They say that grumpy and hormonal women do not happy posts write. Let's see.
We left Lahore the next morning, late again, but that wasn't really to be wondered at. When you have five women in a foreign country, grappling with such diverse crises as a constipated stomach due to a sudden dietary shift to almost exclusively meat proteins, to the fact that suddenly cramming all your clothes into that teeny little suitcase didn't seem quite so workable, it was a miracle that we managed to leave at all. I was jumpy and nervous, because I knew that this trip would expose my horrible secret, that forevermore, I would be known as the girl who used every single toilet at every opportunity, all over Pakistan. I had visions of secret intelligence files having records saying "11.14 am - S pees, AGAIN. We're sick of this assignment". Anyway, the journey had begun.
The highways had three good things about them. They were actually wide, smooth roads, very comfortable. They were running through beautiful country, with the regulation yellow mustard fields. And the motion happily put us all to sleep, and sleep is always good. In between all the sleeping, there was an interlude where we went into a petrol pump so I could, sigh, use the facilities. At this point, A saw a camel pulling a cart full of firewood on the road. It being a Kodak moment, we had the camel on one side, and A running on the other side, screaming for the cart to stop. She finally got her picture, and two very confused Pakistani men had a story for that evening's friendly neighbourhood meeting.
The van rolled on, and we slept some more. And then we woke up to Harappa. She is something, she is. One of the world's first cities, relic to an experiment that we still haven't managed to perfect. I honestly think that the MCD guys could take lessons from the planning in Harappa. It is all that the history books say it is, and then some more. There is a desolation about it, it is absolutely quiet, but there seems to be a sense of expectancy even in that silence, as though she knows that evening will take away intruders like us and then the old friends will make their way back. I sometimes still have trouble believing that I was there, even with the pictures for proof. All my undergraduate history dreams are finally fulfilled...yay. On our way out, this group of picnickers, mostly women, asked us to join them for lunch. We were so surprised that we could only mumble a confused "No, thank you.". I wonder why friendliness takes us by surprise every time.
We got back on the road to Multan, and then we had ample occasion to regret turning down that lunch invite. It was past lunch time, there was a a collection of sundry dhabas for truckers all along the way, but we couldn't eat at these places because our guide didn't think they were 'proper', probably because they didn't have zenana sections. I really, really missed India at that point, missed the possibility of eating out in the open at a roadside dhaba. We kept driving, and thinking about food, and drooling, and cursing the guide's sense of propriety. Finally, at about six pm, we found a convenience store, and imagine how hungry we were to actually buy biscuits worth almost 400 rupees. Biscuits. And imagine how not amused we were when about ten minutes later, the guide and the driver sauntered off to line their stomachs with another one of those high protein, mostly meat meals. I'm convinced that our combined malevolence did some bad things to that man's digestive system later.
After driving for a couple of more hours, we finally reached Multan. It was late evening, and all through our drive, we saw ONE woman on the streets, riding pillion on a bike. ONE woman and SIX Bata stores. I've never been claustrophobic before, and we immediately covered our heads as some sort of safety measure. The pressure to conform, to be inconspicuous was so pressing that even our breathing must have become more muted. We were lost, maybe a little less lost than our guide. Somehow we blundered through the streets to the convent where we were to stay for the next two nights. Not only did this convent share its name with my alma mater in Shillong, it was also located in the cantonment area, where our visas expressly forbade us from going. And the place was so clearly different from Lahore that it succeeded in thoroughly discomfiting all of us. We had a quiet dinner with all the nuns, who were friendly, of course, but convent education makes one rather obsequious towards a woman of the cloth, and here there were about ten of them at the table, so imagine my state. I was stupid enough to eat an orange for dessert, so that everybody at the table was smiling politely, waiting for me to finish, and the darned orange wouldn't end. I surreptitiously passed some along to R, who was sitting next to me, saying, "Psst. Here. HELP!"
Believe it or not, eventually the orange was a thing of the past. We smiled, and smiled some more, and went to bed. It was the first time that we realised that we were in a different country, and sometimes things might get less than pleasant. I still slept soundly, because I always do, but a more sensitive person might have had troubled dreams.
P.S. Guess who's back? Its Kitkat! I'm so thrilled, so glad you're writing again. You were sorely missed, don't pull a vanishing act on faithful readers like me again, okay?
P.P.S. They are right. That was not a very happy post, but happiness grates against your skin when you're ill.