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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Extract from Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia, published by John Murray

When at last I reached Pakistan, it was to map these layers of history and their impress on modern society. During the past sixty years, Pakistanis have been brutalized by the violence of military dictatorships, enraged or deceived by the state's manipulation of religion, and are now being terrorized by the West's War on Terror. But Pakistan is more than the sum of its generals and jihadis. The Indus valley has a continuous history of political, religious and literary ferment stretching back thousands of years; a history which Pakistanis share with Tibetans and Indians. The intertwining of those chronicles, memories and myths – that is the inheritance of the people who live in the Indus valley.

This book recounts a journey along the Indus, upstream and back in time, from the sea to the source, from the moment that Pakistan first came into being in Karachi, to the time, millions of years ago in Tibet, when the river itself was born. Along the way, the river has had more names than its people have had dictators. In Sindh it is called 'Purali', meaning capricious, an apt description of a river which wanders freely across the land, creating cities and destroying them. Sindhis also know it as 'Samundar', ocean, a name evocative of the vastness of the river within their landscape and civilization. For Pashtuns on the frontier with Afghanistan the Indus is simultaneously 'Nilab', blue water, 'Sher Darya', the Lion River, and 'Abbasin', Father of Rivers. Along its upper reaches these names are repeated by people speaking different languages and practicing different religions. Baltis once called the Indus 'Gemtsuh', the Great Flood, or 'Tsuh-Fo', the Male River; here, as in Ladakh and Tibet, it is known as 'Senge Tsampo', the Lion River. Today, in spite of the militarized borders that divide the river's people from each other, the ancient interconnectedness of the Indus still prevails.


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