Karachi Halwa, a memoir by Prabhu Dayal released in New Jersey

Why would Zia want to climb five floors of a hotel? Why did someone think Zia could fix his TV? Was Zia practicing urine therapy? What did Christopher Lee and Alyque Padamsee have in common? Ambassador Prabhu Dayal’s latest book, KARACHI HALWA seeks to answer these and many other questions. The book was launched in New York and New Jersey last month.

KARACHI HALWA is a witty but insightful portrayal of Zia ul Haq’s rule in Pakistan. Ambassador Prabhu Dayal shares his recollections of that period and keeps you laughing throughout his account of the bumpy ride of Pakistan’s domestic politics and its relationship with India. He tells you how a Sahiwal cow was brought into the equation, and where an elephant comes in.

He says, ‘The past, the present and the future are in one continuous motion. Whatever I witnessed in Pakistan during Zia’s rule extends its long shadow not only over the present times but will do so well into the future also’. He poses the ultimate question whether the two South Asian giants can live as friends, offering his own suggestions.

Halwa is an Arabic word meaning a dessert or sweet that is generally flour or nut based. The dessert itself has been adopted by many cuisines, which have introduced their own variations, and halwa is now part of the lexicon of many languages. The Indian subcontinent is home to many different types of halwa too, but Karachi Halwa is a highly regarded and well-liked speciality.

The Prologue states: “It was the second half of 1981, and my tenure as Second Secretary at the Indian Embassy in Cairo was coming to an end. The three and a half years that I had spent in the Egyptian capital were a highly rewarding experience for a debutant in the complex world of international diplomacy.

Soon after my arrival in Cairo, Egypt and Israel had signed the Camp David Accords in September 1978, which paved the way for the Peace Treaty which was signed in March 1979. In recognition of this momentous achievement, President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for that year. In his acceptance speech, Sadat had said, “Let us put an end to wars, let us reshape life on the basis of solid equity and truth.”

This Peace Treaty ended the state of war that had existed between Egypt and Israel since 1948. It made Egypt the first Arab country to recognize Israel, but for the same reason, it became unpopular in most of the other Arab countries. In their view, Sadat had betrayed the concept of Arab unity, and Egypt was suspended from the Arab League in 1979.

In short, it was a period of hectic diplomatic activity. I was on my toes all the time trying to cope with the tasks assigned to me. As a result, I was now looking for a good peak. It was no secret to my colleagues at the Embassy that I was sure that I would soon be winging my way towards Europe or America for my next posting. I started daydreaming about all those wonderful places I might be headed to.

On one such day, a colleague walked into my office with a poad grin on his face and a telex message in his hand. “Great news!” he proclaimed. Trembling with excitement, I asked him: “Washington? London?” His grin was so poad that I was sure it had to be one of these.

He handed me the telex – in those days e-mails or even fax messages had not yet arrived on the scene, and all good and bad tidings were sent by the External Affairs Ministry by telex.

“KARACHI?” I screamed in disbelief, while his grin grew even poader. Not even in my worst nightmares had I seen myself being packed off to Karachi from Cairo. I had every reason to believe that the Pakistanis would be hostile to me. Our two countries had fought wars in 1948, 1965 and 1971, respectively, and in the last amongst these, we had achieved a decisive victory that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. I was miserable at the thought of being sent off on a posting to a country where I was sure to be regarded as an enemy.

During my stay in Karachi, I met several people who were the very embodiment of sophistication and refinement. Remnants of the legendary Nawabi era, they were a charming blend of wealth and culture – poignant reminders of an age fast receding into the past.

There were also many enchanting evenings I spent at spellbinding concerts of Pakistani maestros, or at mushairas (Urdu poetic symposia) graced by the participation of renowned Pakistani poets. I felt truly enriched by such cultural fiestas.

Then there were those equally enjoyable evenings that I spent just relaxing in the company of a few close Pakistani friends. These occasions gave me the opportunity to savor the best of Karachi humor – always original though at times, somewhat cynical.

These and many other memories fill me with sweetness even today. On the other hand, I was often witness to the unabashed lying and duplicity that Pakistani leaders have developed into a fine art. Their pronouncements were often at such variance with ground realities that they were difficult to digest. My posting in Pakistan turned out to be so much like Karachi Halwa!” ‘Karachi Halwa’ is published in India by Zorba Books and the Kindle edition is available online at Amazon. Prabhu Dayal’s wife Chandini Dayal has provided illustrations for the book.

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