#Lahore #Pakistan: Part II, Not-so-Mellow Drama and Backpack Flashbacks
My first day’s not-so-mellow drama in Lahore is far from over after the runaround from the border. Despite the fact that I’m feeling a bit peaked, I agree to go to the ‘Sufi dancing’, hosted by one of the hostel’s hangers-on; let’s call him Hassan, Hassan-i-Sabbah, nickname Cheb, yeah. Now I was expecting some sort of sit-down concert setting. But what we got was far different: a crowded side room at a Sufi mosque.
The ‘sit-down’ was cross-legged with people stepping on me and over me for hours. But the drumming was good, and so was the dance, the goal being trance, apparently. Critics would probably say they’re just getting dizzy, disoriented and exhausted. But I suppose that’s a release in itself. The lights go out soon enough, as they do all the time with the rolling blackouts which are commonplace in Pakistan. That’s one way to avoid increased electricity bills, I guess.
Then at one point Hassan excuses himself to go the toilet—for an hour. This is after asking me if I wanted some hashish, which is being fired up in abundance, along with tobacco cigarettes and incense, enough smoke to float a Goodyear blimp. As the place grows more and more crowded, I start growing a little uneasy. I have no control over any of this.
I finally spot Hassan again. He wants me to come join him. That would involve leaving my hard-fought seat and climbing over a half-dozen people. I decline. He finally passes me a hashish joint over the heads of the crowd. I pretend to smoke it, then pass it on to our Japanese friend. He passes it off into the crowd, much to Hassan’s dismay.
About this time a gendarme shows up, and tries to do some crowd control, which has been sporadically ongoing the whole time, mostly by the participants, mostly pushing us (and me) farther back from the ‘stage’, mostly so that the dancers can have room to dance. When the cop turns his back, my neighbors yell at him to move, and sit down, and otherwise make asinine remarks and symbolic gestures behind his back. He finally leaves, looking frustrated by the whole thing.
Hassan catches my eye again. He’s got another joint. He’s determined to get me stoned, for some reason. He passes it to me—even though I have indicated NO interest—with strict hand instructions not to pass it on to our Japanese friend, with his hippie notions of share and share alike. About this time our police friend comes back, standing right in front of me, and eying the crowd. I kill the joint.
Consider: I’m holding a controlled substance; in a throng of people; in Pakistan, something of a war zone; with a cop standing right in front of me. What’s wrong with this picture? I flash back to Cali, Colombia, 1978, when two guys and a ‘cop’ (he did have a gun) scammed me and I spent four hours talking my way from a several hundred dollar ‘fine’ down to $14, my Spanish noticeably improving in the process. Banks close early on Wednesday there. ATM’s didn’t exist back then (can you believe that?). Then there was Mohammed in Tangier in 1996. I ended up giving him money just to go away.
Bottom line: I didn’t ask for any of this! I’m just a f*cking tourist! It gets worse. I sh*t you not, the cop then takes his stick and starts whacking people indiscriminately with it. People are literally falling all over me, as we scramble to back up out of his reach. I didn’t actually get hit myself, but I felt the breeze from his stick. I don’t make this sh*t up.
Well, I’ve had enough, to put it mildly. I start gathering my things and scrambling for the exit, along with many others. It’s a madhouse. There’s only one problem: I’ve lost weight, so sometimes have trouble keeping my pants up. And everything’s shifted while sitting down, so when I stand I’m spending more time trying to keep my pants up than actually moving toward the door. It’s comical, and I start thinking of George Costanza, and I’m just about to yell out, “Vandelay Industries!” when Hassan catches my eye. He motions me to come over to his calmer location.
“Hardie, over here.”
“F*ck you, Hassan! I’m outta here!”
“Is something wrong? Is something wrong?!? Besides the fact that you’re a cretin and a two-bit hashish dealer and cops are whacking people on the head, you have the presence of mind to ask me if something is wrong? No, nothing’s wrong; so let’s pose for pictures to send to my Mom, Hassan. Where did you get your tourist guide’s license, Hassan? Yes, something is wrong! I’m leaving!” To make a long story shorter: we make it back to the hostel: older, but wiser. It’s been a long day.