Buffalo arse formed the most vivid memory of the traffic jam. It was this that was responsible for much of the predicament, along with the dozens of dark, dusty grey creatures they were attached to of course, ambling at a stately plod over the dusty, potholed tarmac on the outskirts of Larkana, Pakistan. Sitting in the back of an auto rickshaw conveniently gives you an almost perfect eye level view of this feature of the animal. When confronted with such a view over an extended period, one is forced to consider facts that wouldn’t normally exercise significant portions of the brain: in this case, predominantly, it was the recognition that relative to cattle, they exhibit a far more modest tendency to smear shit all over their hindquarters.
Some recompense is required for half an hour inhaling a smog of traffic fumes and dust composed largely of dessicated buffalo excrement. Hence, courtesy of the glacial traffic pace and the blast of contrasting, cultural dive bombs to the senses that enveloped us, I was afforded not only the privilege of musing on such lofty subjects as buffalo arse but, perhaps, only slightly less worthy matters.
The thrumming of truck engines and a million tuk tuks vibrated in my chest, ceaseless klaxons blared in pointless cacophony, accompanied by the bray of laden donkeys, shouts of men and the collective, aural chaos of urban humanity. Only the buffalo remained quiet, islands of serenity as all around screamed and swirled in a delightful mess. Everything in my view declared its vivid difference to the reference points of the subject, everyday street scene, imprinted in the brain since youth. The dilapidated jumble of unfinished buildings caked with all kinds of environmental sins slumped behind psychedelic trucks smothered in a bright palette of hand painted images: pairs of elegant supernatural birds, glowing mountains and praises to a God who must be looking down wondering what on earth he had created. And I was fucking loving it.
These are the moments that exclaim, “this is why I travel”! When every little facet of your vision reveals significance, when every glimpse of a face tells a story: the angry wince of a passenger as the auto rickshaw jars on another hole in the road, because a politician has decided to spend the money on the road through his own village instead; the shy and inquisitive stare of a young girl from behind a colourful shawl, the novelty of a foreigner battling in her mind with the cultural norms on interacting with strange men?
When a clean white car emerges from the bedlam its normality is utterly alien, equalled only by the observation that the only person in a t shirt is me, the only person in western clothes at all in fact. Last, and what should be least in the cavalcade of contrast, is that iconic signifier of women who have made different choices in life as to what to put on their heads.
Admittedly the fact that I was totally off my head, having got stoned with one of the extended Bhutto family and the villagers near the shrine to Pakistan’s great, political family’s deceased may have had some bearing on these ponderings.
A cup of tea after a visit to the shrine had seemed in order, so with my obligatory police guard in tow, as is ususal in Sindh Province, clutching his trusty AK47, we were called over by a group of men outside the bovine stained shack that passed for a tea house in these parts. The head man of this offshoot of the Bhutto family was holding court and the arrival of an Englishman soon drew a crowd of gawping kids who had yet to witness such a spectacle in their short lives, complimenting the gawping adults, only marginally more familiar with such an oddity. A couple of lackeys were stoking up a chillum for the boss as others rolled joints, so not one to be so impolite as to refuse indigenous hospitality I joined in on the smoking session. Tea soon arrived, followed by a chicken biryani, my status as a guest demanded that I have to deal with an obscenely large portion which I nobly struggled through. Conversation, tea and selfies flowed until the tuk tuk driver suggested it might be time to go, a polite way of saying waiting time will be charged from this point on. The large toke on a chillum I’d just had answered that question so we stayed put. Eventually the policeman discretely placed himself in my field of vision to delicately make the point that we can’t hang around here all day. He didn’t however feel the need to comment on the consumption of hashish or the fact that the tuk tuk driver had downed two chillums of top grade charris and a couple of joints which would have rendered him incapable of passing anything resembling a driving test.
After copious farewells we bumped over the rutted path and the road back to Larkana to face our destiny with buffalo arse and enlightenment.