By Irfan Husain
Nov. 14, 2011
JERSEY is a long way to travel to, but it was worth the time and hassle to leave Puffin, our beloved Jack Russel terrier, with friends who love him as much as we do. Tomorrow, we set off for the United States on my book tour, so we had to park Puffin, even if it took us over six hours to reach our friends.
First, we had to drive two hours to Weymouth to catch the ferry. The operators wanted us to reach an hour early because it takes time to queue, drive into the ferry, and park. Poor Puffin had to stay in the car while we went up to the deck for the four-hour crossing. And this was the fast ferry, mind you; had we taken the normal ship, it would have taken us the whole day.
Jersey is a small island only around twelve miles from France. Indeed, it was part of the Duke of Normandy’s vast territories in the 12th century, and has never quite shed its French past, despite being part of the United Kingdom for centuries. Until recently, most people spoke Jerriais, the ancient language of Normandy. As I looked at a local dictionary, I could identify many French words, but the construction of phrases was nothing I was familiar with.
Over time, however, the number of Jerriais speakers has declined dramatically, and only a handful still maintain their linguistic connection to the past. In the 1989 census, only 3, 700 out of a total population of 92,000 or so claimed it as their first language. Now, I doubt if the number is more than a few hundreds.
Nevertheless, most streets and public squares are named after the old Normandy families. Indeed, when I looked through the local telephone directory, I was struck by how many of the high-ranking elected and appointed officials had old French names. Our hosts told us that they constituted the aristocracy of the island. Our friend Steve is in charge of a waterside development project, and spoke about his frustration with the slow decision-making process. One reason is that many on the island want to preserve the harbour and its surrounding areas as they are. But more importantly, the island enjoys tax-free status, so it is home to many Brits from the mainland who have established their residence in Jersey to escape taxes. This brings the island a steady income, so it doesn’t really need to get into innovative schemes to raise funds.
The beaches are spectacular, with one in particular stretching for miles. Puffin loves running on the sand, chasing balls, so he’ll be happy. But even on Jersey, I couldn’t escape the infamous spot-fixing scandal involving three Pakistani Test cricketers. We were invited to lunch by a couple who were friends of the lady wife. As Rod had kept wicket for the English Test team many years ago, he wanted to hear my views on the recent sentences passed on the trip.
I am sick to death of the whole wretched affair: ever since the story broke on Pakistan’s last tour, many English friends have wanted to talk to me about it. I have repeated ad nauseum that while I felt sorry for young Amir, the other two could spend the rest of their lives in jail as far as I was concerned.
In a rich country like the UK, it is difficult to conceive of the grinding poverty millions of Pakistanis live in. And when one of them uses the springboard of cricketing talent to escape, the need to make sure that you don’t return to the mean streets must be overwhelming. So you are 18, and your captain orders you to bowl a couple of no-balls, and threatens you with being dropped from the side if you don’t, what do you do?
I have followed the hypocritical response to the spot-fixing episode here in the UK and in Pakistan. The reality is that young people in Pakistan now grow up in an environment of ‘anything goes’. To expect them to keep to the straight and narrow while their elders indulge in all kinds of corruption is to apply double standards.
Bidding Puffin and our friends’ farewell, we hurried back to London where the lady wife had invited some young people to dinner. We had asked a Desi restaurant in west London, Miran Masala, to organise the occasion, and I was much impressed by the quality of the food, the excellent service and the low price they charged us. The owner is from Gujarat, and has promised to cook us Nihari on our next visit. This is something I really miss at this time of the year, so I greatly look forward to downing some of the super-rich, slow-cooked meaty dish when I get back from the US.
The weather in the UK is turning, with most of the leaves now fallen. But for a few weeks, autumn was spectacular, with vast vistas of every conceivable shade of red, orange and yellow on display in the countryside.
My book tour takes me to Boston, New York and Washington, all cities I visited some twenty years ago. And while I look forward to meeting old friends, I dread the early-morning talk-shows on radio and TV. I really am not an early morning person, so the thought of having to make sense at ungodly hours does not fill me with joy.
But as my publisher said, I am about to learn that it’s easier to write a book than to sell it. It’s true that if I had to sell things to make a living, I would have starved to death long ago.
As far as I’m concerned, once I have written something, I put it behind me and move on to the next article. It’s a bit like being on a treadmill. However, now I’m stuck with a book, I suppose I’ll just have to go through with it. By the way, you can see the book, Fatal Faultlines, on Amazon.com.
The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West
Source: The Dawn, Karachi