Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Prisoner on a Bus: Travels through Pakistan

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Nyla Daud

It’s a right royal deceptive title: Prisoner on a Bus: Travels through Pakistan. For inside the covers of Salman Rashid’s latest book is a freedom to wander if not at will, then by picking up the trail of a man whose wanderlust has lead him to places about whose existence most Pakistanis are totally unaware. Or totally unexcited about, even if they happened to have heard the names somewhere along the road.

The compiled version of travel columns that he has been writing for a newspaper, Rashid’s book, a very finely bound publication, brings to life a land and its people that according to the author is “just waiting to be discovered” or, again in his words, “to be rediscovered”. From Dadem Chandio, the dacoit with a price on his head and hiding in the boondocks of the Kirthar range, to the story behind the bus with green wheels, from unearthing the philanthropy of Sir Ganga Ram to reconnoitering Musa ka Musalla in the north or trekking across Upper Sindh in high summer, Rashid literally leads his readers in a dance.

This is no child’s play at that, for here is a man who has roughed it through barren hills and crowded bazars all because the spirit of high adventure continues to pull at his heart and mind. In the process, he effuses an infectious feel for adventure and for unearthing sociological and historical myths related to Pakistan that even the laziest couch potato cannot ignore, because the simply worded narration brings to life all that he encounters.

Each chapter, based on a particular trip, reads like a complete book that leaves the feet itching and while this is not the first time Rashid has compiled his newspaper columns, Prisoner On A Bus becomes a landmark in that herein the writer’s talent of reporting high adventure, geographical, historical and sociological narration reaches a tantalizingly exciting high.

Penned by possibly Pakistan’s first travel writer in the real sense of the word, Rashid’s Prisoner On A Bus, unlike the works of other travel writers is refreshingly devoid of the first person as a presence to be duly acknowledged by the reader. Rashid is very much there but never as the fabled Raja Inder presiding over fairy princesses. In this case the presence has knitted itself so unobtrusively in the narrative that it might as well not be there.

Yet as you turn the pages in this collector’s version of the land and its people, its traditions and mysteries, its hidden bounties and pervasive folklore, you are well aware of the authenticity of the information because behind the tales of high adventure is a son of the soil; a good enough reason for changed travel plans and holiday destinations for all those who head for foreign climes, come vacation time.

Carrying a depth of information — Rashid acknowledges to working as a devoted researcher — the articles happily follow no regular textbook pattern and yet educate along with being informative. This last compliment is a result of the author’s craving to know more and more about a place instead of a random sampling.

He can travel all the way to distant Jacobabad not just to see for himself the clock that one time Deputy Commissioner John Jacob had crafted on the lathe in his workshop but also to find out who the man actually was. In the process comes the discovery that this finest administrator of the area during the British Raj continues to be revered more than a century later as a ‘pir’!

Then there are times when Rashid the intrepid traveller is forced to take time off in service of heritage or to trace the vagaries of historical developments as in the house that Jehandad built or in unearthing the necropolis in the neighborhood of Swabi. Woven neatly into the adventures are character sketches and conversations, subtly worded evaluations of the many ethnic varieties and linguistic diversities that populate this land.

He writes about people in an endearingly home grown language, at times using the local idiom to great advantage. So in a sense this book is not just a travel book. It is a process of rediscovery experienced by the author and magnanimously shared with the readers. Whether they will follow suit or merely place the publication on the coffee table is anybody’s guess.

Book is available at at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 13 May 2015 at 11:46, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

I appreciate the wordings of the writer while nerating the places,peoples and customs forcing the readers to enhance the desire/ lust to develop the interest of reading.

At 13 May 2015 at 13:27, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

"He writes about people in an endearingly home grown language, at times using the local idiom to great advantage."

At 13 May 2015 at 13:28, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

"He writes about people in an endearingly home grown language, at times using the local idiom to great advantage."


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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