Saturday, July 30, 2005

What Lurks Beneath

My friend Lady M (she who is all knowing) swears that you can tell all you need to know about a man by looking at his shoes. Be they trainers, brogues, sandals, oxfords or any other known form of footwear. Save yourself unnecessary heartache – just check his shoe closet and all will be revealed. My own – less scientific- theory has to do with what he wears beneath it all- his underwear. This can reveal tomes about the wearer. The only problem with my theory is that by the time you get to the last layer of the onion, it is usually too late (and very impolite) to beat a hasty retreat.

The statistics are divided between those who do and those who don’t. This is consistent with my theory that many Pakistani men simply don’t – wear any that is. This is empirically observable on a windy day and by the amount of unwarranted genital scratching that can be observed by any junior anthropologist. (No dummy –it’s not the starch.) Ofcourse, a conscious absence of undergarments can mean that the wearer is truly liberated, does not believe in restriction (constriction?) and enjoys letting it all hang free.

Of those who do, there are boxer men. These are largely confined to the imagination of admen who dream up these dreamy, soft focus black and white nymph-like creatures in elaborately crafted fashion shoots. In order to carry off boxers you need (nay, must have) an absolutely flat abdomen. Flat. To test if you have one, fill a wine glass with dry Bordeaux and leave it on your tummy for an hour. If it hasn’t toppled over, then you have passed the boxer test. The rest of you (us?) are doomed to fill in the other categories. Boxer Guy is a “dude” in every sense of the word – cool, casual, not afraid to let it all hang loose and as flat as the Pampas.

There is then the brief guy. I (and others of my ilk) fall into this category. I have kept at least a years’ supply in advance of my cotton M&S briefs. I’ve worn these since I was a kid and feel desperately insecure in anything else. Lately, my friend D has almost persuaded me to switch to Calvins. These include the long john versions which tuck everything in nicely. He has even found a dinky little Chinese shop that does amazing knock offs. I hate the thought of someone else’s name on my waistband, but must confess that these are incredibly comfortable. Brief Guy is safe, neatly tucked in and middle of the road.

Finally there is Y-front guy. These are the mainstay of the underwear industry and are characterized by the upside-down Y (depending on your angle of vision) that serves no apparent purpose. Millions of mothers have decreed that these are right for their little boys. And little boys, as we all know, are creatures of habit. Y front Guy is to be trusted, conservative – heck, just an ordinary guy or (in the gay context) a Fruit of the Loom.

What about the warning signals: synthetics (cheap, nasty and smelly). Patterns (especially slogans, teddy bears, hearts and the like) best avoided. Thongs, strings, dental floss: (kinky). Holes, frays (drop immediately or send to Queer Eye). Beware of underwear with no label – this has been acquired by the kilo off a cart at Juma Bazaar and denotes thrift. Finally, never trust a man over 18 who don’t buy his own.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Das Box

One of the hidden advantages of my protracted throat virus has been the oodles of television I have been able to watch. I must start by confessing that TV is my least favourite medium. I have come to learn that I am not the target audience that most producers have in mind. I am not part of the great American middle class. Nor am I a housewife with a penchant for soap. I do not have a life which allows me to be in every Wednesday at 8 pm to follow the next episode of whatever is on offer. The only reason I have a television in my room is for me to absorb another, more intelligent medium : cinema.
Back to TV. Let's begin with the phoren stuff. The "entertainment" channels (as they have dubbed themselves) mostly have B or C grade serials which wouldn't merit prime time in any other part of the world. For example, it is not unusual to have an episode from the first series of "Friends" running on any three of them. There is the usual dose of gore and violence. The film channels are devoted exclusively to "Arnold" and "Sylvester". As I am not a Bicep Buff, these hold little (if any) charm. Unfortunately, the Turner Movie Channel does not run any longer on my cable networks and I am deprived of good queenie doses of Garbo, Hepburn, Bacall, Davis and Crawford. (No, that is not the name of a law firm.) There is the divine Oprah (where would we be without her worldly wisdom) and the truly ghastly Jerry Springer (white trash as art form?).
Onto the local stuff. Desi entertainment is, in short, one long soap opera. This usually perpetrates some of the ghastliest stereotypes in the guise of a good long weepie. The centrifugal force here is provided by the Mother/Mother in Law (twitching eyebrows, dark lipstick, a smile from hell) and the less-than-innocent Daughter/Daughter in Law (peroxide hair, tight fitted clothing and a voice to grate parmesan with.). The men in these productions are good looking drones with great profiles, tight buns and no personality. Clearly this a female dominated medium (the "dramatists" are invariably women) in which women rule and men are ruled. There's obviously some subliminal fantasy playing itself out here.
And then we have the local "hip" programming. This usually consists of music videos, some exceedingly good (dubbed "superhits") and others atrocious. The latter consist of handycams capturing some prepubescent, acne-ridden soul warbling on about unrequited love. There are several "segments" (as they are called in the trade) which deliberate about fashion, makeovers and the "celebrity" interview. The hostess (invariably called "Tina" or "Neeni") is a California Blonde with with a spray-on T shirt and platform shoes from a Swedish porn video. The one I watched had a tennis prodigy sit in a deep chair, well formed thighs splayed wide apart, crotch at camera level, while he went on about how much he loved his mother. There's hidden sex oozing all over the place here. And then there's the fashionistas flouncing across the screen bragging about their latest offshore acquisitions. ("Here's a furrrrrrrrr I bought in New Yorrrrrrrrrrk.") Little "aunties" with heads covered cook fictitious food in a sponsored cooking medium. ("And here we have Battered Chicken in a tomato ketchup-mayonaise-pineapple sauce cooked in high cholesterol Sunshine Oil.")
So what is the verdict? Is television really about having people in your living room whom you wouldn't normally have in your house? More loftily, is it true that "television knows no night. It is perpetual day. TV embodies our fear of the dark, of night, of the other side of things." More Banally: Does the sun always shine on TV? After my brief flirtation with the medium, I think I'm happier living without it. Except for Oprah.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Humiliation is not an emotion I take to easily. It is probably because it is the most difficult to talk or reason oneself out of. Everything else can be tackled with a degree of logic and a large pillow into which one can drown one's sorrows. Humiliation hurts somewhere at the back. It prickles, resounds, echoes and dies down very gradually. Let's start at the begining. Many months ago, I gladly agreed to give a farewell dinner for Diploman, a good friend. I requested (and promptly received) a list of friends he would like to see invited for the event. This included an Ambassador and his wife. I dutifully trotted out the invitations and (surprise!) even got RSVP's. The Age of Etiquette is not entirely dead. The Ambassador and his wife would be delighted to attend.
Come the dinner. All goes well. There are subsequent invitations to and from His Excellency including a request that they be allowed to take visiting friends up to the Sanctuary. I have no problem with this. Nor, apparently, do Their Excellencies. I gladly assume that I am an "acquaintance" in the grand scheme of things. Back at work a summer intern has a problem. These are young budding professionals who want to acquire some kind of experience before they leave for college. The young intern in question has applied for a visa and has submitted all the required documents. Unfortunately his visa request is declined because some of the documents are incomplete. He submits a revised set of documents but is met by a stony silence from the Embassy which continues for over two months. The days go by. His panic levels increase. Eventually he musters the courage to inquire whether I know the Ambassador in question. It is the self same one I had invited earlier. I promise no surprises but agree to call. That is when it all began.
After trying a dozen times to reach the Embassy, the menial operator has the temerity to ask why I am calling. "I need to speak to the Ambassador. It's about a visa." "The Ambassador does not give visas," responds the snotty S.O.B. "I am perfectly aware of that. I just need some help."
"Wait" he interjects. After twenty minutes of muzak I am put through to H.E's secretary. "He's a very busy man. He cannot be disturbed for something as trivial as this." "Well. Err. He is a friend and....." "FRIEND" she bellows, seizing on the word. "How can he be a FRIEND of yours." By now I am blushing. "Well, he's been over for dinner with his wife. And he's stayed at my place." This cuts no ice. "Call back in a few days."
I do call back in a few days. The summer intern is now feverish with anxiety and has been spotted walking into closed doors more than once. The Wardress of Belsen is put through to me once more. "I have spoken to the Ambassador. He has never heard of you." I am stunned. Even if I am unworthy of recognition it would have diplomatic to state, at the very least, that he couldn't immediately recall me. If this is the calibre of people running international diplomacy then we are very lucky to merely seen only two world wars. I decide to avoid being personal. "Listen. This had nothing to do with me. There's a hysterical kid out here who needs to know whether he's going to make it to college. He's not related to me, I have no personal stake in his future. I merely happen to be human." There's a long pause. I hear a breath on the other end. At least I know she breathes - occasionally. And then I get the information I had requested a week before.
What is it about Diplomatic services that instils an immediate sense of superiority? Is it the fact that they think they are truly a cut above the rest? Or do they live in such rarefied climes that speaking to someone they perceive as a lesser being is a nuisance? Surely the art of diplomacy involves the ability to cut across a swathe of cultures and people and to be able to communicate with them all. If a simple request requires a snub and half a dozen calls to be answered, I shudder to think how more complicated matters of state are handled. I am now convinced that the mess the world is in is partly due to the quality of the people at the very helm of affairs. Oh yes. I am still puce with humiliation. Peace.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Notes on Lust

It is several weekends ago. Lady M, Dimples and I are back at the Sanctuary for a long grape sodden weekend. Spirits – all of them- are high. The air may be thin at ten thousand feet above sea level but this adds to the breathless exuberance of it all. If there ever had to be a case for a lack of oxygen, this is it. Between whiffs of grapeshot and Earl Grey we luxuriate in just being.

I forgot to mention the downside of a lack of oxygen. This manifests itself in a gradual lowering of inhibitions which are so marked at sea level. The conversation drifts, meanders, turns the wrong block and ends up in a cul de sac clearly marked Former Relationships. We giggle mindlessly at our past follies and our past passions. “How could you go out with him? He wore tight white polyester pants.” “He did? I thought they were cotton.” “Oh no, they weren’t. I accidentally dropped a match on him and he would have exploded if he hadn’t been so busy imploding.” And so it went. Until Lady M remarked “But that wasn’t love darling. It was Lust.” I scratched my head. This did not compute.

Lust, to a male mind, is sheer attraction without the added baggage of much emotion, responsibility or (if possible) thought. It is what lawyers call “a reckless disregard for the consequences arising therefrom.” Lust to a gay male mind is another trip altogether. I have seen gay friends perform lust ridden antics which make them cringe to this day. Don’t take my word for it. Walk into the back room of any gay club worth its salt and take a look for yourself. Have I been guilty of lust induced acts? I would be lying if I said I had not. In recollection, this usually takes the form of “What could I have been thinking of?” accompanied by a blush. I am therefore I lust. Or, (more realistically) I was and therefore I lusted.

So what happens over time? Well, for one, pure undiluted lust becomes somewhat dull. This is when the conveyor belt of emotional baggage enters the picture. Call it old/middle age, a lack of testosterone/estrogen or a refining/dulling of the higher/lower senses. The sense of lust is lost in these multiple choices. Other emotions kick in. I am forced to confess that I am sometimes more electrically charged watching a fully clothed man in a crowded cafe than I would be if he were lying across my bed with nothing between us – not even his Calvins. I am pornographically challenged. Do I mind? No. Am I weird? Probably.

Cut to the Sanctuary. Close up on Lady M. “Did you say lust. You went out with somebody for two whole years in the name of lust?” “Yes,” she responds defiantly, “men don’t have a monopoly on lust, you know.” We most certainly do not. But could I sustain myself on two years of lust? Lust, in my personalized lexicon, is quick, transitory, for-the-moment. I try challenging this assertion, but I am shooed away with “What would you know about women.” “A great deal more, given that I’m not sexually involved with them.” “Hah. That’s what you think.” I am now truly perplexed.

Do women lust? And, if so, do they lust in much the same way we do? I have yet to come across many women who confess to sleeping with someone just for the heck of it. Guys do it all the time. Gay guys do it habitually. At the risk of splitting hairs, women claim to be “attracted” to men – and sometimes to other women. But is this attraction just lust in drag? And is it the same emotion men feel? Perhaps, without the dumb assed things men do to satiate themselves. Common emotion different reactions ? Damn. Maybe I don’t know that much about women after all. Back to the drawing board.

Ten Reasons To Temporarily Cease Blogging

1. The nagging fear that you are being a crashing bore.
2. The additional nagging fear that you are repeating situations.
3. A pernicious attack of flu which has impaired your ability to string a decent sentence together.
4. The absence of something which moves you and which you can write about.
5. A dreadful choice of DVD's not worth reviewing
6. Ennui.
7. Periods. Yes. Men do have them. Just differently.
8. The continuing breakdown of internet services (well, for last week only.)
9. What if Mummy comes across this site - accidentally ?
10. Love, actually.

Normal service will resume shortly.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


It's not for nothing they call it the World Wide Web. Webs are deceptive. Gossamer like. Strangely resiliently. Primarily intended to trap. Easy to rebuild. And inhabited by strange, creepy, crawly creatures. When the Web collapsed in Pakistan it rendered many of these analogies redundant. Others were reaffirmed. I’m not sure quite how to react to internet failure. On the one hand there are important emails which need to get through. On the other, I am spared gigabytes of spam promising to enlarge my penis or to get me a better credit card rating. I am frustratingly unable to reach the BBC site to check and see what has happened in London this morning. I vaguely know that bombs have exploded in a city that was and ( in an emotional sense) continues to be home to me. La Tempesta, a friend, has just texted me to let me know that the blasts were terrible but that she and our mutual friends are well and alive. Internet breakdown has also meant that posting on this blog has been an absolute nightmare. Yes. I have mixed feelings about net failure.

All this disconnected thinking does come together in the strangest way possible. I am busy in a meeting entirely focused on the job in front of me. My mobile telephone rings. Damn. It is La Tempesta from London. “I’m busy. Can I call you back?” “Most certainly NOT. Get OUT right now. Who is this weirdo you’ve gotten to call me.” “Err. Me ?” I struggle, conscious of a dozen eyes staring at me. “Yes, YOU, Idiot.” “He wants to be exorcised and needs my help.” I stare palely at the other participants of the meeting. “Excuse me gentlemen. I will just be back.”

Cut to 1994. I am obsessed with the internet. I lamely believe that it is the best thing to have happened to me. I can now meet intelligent, good looking, talented, single men. They will fall out of cyberspace right into my lap. Oh Joy. And I don’t even have to dress up for a cyber date. I can look like a dog, not bother to shave and still have them pursue me. Events proved otherwise. For many years cyberspace provided me with deep and dark disappointment. In one comic interlude I remember running as fast as my legs could carry me, because the undying object of my cyberaffection all month long turned out to be a bald, ill dressed midget with body odour and a stammer from hell. For me the net was doomed to be dotted with losers of all shades, hues, tones and genres. I did not want to be confused with them. I gave up.

Artboy was different. Or so I thought. We chatted online in the early 90s. We met briefly in Karachi at a cafe. There was no electricity. Not even the tiniest kilovolt of passion. Nevertheless, there was a sense of decency that prevailed. Email addresses are exchanged. We never meet again, but connected once in a while on the internet. Years go by. One day in the course of an internet conversation La Tempesta’s name crops up. Artboy would like her number. I assume this is in connection with his budding interest in writing. I ask La T and she agrees. The number is passed on. I guess all is well. Until I get The Call.

“Exorcise?” I mutter. “Yes. He called once. And then his mother called again. Shit. I’m going to have to change my number.” “Chill. Why on earth would he want you to exorcise him?” “Well," she said, with a deep sigh," I wrote a disturbing article on the subject fifteen years ago. And he seems to remember it all these years later.” Damn. “I told him that it was a long time ago. That I really did not remember it. And that, quite honestly, I did not want to remember it. It was disturbing enough when I was researching it.” I gulp. “I am sorry. Truly deeply sorry. I had no idea that someone would be looking to you for an exorcism. It was the last thing on my mind” I mutter.

The point of the matter of the fact is that the net is a strange place. On the one hand I have met some wonderful strangers who have gone on to become close friends. Lovers even. On the other hand there are people like Artboy. I suppose the problem lies in the nature of the web. The rules that regulate us in everyday life are momentarily suspended. You can be who you like. And more importantly, you let people slip in unnoticed relying on their net personas to guide you through it all. And that can be a very dangerous thing.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Decaffeinated Society

Here's another cheat blog. The Op Ed pages of most Pakistani newspapers are as dry as a week old baguette. So when I came across something which didn't have to do with politics, gang rape or water distribution I sat down and read. Hey, this guy writes well. And he has a point to make.

Let the good times roll!
Out of my head

There's always been celebrity gossip. But now we've got more and more of our local newspapers and magazines devoting more and more of their pages and photographic space to capturing the event-attending lives of not only the rich and the famous -- the glitterati -- but , increasingly, of the wannaberati -- the wanna-be rich and the wanna-be famous.

I used to be irritated by this waste of precious column and page space. Who really cared what these people were up to? Did it really matter that Bopsie threw a "GT" for Poopsie's birthday which was attended by so-and-so; that Buggles had a "pre" at his place before the MALCOGSOC Winter Ball and so-and-so showed up; that Cuppoo had a "post" after the LRBTARIAN Club Nite; that there was much revelry at the mehndi of Magsoo and Salsy at which who wore exactly what? And who were these Bopsies, and Popsies and Buggles and Cuppoos and Magsoos and Salsys in the first place? And exactly what had they done in, and with, their lives? And if they actually had done something constructive or substantial or creative then why weren't we reading about their accomplishments rather than what party or function they'd attended? Why were these non-events being given so much coverage -- in glorious colour, no less? Weren't there more weighty matters to discuss and actual achievements to celebrate?

I wasn't questioning the right of these people to party away their lives -- hey, I love a good party as much as the next person, and if you've got the time, money, and energy to be a happy and willing passenger on the social merry-go-round, then more power to you -- but I was certainly questioning the need for all this hedonistic revelry to be splashed all over the newspapers and magazines. When people are starving and women are being gang-raped and inflation is at a full gallop, surely the power of the press could be put to better use? I couldn't understand the undeniable growing popularity of these pages.

But somewhere along the way, I had a change of heart. Just like I did in the case of professional wrestling on television, which I couldn't stand to watch in the beginning. Being a big sports buff, I couldn't figure out the charm of something so fake. But then I realised that this wasn't sports but "sports entertainment" and I had to take it as something like a soap opera. From then on, I admit, I became an avid follower for a while. So, just as I came around to watching the World Wrestling Entertainment on a regular basis, I've realised the sheer entertainment value of the society pages littering our newspapers and magazines.

I mean this stuff is almost as good as P.G. Wodehouse. The British humorist found rich material for poking fun at the English upper classes and their foibles through his brilliantly named characters such as Monty Bodkin, Clarence Threepwood, Galahad Threepwood, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps, Bingo Little, Oofy Prosser, Bertie Wooster, Major Brabazon-Plank, Honoria Glossop, Tuppy Glossop, Pongo Twistleton, and so on. With the Bopsies, Popsies, Buggles, Cuppoos, Magsoos, and Salsys of the society pages of our newspapers it's like a P.G. Wodehouse novel come to life. You couldn't pay to find funnier stuff than that.

Hold on. It gets even more hilarious. You can't find such an entertaining cast of characters all in one place anywhere else: idle young playboys and dirty old men; interestingly (ahem!) dressed debutantes and celebutantes; painted starlet-slash-models and even more tinted, dyed, highlighted and colour-lensed formidable-looking aunts of the high society set; corporate executives on the rise and rotund businessmen on the make; fabulous fashionistas and even more fabulous (ahem!) fashion designers. And what their smiles for the camera say is this: "Look at me, I've arrived! I'm somebody! Love me! Look at the exciting life I lead! Envy me!" This need for approbation (why else would you allow total strangers a peek into your private lives?) is just about the funniest bit of all. Sometimes, though, the humour is hilariously black as in the case of some wannaberati being labelled "and friend" or "and guest" in the captions under the photographs. Oh, the hilarity!

Apart from the glitterati and wannaberati, various groups in this cast of hundreds include the following: the flitterati (the idle rich, given to dilettantism and flitting from one party to another); the pseudorati ("famous" only for having their photographs appear regularly in the society pages); the organiserati (event managers of uncertain leanings); the flatterati (mutual admiration societies); the matterati (men and women given to material excess, probably the largest class of all in this set); the titterati (the giggling classes); and the twitterati (resembling titterati, though dumber). Sometimes you also catch a member of the bitterati (the cynical elite) looking on in the occasional photograph.

So, may the society pages flourish for all the mirth that they provide the reading public. Let the good times roll.

My Brother Nikhil

It has a been a long fortnight. Longer still without a regular internet connection to the rest of the galaxy. Much longer with the frenzied heatwave that has continued unabated. Imagine, for a moment, starting the day with warm toothpaste. When perspiration overtakes inspiration, one is better left alone. It was in this frame of mind that I arrived at my local DVD shop armed with a credit card and absolutely no idea of what to pick up. As Vin Diesel and Arnold are not particularly high on my list of priorities, I gravitated towards the alphabetically arranged Hindi section. There, between Mere Mehboob and Mrityudaad was a sole copy of My Brother Nikhil. A month before, every gay man (and some women) with my email address had forwarded some kind of review of the film. I am wary of Bollywood's flirtation with gay issues including some half baked ventures like Bombay Boys and Fire. I dutifully bought a copy of MBN, but decided that its viewing priority was a notch below the rest of my selection, which included The Interpreter, Kinsey and (gasp) Swades. I was mistaken.

My Brother Nikhil is primarily a film about being HIV+. The film is set in the late 1980s when AIDS awareness was at an all time low- it is still perilously low in South Asia. Nikhil Kapoor (admirably played by Sanjay Suri) is an Alpha Male, destined for success. He is a swimming champion egged on by his pushy father (Victor Bannerjee). Mother (brilliantly portrayed by Lillete Dubey) is cast in the classic mould of the South Asian Mom unable to resolve her own issues with her husband-. ("I love you son, but do I have what it takes to tackle your father head on?) A chirpy Juhi Chawla is cast as Nikhil's sister. The film is set in documentary mould with flashbacks from Nikhil's life as seen through the eyes of his friends and familiy. Goa (as always) provides an exotic background.

The HIV theme is predictably handled. Yes, there is horrible discrimination and ignorance and a lack of subtlety about HIV in this part of the world. My Brother Nikhil does a reasonable job of conveying the private and public torment of coping with contagion in an highly unsympathetic environment. Let's not get totally carried away with all of this, however. There are high levels of concern in India and Pakistan on issues involving disability and disease. The perception problem with HIV/AIDS stems from the stigma that arises from the fact that most people assume it as being derivative of (in a word) S-E-X. The Pakistan designer scene and the charity czars are willing to jump onto any bandwagon. Eyes, kidneys, livers and cancer are "respectable" causes. They have given AIDS a miss, however. Why? Because it has to do with Sex. Gay Sex, sometimes. Prostitutes. (I refuse to call them "sex workers.") And that's just not dinner table conversation.

But I digress. Back to the film. My Brother Nikhil goes a step further. I had correctly assumed that the film would fudge the issue of how Nikhil became HIV positive. It doesn't exactly answer that question, but halfway through one of Nikhil's "friends" Nigel is shown to be far more than just a friend. They are actually lovers. I was momentarily dismayed. This was going to be another well intentioned hatchet job on homosexuality. My first reaction was to note how stilted the interaction was among the gay couple. On later reflection, this was not correct. It is probably how most young gay men would react when their intensely private relationship becomes visible to the world at large and (more importantly) to their incredibly callous and self-involved parents. It would be out of character for South Asian gay men to go into therapy (assuming this was available at all) in this situation. Suddenly my assessment of stiltedness was out of the window. MBN strolls perilously through scenes which the local censor boards would not approve of. In one telling moment the lovers superimpose their paint daubed handprints over each other as an alternative to the physicality that would normally have accompanied such intimacy. MBN is not a perfect film but it grapples more successfully (and bravely) with issues than previous efforts in this direction. And it must be lauded for that.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Tales From Middle Earth 7: Delhi Part 2

The harem looks glum. So do I. It has been a week in Paradise and hard reality faces us. We have decided to transit in Delhi for a day. The visa saga plays itself out again, but this time the immigration officers know us all by name. I am offered a chair and a cup of sarkari (official) tea. Delhi is still boiling. I tell the harem that I am willing to accompany them anywhere as long as it is airconditioned. They agree reluctantly. We find ourselves at the MG Centre which boasts most of Delhi's designer labels. I saunter into the Rohit Bahl shop. The attendants smile, when they discover I am from Pakistan. They giggle when I tell them that RB dragged me to dance floor the last time I was in Delhi. ("You're from Pakistan? Dance with me. Now.") I leave with bags of merchandise.

Jewel and I have tickets to see Parineeta, the new Bollywood blockbuster. I am thrilled as it has been years since I have been to a cinema. There is a security check and my matchbox and Orbit gum are confiscated. "Err. What's wrong with my gum?"I ask the guard. "Well you may chew it and stick it onto the seat in front." "Hmmm. Do I look like the kind of guy who would?" Well you never know. A stranger in the queue tells her friend "There are hardly any men in the audience. That should tell you how good the film is going to be." They look up at me, discover they have been overheard and giggle nervously. Jewel with her X Ray vision spots one of the delegates from the Bhutan conference among the few hundred people in the audience and runs over to kiss and hug them all. I take my seat.

Parineeta is delightful. It is based on a Bengali novel set in Kolkota in the early twentieth century. The director has set it in the 1960's. Shekhar (played by the new, improved Saif Ali Khan) is an Angry Young Man in the Devdas mould. Lolita (played by the strikingly attractive newcomer Vidya Balan) is the love interest in his life. Indian cinema has a number of set motifs and this one, to put it crudely, falls into the rich-boy-poor-girl category. What sets Parineeta apart is director Pradeep Sarkar's ability to convey the financial disparity (and the ensuing power play) between the protagonists with remarkable subtlety. As with all good Hindi films there is a triangle. Enter the truly awful Sanjay Dutt (he should be consigned to cameo appearances) who plays the crude London-returned Girish. The triangle works its way through a number of beautifully produced sequences. Saif Ali Khan has finally proven his ability to act plus his recent rise on the cuteness quotient (CQ) has done nothing to harm his popularity. His English public school accent creeps into the dialogue once in a while, jarring his credibility as the scion of a Bengali family. The boat scene is reminiscent of his mother's acting in Amar Prem - another Bengal based blockbuster of many decades ago. It all ends happily in good Hindi film style Jewel and I are transfixed to the screen for three hours.

We reunite with the rest of the Harem and make our way to Olives, a Mediterranean restaurant. The girl at the entrance asks where we are from. Pakistan ? Give them the best table in the house. The manager arrives shortly to make sure we are comfortable. "It is an honour for us to have guests from Pakistan." It is an honour to be there. The food is good. The Californian white goes well with our orders. We crawl back to our rooms a little later. Our sojourn in Middle Earth is now truly over. There is a quick pit stop at Haldiram's to pick up some sweetmeats. And then it is time to go home.

Tales From Middle Earth 6: Mind

Cut to Islamabad last week. I am sitting at dinner with two young friends discussing spirituality. "Do your friends think you're freaky when you discuss these things with them ?" "Oh, yes. Definitely" they reply in unison. There is a disconnect in modern Pakistan when one confesses to being "spiritual" or "mystical." Despite living in a country with a strong spiritual tradition, most modern Pakistanis find it difficult to relate their spirituality to everyday life. I am not speaking of the citified fundamentalists or the new age "amreekan returned" sunflower seed spitting variety of people. Just ordinary people with an interest in matters of the soul.

Back to Bhutan. The soul melds brilliantly with the life that surrounds it. There are significant reminders of Buddhism all around one. From the saffron robed novices and monks to phallic symbols on walls to monasteries around one. Yet the connection between faith, people and territory is so seamless that there is a sense of perfect unity at work. As with everything there are downsides. The Buddhist emphasis on the sanctity of life means there are hordes of stray dogs everywhere. And flies. The Californian chef smiles when I mention the profusion of flies in the dining room. "Nothing I can do about it" he shrugs. Oh yes, there is no fly spray on sale either. I had to improvise a fly swat with a stick and last month's GQ.

One early morning I stray into a monastery. The novices are not unlike Pakistan's madrassah children. The kids gather around me and we conduct a disjointed conversation in broken Hindi. I look up and see an older novice staring at me. I blush and look down. And then up again. This has to be the most photogenic monk I have ever seen in my life. I walk through. He follows. I take pictures. He knows he is being photographed but pretends not to notice. Eventually the tension within me rises to a pitch. I break the ice. A conversation ensues. I tell him he is good looking. He looks confused and shakes his head. Did I offend you?" I enquire. "I am a priest. These things do not matter to me." For a moment I feel suitably chastened - cut down to size. I see him later walking down the city centre, entering a shop. Damn. He does look like Brad Pitt in the right lighting.

On another occasion I stumble into another monastery. There are dozens of penises painted all over the walls. Dozens of them in wood hanging all over the place. Nonchalantly, I assume the air of a man who can tackle a couple of hundred dicks without batting an eyelid. "What do these mean?" I ask a priest. "They're meant to ward off female demons" he replies. "Ward off? Wouldn't female demons be attracted to these?" He looks at me as though I've lost the entire novel, let alone the plot. Who could possibly be interested in these ghastly things? Pricks. Dicks. Cocks. More than anyone could ever want. I get a free dick to carry home as a souveneir. I am petrified of Pakistan customs and find that it fits snugly into my Nikes. A size 11 dick.

My spiritual reverie comes to a close. It is time to pack and leave. I feel a deep sense of sadness. I haven't really done a great deal in the last few days. Before I left, I asked a Nepalese friend what I should see in Bhutan. "You don't have to see anything specific. It is so beautiful that everywhere you walk, there's something to see." Her mantra proves itself. Many days later, I am unable to respond properly when I get banal questioning thrown at me. "So what did you do? What did you see ?" "Nothing really." That is not the truth. Bhutan has entered my soul. And it shows no signs of leaving in a tearing rush.