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Talking Location with author S S Mausoof – Pakistan
12th June 2017
#TalkingLocationWith… author S S Mausoof, about Pakistan – Mohenjodaro and Waziristan, where his thriller “The Warehouse” is set.
I have always had an ethereal enchantment for Mohenjo-Daro, the capitol city of the Indus Valley Civilization. This was cultivated early in my childhood when I visited the site in 1977. I have returned to the site several times under successive Pakistani governments, in 1999 to celebrate Millennium with close friends, and more recently to shoot my documentary film, In Search of Meluhha: The story of Mohenjodaro.
Mohenjodaro’s name means the mound of death in the local Sindhi language and is a recent adoption. Nobody can be sure what it was actually called although the name Meluhha had significant academic backing. But we are sure that it was the world’s first planned city with an advanced sewage systems, standardized bricks for construction, and an enterprising trade network. At its peak in 2500 BCE, the Indus Valley had a population of 5 million, and was spread across 280,000 square miles. It was known for artisans, engineers, and a dance form that could be the predecessor of Yoga. Yet a few centuries later, the carefully planned metropolis was abandoned and the ruins were lost until rediscovered in 1911 by Indian archeologist R D Banerjee.
Visiting Mohenjodaro is practical if one can overcome the anxiety of travelling to Pakistan. Granted my experience is subjective, I am of Pakistani origin and know the language, but I have been living in the USA for two decades. My most recent visit was in February 2017 to attend an international conference on Mohenjodaro hosted by the Sindh minister of culture, Syed Sardar Ali Shah. I flew from San Francisco to Karachi on Turkish Airlines through Istanbul. I had a brief sojourn in my hometown for the Karachi Literary Festival, I would recommend staying at the nostalgic Beach Luxury Hotel, a three star hotel in Karachi, overlooking the Arabian sea, and flew Pakistan International (PIA) flight to Sukkur (SKZ). PIA also operates flights to Mohenjodaro (MJD) but they are less frequent.
The 40-minute early morning flight in the ATR-42 twin turboprop was uneventful except for the speedy hot tea and cardamom biscuits served. The harsh sunlight prevented a panoramic overview of the landscape but the plane followed the path of expansive Indus delta. On arrival I walked out of the airport and was offered a private car service by a gentleman in a traditional Sindhi cap, trimmed moustache and polished sandals. I hired his air-conditioned 2012 Toyota Corolla for the 2-hour ride to Mohenjodaro. His English was basic but he charged me 2500 Rupees or $25, which I thought was fair as the price of petroleum is universal suffrage for non-OPEC countries. We travelled on well-maintained highways circumventing Sukkur, a city of one million people and Pakistan’s 12th largest city with a tolerant and vibrant culture. A few decades back Sindh was rife with dacoits and bandits but but these days upper Sindh is one of the safest areas in Pakistan.
I arrived at Mohenjodaro, a UNESCO world heritage site located next to the airport. I paid a nominal entry fee and checked into the Archeology Resthouse. I had opted to stay at this refurbished hotel which had clean but sparse room and full dining options, but there was no running water and the electric power is turned off at night. Most conference attendees opted to stay in Larkana, a city 30 km away, and the power base of the Bhutto family, as it has better hotels and continuous electric supply. However, a rustic hotel inside the archeological ruins allowed for early morning solitary walk to the ruins.
Unfortunately, I had missed most of the conference and only managed to connect with some acquaintances. But the weather was perfect and several artisans had congregated to sell authentic replicas of Harappan pottery. The gardens leading to the site were lively as local families and school children enjoying the manicured lawns, the remarkable two-storied museum with collections of antiquated artifacts and life sized replicas of Indus valley icons like the dancing girl, the priest king, trade boats, buffaloes, unicorns and the indecipherable harappan script. Wandering through these icons, stopping for some photos, shoots you pass through a massive gate and into the site.
The site remains impressive despite the decay caused by lack of funds and salinization. The rotund stupa is still the visual highlight but unfortunately it is off limits to tourists. Walking up the ramp one can access the great bath, Divinity Street, the drainage running alongside the streets with places for lamps and even community trash cans. Walking around the city it is possible to imagine life here four millennia back in history with wooden superstructures supporting bright awnings that covered street markets stalls leading to the dock on the Indus River. But to really experience the mystery of Meluhha one has to take the high road to adjacent excavations where the multi layered city is revealed. A short walk to D K Area we find grain silos, the deep cut wells as well as many fine example of walls. As my friend Meeral Abro, a local soil conservationist said, the miracle of Meluhhan’s was the standardized brick size which allows visitors today to walk in the shade of standing bronze age walls. That experience is without an equal in the world of archaeology.
I remained in Mohejodaro for two more days. Walked the site, bought artifacts, visited local villages where we sponsor schools and managed to remain off-grid as internet service is non-existent, although cellphone service is decent. As I left I promised my local friends that next time I would bring my “American family” and make them take the high road to Meluhha.
Thanks so much to Saqib for this fascinating insight into such an ancient culture….
S.S. Mausoof is a Pakistani born writer-filmmaker based in San Francisco. His films include award winning noir thrillers like Kala Pul as well as the acclaimed documentary on the Indus valley civilization called In Search of Meluhha. The Warehouse is his debut novel and has been published by Hachette India, Hoperoad UK and l’aube noir in France.
You can buy his thriller here
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