Since my return last November to Australia, after almost 15 months living in Pakistan, there are recurring questions that almost everyone asks me as the first three options. That is, shortly after “hello” and well before “how are you going?”
Mostly, the interrogatives come as statements, with people assuming that they have a broad knowledge of all things sub-continental and Central Asian because they have “seen it on the news”. The misconceptions are enormous in breadth and depth, somewhat akin to Americans and Europeans believing that kangaroos hop down George Street, poisonous snakes are on every suburban street and all the local spiders will bite your hand off.
- With all those bombs going off, it must have been so scary over there. How concerned for your safety were you?
- You must have gotten tired of the spicy food all of the time. I bet you’re glad to be back to normal meals.
- Those Pakistani cricketers are so uncontrollable; you had the toughest job in world cricket!
I can honestly say that in all the time I was residing in Lahore, or visiting other parts of the country, from the southern coast of Karachi, to the Army School of Physical Training at Kakul (at 6,000 feet on the way to the Karakoram mountains), I did not have one single second where the fear of an attack, or random suicide bomb, ever entered my (or my fitness coach Dave Dwyer from Sydney) mind.
” I did not have one single second where the fear of an attack, or random suicide bomb, ever entered my mind”
Dave and I went about our day to day business in Lahore without any security to accompany us. Life was normal – going to the supermarket or the movies or the golf course. The only genuine fear comes when you get in the traffic! Now that is an experience.
The roads in Lahore City are mainly wide boulevards that allow the traffic to get up a good pace between the sets of signals. On one of my first days in Lahore, the first thing I asked my driver was, “… there any road rules at all?” such was the apparent chaos to my western mind. He replied in an indignant tone that “yes, of course there are!!! But if we took any notice of them we would never get anywhere”.
It is with all those considerations in mind that the brutal attack against the Sri Lankan cricket team in March came as a significant shock. The Sri Lankans had completed the First Test of the series in Karachi without incident. The heaviest criticism has been directed at the head groundsmen who produced a pitch of unforgiveable flatness that saw Younis Khan make 313. Even he found fault with such a surface. Security seemed fine, adequate at least. No threats were received or perceived. The players and fans went about their business of participating and spectating with interest and diligence.
The first two days of play at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore (so named after Libyan dictator Mohmmar Gaddafi, who gave a serious financial gift for its construction in the late 1970s) went, as they say, “without incident” apart from broken hearted bowlers once more.
Cricket has been the “alternative narrative” for Pakistan, which is a vastly different story, divorced from terrorism, militancy, the hiding place of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and mis-government.
The average Pakistani is a cricket fan, and Pakistan is the most populous country in the world. That means a lot of people watch and love the game. At the time of writing, the perpetrators had not been identified, but it would be safe to say that they are not ‘average Pakistanis’.
I am very familiar with the exact location of the attack in Gulberg’s Main Boulevard. It is only a couple of hundred metres from my residence at the National Cricket Academy.
I have driven through the Liberty Roundabout hundreds of times. I had my first Punjabi motor accident at the very spot which the terrorists fired a rocket at the visitor’s bus. The traffic control site is probably 70 metres wide through the centre, grass covered, manicured lawn with well cared for flower beds brightening the asphalt carpet.
Businesses occupy the outer margins on two quadrants of the ‘Aussie Rules’ sized oval. The fresh Boulli juice shop, where the staff will bring a freshly squeezed pomegranate, grapefruit or orange juice to your car as you wait at kerb, blocking a lane or two. A sole trader barber has the lone outdoor chair, mirror cracked, perilously close to the passing rickshaws, motor bikes, buses and camel drawn carts. He looks old enough to have been trading when the camels were the only source of transport. Another businessman plies live fish into a plastic bag; I have never seen anyone actually make a purchase and can’t imagine what the price would be.
When the cricket is on at the stadium, their profits skyrocket. They will be struggling for many a year since the lunatics decided that the formally sacrosanct British game became another target to satisfy extremist views.
I feel for many Pakistani friends who have to endure the power outages and rising food prices.
In downtown Gulberg, Lahore City, there are the most modern optometry practices where the frames are fashion contemporary and the equipment is state of the art. Eye care is not so good in the rural areas though, and although India and other developing Asian countries benefit from such wonderful charities as Optometry Giving Sight, it was another aim of mine to be involved with the local delivery of such charities. The hospitality of the people of Pakistan deserves a good turn.