Despatch No 1

From Rosanne in the North West Frontier Province, Pakistan 14 September 2006.
Imagine 7000 foot mountains, the Himalayan forest, monkeys walking along walls, the sound of cicadas, and late monsoon thunder storms and mists. Our flat looks out onto the forest where we can see birds with striped tail feathers and wildflowers. The flat is above the village of Jhika Gali, a few kilometres from the Murree Christian School which is my host during my Asialink Residency. Security is tight as the school received a terrorist attack four years ago, so armed security guards patrol the school and our flats where the teachers live. We cannot walk on the public road to school for security reasons and I cannot go anywhere alone. I wear the local dress, the shalwar qameez, and also a shawl when I go out.

Yesterday I and my husband went to Islamabad, the capital where I found a double storey bookshop with many books on this region and the Middle East, even Jean Sassoon's. I found works by local writers and many poetry books. A poetry reading (mushaira) in Pakistan can sometimes attract thousands of listeners. The most widely admired Urdu poet is Ghalib (1797-1869) and he wrote many of his poems as a teenager. He is famous for his ghazals which is the most popular form of Urdu and Persian poetry. It has five or more two-line couplets in which all the second lines rhyme with each other. Many of these describe the joy and pain of unrequited love or the love of humanity for God. Many of the folk stories I've read here so far also are about unrequited love and the lovers usually die as in Romeo and Juliet. The national poet of Pakistan is Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938). He has sometimes been compared to Milton. He wrote mainly religious poetry but was also the first to call for a separate Muslim state in Northern India ie Pakistan. Faiz Ahmed Faiz is another famous poet.

The pace of life is much slower here, except the driving that's still fast, if possible, even on a narrow mountain road with slow Bedford trucks and tooting vans. As in all countries the local people here seem to be concerned about living a good life, getting jobs and their children schooled. So far we have been met with hospitality and kindness by those we have been introduced to.

The only safe place to use the computer due to voltage fluctuations is in the school computer room so I am set up here, looking out at the same forest our flat is in. The internet connection is tenuous and slow and also fluctuates. The bigily (electricity) goes off a lot too. At least there is a generator.

I have started research in the school/community library which has a good section on the area. Today I visited Years 10 & 11 and talked about writing books. One class had two Australian students in it. Afterwards I wrote 372 very bad words. Bernard Shaw once wrote that every draft is sh**, and I find this statement encouraging when I start a new novel and wonder if I can ever do it again.

This coming weekend we go on a trip to legendary Peshawar on the Afghan border where we will see first hand if that area is as unsettled as the media say.

Despatch No 1