Islamabad 2006

Three days with Pakistan customs is a trying affair even for a Sadu. I had reached the point of no return when I had accepted that a time comes when one has to draw a line and move on. That said, the sub-continent has a strange way of doing business and when all seems lost, the white flag has been raised, then a common ground is found and smiles come back.

The Customs and Immigration building in Islamabad is an Orwellian structure with long central corridors on each floor and plain veneer doors every ten feet. Every one of these veneer doors open to a 10’ to 7’ room, furnished with regulation desk and regulation filing cabinet and two regulation chairs. Behind every desk sits a jolly face of middle class respectable Pakistani. A head nodding in between the piles of dark green files.

‘Ah – yes sir, you sir need room 4B, external customs, I’m….’ As always these veneer doors always lead to rooms that I do not need.

Those familiar with the sub-continent will know the frustration of buying a railway ticket, passed from pillar to post, even station to station, until frustration gets the better of one and then that welled up frustration, causing reddening face, erupts in anger. Customs is a little harder to endure.

“I am sorry sir; I am Customs Office for sub-district Lahore zone 23. Sorry, you need external customs…”

“I know what I need!  Why does every one of you pass me from room to room? Now listen. Someone…”

“But sir I can only deal with Lahore zone 23, but are you English?”

“Will it help?” And yes I am trying to control a welling up of anger. Strangely this short man gets up from his desk. With the chair grinding back on the floor he offers me a hand and a seat and

“A cuppa tea?” he asks so politely and rings his hand bell.

“Thank you, very kind.” He can see a foreigner’s frustration needs refreshing.

“Can you tell me something? I am looking for a magazine, an English magazine. It is a very good magazine and it is published in English. You must know Parrot World?”

As he looked at me his eyes opened, his face expressing such a strong wishing that I would know and love such a magazine.

“Of course I know it!” How could I say otherwise? To be truthful would have been deflating for him. “Yes, a very well known magazine.” And with that out came a copy of the glossy magazine called Parrot World.

“My loves are Parrots. I have four cuties, an African Grey, Quaker, Green and Senegal Parrots. Do you like Parrots?”

“I love parrots, great pets.. My daughter has one.”

“Which one?” he was so quick to ask he was digging my hole for me.  As I looked into this hole, I couldn’t help myself; “Well, er, it’s a…” I was struggling with my parrots, but the truth was not so bad.

“A… budgie!”

“A very small parrot!” But he did say it with a smile, and so the answer seemed ok.

“I have to pay 1200 rupees for back issues. Much money. Can you buy easily in England?”

“No problem, lots of copies about.” And with that he circled the back issue he needed and I circled the customs exemption form I needed.

We were both as good as our words. I had found a way to collect my goods and he is smiling as he read back issues of Parrot World.