Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

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Altaf Hussain Asad

The author of six books on history and geography of various areas of Pakistan, Salman Rashid’s travel writings were well received in the knowledge-friendly circles of the country.  A voracious reader from his childhood, Salman Rashid grew up in a house where books were accorded great importance. He remembers his father reading books on scientific topics. 

Says Salman Rashid about his addiction to the printed word, “A civil engineer by profession, my father was a lover of books. He liked reading scientific magazines and periodicals. Similarly, my sister too was into reading books. Taking inspiration from my father, I too started flipping through the pages of books at quite a young age. I would try to study even scientific magazines, though at that time they sounded Greek to me. Kids magazines like Taleem-o-Tarbiat and Bachon Kee Duniya were also there to entice me. Once the habit of book reading developed, reading books just became a part of my life.”

Later at St Anthony School Lahore, he made good use of the library and read lot of books. He mentions books by Kipling, Alexander Duma, Nathaniel Hawthorne and some other writers that he relished in that period. Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is one book that immensely impressed him because of its story, which he terms as a very strong one. He also remembers fondly few other books that he chanced to go through at that time.

Another book that captivated him during those days is Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. He says that this book was about civil war and praises it a lot. He has this to say about Erich Maria Remarque’s book All Quiet on the Western Front, “I thoroughly relished every bit of this book. It is written so movingly that when you finish reading it, you start hating war.”

Since his area of interest is history, Herodotus’ name also pops in. “The way Herodotus writes history is simply brilliant. His style keeps you completely absorbed in the narrative. Herodotus writes history as any experienced novelist writes novels. In this way, even a dull subject like history becomes interesting,” says Salman sahib. He also adds that few stories narrated in it by Herodotus can also be found in the Holy Bible.

As far as the choice of Urdu books is concerned, Salman Rashid seems more inclined towards humorous ones. When asked to reveal his preferences in Urdu books, he mentions ace Urdu humourists such as Shafiqur Rehman, Col Muhammad Khan and Mushtaq Yousufi with great appreciation. Shafiqur Rehman’s book Himaqtain gets an approving nod from him. On the other hand, he turns out to be an ardent admirer of the matchless Mushtaq Yousufi.

Salman Rashid has this to say about him, “I used to live in Karachi two decades ago. Once I went to see my friend on the eve of Eid. There, in the house of my friend, Zarguzasht was lying in the bookshelf. When I read it, I was completely mesmerized by the prose. While reading Yousufi, one can’t help weeping during certain passages. Yousufi is a master prose writer and he writes Urdu as it should be written. He has saved the real Urdu language from becoming obsolete.”

Salman Rashid has read all the books of Yousufi and he talks highly of Aab-e-Ghum too. But when you corner him to name his favourite book, he chooses The Epic of Gilgamesh by Sien Leqiunani.

Giving a brief introduction about this book, Salman Rashid states, “The story of The Epic of Gilgamesh is almost five thousand years old. At that time, this story was written on tablets in cuneiform. It is basically a story about a Sumerian king and it was transcribed nearly 1200 years after his death. The king used to indulge in many a adventures with his friend. But the demise of the friend leaves the king completely heartbroken. As a result, the king leaves the throne and starts his journey to seek secrets of eternal life.”

Salman Rashid says he has read this book many times. So dear is the book to him that when he lost it somehow, he asked his brother to purchase the book from New York for him. Since he has to his credit six books on the history and geography of various areas of Pakistan, one feels tempted to ask him how he ventured into this field as he was an Army officer. He answers, “I left the Army and joined a multinational company. In the meantime, I started frequenting the Archaeology Library in Karachi to learn about the land and geography of the country. Then I realized that I must write on it to tell people about the historical significance of the land. So I quit the job and started freelancing.”

Do we know about the history and geography of our land? “No,” comes the answer. He says that we are ignorant about the historical significance of the land that we have been inhabiting for thousands of years. He is of the view that our government is also responsible for this ignorance as it has deliberately neglected the discipline of history. The educational system, he believes, encourages rote system and our syllabus does not instill the habit of book-reading among the students. As for the general apathy of our society towards books, he says that there seems to be a revival of the habit of book-reading as more and more book shops are opening.

In the realm of music, Salman Rashid says that he cannot talk on it with much authority. The singers he listens to with some interest are Munni Begum, Amanat Ali Khan, Habib Wali Muhammad, Lata and Chitra Singh. He likes to play the piano too, while a Spanish guitarist Andres Seogovia impresses him a lot. In pop music, he enjoys the witty Punjabi songs of Abrar. Hadiqa Kiyani also appeals him. When he is all alone in his room, Salman Rashid loves to listen to the kalam of Bulleh Shah and other sufi poets. 

He says that though he doesn’t have any knowledge of classical music, he can safely say that it touches one’s heart. Salman Rashid remembers watching Dagh back in 1955. That was the first movie which he watched. Among the other flicks that he watched in that era are Taxi Driver, Heer Ranjha, Chandni Chowk, etc. Although he does not appear to be a diehard cinema goer, he praises some English flicks such as Ben Hur, The Twenty Fifth Hour, Remains of the Day and some others. He discloses that he has watched Remains of the Day, starring Anthony Hopkins, several times due to his brilliant acting. He does not mention any Indian movie that he has liked particularly, but he does not hesitate to name Preity Zinta as an actress with whom one can fall in love.

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days