Pakistan on My Mind

Pakistan on My Mind

Pakistan has been on my mind rather a lot today. First, I helped publish (edit) a great article over at Inside Himalayas on a solo woman’s motorbike trip along the Karakoram Highway. Then I got listening to some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Then, I discovered that Himal Southasian, my dear old employer, republished an article of mine from 2014 that had originally appeared in print. Now you can read it online, for free. It’s called “Of Shadows, Skins and Stones“, and is a literary essay on Pakistani women’s literature. I’ve been saying for years that I will make it to Pakistan soon, but it hasn’t happened yet. I know, I do actually have to make it happen, but I’ve been very busy making all sorts of other things happen. So, the closest I’ve still been to Pakistan is the Wagah Border Crossing in Indian Punjab, in 2008. Although Pakistan is near Nepal, this part of the world isn’t very well connected, transport-wise, and I don’t trust Pakistani or Nepali airlines all that much. Plus, getting a Pakistan visa in Nepal seems like rather a headache. But, these are just excuses. I don’t think this year will be my Pakistan year, but next might be. You can read an extract of my Himal Southasian article below, or the full article on the site. ‘For a few years, Pakistani English literature has been on the verge of a ‘boom’; not quite an explosion, but what scholar of contemporary Pakistani literature Claire Chambers…

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Books about Ladakh

Books about Ladakh

If you’re looking for books about Ladakh–because you want to travel there, or are interested from a casual/scholarly perspective—here are a few books that are good place to start your reading. Those discussed here are more easily available in India, but some are available via Amazon/Kindle. I don’t actually recommend all of the books that I discuss below, but I hope this ‘reading list’ provides a useful point of departure for any research or casual reading on Ladakh. Ladakh: Changing, Yet Unchanged by Romesh Bhattacharji. New Delhi: Rupa, 2012 This book started off so well, and captured my initial impressions of Ladakh. I struggled—still do—to describe the landscape of this place, as it is quite alien to my experience, and requires a new vocabulary. As Romesh Bhattacharji writes: Ladakh makes people either speechless or boringly eloquent. Everyone is stunned. No one can remain indifferent. Every part of Ladakh leaves one short of adjectives to describe the scenery and one’s feelings. One is on a permanent high. As a retired Chief Commissioner of Customs, the author served in this remote part of India for many years, and clearly knows it back to front. Unfortunately, the way he goes about describing it in Ladakh: Changing, Yet Unchanged, is extremely dry, on the whole. The book is divided into chapters that describe various regions of Ladakh, such as ‘Kargil to Leh’ and ‘Over the Ladakh-Kailash Range to the Karakoram’. For readers with no, or little, prior knowledge of these regions, Bhattacharji’s language and…

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Why I Enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love More Than I Expected

Why I Enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love More Than I Expected

I’m a book snob, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m also a long-time fan of India, and dislike the cheap, easy caricatures of the country that Western media often portrays. I watched the movie of Eat, Pray, Love on an aeroplane several years ago and thought it was dire. I don’t generally read popular fiction, or that characterised as chick lit, so I had avoided the book because I thought it would be everything I dislike about travel writing combined with a liberal feminist ethos. I was a little bit right, but also partly wrong. I read Eat, Pray, Love recently because I’ve been thinking about doing some personal writing, so thought that it was just one of those books I should read. And while I don’t think it’s a great work of literature, I was quite touched by it at times. Perhaps because I recognised in Elizabeth Gilbert’s life (as portrayed in the book) a lot of the dilemmas faced by women who are obsessive travellers and around my age, early 30s. How far to embrace the fact that nowadays, (white, privileged, Western) women can do whatever the hell they want; and how far to succumb to the dominant societal narrative of ‘settling down’ (which is a phrase that has always made me what to run in the opposite direction as fast as I can). In case you’ve never read Eat, Pray, Love or seen the film the basic outline is this. An outline of Eat, Pray, Love…

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'In Xanadu' by William Dalrymple

‘In Xanadu’ by William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple is one of the few authors whose books I have read all of. With my recent completion of In Xanadu, that is. Based on a journey that he took in 1986 at the fresh age of 21, it is the travel-writer-turned historian’s first book. The journey narrated followed Marco Polo’s journey from Jerusalem to Xanadu, and passed through Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and various regions of China, including Kashgar in the far west. Dalrymple was a student at Cambridge University at the time, and had received a study-travel grant under dubious pretenses. The rapid-fire journey across parts of the Middle East, Central and North Asia was made during a single summer break, and is comically ambitious in its goals. 

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Islands in the Clouds

Papua New Guinea: Islands in the Clouds

Papua New Guinea’s wildness and remoteness fascinate me, but the prohibitive cost of travelling to and around the country put me off going there when I lived quite a lot closer, in Australia. The other reason was Port Moresby’s terrible reputation for violence. I knew an AUSAID employee who was posted there. Development and aid workers in PNG were restricted to guarded compounds, and had to be accompanied by security escorts when they left the safe zone. Kathmandu it is not. Isabella Tree’s Islands in the Clouds: Travels in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea allowed me to travel vicariously to this country that stays firmly in the ‘too hard’ (and ‘too expensive’) category for now. It was published in 1996, and records Tree’s travels in PNG and the western part of the island of Guinea, the Indonesian territory of Irian Jaya, in the early 1990s. Conditions have no doubt changed in the last 20-plus years, especially as Tree muses over how the wild, remote island is changing from Indonesian and Western influences. Islands in the Clouds had me fascinated from Chapter 1, where Tree introduces the lingua franca of PNG, Tok Pisin. It’s a form of Pidgin English, made necessary by the fact that PNG has (or had, in the early 1990s) roughly 750 distinct, mutually unintelligible languages. With only around 1500 words in Tok Pisin, it could be called a very simplified form of English, but that should not be considered an insult: it is extremely rich and inventive. As Tree…

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