend. I had thought up a whole story to back up my claim. I had no photos of her but no one asked to see any.
Phil’s dad had played for Preston North End in his youth till and injury cut short a promising career. The guy became a plumber before setting up a childcare business for abused children. Phil had a couple of older brothers. They had helped him grow up fast. One of his older brothers was trapped into impregnating some girl. She had been ordered to do this by her mum because then she could nab a man or at least get money off him.
When Phil was in his early teens his dad had run off with another woman. Phil’s mum did not take it well. They cried each other to sleep for months. The sense of betrayal was hard to bear. Phil became reconciled with his father but refused to meet the scarlet woman.
Phil told me about a friend of his who had had a mate over to spend the night at his house. Before going the bed the host was told by his mum, ”oh don’t forget to put your cream on.” The guest asked what the cream was for. The mum replied, ”oh it is for the skin that flakes off his testicles.” We chortled at the indiscretion of that daffy mum. After a while Phil admitted this tale was about him with the flaky balls and Mike was the guest.
Phil was no scholar. He went off to Bradford University to read business.
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BACKGROUND ON MIKE.
Mike was very much in Phil’s shadow. Mike was the youngest of five children of a Preston solicitor. His mum was a full-time housewife and strict Catholic. Mike was no brainbox which must have been hard to take because his elder siblings were all high achievers. One was at the Sorbonne, another was a solicitor, another went to Cambridge and Oxford in that order before becoming a  Protestant minister and I forget about the other but he or she was a high flier too.
Mike was rather in the shadow of Phil. Phil was the cool one the sporty one the one with the self-confidence. There was a melancholic side to Mike not helped by mawkish self-pity. More than once I heard him remark, ”why don’t I go and commit suicide.” As for his old school he said he would rather have roasted in hell. I think a few people in hell would rather go to Stonyhurst.
Mike wrote hardly anything. He struggled at school and managed about one A level  and E – in art. With these slight indications of intellectualism he went on to be a teacher.
Mike had had a few girlfriends – all chubby. He was said that was what did it for him. Phil said that this was because Mike could not pull hotties. Phil also confided that Mike was a virgin. Mike was on a wank fast. I used to joke about his wank fasted bollocks. In public we said WFBs. I talked about the great wank fast of ’99. The idea was that nocturnal emissions were more satisfying. The thing is one risks lover’s knot where sperm gets stuck in the tubes so it had better be regular crusty sheets.
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GAUTUM SCHOOL.
There was a further away school that I shall call Gautum school because of Mr Gautum who taught there. This was well up the hill. It was across the valley from the Hill School – about a mile away. A little stream trickled through the valley. I could not help contrast my school with these ones. I joked about rowing on that stream a metre wide.
Gautum school was in a village of all mud huts. I do not think the village had electricity. There was a Hindu shrine by a peopol tree. People hung white string over its lower branches. I saw lingam there. Mr Gautum explained what they were. I saw Brahmins with their heads shaved all except for a little spot at the back walking by sometimes holding a heavy box of smoking incense on their shoulders. A retainer behind them would jingle a bell.
Mr Gautum was a pot-bellied man of average Nepali height. He had the compulsory moustache and the best English on the staff which I would say was Upper Intermediate. He was an amiable chap but we called him scrotum behind his back.
The school had one floor and the caretaker lived in a hut on the roof. There were only about 6 classrooms and there were about 50 children in each aged 10 to 14 or so. Of the 300 children in the school only one – a boy- wore glasses. Do all Nepalis have good eyesight? I think the answer that he was the only one who needed glasses and could afford them.
The classrooms had no door and no glass in the windows. The walls were bare concrete. The kids sat at desks in rows. there was a blackboard at the front. The boys to the left of the blackboard and girls to the right. The teacher would take a stick from outside to threaten them with and occasionally whack then. I only saw boys get hit. They were never bumptious.
I helped do lessons from the book with an actual teacher there. After a week or so I was left to do it on my own. There were no problems. The children were well-behaved and glad to be in school and not toiling in the fields.
One day I was on my way up the hill when some child in school uniform shouted to me not to go. The school was closed. A child from the school whom I did not know had died. They kid was being cremated and the school was closed as a mark of respect. I decided not to get upset. I cycled to the British Council to read.
I spent some time in the tiny staff room in Gautum. The teachers sat around and drank a hot fluid from a teapot. I found out it was tea –  without the tea. They were drinking hot water! Were they that poor? The Nepali teachers were a good-natured lot. One of them I shall call Leather Man because he always wore a leather jacket several sizes too big for him. Maybe he wanted to look big but it only underlined his tiny size. He had a square head and what South Asians would call a muddy complexion. Leather Man was the science teacher and a quiet a pensive type.  He asked me many questions. Was virginity prestigious in my country. I said it was the opposite. He did not express surprise at that although according to Nepali cultural norms our view that virginity as something to be shed at the first possible opportunity is scandalous. Leatherman spoke a lot about communism. He was not a communist but felt sympathy for communists. The Communist Party in Nepal was a major force. In the background was a Maoist terrorist campaign that had just been started by an architect called Bhattarai. The Maoists controlled some of the rural counties in the west of the country. I hated Maoists. The King of Nepal still reigned and I thought him a good egg not least because of his schooling.
Leatherman asked me about the IRA. I told him they were nationalistic terrorist. He had heard of how they left a bomb in a hotel and almost killed the British Prime Minister. He seemed to think this was a righteous revolutionary act. He spoke with no spite but expressed the most vicious views. It was bizarre. I told him about Catholics and Protestants and how there were different per centages of them in the different parts of the British Isles.
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COMPASS SCHOOL.
There was another school that I shall call the Compass School. I pretty soon stopped going to the Hill School because it was dreary beyond words.
The Compass was very close to our house –  across the Ring Road – maybe 200 m away. It had only been founded a few years before and Bimla was the headmistress. They used to call her Bimla Miss rather than Miss Bimla. I found these Nepali mistakes in English endearing. They said ”give me rupees one hundred” instead of ”one hundred rupees.” They would say ”three number” not ”number three.”
This was a private school and was well-equipped by comparison. There was a little courtyard where they had morning assembly and played games. At assembly they would be inspected to see they were tidy enough. If a boy was not well-turned out he would get a slap across the back of the head. I believe in corporal punishment but that is too harsh. It was for such a tiny thing and they were never seriously untidy. I never saw a girl get struck for this or anything else. I felt anger towards the tiny male teachers who hit boys like this. I kept my view to myself.
Soon I was slotted in teaching the eldest classes. These were kids up to the age of 14. They were very small classes – about 8 in each. They were cheerful and hard working – ideal pupils. I tried to make lessons fun. I was smiley and approachable with them. They were very stiff in their conduct at first but relaxed as they saw how amiable I was. I used their book a little but also taught they things from my head – factual knowledge about South Asia and the UK. I tried to get them tow rite discursvie pieces about issues but this was too much for me and they would reply with a single written sentence.
I remember the names of some – Tej Prasad was a boy and Kiran was a girl. Krishna Lama’s brother was my pupil and one of the stars of the school.
I could tell some of the girls fancied me but this is common for a girl of 14 to fancy a boy a few years older. I was twice the size of the Nepalis, exotic and rich.
There was a petite teacher whom I fancied. She had such delicate features and what they would call a wheatish complexion. However, I found out, to my chagrin, that she had wed a few months before.
There was another one who liked me. She got me to sit by her at the balcony watching some sports day. She inclined to corpulence and she had her friends around. I did not like the situation and happened to be in a tetchy mood that day. I upped and left. Looking back on it that was a mistake.
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FATHER WATRIN.
I had come to Nepal through a Roman Catholic charity. It was run by an American priest called Father Watrin. I had met him in Araby as a child although I did not remember that. My parents told me he preached at mass and told us how some of his converts were beaten up by Hindu thugs.
I had been there for under a month when the other volunteers, Krishna Lama and I went to Fr Watrin’s house. It was in the centre of town and his flat backed onto the residence of the King’s only daughter. The flat was spacious and well-furnished. We had dinner with Fr Watrin.
Fr Watrin was a tall and very slim man. He had sunken cheeks and skin that looked like it had water wrinkles. As Mike noticed the good father’s skin just under his eye was very youthful. The man was then almost 70 years of age. He told us how he hailed from Dayton, Ohio where the Wright brothers were born and where the Vance Owen peace plan was signed shortly before we got to Nepal. This peace plan by the former foreign ministers of the United Kingdom and America brought to an end the fighting in the former Yugoslavia. Fr Watrin had gone to college at 16 and aged 17 went out to British India in its dying days to study in a seminary there. He was ordained a priest in India and then traveled to Nepal. He was a kindly old soul. He ran many charities and he had met the king on a number of occasions.
Fr Watrin used to say mass at hotels on Sundays. One a couple of occasions I cycled over to the hotel in question and heard mass. One time I decided to make my confession. We sat on a sofa in the hotel conference room a few metres away from where the chairs were laid out for th congregation as people filed in for mass. Fortunately Fr Watrin was half-deaf and did not hear the mortal sins I was whispering to him. He refused to take a stipend. When he could not hear you he would use his right hand to cup his right ear, lean forward and say ”please?”. Almighty God in his infinite wisdom has since seen fit to call the good father to his mercy. Although not quite a barrel of laughs he was a priest who gives the church a good name.
I eventually got bored of going to hear mass. I thought I had better invent an excuse. I told Lacchi that I was a Protestant and she bought it. In fact she did not seem to be in the least bit religious herself. Maybe she became a nun as it was a job. I remember her sexual jokes – like pretending to fellate a bottle. One time they interviewed a new teacher for the school. I asked her which questions she put to the candidate. She said she asked him ”how big is your penis?” Later I was with her and her two brothers who were visiting. They were all lolling on her bed. I said, ”Did you hear what Lascchi asked the guy who wanted a job at the school? She asked him ”How big is your penis?” ” Well Lacchi broke out in the most raucous, helpless laughter – she rocked on the bed back and forth – laughing herself red-faced and breathless. Her brothers chuckled hard too but not as much as Lacchi. She was convulsed by violent laughter. That was how much she liked sexual comedy.
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WHITE CHICKS.
In the bars of Thamel we would chat to girlies. These were tourists or people on their gap years. One I can never get out of my head was this gorgeous British girl. Unfortunately she had the same name as my middle sister – Prunella – which made my adoration of her seem incestuous. This Prunella had graduated from UCL so she was a little older than me. She had golden chin length hair and a complexion that was ivory yet it did not have an unhealthy pallor to it. She was reasonably tall and perfectly proportioned. Her pukka accent and mellifluous tones had me in ecstasies. She had baby blue eyes and a demeanour that was effortlessly enchanting. Her father had been to the same college that I was about to attend. She was way out of my league and I never indicated my feelings for her. What a shame. I should have tried. She never evinced the slightest desire for me but maybe just maybe I would have been successful. I only met this Prunella twice but two decades on I can never forget her.
When I had been there a couple of months I met two Swedish blondes. One was average looking and the other one was a real looker. I can only remember the name of the averagey one –  Carlota. I cannot remember the stunner’s name. I had gone over to their table and chatted to them. They spoke fantastic English with a seductive Scandinavian accent. I mentioned  Swedish hard rock band I knew Fur det Vaterland. They scorned it, ”they are racists.” I observed that the fans of heavy metal are skinheads or have waist length hair – nothing in between. That tickled the. Saying goodbye I kissed the hotties hand but she did not like that.
I also met a red-head Dane whom I managed to snog. I forget her name. She was the first red hair I ever got off with. She was short and spoke flawless English. I fed her bar food by hand. I made some remark about this like, ”I have you eating out of my hand.” She said, ”I am not a dog I am a human being.”
The brash public school girl I had seen in the airport –  I met her in a bar. She introduced a dark-haired woman as her sister. I took her at her word for a second before she revealed she had been joking, her companion was her mum.
I met a boy I shall call Jocelyn. I knew that I knew him from somewhere. I thought he had been to my prep school. This bearded youth remembered where we had met –  a year and a bit before we had met at a university interview. He was now heading to LSE.
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THAMEL
Wandering those unpaved streets of Thamel on every street corner a dodgy little Nepalese would step out of the shadows and in a rough throated stage whisper utter the unchanging words, ”Hey friend, want something? Some hash, ha?” I never partook of it. Most of the tourists puffed away on joints. I had tried it before to little effect. Nepalese prison is a punishment that is a little on the stiff side. Phil indulged though.
I was wondering about finding whores. One night Phil and I crouched on the street and saw some fat women in shiny, bright shalwar kameez outfits and thick make up strut past. I took them for whores. Once a Nepali of about 30 came up. He seemed gentle and lent over to us and offered us Nepali girls – and boys. I think he meant adults but neither of us took.
We would walk home sometimes. I would carry a brick with me to scare off the man wild dogs. One time I stamped my foot to scare them away. Being drunk I stamped  much too hard and really hurt myself. I carried a half empty beer bottle home once. Just for the hell of it I decided to pour the beer on my head. It was an odd but pleasing sensation. Just then a taxi pulled up. It was Phil who happened to be going home just after me. He had me get in. He said he saw me with this liquid all down my back in the cool night. He said it looked like I had taken drugs and suddenly started to sweat like mad.
Sometimes we would get a taxi home. The taxi drivers would often offer us drugs or whores. I remember one round-faced Chinese looking fellow telling me the prostitutes at the brothel in question were freshly imported from Tibet. I never went for either.
There were plenty of beggars around. I seldom gave a penny to these pan handlers. There was one walrus faced old man who suffered from leprosy and had stubs for fingers. It was heart breaking to see him. Little children –  especially boys – would gather outside a bakery in Thamel at night. They would see a tourists – particularly a woman – and say they were hungry and ask her to buy them something. These women would often take pity on the cute little street urchins. They often did buy them a snack.
I went to Fire and Ice restaurant sometimes. Prince Dipendra used to dine there occasionally although I never saw him there. He was he crown prince –  eldest son of King Birendra. A few years later His Royal Highness took a gun and shot his whole family – including himself.
I remember on the corner of the Marg where the British Council was there was often a beggar prostrate on the street. He was very undersized – a young man with a short but matted beard. He covered himself in ash. He had suffered from polio and one of his legs was just skin and bone. He banged a little leather skin drum with a wooden stick. It was an affecting sight. It made me think he was performing some Hindu rite in reminding us of the immanence of destruction.
I used to walk around the city centre so much. I went into the royal palace, the old palace, the Kumari Temple. I walked up Durbar Marg, I knew where the Yak and Yeti was. I walked up Swayambunath and to mini Swaywambunath. I went to Pashupatinath with Krishana Lama. I saw where the prison was. It had a sign on the walls misquoting St Paul, ”money is the root cause of all evil.” What he wrote was, ”the love of money is the root of all evil.” Westerners were held there as well as Nepalis. These goras in there were mostly serving time for drug smuggling and gold smuggling. One could visit them at random. It gave them hope and a chat and one was allowed to give them presents. I considered it but it seemed too depressing.
I was penning a penny dreadful novel at the time about Ireland 1917-23
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TIME GOES BY
As time went on I grew bored with Nepal and with the school. I went to the British Council more and more. I read newspapers months out of date. I fell in love with the UNITed Kingdom. I gazed at a photo book – above LONDON. I read a book called retreat from Empire. I devoured books on history –  biographies of great men. I took careful nots from a book about all the British Prime Ministers.
I liked the Times Book of the House of Commons. I found that I could tell the Labour from the Conservative MPs. A beardo was a sure Labour member.
An old Nepalese would search me on the way he. He spoke not a word of English. He came to trust me so much that he stopped looking in my bag.
I was very optimistic about the future. I felt a golden future was assured to me.
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RAFTING AND CHITWAN.
We had been there a few weeks when a sort of half term came up. We decided to go for a jaunt the 4 of us. It cost only £100 for 3 days. We went to Durbar Marg or some place like that early one morn to get a bus for the pre-arranged tour.
I threw my bag to the small Nepali on the roof strapping the luggage down there. Then I climbed up to help as he went to the other end of the bus to catch more packs being flung up. I caught someone else bag – the weight of it could have caused me to tumble over –  I have a bad sense of balance. All the rucksacks were tied to the roof and a tarpaulin was fixed over them in case it rained. I had a word with the travel agent and then boarded this soot coated ‘luxury bus’ as it was called. Phil, Mike and Anne were already aboard. They asked about who was to meet us at Chitwan National Park. ”We are looking for a man in a white shirt.” They looked appalled. Three American girls started laughing at our threadbare travel arrangements. The American turned out to be on our tour. One was a lanky red-head. The others were brunettes and indistinct. None was sexy and they were all a bit too serious. They had just qualified as teachers and it showed. They were goody goodies but personable enough.
I dozed for much of the journey as I sat beside Anne. I awoke and saw my did had woken up before me. I thought this might make Anne a little uncomfortable. ”Down boy down!” I ordered it.
The tourist bus trundled along the pot holed roads for a few hours. At long last we stopped in some litter strewn town called Panch Kilo. This means five kilometres. 5 km from where? From nowhere I supposed. The village that straggled the steep-sided valleys was made of little wooden houses and dried leaf roofs. Some of these shacks were on stilts as that was the best way to build on the side of a valley that tapered away at such an angle. We were guided down a dirt path that sloped down towards the fast flowing coffee coloured river – the colour of white coffee that is!
Those American teachers were all from California. I had better call them Californians because Anne was an American too . from Dubuque, Iowa. It was about noon. We met out guide. I shall call him Vijay. He was a little Nepalese of about thirty with a goatee and a reedy voice. He must have been 50 kg ringing wet. What Vijay lacked in size he made up for in muscle and skill. There was a big orange inflatable boat that we were to travel in. He gave us a 5 minute pep talk  and explained a few things. We donned out plastic helmets and life jackets. Vijay had no more than a baseball cap and shunned to wear a life jacket. Then in we hopped into the water and from there the boat.
We had a paddle each and the going was easy enough as the current was on our side. These were grade 2 rapids – grade 5 is the highest. Grade 2 was hard enough for me.
Some travel agencies that organised such rafting trips said on their advertisement that they gave out certificates to prove that one had completed such a voyage. I thought this was contemptible. Why would someone want such a certificate? To PROVE to people that they had completed such a dangerous trip.
At times we drifted gently and had time to admire the rough hewn rocky valley all around us. At other times the current grew fast and there were boulders half submerged. We bounced around on the waves this created. There were ropes on the side of theb boat to hook our feet into. No one fell out. We splashed in and out. Little whirlpools were here and there. WE ALL got soaked but soon dried off in Asian sun. Vijay was at the rear steering us. He did not hook his foot into any rope and never fell out. Later he challenged us to tip him out of the boat. All of us together could not do it.
I let rip with my boorish sense of humour and the Californians did not warm to this. The red headed one wondered allowed if England still had hanging, drawing and quartering for me. She was not THAT angry with me. It was all repartee.
Another raft came along. We call it rafting but we and they were in boats. This groups of tourists came close to us and we had buckets and so did they. We scooped the chilly water and flung it at each other. I gave us all childish glee. One of the other crew lent forward to fill up the bucket and I grabbed it off him to whoops of delight from our side. In the other boat there was a big guy with a black goatee  a few years older than us. He was brash and energetic. I later remarked that he was so obnoxious that he had to be American. I turned out to be right and Phil said my comment on the Americans was absolutely right. I feel it was a tad unfair myself.
When the water fight was over we continued to paddle a little and then drift. When the captain wanted us to paddle he would say ”forward”. We imitated this. The hills rose at a very abrupt angle from the narrow river. The steep hills were scattered with bushes and trees. Occasionally we saw villages. They often had wires across the river and a pulley system hand cart to move themselves from one back to the other.
For lunch we stopped on a sandy part of the riverbank. Nepalis were waiting with ice boxes of soft drinks and jam sandwiches. I chatted to a couple of Brazilian ladies. One was a tall blonde who was rather older than me but desirable all the same. The other was about 40 and was very chunky with short hair and big teeth. Phil remarked on Michael’s attire, ”Don’t you think he is waearing real Englishman shorts?” This was not intended as a compliment.
We carried on our cheerful expedition for a couple of hours. It was nothing burdensome. A couple of hours before sunset we came to another sandy stretch of riverbank. Tents were ready for us. In we stepped. A dinner was cooked over the fire for us. The graceful Nepalis who waited on us seemed invisible to me. Our group – Phil, Mike, Anne and I – had two tents. We boys all got into one tent. Phil and I urged Mile to go into Anne’s tent. To out great surprise and intense amusment he did! I think he stalked off partly because he was pissed off with our goading him. Phil and I talked drolly long into the night.
The next morning we congratulated Mike saying he must have shagged Anne rotten. Mike moaned, ”we just talked.” I am sure that he spoke the truth.
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POKHARA
After Mike and Phil went to India I took a trip to Pokhara. This is the second city of Nepal.
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BHAKTAPUR
We cycled to Bhaktapur – further east in the Kathmandu Valley.
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PATAN
South of the stinking river in Kathmandu was another city called Patan.
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A dream of going by car to Stockholm.

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I met an English criminal. This man had a working class London accent – old style Cockney not this new West India speak. He was a white man of about 40- shave headed and muscular. He looked like David Courtney but was taller and slimmer. He was pleasant and took a liking to me. We conversed easily.

He had a black sports car. It was very small and seated only one. He persuaded me to take a ride on it. I mean on it and not in it. I stood on a ledge on the back and held on with my hand to yellow bars on either side of the car. He got in the driver’s seat that resembled a cockpit. He told me to crouch forward to my head wad down behind the roof. The wind would be strong. I was mildly worried about holding on. Then he drove. That was not memorable – it was not dangerous. I am not sure over what surface or through what place he drove. I seemed more like some sort of plane I was travelling on.

Then we spoke about going o Stockholm. I told him I had been there and that it consists of several islands. This second part surprised him. He had been to California whereas I had not. We were excited about going to Stockholm.

I hit India – or it hits me. Travel writing.

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I was going on my gap year. I bade goodbye to my dear mother in the Irish airport very early on a January morning. The airport was all but empty. My father was out on the missions as he would say – healing the Arabians that is. I walked through to have my bags checked. I cannot remember what was wrong –  I think it was some delay but I was sent back out! I saw my mother examining a photo exhibition in the ‘saying goodbye’ area. I went up behind her and said in a mock lament, ”I don’t want to go”. I was re-playing my plaintive pleas when I was packed off to boarding schools as a tot. My mother turned around and was only faintly surprised.In the time we had left I thumbed through my passport. I discovered that on my British passport I had under a month till expiry.  Normally one is not allowed to travel if there are under 6 months left to run on a passport. That’s silly. WHY Issue 10 year passports? WHY NOt issue nine and a half-year passports then? Anyhow depart I did. A little later I set off for real.

I cooled my heels in Heathrow for several hours. The flight on was supposed to be immediate but there was a massive delay. I wandered over to the airport chapel. Almost no one must go there. I struck up a conversation with the eccentric and dandruff coated Anglican chaplain. I did not object to him buying me luncheon either. He was a very cheerful chappy and a star of daytime gameshows. I popped in a least once on subsequent journeys only to be told he had been sent to a mental hospital on account of a severe bout of depression. Being and airport chaplain could do that to anyone.

That night I filed towards the plane. An airport official, a burly turbaned Sikh with a pronounced Indian accent, asked to see my passport. He looked through it and noticed I had no Indian visa. I explained I had been diverted. He seemed officious and condescending. Another airport employee spoke to me. He was a Subcontinental too and had a southern English accent. He was more sympathetic, ”they’ll probably let you through.”

There was a saffron robed young saddhu in the queue. He nodded and grinned from ear to ear – showing off his gleaming teeth. As he made eye contact with anyone he nodded and bowed. It was my first namaste. It seemed incongruous to see him here in London. Most of the people boarding the plane were Indians.

I sat beside an Indian whom I shall call Narendra. He was a man of about 60 – tall for and Indian, spare, reserved, deeply tranquil and there was something that seemed dull about him at first. It was as though his brown complexion had a greyish tinge to it. His expression initially seemed far away yet vacant. I cannot quite recall his name but it was something like Narendra. He did give me his card but I have lost it over the years. He was an assistant professor at a university in the US. He told me his tale. He came from a village 100 miles from Delhi. He qualified as a doctor and then did a PhD in biology. He moved to the US and became an academic. He was a permanent resident of the United States. I asked him why he did not become a citizen of the United States, ”I love old India too much.”  He had a clear Indian accent. He had an arranged marriage and a daughter and son.

I asked Narendra what he made of the British Raj. ”They robbed India” he said forcefully. ”If you want to help send the teachers and the doctors. Don’t send the army.”

He told me he did not drink as he thinks it accelerates the ageing process. He only said he THINKS this – not that he knows it. The one time he spoke with animation and light heartedness was when expressing his enthusiasm for Sean Connery –  ”wow.” I told him about the educational fund that Connery set up. I thought that as an educationalist he would be pleased to learn about this.

He told me I would experience temptations in India. ”But restrain yourself. I know you feel this – it is natural – it is in your hormones.” He was referring to sex. He told me ”we are a bit better than animal.” It was his one slip in his English.

The next morning I awoke as India’s sun rays flooded in through the window. I saw the light brown land of India and there seemed to be rather less vegetation than I had expected. Soon enough we put down as Indira Gandhi International Airport.

We filed through to some holding area. A blazer wearing, slight, bespectacled, immaculately turned out little Indian man trotted up to me and some Americans. He was from the airline. Our flight to Kathmandu was delayed and we would be put up at the Imperial Hotel.  ”Kindly sit over there please”, said the airline employee. The quaintness of this turn pf phrase seemed to me Victorian. The Americans were a mixed bunch. Lou is the only one whom I remember. He was a short, slim man of about 40. He had blond-brown hair. He taught Physics at Cornell, ”it keeps me off the streets” he boasted. WITH Him was someone I shall call Stacey – she was a Biology PhD student. SHE HAd black hair and was desirable. There was a plump man inclining towards middle-aged – let me call him Brad. There was a man who was plainly subnormal intelligence –  let me call him Andy. Andy’s carer was a woman of about middle-aged whom I shall dub Amy.

I bought a bottle of water. I went into the bathroom, turned on the tap and brushed my teeth.

I fell into conversation with two young Americans not from my flight. They were a chubby white brunette girl and a diminutive Indian-American boy. Both wore unfashionable glasses. They were graduate students off to do some water research in the Maldives. Then I told these genial geeks how I had heard never to drink tap water in India and I realised my mistake –  I had just brushed my teeth with it. I asked them if they could test it with their equipment. They chuckled at that one.

Before long I WAS led out with the Americans from my flight and put on a minibus to the Imperial. People often say that India is an assault on the senses. I did not notice the smells at first but the heat and light hit me. I was coming from a dreary IRISH January. The busy airport road was an experience. Here at last was INDIA of which I had heard so much. India I had read about and watched for years. My connection with India goes back birth – literally. An Indian doctor delivered me. Here it was hot and thriving  where SUVs sped past bullock carts. Hundreds of people stood about or ambled along the dusty hard shoulders.

I saw a billboard for the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute. I also saw a truck with the names of several Indian states on it – presumably where the truck company operated. one of the states was U.P. I said to the Americans that I think this stood for United Provinces. I was to discover that this was actually Uttar Pradesh –  the northern state. I spoke casually with the Americans. I made some remark about how many Indians speak British. The use of the word British for the language was a deliberate affectation on my part – taken from the Harry Enfield sketches.

We wound by the Salt March Memorial. I recognised the hunched and gaunt figure of Gandhi, staff in hand. We passed the red Roman Catholic Cathedral by a roundabout. I saw the hand-operated invalid vehicles by the roadside.

At length we drew up at the Imperial Hotel. It was an oasis of calm amidst a sea of sweltering humanity. The foyer was wide but not tall. Paintings adorned the walls. Some of them were paintings of India in the days of the British Raj and some of them were of 18th century French with captions in French that I enjoyed reading. There were black and white photos of India in the glory days of the Raj. The staff was mostly male. All were perfectly turned out – not a crease in their shirts nor a hair out-of-place. Lou remarked that these people probably all had Master’s degrees.

I checked into my room. Lou slipped me some rupees to tip the bellboy. He told me it was only a couple of dollars, ”don’t worry about it.” That is American for ; don’t pay me back. It was also American to tip the chap.

My room was large and luxurious – marble floors and paintings hanging on the wall. The shower cabinet could have fitted a baby elephant inside it. I remember thinking that at the time.

lATER we lunched in the garden. I saw on the menu ”a cheesy hamburger”. That is what I ordered, as I told my companions, ”I just wanted to be able to say it.” In the outdoor dining area I saw many well got Indians. Two, whom I took for businessmen, struck me as the sort of affluent Indians who lived a charmed life. These light-skinned Indians had trimmed moustaches and wore spotless cream coloured traditional Indian clothes. They looked impassive behind their sunglasses and chatted softly. There was a self-assurance about them that struck me. It is odd what one remembers. The slow-witted Amerian lolled his head back and looked up at the trees, ”bird”, he said in his infantile manner. He and his carer were going to Vietnam.

We walked around the area of the hotel and into a few shops. I was with Stacey. I wore my combat trousers and army boots. A 20 something good-looking Indian chap spoke to us, ”where you from”. Stacey answered, blushing, ”New York”. He said he had a cousin there and gave us more detail. Was this true of was it the usual gambit to build a rapport with naive tourists. When asked where they are from, even abroad, Americans tend to say their state rather than the USA. The man invited us to his shop. We went – her gladly, I reluctantly. It was upstairs, bright and well-lit. The men in the shop spoke to her almost the whole time. I cannot recall how it came up but the one interesting remark so far as I was concerned was, ”ve are not very much liking the Bakistanti beople.”  They had carpets made in Kashmir or so they said. They told us how poor the carpet makers were and how hard they worked. When it seemed like Stacey, after all the smarm and hard sell, would not be taking anything she was informed, ”If you buy this you will buy not just a carpet but the blessings of 20 families.” When she left empty-handed the men were visibly disappointed.

I wandered into the Cottage Industries Building. I admired the woodwork and saw and image of Subhas Chandra Bhose. He was a man in whom I was to become more interested over the next few months. I knew who he was already and had taken a strong dislike to his totalitarianism and his anti-imperialism.

This part of Delhi I was to come to know very well.

Another American, a friend of one of the companions, joined us at dinner. Let me call him Dave because I do not remember his name. He was of average height and very slim. It seemed he was prematurely greying but had dyed his hair a sickly blond. He was involved with some clothing factory. hE REmarked how he had done an Associate’s degree in 2 years and that made much more financial sense than a 4 year degree that his sister had done. He said some people objected to Indian factories using children aged 12 to work full-time but that was better for them to be in  a safe factory than working as a prostitute. I agreed with him. At dinner we recounted the events of the day. I commented how we lived in the lap of luxury here but just over the garden wall some people struggled with the most benighted poverty. It did not bear thinking about.

The next day we headed for the airport. At the security check we were well searched. A customs officer who spoke halting English found my condoms and asked ”is it a cell?”. I thought he was using the scientific word for a battery. I do not remember my answer. I was deeply embarrassed. Stacey later told us that when it came to the pat down the customs woman searching her ”went straight for the breasts.” I took a photo of my companions and boarded our plane for Kathmandu. I notice that the Indian airport staff pronounced it ”KAHT – maan -do” rather than our ‘cat – man- do”. I was seated separately from them. I lost them on the flight. Months later I ran into Stacey in a Kathmandu internet cafe. That was all.

Travel writing: Oman

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What follows is perhaps more of a reminiscence that a piece of travel writing but here goes.

At the age of 9 I was on holiday in the UAE. One day we went for a long drive through the dun desert passing some banal small towns on the way. The ground was largely flat and solid. Its monotony was broken by the odd stubby bush and the occasional scrap of yellow grass and – more far between – a lone palm tree. Camels chewed absent-mindedly as they always do. In a petrol station was we a thick-set middle-aged Arab gentleman dressed in a white thobe. He sat in his car with a steady expression on his plump mid brown face. My father remarked that this man was a son of the desert.

Without seeing any passport control my parents told us that we were in Oman. I was not surprised – in fact I do not think I reacted in any way. We had driven to that peninsula that is part of Oman that is cut off from the rump of the country by the UAE. I cannot recall the name of the exclave. We went to a hotel was small and would have been unremarkable but for the fact that it was gleaming white. We were not staying the night but we had a bedroom anyway. My mother told me I could change into my togs. Togs is the Irish word for swimming trunks. I had not brought them. My mother scolded me for forgetting them. She said that she had told me to bring my trunks. I protested that I had not heard her say that. I genuinely hadn’t. I am faintly surprised thinking back that she expected me at that age to take my trunks myself. I think few children of that age would nowadays be required to remember their swimming trunks themselves.

That evening we drove back. As the sun of declining my father loudly brought our attention to a tiny whirlwind to the right side of the car perhaps 100 m from the road. He said he had always heard of them but never seen on. I think this phenomenon is called a wind devil. I saw tumble weed trundle past some time later.

In a grubby little town we cruised through I saw a greyish bull wander around a deserted sand square. A police car was nearby and it seemed to me that the youthful and slim policeman was trying to figure out a way to coral the beast who was a menace to public safety. How could he do this without endangering his own person.

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I went to Oman at the age of 18. My father worked there. At that age I was determined to dislike the place. I was very negative about all my parents plans for me and all their moves. I was fed up to the back teeth of being buffeted about from continent to continent. All I wanted to do was to reside in London like the rest of the planet. I considered destroying my passport so that I would be unable to go. I thought of phoning my psychiatrist Dr Hermann Epstein. I actually called him. My school’s booklet had his number in it. THEY WOULD not do that now – data protection and all that jazz. I went to the house call box. Odd to think of it now as everyone has a mobile phone as soon as he can speak. I actually got to his voicemail and I heard he gentle Capetonian accent asking me to leave a message, ”if you wish.” That ending ”if you wish” struck me as peculiar which is probably why I have always remembered it.

I packed my bag and cursed my progenitors with each item I stuffed in. I awoke with the alarm clock well before dawn in March. It was the Easter holidays and I was departing a few hours earlier than my schoolfellows in view of my flight. March seems early for the Easter hols but Easter is a moveable feast. I wonder what the precise date was. there was a St Patrick’s Day party coming up in OMAN And my parents had insisted that I take my dinner jacket so I could attend it. This was another thing I was resenting as I was sure I would loathe it.

I got a taxi to Heathrow. There outside the terminal building – still as dark as midnight – I fell into a conversation with a New Zealander. She was short, pale and only a little plump with brown curly hair and thick glasses. She was reasonably desirable. As an 18-year-old virgin I would have fucked anything female between puberty and menopause. The Kiwi and I got onto politics somehow and I expressed my distaste for the Blair Government which had just been elected. She seemed surprised, ”but I thought they are really popular.” I acknowledged that unfortunately they were popular and I was in the minority in rejecting the Labour Government.

I boarded the plane and remember nothing of the flight. I do not even recall the airline.

I arrived in the terminal building. It was not large but was airy and clean. There was some glitch with my visa. The Omanis refused to let me through. Far from being perturbed I was pleased. I thought I might be sent back to the United Kingdom. I could then spend the Easter holiday with my sisters.

I was brought into a side office. Some young Omani man in a police type uniform questioned with in quick fire English. It was not intimidating in any way nor was he suspicious. There was a window open to the greeting concourse and my parents were brought around. My father seemed indifferent but my mother looked at me affectionately. She held out her hand for me to hold. She said that she could at least touch me. It was one of those moments when my mother – with whom I have a strained relationship – was actually sentimental. Her true goodness shone through. The policeman saw my blue camouflage trousers and asked if I was a soldier. By his tone I could not judge whether he was jocular or in earnest. I replied truthfully – in the negative. My mother later told me she feared I would say yes on the basis that I was in the Cadet Force. Rather I had been in it the year before and rendered very poor service.

I had to spent the night in the arrivals terminal – I was not allowed through passport control. SOON the area was deserted but the lights came on. I was not frustrated but viewed it as faintly fun. I wandered around over and again The escalators had stopped. I notice the beam to activate them and got them going again. I waited till they switched off and then I walked up the down escalator. That gave me an infantile thrill – doing something forbidden.

I slept on a bench and I do not remember it being uncomfortable. I am unsure what I ate but food did not seem to be a problem. Next morn I was allowed through.

My mother told me that in sympathy with me she had slept ona  bench on the other side of passport control. Again, she was touching. I did not appreciate it at the time.

We drove into town. My father parked outside the building where he worked. As we entered the building we met a grey haired ITALIAN chap. He was thin and vivacious. He ran a restaurant right beside the office block. My father introduced me to him and the Italian remarked that he would set me up with a good-looking girl. I smouldered – somehow irritated. The poor old guy was trying to help. I wanted to shock my parents and tell them I was gay. I genuinely did toy with gay fantasies but I was not actually gay and never have been. I was predominantly heterosexual but had recently lost my fear of homosexuality. I was no longer scared to think about it. I was much happier for that.

My father showed me around the place and then it was on to the house a half hour drive away. The house was on three floors. It had three bedrooms. The rooms were not large and were sparsely furnished. The ceilings were high and it was a comfortable place.

I think it was that very night the St Patrick’s Day party was on. I had a few hours kip before I arose and put my dinner jacket on. I asked if I had to go. My parents chorused, ”yes.”

We sat at a table with an English couple and their 16-year-old son. I do not remember him. Let me call him Tom as in from TOM Brown’s Schooldays – he went to Rugby so it figures. His father was a mustachioed businessman a shade below average height. He clearly came from that social class that is somewhere uncertain below the professions and above the proletariat. He gave the impression that he certainly thought he had done very well from himself and did not mind anyone knowing it. Tom’s mother was fairly tall and had black hair. She was a fairly good-looking woman although she did not awaken any MILF fantasies in me. She wore a black dress and rapidly got so drunk that she could not even articulate. I spoke to Tom a little. He wore a white shirt and grey trousers. I looked askance at him a little as he was not togged out in appropriate attire. I felt I cut a dash in my blue tinged dinner jacket even if my parents had picked it up in a charity shop.

My father introduced me to a woman known as Terry who organised the party every year. She was a very obese wheelchair bound Irishwoman with very white skin and very black hair. I had nothing to say to her so I thanked her for organising the party. Her husband sat simpering beside her. He was a bald INDIAN man with an ugly moustache. I somehow felt that she and not he was the master of the house. They had a daughter. I do not remember her name – I shall call her Aoife. Terry suggested I dance with her. I think she was my age –  Aoife. She was a little chubby with black hair, a plain face and large nose –  but she was a girl. I danced awkwardly – not being drunk enough but the music was mercifully loud which gave me something to follow and some sense of not being stared at for my lack of rhythm. There were plenty more on the dance floor. Aoife told me she was going to Limerick – I beliebe er mother’s home town – to study equine science.

I suggested we go out for air. A boy named Oli had taught me this line when I was 14 and he was 18. Aoife accepted. WE WENT outside and I snogged her. There were people milling around but no one seemed to pay any attention. Later we went back in. As we mounted the stairs, my arm around her ample waist, she past two of her female schoolmates. They looked surprised but enjoying the gossip of seeing me with her. ONE Was a good-looking blonde. We soon parted. I was semi hard from having snogged her. I went to the loo for a handy shandy. When I came out a middle-aged grey haired Irishman greeted me with a cheery ”George” as though meeting a long-lost friend. I had never clapped eyes on him in my life. SOMEHOW HE KNEW who I was. He was married to someone my dad knew. Later I met the Irishman’s wife. She was a Glaswegian nurse and told me about sectarianism in her native city and all this – which school did you go to to gauge someone’s denominational affiliation.

I doubt a single Omani was at the party. Rich Muscat was a fairly bifurcated community. The Western expatriates were one group and the wealthy Omanis another. Sometimes rich Omanis would drink in hotel bars with the Occidentals.

I knew a member of the SS.

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It is true that members of the SS carried out some of the most ghastly crimes of the Second World War. The Death’s Heads Units of the SS guarded the concentration camps and were responsible for the murder of millions of people. The Waffen SS was a little different. Waffen means ‘weapon’. Perhaps one can best translated Waffen SS as ‘armed SS’. They took part in fighting rather than the systematic murder of unarmed people. I must admit that more than a few men of the Waffen SS also participated in war crimes. However, it would be wrong to say that every member of the SS did so. These men were also under Teutonic discipline. Disobedience was severely dealt with. I do not wish to try too hard to dream up excuses for these men. Apparently even in the extermination camps there were SS men who refused to murder people and they were not killed or imprisoned. They might be sent to the front which was dangerous.

The old man whom I met I will call Rudolf Herderer. Rudolf was born in May 1925 in Bistrita which is now in Romania. His family was an ethnic German family that had lived there since the 12th century. When he was born his town was in Romania. Only 7 years earlier it had been part of Austria-Hungary. There was no doubt in his mind that he was not Romanian – he was German. He did not even speak Romanian. In his town most people were German. There were a few Romanians in the town but they lived in their streets and did not mix with the German community much. Hungarians and Jews also lived in the town. The different ethnicities interacted happily. Rudolf’s family rented rooms in their house to Jews. When the film Jud Suess came out Rudolf said that really changed things. Suddenly people began to see Jews in a different light.

The Germans abroad were more German than the Germans themselves. This is a common phenomenon amongst communities abroad such as Irish Americans. It is not surprising that when news filtered through the Nazi movement that some people in Bistrita were impressed.

Rudolf’s elder brother Otto enlisted in the SS. Rudolf did not do well in school especially in Latin. He was a fine physical specimen – 6’2”  with blond hair and blue eyes – well-built. He was just the sort of athletic youth that the SS believed was an archetype of the master race. At the age of 16 he too joined the SS with the blessing of his parents. He left them and his little sister behind. I do not know what SS Division he was in but I guess it was the 2nd SS Division – Division SS Das Reich. This Division was stationed in Romania in March 1941 which was maybe when he joined it. The movements of this division seem to coincide with where he went during the war.

Rudolf spent some time in Prague. I believe he was in France for a time. He learnt to speak a little French. He fought in Russia. Somewhere in Germany he had a girlfriend and he had a son with her during the war. However, his son died as a baby. How? I do not know. There was not enough food, the houses were often destroyed by air attacks, there was hardly any medicine and the doctors were mostly at the front anyway. He may have been killed in a bombing raid or artillery bombardment. He kept this a secret from his family for 60 years.

He was a naughty boy in the SS. He sneaked out at night to meet girls. He once missed his troop train for this reason and could have been severely punished by a sympathetic NCO covered for him.

He said that he sympathised more with the Soviets than the Americans. He said that he knew they were freezing and starving like the Germans.

He recalled swimming in Prague. Some men had swimming trunks and others did not. The order came down that all must swim nude.

At some point he guarded people working during the war. Were these Soviet POWs, civilians from an occupied country pressed into labour , Jews, Gypsies, German political dissidents? I do not know.

One time he and some comrades were hiding in the woods. The Red Army came close. The SS were outnumbered and surrounded. Rudolf decided to take his own life. He took out a hand grenade ready to commit suicide. However, the Red Army did not notice them and bypassed the wood.

Otto was taken prisoner by American troops. He was held as a POW in the US. Officers were treated better than ordinary soldiers. Then the US Government decided that SS officers would get no privileges.

At one point Rudolf was wounded and feared he had lost his sight. He was in hospital. He opened his eyes. He saw a picture on the wall of Hitler. He said it was the only time he was happy to see Hitler. He prayed to the Virgin Mary who cured him. He was brought up a Protestant. He associated the Blessed Virgin more with Catholicism. As he got his eyesight back he converted to Roman Catholicism.

At the end of the war he was in Vienna and put bombs on bridges to blow up Soviet tanks crossing them.

He and his unit surrendered to some group of Allied soldiers I do not know which nationality. There was a Frenchman there and they asked what would be done with them. They were told they would be handed over to the Soviets. Their blood ran cold. They escaped.

Later he got to Bavaria in southern Germany. He was with two SS comrades. All SS men had a tattoo under the left arm with their blood group. If a man was wounded and unconscious this place was the most likely to survive without dirt or blood on it. One could read the blood group and give him a transfusion. The day when they were supposed to get these tattoos done Rudolf was sick or something. Later he spoke to an office about it and the officer managed to avoid having Rudolf tattooed in this way. The officer seemed to recognise that the war was not going in Germany’s favour and having this tattoo after the war was unlikely to be a boon.

In Bavaria Rudolf and his two friends ran into a group of American soldiers in a forest. Rudolf and his mates had thrown away their SS uniforms as they knew that Allied soldiers took an especial dislike to the SS. The Americans knew how to determine whether these men were SS or not. They told them to reveal the underside of their left arms. They did so. The Americans led Rudolf out of the woods – away from his two friends. Other Americans stayed behind to guard the two men with SS tattoos. Minutes later Rudolf heard some gunshots. He knew that was the end of his friends. Not having that tattoo had made the Americans think that he was in the German Army and not in the SS. That officer who had prevented Rudolf from getting the tattoo saved his life.

He was held as a prisoner of war for a few more months. Then the US Army started releasing Prisoners of War. A local farmer needed a hand and Rudolf volunteered to work for him. The US Army let Rudolf go. Some time later all former members of the SS were told to report to the US Army barracks for questioning. After the murder of his two friends Rudolf was too terrified to go. He stayed quiet and got away with it.

The mothers of those dead SS men complained to the US authorities about the slaying of their sons. These were unarmed men and they had not tried to escape. These women got nowhere. The SS had an extremely bad reputation. There was no sympathy for them. Maybe these men had taken part in atrocities but if so they are entitled to a fair trial like anyone else. Even if they had participated in war crimes their degree of responsibility must be gauged. Ordinary ranking soldiers following orders can hardly be held accountable. If they were guilty they ought to have been punished according to law which might even have handed down a death sentence although that was unlikely. To summarily shoot them was illegal and immoral. Admittedly their mothers’ said they did not run for it but I do not know – they only witness were American soldiers who if questioned would probably have excused themselves by saying these men made a break for it and we had to shoot them. The SS men may have anticipated that they were about to be shot and running was their only hope.

Rudolf met a local girl – a year and a half older than him. I shall call her Bibiane Schwarz. She grew up on a farm. They had a relationship for a few years and married in 1952. They had two daughters Diana and Lara. They lived in a little house just across the road from where his friends were murdered.

I went out with Lara’s daughter Juliana. That is how I knew Rudolf.

Rudolf worked in the mines for a while. It was well paid but dangerous. he deciDed to give up. He was involved in trades unions and voted SDP. The German Army was refounded in 1955 and he considered re-enlisting. He did not tell people he had been in the SS- he said he was in the army.

In the 1970s Rudolf discovered that he was not a German citizen. He was annoyed. He was German to his fingertips. He had fought for Germany. He became a citizen. He spoke a Saxon dialect but got used to Bavarian after a while.

One time a man turned up at Rudolf’s house. He verbally abused Rudolf and accused him of being concerned in war crimes. I do not know what Rudolf said to that.

Rudolf reminisced fondly of his time in Bristwitz as he called it. He could have gone back to visit but chose not to. Almost no Germans lived there. They were pressed into labour in the USSR after the war and then deported to Germany. It would have been a ghost town for him – a most lugubrious place to visit. His father went to live in East Germany. As a pensioner he was free to visit the West. His sister lived in East Germany and they visited her occasionally. She dwelt in Slazwedel.

Rudolf was anti-war. He disliked George W Bush and accused him of attacking everywhere like Hitler. He drew that actual parallel. I never heard him express any Nazi views. He talked about the war a lot – never in a mournful way. I got the impression that it was almost a happy event for him – certainly exciting.

Rudolf was convivial to me and welcoming. My British nationality did not put him off in the least.

I think choosing to enlist in the SS was a very bad decisions. There are many mitigating circumstances. Many people do foolish things at the age of 16. Rudolf made his mistake with the active encouragement of his elder brother and his parents. He was part of a nation gone mad in the midst of war. He was part of a totalitarian system. Everything he heard and read encouraged him to think that Nazism was a good thing. There were very few who were brave enough to say otherwise. Before we condemn him one ought to ask oneself what one would have done in those circumstances. Of course these excuses are equally valid for those who grow up in other totalitarian societies such as the USSR.

Of those who served in the SS few had Nazi views even privately after the war. Those who remained Nazis at heart tended to be the older ones and higher ranking SS men. They had gone into the SS with their eyes open – they knew what they were doing. Ordinary SS soldiers like Rudolf came out as leftists, rightists, centrists and apolitical. Juliana told her black American friend about Rudolf. He was aware that the Nazis were also anti-black. However, he did not denounce Rudolf but said he could sympathise with anyone who wished to defend their country.

Towards the end of the war atrocities were committed against Germans. There were nightly air attacks killing civilians. I do not call these atrocities but they did make the actions of the Wehrmacht somewhat defensive. I fully admit that the Axis war aims were aggressive. However, there was a little justice on their side. Germany had a case for the annexation of the Sudetenland, for the annexation of Danzig and for unity with Austria. All the other territorial acquisitions were unjustifiable however.

The Norwegian massacre.

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A few days ago I was skipping through the channels when I saw the newsflash about the bomb attack in Norway. I, like many others, assumed that it was something to do with militant Islam. I was right but the wrong way around. No one has since suggested that this is the work of Al Qa’eda jokers.

I do not wish to jump to conclusions. I do not wish to prejudice the chief suspect’s right to  fair trial. However, a main suspect is in custody. His name is Anders Behring Breivik. Through his lawyer he confessed to the public that he did execute these murders. It must be the largest case of mass murder in Norwegian history. Let me say that the case for the defence is not strong.

Almost nobody killed was a Muslim.

Will people please stop calling the main suspect a right-winger? He was a neo Nazi and that is not right-wing.

I disagree very strongly with many of the suspect’s views. Hoover, in spite of this atrocity criticising ISLAM is still legitimate. Opposing immigration is still an acceptable political stand. Leftists may try to use this crime to shut down debate on these issues.

I fear we may experience Jaws syndrome on this one. Jaws syndrome is something I have invented today. It is when the media – through film or news broadcasts or newspaper articles – create a massively exaggerated sense of fear on a certain issue. Sure, sharks kill people but only about 100 a year. That is tiny. One is probably more likely to do from a lightning bolt. I too get scared in the sea thinking a shark will bite me. Of course on a rational level I know that the chance of this is so slight as to be not worth considering. However, the vivid images from the screen have induced an irrational and excessive fear in me that I cannot control. So too with this terrorist attack there may be an over reaction against anti-immigration discourse.

If Breivik’s attack was blamed on Islamists it might have turned people against Muslims. If he had hidden and managed to make people believe it was Islamists who did this then he could have succeeded. In fact it will turn them against neo Nazis and maybe against decent rightists.

Sorry, I should not be assuming that he did it. Anyway – whoever did this has committed a ghastly crime. DOZENS of totally innocent people lie dead. I visited Norway in 2006. I was astonished at how lax security was by by the royal palace. I could almost have walked in. I thought this is because Norway has no enemies. When the bomb scene was shown I recognised the square as being that where the headquarters of the Norwegian Labour Party is situated.