Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pakistan trip - The Karachi series part 2

Day 3 - 27th November 2006

We woke up early as we had to get to Regent Hotel - the venue of the presentation by 8.30 am. We got there on time, but the weirdest thing was that although the speakers had reached the venue, the technicians hadn't. So the microphone and stuff had not been set up, even though many teachers had also reached. The event was delayed by an hour or so. While my Singaporean colleagues discussed how this would never happen in Singapore, I couldn't help but smile. In fact, when Mr. N apologised for the delay in the start of the event, I said, "You don't have to apologise to me for the delay. I'm from India, remember?" We burst into uproarious laughter much to the suprise of the others. "Private joke." We winked at them. It was at this point that Mr. N and I felt the formalities between us breaking, and from then on, I started addressing him as NBhai instead.

As we sat there waiting for the technicians to finish, my Manager K leaned over and said, "You have such an advantage here you know... because you speak their language. I want to start the opening speech with an Urdu phrase. What should I say? How about "Khuda hafiz"? If the teachers were not looking at me, I think I would have imploded with laughter. Then I told him that 'Khuda Hafiz' is a goodbye phrase, and he should under no circumstances begin with that. Going back to the teachers who were looking at me, I noticed something strange. Initially I'd thought that I'd easily blend in, but apparently I did not. They were all looking at me quite strangely, as if they knew that I was like them, but not really. The curious stares went with me everywhere I went.

Initially the Maths speaker was supposed to deliver her presentation first, but they decided to send me first so that I could finish up and go to the police station to get myself registered. Finally, the hall was full - there were about 125 teachers, all female - and I began. There was a video camera recording everything, which I discovered when I turned around and almost freaked out at the magnified video of myself right behind me!

The teachers, me and err... me!

I thought the presentation was going along pretty decently, when I noticed a small group of teachers looking a bit distracted. They were pointing towards something behind me and talking. Suddenly someone shrieked. I turned around and oh boy - there was an electrical fire raging just behind me!! The funny thing was - other than that group, the rest were surprisingly calm and still attentive. I did not know whether to scream or stay calm.

"Errr... is anyone planning to do anything about the fire or should I just continue?" I thought to myself. I stopped speaking and turned to look at the fire again. One of the technicians stamped on the wires and put it out. Almost instantly, everyone turned to look at me with renewed interest, as if fires in hotel banquet halls were totally normal.

See the square at the bottom right corner? That's where the fire broke out.

"We will continue now. By the way, that wasn't the Science experiment that I said I will conduct during the presentation." I said. They laughed. Phew.

My presentation was over in about 2 hours. I realised that presenting to a foreign audience is so much more difficult than presenting to a local audience. The culture, the thought process is all so very different. We did face some very difficult questions, such as why the Singapore science books contained a chapter on the human reproductive system. We were told later that the Pakistani culture is conservative in many ways, and to them certain topics were learnt the natural way and not taught explicitly through textbooks. In fact, many teachers who came to speak to me said that they loved the books, but they had to physically cut out that chapter from each of the thousands of books before passing them to the students. This illustrated the topic of 'Culture and business' that I'd learnt in my Master's course so well. This trip was enlightening for me because it gave me a lot of practical examples of all the theories I learnt in my course.

There were also many many teachers who came to ask me things that had nothing to do with the books I'd written or edited. Most of them were "Are you from Pakistan?" or "Are you from India?" They told me I spoke well, which gave me considerable confidence to face the next three audiences in different cities.

As the Maths speaker started her presentation after the break, NBhai and I set off for the police station. Though the people at the police station were really friendly, it still took us about two hours to get the two stamps - one that said when I landed in Karachi, and one that said when I was leaving for Islamabad. The officers seemed very uneasy to see me hanging around with NBhai, and told him to ask me to "wait in the ladies' waiting room". Ladies' waiting room? Wow. So I hung around in this little room with two benches and a few chairs, and many many burqa-clad women, who also seemed to be looking at me curiously through their burqas, possibly because I was in a business suit. Finally I got really bored and decided to talk to them. Most of them had moved to India after getting married, and also had to go through the same registration procedure every single time they wanted to visit their folks in Pakistan. It was quite sad because many of them were waiting there carrying very small children. I found out that it works the same way for Pakistanis visiting India as well. Both sides have complex procedures and long waiting queues. Later I asked Mr. Z if he thought these "procedures" would be ever be simplified in a way that visiting each other's countries would be not such a arduous task, and he said "Not in my lifetime. Maybe yours."

Finally, after endless waiting, NBhai came to fetch me from the waiting room. I said goodbye to all the pairs of eyes and left. NBhai said he had to drop names of his VIP contacts to get the job done faster.

"Same as in India, huh?" I asked.

"Same as in India." He smiled.

By the time we got back to the venue, the Maths speaker had finished and it was halfway through lunchtime. I had some yummy biryani, shammi kebabs and naan. And oh, Pepsi in a glass bottle, yeay! During the English presentation, I sat at the reception with Mr. Z and his editor Ms. T and chatted away. Mr. Z told Ms. T how unusual a girl of my age being interested in Ghulam Ali was, while Ms. T gave me shopping tips for Lahore.

At the end of the English presentations, many teachers came to speak to me, some had doubts on how to teach certain science topics, while others wanted to clarify certain things. Many of them asked me for my business card and said that they wanted to keep in touch. Finally, it was the end of the day, and we wrapped up, totally exhausted.

After freshening up at the hotel, we went to this place at Clifton beach called 'The Village' for dinner. The place is decorated like a village and has food of all kinds beautifully displayed, where the cooks - many of them dressed in ethnic wear - cook your food in front of you.

The Village

The decor outside

A handpump!

And a charpoy too! That's me and the English speaker.

My Sales Manager and the three speakers

The inside decor

Little musical instruments on the shelf

Lantern and big drum

Fried quail - nope, I didn't try them! :P

There were even dishes involving mutton brain and testicles, which again I wasn't adventurous enough to try.

The pakora man with mixed pakoras!

The display of food

The desserts included rasmalai, rasgulla, laddu and halwa.

And oh, diet kulfi too! (Diet kulfi?)

And I found pani puri! Yippeee! The sugarcane juice was yummy too!

I told Mr. Z how pani puri was my favourite food of all, and he asked whether I liked it there. "It's nice but not hot enough." I replied.

"Achha you like hot food?"


"Hmm... we decided not to arrange for very spicy or hot food because the Singaporeans probably can't take it... lagta hai tumhaare liye alag intzaam karna hoga!" He smiled. ("Looks like we have to make separate arrangements for you.")

There was even a pan wala - just like in a real village!

The musicians played tunes at one end of the restaurant, while the other end played Kumar Sanu songs from the early 90s. Very nostalgic.

We finished dinner late, and finally went back to the hotel. We were to fly off to Islamabad the next evening, so I could afford to get up late. I watched TV for a while and caught up with the latest Bollywood trailers on MTV and Channel V. Durinng surfing, I discovered that they even had Gujrati TV. Finally I went off to sleep, feeling really good.

Day 4 - 28th November 2006

I woke up late. Breakfast consisted of what they called 'Pakistani omelette', juice and parata with alu bhaji. Heavy, yeah. Sometimes I felt like all I was doing in Pakistan was carrying out presentations, doing science demonstrations and eating. While the food input had multiplied in magnitude, frequency, and fat levels, my exercise regime had come to an abrupt halt. Surprisingly, I did not care. I'd decided that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was gonna try everything! My Sales Manager too seemed to have similar views as he packed cheesecake slices night after night to take to his room and eat after dinner.

Venus Cafe - the cheesecake place in the Carlton hotel

We checked out in the afternoon, had lunch with Mr. Z and NBhai in the hotel itself and then set off to do some last minute shopping. We went to a mall where I bought Pakistani stoles and more jewellery. Mr. Z warned the shopkeepers, "Dekho yeh hamari mehmaan hai, Pakistan ka naam badnaam mat karna, inko achhi cheez sahi daam mein dena!" ("She's our guest, so don't spoil Pakistan's good name. Show her good stuff and price them appropriately.") I had a lot of fun bargaining in Urdu, and by the time I was done, Mr. Z said that the Pakistan government should give me a certificate for helping the economy so much. :P

I wanted to buy some Pakistani dry fruits for my colleagues so we went to Mubarak Dry Fruit Shop.

And that's Mubarak, hidden behind the tall bags of nuts!

Nuts everywhere - enough to make you go nuts!

More dried fruits!

I bought dates, almonds and cashewnuts.

Finally I was done so I stepped out of the shop (so that it had one less nut. Ok ok bad joke!) to take some pictures. This is one of my favourites from the trip. I was trying to capture the donkey man in this picture,when these kids turned out of nowhere and took centrestage. However, I like it better this way. Somehow the kids seem to have added a touch of 'personality' to this picture.

As we drove back, NBhai showed us the display screen in his Japanese car which had some Japanese text on it. There was a funny story too. He told us that the manual that came along with it was in Japanese and so he had no idea what the text was. When he asked his dealer, the dude simply said, "Sir, I can't read that either. I suggest you somehow find a Japanese man and ask him." Visions of Arshad Warsi and the Hakka noodle scene from Munnabhai ran across my mind, and I kept laughing long after the others had stopped.

NBhai dropped us to the hotel, and we said goodbye to Mr. Z. He wasn't coming with us to Islamabad and I realised how much I was going to miss him. We had so many things in common, a love for winters, a general hatred for humidity, and an obsession with ghazals.

The hotel provided airport transport to Jinnah International airport.

MacDonald's near the airport

We were taking the PIA flight to Islamabad. We'd been warned to take our winter clothing as the temperature in Islamabad was apparently 6 degrees. I couldn't be more excited!

Apparently, we had 84 kg of excess baggage, and everyone turned to look at me. Sheesh. No, it was not caused by my shopping. It was because of the books that we were carrying for the display booths to be set up outside the presentation venues. Surprisingly, all of us had seats far away from one another. I suspected this had something to do with "the boys" not knowing what to talk to us. We were pretty curious about the boys and how old they were - especially my Sales Manager (he's straight). I really wanted to talk to them, and crack stupid jokes with them because I've never had any Pakistani friends so I wanted to know how alike Indians and Pakistanis are in a friendly setting. But they were still being overly formal with me. I noticed that every time I asked them a question, they would say my name, pause and then answer. It was incredibly formal and incredibly adorable too. I could see that they were still at the stage where they did not know what kind of jokes they could crack with me around, or whether I would be offended at anything they said, so they just played safe by only speaking when spoken to. We'll see about that! ;)

Coming up next in the Islamabad series - freezing atop the Margalla hills, "the boys" who dared to smoke, my Manager's brilliant "Excuse me, is this Islamabad?" idea, and a hot debate with a Pakistani about Indians and Pakistanis.



  • How the hell did you manage to write so much so soon?!! :O
    And how dya know urdu?!!!!

    By Anonymous shub, at 10:18 PM  

  • #Shub,
    Hahaha! Jabse I've come back I've been missing Pakistan so much that I decided that rather than getting all depressed, I will go thru the best memories, and what better way than to spend my time writing Hopscotch? :)

    As for Urdu, you know Urdu too yaar! It's very much like Hindi, except for a few words that are different. Haan script alag hai.

    By Blogger Sayesha, at 10:33 PM  

  • Damn! This is really really nice. I wanted to go to Karachi for a friend's wedding last month, couldn't, and now your blog makes me wanna go there, even more. :P

    By Blogger Siddhu, at 11:27 PM  

  • Hey hey hey... Sayesha bhai seems to have rocked Pakistan :D
    Mujhe bhi jaana hai... :( Kuch bahane do na...

    Fire during presentation... was ur speech that hot? Luckily, it didnt bring down the house... literally ;)

    //"Adnan sahab, bagal wali dukaan mein aapka gana baj raha hai!!"
    ROTFLMAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So was he, I expect.

    By Blogger Dev, at 1:19 AM  

  • looking fwd to the next one...u sure had one heck of a trip!!!
    dat debate sure sounds interesting

    By Blogger Bivas, at 2:43 AM  

  • Cant wait for the next part! :)... And yes, I'll collect my stole later.. :P


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:04 AM  

  • hi,

    fireworks at your presentation! ha ha ha

    gud that you could have some panipuris. the village setting looks very pretty.

    loved the picture of munarak and the TALL bag of nuts. reminded me of a birthday card which had pictures of groundnuts, which said "assorted nut' on the front page and when u open it said, "but the biggest nut is you". (it sure sounded something like this.

    the donkey cart and the kids was a good picture too

    especially love the COMING UP, tag line in the post. shall tune in again tomorrow same time, same place for part 3 of the pak series


    By Anonymous asha, at 4:12 AM  

  • aur likho aur likho aur likho..jaldi jaldi jaldi...
    fatafat fataafat fataafat...
    i wanna watch Bakra Kishton Pe..I wanna go to Pakistan..I wanna go to that paan shop..i wanna go to the dry fruit shop..i wanna just hang around there..i wanna smell the polluted air of pakistan and india...I wanna go to india too...

    jaldi likho next post.................

    By Blogger PSV, at 10:23 AM  

  • adnan part is hillarious. when i was kid , i got a chance to meet aamir khan on the set of movie 'akele hum akele tum' and i asked ' sir are you working in this movie' every one there was laughing on me. we all are waiting for more update. :-)

    By Blogger Ashish Dixit, at 11:19 AM  

  • and urdu is very easy language for any hindi speaker. expect for few words. khuda hafiz

    By Blogger Ashish Dixit, at 11:21 AM  

  • lookin fwd to the next one!! :)

    By Blogger Di, at 1:03 PM  

  • Suberb!!! Cant wait for the next one...


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:41 PM  

  • Hahahahha!! Whatta story teller you are!! cant wait for Islamabad story! :D

    By Blogger Basanti, at 1:43 PM  

  • yaa. cant wait for the next post! you have made pakistan a dream place to be at.

    By Anonymous satish, at 2:16 PM  

  • waiting eagerly for ur next post!!!!!!

    By Blogger rt, at 7:57 PM  

  • waiting for part 3 !!

    this sure sounds like fun :)

    By Anonymous Thisisme, at 10:53 PM  

  • Awesome, awesome!! I was almost living beside you through the entire journey. Great posts, Sayesha... waiting for part 3 with all eagerness!!

    By Blogger Sudipta Chatterjee, at 1:02 AM  

  • Wow!!! Can't wait to

    By Blogger PizzaDude, at 12:08 PM  

  • Wonderful yaar... feels sooo good and excited to know abt ur journey...
    Actually feeling more than jealous at u.. :)

    By Blogger The Smiling Girl, at 3:36 PM  

  • sayesha:

    "bye" is "khuda hafiz", "alvida" is "goodbye", no?

    - s.b.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:58 AM  

  • awesome babe! waht u said to adnan was hilarious!! and that bit about the reproductive system being deleted from the books..very interesting.
    thanks for this peek into pak. :) . i thoroughly enjoyed it.

    By Blogger The_Girl_From_Ipanema, at 9:43 AM  

  • It's sad that I couldn't meet you here in Karachi but I am glad that you enjoyed the tript. It's always good to hear things from someone who doesn't live here.

    I would sure make a post to link your karachi related posts.

    Thanks and keep coming!


    By Blogger Adnan Siddiqi, at 6:03 PM  

  • Tu na bas yeh lazeez khane ki photowein daal daal ke mujhey jalati reh

    By Blogger Lalit Singh, at 10:54 PM  

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