India Uncut

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Bright lights, big city

"It's a wonder that the men in Pakistan are so big and the autos are so small," remarked my friend and colleague Dileep Premachandran as we walked the streets of Lahore. Indeed, when three of later sat inside in an autorickshaw, we could barely sit properly, our heads almost hitting the roof, knees scrunched up, unable to move for fear of the last person to get in tumbling out. As Dileep wondered, how could the autos be so tiny in a land of Punjabis and Pathans?

And they are quick as well. One of the first things that struck me when we went for a walk on the streets of Lahore was how fast the traffic was. Crossing the road required adjusting that internal calculator that tells you when it is safe to walk across. You hesitate, move forward, scramble back, scamper across, getting used to the pace of the traffic. It's not just the cars here, but the autos that are frighteningly fast. This is also, of course, a land of fast bowlers.

The roads are conducive to this speed. Everywhere in Lahore we have seen wide, smooth roads -- with no garbage anywhere to be seen, unless we are in a self-deprecatory mood. Last night, when we got in, we were stunned by the lights of Lahore -- we saw glamorous shopping centres dressed in long lines of bright lights hanging down their length, all around them, like draperies. (I was later told that these were preparations for Id, which is on the 10th 11th.) It is a beautiful drive to our hotel, and although I had tried my best to come here with no preconceived notions of Lahore, I am surprised by how beautiful and modern this city looks.

This is just one tiny fragment of it all, of course: one road, one drive. One can't generalise about a city from one flicker of life in it: big cities, old cities, contain multitudes. I'll go out and see more tomorrow, I tell myself -- and then spend the next morning scrambling for my press pass, and then -- now -- blogging. The city awaits, and I'm off.

Update (January 10): I had written in this post that Id was on the 10th, as that is what a colleague had told me, but Dr Khalil Ahmad of the Alternate Solutions Institute informs me that it is on the 11th. The error is regretted.

Meeting Dr Ahmad, a classical liberal struggling to promote values of individual freedom in Pakistan, was one of the high points of my trip so far. I shall write more about it in a later post.
amit varma, 12:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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