by Claire Chambers
A few tall, dreamy-eyed Sikh men were on my plane to Lahore. Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebration was taking place nearby about a month later, on 12 November 2019, so I guessed their final destination was Nankana Sahib, Guru Nanak’s birthplace. The British-Indians’ presence was a reminder, if any were needed, of Punjabiyat’s close binds. To take another example, after the violence of the 1984 raid (known as Operation Blue Star) of Amritsar’s Golden Temple, some Sikhs took refuge in villages just across the border in Pakistan. It is unsurprising, then, that in Imagining Lahore, one of the best-known recent books about the ancient West Punjabi capital, Haroon Khalid takes pains amid rising Islamization to stress the region’s earlier Sikh rulers and the present-day city’s neglected gurdwaras and crumbling havelis.
As ever, the trip from the airport afforded a veritable binge for the eyes. I made my way through the Beijing Underpass with its sign wishing the Pak-China Friendship a long life. Other less geopolitically-named channels evoked poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Waris Shah, emphasizing Lahore’s rich and proud literary culture.
Whereas I have written in a few different places about British chicken shops being an alphabet soup from AFC to ZFC, in Lahore I saw Yasir Broasts and Fri-Chicks. Passing the brightly-lit shopfront of Cakes & Bakes made my mouth water. Meanwhile, educational institutions had equally imaginative handles, including Success College and the Bluebells School. Read more »
by Bill Murray
We’re off to meet a small live-aboard motorboat about three hours drive south of Ho Chi Minh City to cruise the Mekong Delta for a few days. The older gentleman driving has a deep, rich voice we don’t understand, speaks no English and we no Vietnamese besides pleasantries, the names of some food and a particular local beer, 333, not very challengingly pronounced baa baa baa, like the black sheep.
He’s a pro driver, no doubt about that, all turned out in a nice golf shirt and slacks, and he works our little sedan to the Saigon River then south out of town, and holds a steady course until the city falls away. He appropriates the left lane and proceeds with zealous caution, a campaign strategy he follows every bloody deliberate inch of the way.
Steady ahead. If he hurtles inadvertently to 60 kph, even on long, empty stretches, his face flushes and he brakes abruptly. Could he be working by the hour? If they say this trip should take three and a half hours, no way will he make it three hours and a quarter.
We first came to Saigon twenty-five years ago. Since then women have largely dispensed with the demure way they rode the back of cycles, both legs to one side. Back then many more women wore the traditional Ao Dai, the thin, body length robe. Perhaps that made it hard to sit any other way.
The river yields to a web of canals. Smart electronic overhead signs show the way through less kempt industrial outskirts. Now we roll along a divided six-lane highway, with extra outside lanes for every variety of two-wheeler, and this goes on for miles and undifferentiated miles. Read more »