Sunday, November 28, 2010

From Pakistan, with fond memories

This afternoon, we went up the Margalla Mountains here in Islamabad. There is a fine restaurant there, perched right at the top, such that you can see the entire sprawling Islamabad starting from the foot of the mountain.

I should think that on a less foggy day, one might see as far as Rawalpindi, the city that got its international fame when the great Pakistani politician Ms Benazir Bhutto was gunned down there a few years ago while campaigning to become President of Pakistan.

The great Pakistani lunch was at the invitation of a very wonderful Pakistani family. The wife hosted us as she would have done in her own home. The husband who invited us made us feel welcome all the time.

The daughter, about to enter university to study commercial law, happens to share a passion of poetry with me and is writing a book of her own. She insists that I should find time to recite some poetry to her, but, of course, there will be no such time. I have one hell of a very busy week ahead, after which, I sadly return to the snow of Geneva, far away from the warmth of these wonderful people.

The son also has an engaging personality. At 17, he has 2 years to go in high school. He is studying in an American system and speaks like an American.

He told me he wants to study electrical engineering. I told him about how good electrical engineering is.

I mentioned to him, as I often do when the subject of discussion is electrical engineering, that one of my greatest friends of all time, Matthews Mtumbuka, with whom I share an alma mater, studied electrical engineering before winning a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, where he got his PhD at the age of 27, having completed it in a record 2-years-and-a-half.

You could see the awe in the boy's face.

Later, I asked him, pointing at a tall building in the distance: “What is that building?”

He told me its name, a very difficult Urdu name I instantly forgot, and added: “They want it to be the tallest building in Asia.”

“That,” I said, “would make it the tallest in the world then, because the tallest building in the world at present, Burj Khalifa, is in Dubai, which is Asia; and the second tallest, Taipei 101, is in Taipei, Republic of China, which is also in Asia.”

Later, the wonderful, cheerful boy pointed at the Faisal Mosque in the distance, “The largest in Asia,” he said.

Again I had to correct him: “The largest in South Asia,” I said, “because the largest mosque in the world is the Masjid-al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, with a capacity of 820,000. The second largest is also in Asia, the Imam Reza Shrine in Iran, with a capacity of 700,000.”

The boy taught me a lot about the geography of Pakistan. Finally, he pointed out for me the mountain where the aeroplane crashed 28 July this year, not very far from where we sat, where 152 lives were lost.

So many memories from Pakistan.

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