Thursday, May 17, 2012

Night Bus to Tarbela: Road Music from Pakistan

When I first landed up in Pakistan I was surprised to discover that the way you got around between major cities was not by train but by road. Unless your destination was Karachi or Quetta, in which case you flew.  And for your road trips you had several choices of transport: bus, Flying Coach or wagon.

Bus: usually a Bedford, gloriously liveried in multiple colours, decorated with beaten tin, twinkling lights, curtains, festooned with flowers (plastic, real and painted) and covered with pithy aphorisms like ‘Maa ki dua/Jannat ki hawa’ (A mother’s prayer is a breeze from heaven). Clientele: general public; those who have more time and less money.

Flying Coach: a no-nonsense and business like large Mazda or Toyota mini-bus with hydraulic doors that sigh when they open, excellent air conditioning and in most instances reclining seats. Clientele: businessmen, foreign students; those who want to get ‘there’ quick.

Wagon: a Ford van imported from England by Kashmiris. Painted only one color. Body dented for sure. A few perfunctory invocations of Allah’s blessing on the front.  Seats hard. No aircon. Clientele: the slightly better off member of the general public; those with high risk appetites.

One of the several issues confronting those who choose to travel long distance by road in Pakistan is that the vehicles (with the exception of the Bedford buses) are imported. They can move quite quickly and powerfully, designed as they are for motorways in Japan or UK.  The Pakistani highways, alas, are narrow, rutted, poorly lit and crowded. The combination, especially when blended with a driver who is exhausted, just learning his trade or stoned on charas (all three at once, is a permutation I’ve encountered) can give rise to anxiety. 

I shall never forget the dear driver (with me in front seat right beside him) who, as we sped into the fast setting sun that nearly blinded us, decided to change the cassette and light a cigarette at the same time.  He did it! And we made it to Gilgit in one piece 12 hours later!

Road trip, Pakistan

For some reason whenever I found myself on the road it was evening heading into night. Though the hazards increased significantly once the sun went down, I found barreling through the night in some strange way, relaxing and appealing.  Probably because there was inevitably a good concert of music to be had. After the first 45 minutes of the journey, most passengers were nodding off or whispering quietly to their companions. The driver would light another cigarette and turn up the cassette and entertain us with a selection of current and evergreen hits.

Inevitably, the concert would include the patron saint of all vehicle drivers, Attaullah Khan Niazi. Indian film music, qawwali and few sharabi ghazals, some folk and other odds and ends like a piece or two from the driver’s home region, often the Northern Areas around Gilgit.

I loved those trips because I was introduced, anonymously, to so much good music.

So tonight let’s recreate that trip. We’re pulling out of Lahore and headed for Tarbela Dam. It will be after midnight when we arrive. But we’ll stop for some shammi kababs and tea in a couple hours, probably near Gujranwala. But for now, light a cigarette, peel an orange, shuck a few peanuts and let the music carry you away.

            Track Listing:
            01 Ni Utha Wale (Attaullah Khan Niazi)
02 Ek Taraf Uska Ghar (Pankaj Udhas)
03 Raba Mere Haal Da (Abida Parveen)
04 Don't Be Silly (Runa Laila)
05 Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil (Mohammad Rafi)
06 Kali Kali zulfon ke phande na dalo (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan)
07 Nain Marjaane (Attaullah Khan Niazi)
08 Jaane Kahan Gaye Wo Din (Mukesh)
09 Jalwe Yaar (Mohammad Ibrahim)
10 Hum Tum Honge Badal Hoga (Masood Malik)
11 Chali Re Nayi Naar (Mehnaaz & Chorus)
12 Gilgit Polo Music (Various)
13 Lok Geet-e-Sarhad (Munir Sarhadi)
14 Hua Ek Haseen Hadsa (Ghulam Ali)
15 Rang-Laaga (Sajjad-Ali and Sanam Marvi)
16 Saqi Sharab de De (Munni Begum)


Ramone666 said...

Taking the trip now - great stuff. Cheers!

danothy said...

What a magnificent post! Both in terms of the music and your commentary. Thanks for the ride.

ajnabi said...

@Ramone666, let's hope you arrived in one piece!

ajnabi said...'re very kind. thanks.

gypsykat said...

I'll second danothy's comment. Looking forward to hearing this one!

Apurva Bahadur said...

Liked the 'Stop Dead' picture!

EPe said...

Could you re-up this one?