I’m in Pakistan! It’s thanks to the Arts Council / British Council’s Artists International Development Fund, that I’m here to research the transgender character in my play, The Jasmine Terrace, and to explore the possibility of future collaborations with local artists and theatre-makers. I’m joined by the artist Aisha Khan who will be documenting this trip through various media including perhaps some photographic portraits of the transgender community. Although this is our plan, it’s become clear that we can’t predict how it will develop. I have a lot of names, several phone numbers and no meetings set up, because that’s not how it’s done. I’m keeping a diary to share our experience.
We emerge into the arrival hall of Karachi airport to blinding light, a mass of people, midday heat and an intense scent of roses. We are greeted with garlands of jasmine and roses, and it’s the most beautiful homecoming. It’s 18 years since I was last in Pakistan, though I lived here for the first 10 years of my life, and it’s exotic and familiar at once: the heat, the smells, the sounds.
5 hours later we are sitting on the roof terrace lightheaded with Murree beer, jet lag and excitement. The terrace is full of birds: over a dozen sparrows, crows which are smaller than the crows in London and elegant with grey necks, and mynahs which move like flocks of starlings in the sky.
We decide to go to the beach before sunset to ride a camel decorated in bright Rajasthani dress. As soon as we dismount, a man appears with a white horse. And a little boy clutching 2 red roses to sell.
Outside the anti-terrorist courthouse there are paparazzi and a TV crew waiting for the ex petroleum minister up on corruption charges.
We go shopping for suitable clothes in Dolman Mall, bypassing Debenham’s, Next and Cinnabon. We learn that you can buy most drugs over-the-counter in the pharmacy including valium. Tempting but no. My 3-day headache continues, none of the phone numbers i have seem to work, I struggle to stay awake past 8 and Aisha can’t get to sleep before 2. Tomorrow we start in earnest.