A New Notebook – a piece of travel writing about India, is going to
be published in an anthology later this year and it's got me thinking
about what I've written about that journey as well as the vast
swathes of territory I passed through that I've written nothing
I would like a seamless and continuous narrative, but that's not the
way it has appeared. But, heartened by Irena Vrkljan's brilliant
non-narrative autobiography The Silk, the Shears, I feel that
chronological order is not a necessity and so, in no particular order,
I'd like to post what I have already written about that time.
Let's play with chronology. I'll call these pieces Carnets
(notebooks) even though they are not, strictly speaking, as they
were written after the event sometimes a long time afterwards. But
then, every travel writer edits to some extent what they wrote
down at the time (see the Dubravka Ugresic quote at the top of the
page) as what's written then is often just the briefest of notes. And
on this journey east, the carnets I'd made notes in, were lost. This
forms part of the story A New Notebook that will be included in the
anthology so I couldn't post it on the blog anyway, until after it has
An excerpt from Quetta to Tehran has appeared in Sons of Camus
International Writers Journal 8.
It begins on the bus going across Pakistan, from Quetta to the
Amritsar's Golden Temple - from
David, an American, had been my travelling companion from Amritsar, in India. The first leg of our journey had been from the Golden Temple to the station, where we took a train to Lahore, in Pakistan. The next stage was to cross Pakistan from Lahore to Quetta, a journey of a night and a day, in a packed train. As I looked around at my fellow passengers, I tried to imagine what their reasons for travelling might be. Many of them looked pursued. Others had expressions of such utter resignation that I was convinced that some higher authority was forcing them to travel. Not that it was a grim ordeal. Their faces were not hard or punished. Mostly they were soft, wide-eyed and smiling. People seemed to move in waves, they formed a total movement, a wave complete unto itself. At each station where people got off and others got on, the wave reassembled itself. Those who got off formed another wave with those on the platform (there is no such thing as a deserted station in India or Pakistan, whatever time of day or night) and they would spill out of the station to join the city waves, the street waves, with its café clusters, its traffic swarms, its market streams and rivers.
During the night, David and I took turns at lying on the wooden luggage-racks
above the seats. It was the ultimate in luxury, to get somewhere to lie down.
The dawn was grey. We had to change trains and there was some confusion
about David's ticket. But we were lucky and we were allowed to board the
next train. It was dark again, by the time we reached Quetta.
Quetta - from
We stayed at the China Hotel, which advertised clean, airy rooms. The hotel
rooms were all off a central square, which was also the roof over other
buildings. This was open to the sky so the moment you stepped out of the
room, you were outside. We certainly could not complain about the lack of
fresh air. It was early March, and Quetta is high up in the mountains. We
stayed there two nights. There was no running water in the rooms but water
was available in a brass pot left outside the door. Outside the door meant on
the roof, and in the morning we had to break the ice over the brass pot, to
wash with. Our ablutions were minimal.