We enter in great style, our wheels only a few metres into Pakistani territory when we hear “Mr.Luca?” from the window. A boarder guard approaches us with a questioning face. The tendrils of family connections have already sensed our arrival and prepared the way to Arazi, the natal village of my father. If we want we will be officially escorted from Lahore with a police car. Needles to say we decline the offer. It’s not our style and I have a secret longing to find the way ‘home’ by myself. It’s an image I’ve kept jealously and so close to my goal I will not let it be snatched away at the last moment.
The Waga border between India and Pakistan is perhaps one of the strangest boarders in the world, so much so that film crews come from all over (unknown to me) to record the event. After carefully avoiding photographs as always in sensitive territory and comfortably parking our truck for the night near customs , we are invited to go and watch the closing ceremony of the boarder. Along with hundreds of other Pakistanis who have come purposely to see the spectacle, we sit in the concrete arena constructed especially for the occasion. The atmosphere is that of a cricket match, with an extra tang of nationalism mixed in, with flags, special male cheer leaders with baseball caps and plenty of applause. After our long travels to get here I let myself go and get into the full spirit, cheering and laughing with everyone else. Lusira and Giulio are given two Pakistani flags and learn to chant “Pakistan Zindaban!” (long live Pakistan) The guards are truly magnificent, over two metres tall and dressed in full military pomp. They march towards India with a ‘Monty python’ type walk impressive stamping, stomping , inflating of chests and other virile actions that are so exaggerated as to be hilarious and beautiful at the same time. I feel the presence of my father at my side, laughing heartily and nudging me secretly – we have made it!
Of course in ten years many things can change and have changed. My memory of the house gets confused. The two huge Banyan trees that were my reference point are no longer together and two new houses obscure my vision from the road. My family see the truck hurtling past without stopping, but after twenty minutes along small country roads a car appears and blocks our passage…it’s my cousin Zimran, now a young man but still recognisable.
Our arrival is met with relief and emotion…the last time I was here was to bury my father, and I never imagined so many years would have passed before my return.
The month spent here has been both relaxing and hectic, with one funeral (my elder uncle) and two birthdays (mine and Lusiras’) The first two weeks was spent living out actions prepared many times along the way. Lusira and Giulio played with the goats, dogs and chicken much as I had at their very same age. They learnt to make chapattis and were fattened up every morning on sweet milk and parathas. They henna their hair and decorate their hands, revelling in the warm attention of Abida , Shahid and Zimran. On weekends they get to know their little cousins, who also know how to sing “ringaringaroses..”
Lusira true to our promise, went into the nearby town on her birthday and very bravely got her ears pierced (large man with fat not so clean hands and rough manners, turning her head unceremoniously from side to side and brandishing his tools like a pistol …needless to say I chickened out of my nose piercing) Outside with Lusira proudly wearing her new GOLD earrings, we stop with Abida in the market….up on a pedestal at her eye level is a large chunky man holding a sharp knife between his filthy toes. He cuts the meat expertly pulling it over the knife towards him, swinging agilely left and right to serve his disciples down below. Money is passed to a toothless transvestite on his right…I gape in amazement at this vision and try to picture Luca’s mothers face, I chuckle….just shopping for meat.
For my part attacked my huge mound of laundry, fought a hard battle against the Nepali lice, checking unwilling heads with fervour every morning and buying all possible poison on the market. I perfected my knitting and often found myself wandering around like a ghost in a landscape belonging to the past, crossing doors that no longer exist opening on to verandas with echoing laughter from past times. It is both strange and good to be here. Shadi is the same as ever and we joke and reminisce about the past. He successfully bribes the children with daily chocolate and soon becomes their favourite ‘uncle’
Luca relaxed for a full week (still drinking his morning coffee in the truck) and then alternated his attention between visa applications and the servicing of the truck. We reconditioned all four springs and even organised a little Pakistani painting, unable to resist the temptation, not realising how much of our time it would have taken up……and how little time we would have to enjoy the final result.
Two weeks before our departure there is news of trouble in Gilgit……fighting, curfews and high jacks of rivalling religious groups in this hitherto calm area. We are again in the hands of destiny and events we have no control over, but ten days later to our relief we hear that the unrest is over, we can head north.
To leave wasn’t easy and goodbyes were emotional. We took a last visit to my fathers’ grave and the children said their goodbyes. Gulio whispers “why can’t we open the stone and see him?” Lusira solemnly tells him she is sorry he died too soon and she would have liked to meet him, but she sends him kisses and flowers…
In Islamabad we meet up with our travelling friends and after a little last minute preparation head off towards the famed Karakorum Highway.