25 August 2008

Letter 3.13

Srinagar, Kashmir -- '66

The houseboat, which is called the Bluebird, is close to Dal Lake on one of the canals leading to the Jhelum River, by a golf-course. In the morning I sit on the deck eating my English breakfast and watch the pukka-sahibs driving, chipping, and putting. The boat rocks slowly, slightly, as shikaras (Kashmiri gondolas) pass by on the green water, and I look from the golf course to an island, steaming in the mist, or across the road to the tourist shops -- Cheap John, who makes papier maché and not inexpensive toilets; Cheerful Charlie the woodcarver's store, Suffering Moses, purveyors of all tourist items; Worst's, the worsted cloth man -- the names Indians and Pakistanis choose for their businesses always seem to be parody rather than serious. I suppose Cheerful Charlie thinks his store's name to be in the best English tradition and all through Pakistan and India there are Cheap John stores not one of which is a plumber's shop. Signs also amuse me. One in Karachi read 'Public Thoroughfare. Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted' and another on the road I will never understand though I've puzzled over it for some time. It read: 'Preserve trees. Prevent goats. They are you friends. Help Pakistan grow.'

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