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Published: November 13th 2007
There's an eagle or otherwise large bird of prey perched on the frame of a satellite receiver. The call to prayer just began, with two mosques managing to go in syllable-for-syllable tandem for at least half of it. That's a first! The sun has just set. There's a bit of fog gathering around and above the low buildings. There's a fair bit of motorcycle- and rickshaw-din (my SW radio picks them all up for some reason), birds are hovering overhead. I'm retiring early for the night to write before I forget and things become drowned out in the vague haze of time.
Just down the road is my food joint. Past the fried fish joints and the puddles of sewage. I saw the main cook from a distance, between the skinned chickens hanging by their necks, and among the various woks and pans, and I knew he was my man. He cooked me the most delicious dish (Chicken Karai) I've had so far. And I don't even like chicken. He alone would make an extra evening in Pindi worthwhile. Ziya also agreed: eyes don't lie. If you're a good person your eyes will show. And similarly if you're a f*cker. Didn't Christ say something similar too? I won't have anything to do with someone whose eyes I don't like, and my Kashmiri buddy has the clearest most honest eyes and handshake you could ask for.
A little ways away is the overpass across the train tracks on the way to Raja bazaar. Sitting on the steps are women and children passively begging. Or occasionally a child will spot you (you can't fool the kids) and run up for a coin. I don't understand backpackers who refuse to give money to beggars. I don't feel sorry for beggars, and I know my couple rupees won't make a difference (nor would a larger amount, for that matter); but why turn down the only human contact you can have with someone who only asks 1/60th of a dollar? Save your rupee and lose your soul.
At the overpass proper are Dentists. Maybe half a dozen, lounging around, refilling their gums with noswar, with cardboard diagrams showing tooth numberings, and glass casings with black velvet filled with rows and rows of teeth. Then the tools of the trade: a small hammer, mirror, small bottles of stuff, cotton. I didn't stick around too long. Some had a full collection: a whole mouth's worth, one of each of the 32 different teeth (and plenty of extras). I wonder if a collector/dentist would be tempted to extract a healthy tooth "just to get that last one I've been trying for for weeks"... or maybe there's a market with established exchange rates: 2 molars for a canine. Probably more scientific: two #2s for a #8. Tabulated and organized. And the teeth really do look impressively white and healthy... makes one wonder why they got puled in the first place. Needless to say, my "local experience" doesn't extend to utilizing the services of overpass-dentists.
Everywhere are fruit carts: bananas and guavas are standard fare. I flare my nostrils when walking past guava carts to make sure I'm only selecting the most potent-smelling ripe fruit. When peeled, soft, juicy... I can eat a kilo in one sitting and on a full stomach. I tell myself I need to gain weight, though I've been eating up a storm. Bananas cost 20, 30, 40Rs per dozen, depending on the size. It's typical of Urdu that "dozen" seems to be part of the language. Along with "chicken", "railway station", "wagon", "seat", and a number of other unlikely words.
After gaining experience watching someone buying guavas and deciding the correct price must be 30Rs/kg, I was in the mood for some, so approached a cart and in my most nonchalant Urdu: "kilo kitna he?" (I know using "kilo" instead of "ek kilo" is an Arabic construct, but to err is human.) The answer is a mumbled sentence, and I didn't hear either "bis" or "tis", so I have no idea what was said. I finger the fruits doubtfully with a skeptical look... "seems expensive". With the air of a man who knows the going price of all commodities in 3 continents, I turn to go with an offended look on my face. They stop me.. "wait wait, how much do you want to pay?" (It's after dark so they're looking to offload their goods, and I don't need to speak Urdu to understand that.) "Tis rupee." You mean you want 2kg for 30? Uh, no, I mean 1kg for 30. (Pakistan. "kay-gee" is the preferred way of pronouncing that.) "But the price is 20"... Oh. Well, I couldn't really understand your accent... Of course, by all means, please give me a kilo. Never show embarrassment.
My hotel room is cheap (200Rs), with a nice view from the balcony, and an attached bathroom, and the staff are surprisingly friendly and helpful. The flipside is the beds are lumpy, the sheets dirty (thank you oh thank you Janvier for that sleeping bag), the water from the sink pours right down to the cement floor without even an attempt at plumbing, the shower only has cold water, the flush is non-existent, and the bathroom light doesn't work. Still, an attached bathroom (another Urdu word) is as much a luxury as it is a liability. Sure, the room ends ups reeking, and you have to make creative use of your headlamp to take a shower, but imagine having to dress and look respectable before dashing down the hall (this is a muslim country after all) for a late-night emergency. All in all... I'm glad.
And I'm having the time of my life in Pakistan... no guidebook, no information apart from what PTDC and hotel receptionists provide, no itinerary or schedule (apart from a 3-month Indian visa that's already started ticking)... Dare I hope to I'm becoming a Real Traveler? Maybe if I dump some of the 15 books I'm lugging around with me...
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