Browsing "Turkey"

The Turkish Invasion

I thought I was keeping abreast with what is happening in the entertainment world by downloading the latest episodes of Homeland and American Horror Story and listening to the Top 40s on the radio but I found out that I was wrong.

My bubble burst during a trip to Karachi in December where I realized that I have been practically living under a rock in Islamabad and had no idea that we were facing what is now called Turkish invasion. 

Nope, the Turks are not attacking us — they are one of the few countries who still tolerate us — it was the Turkish soap that everyone was watching, talking about and obsessing over. From my sister’s maid to my friend’s teenaged sister to my adult male cousin, Ishq-e-Mamnoon (or Aşk-ı Memnu as it is written in Turkish) was all the rage with everyone.

My sister’s maid wanted to know if the characters on the soap are Muslims and if they will burn in the eternal hell fire for drinking, wearing western clothes and for their permissive attitude towards pre- and extramarital sex.

My friend’s sister was obsessing over the hotness of the male lead and had his face on her desktop which was a vast improvement on her previous crush (Justin Beiber hogged the screen the last time I visited their house).  

My adult male cousin who markets television software for a TV channel was also talking about it. He sat me down and ran through the economics — like how the first channel bought the soap for just $900 per episode and how the copycats are forking $5,000 per episode after the first one turned out to be an off-the-chart hit.  

As if that was not all, I ended up witnessing a protest by Television Producers Association in front of Karachi Press Club against foreign content. 

Things went crazy during the telecast of the final episode and my timeline — both on facebook and twitter — was so full of Ishq-e-Mamnoon, I ended up googling Turkish soaps that are or will be aired in Pakistan and it turned out that most of them have the same actor. 

He is that guy.

Till now, my experience with Turkish television was limited to watching some of it on long bus rides from Istanbul to Izmir and then from Seljuk to Konya – that, too, without subtitles — during a visit to Turkey. My friend Sam and I made a guessing game of the dialogues and storyline. The one we watched was the Turkish version of Grey’s Anatomy and yes, Turkish doctors were way hotter than anyone on the American series, but I digress. 

When I came back from Turkey, no-one asked me much about the people — it was always about the places — but ever since Behlul (the male lead of Ishq-e-Mamnoon played by Turkish actor Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ) graced our television screens, every woman who is hooked onto Ishq-e-Mamnoonwants to know if Behlul was a fluke or do other Turkish men look like him.

It is not just the young ones; aunties who were in love with Ashar of Hamsafar just a few months ago have now forsaken their affections for him and have moved on to the taller and blonder Behlul.

If a man can capture the fantasy of an entire nation with a name as ridiculous sounding as Behlul — it rhymes with mehlool — then he should be commended for pulling it off. 

If you thought that it was only women who were watching it, you had it all wrong. This Turkish soap was just as popular among men and I have actually heard a few of them discussing the ladies of the cast with as much gusto as teenage girls reserve for boys of One Direction.

The Turkish beauties

When I asked a socialite why she is obsessed with Ishq-e-Mamnoon— I only caught part of the last episode and the dubbing was a major letdown — she retorted, “What’s not to like?”

When I asked her to elaborate, she went on, “There is a gorgeous man torn between what is right and who he loves, he is conflicted and in pain, what can be more engaging than that.”

I agreed with her, a distressed good looking man is television gold because every woman who watches him wants things to go right for him. “And if the male lead was not enough of a reason, I watched it for clothes and accessories,” she added.

I have been told that ladies with disposable income have planned shopping trips to Istanbul to buy baubles by the designers featured in this soap, many a fashion blogger from Pakistan have even listed the names of the designers that Pakistani buyers should look for when they are in Turkey.

A web designer who does not watch anything else on the local television but watches Ishq-e-Mamnoon thinks the reason the Turkish soap broke all ratings record is because it had fresh faces. “I have been watching the same actors doing the exact same sh*t since I was in diapers. Back then, they used to romance the ladies with their real hair, now they do it after getting follicle implants.”

Serious pontification and discussion with a friend who is pursuing a doctorate degree in England on Pakistani television content validated this claim. From Noman Aijaz to Faisal Qureshi, from Shahood Alvi to Aijaz Aslam, they have either been under the knife for follicle implants or sport a toupee. The only people who still have all their hair are Adnan Siddiqui and Humayun Saeed but they, too, have been at it since I was in grade school and that happened in last century — like literally.

The best bit that I heard was when a friend who is pursuing PhD in Canada (yes, I have very learned friends; they all either have doctorate degrees or are pursuing them, I am considered barely literate amongst my friends) was cornered by a Hijabi lady at a dinner.

She was asked about her plans of finding matrimonial bliss with a suitable partner and her prospects of landing one in Canada — she is over 30 and according to most married women with children in Pakistan, ovaries of every unmarried woman over the age of 30 are dying a lonely miserable death.

As the lady knew that Pakistani men would not want anyone over the age of thirty — unless she happens to be Mahnoor Baloch — she was persistent in her queries about the suitable men for her in the frozen land of Canada.

My friend who was a little perturbed by the inquisition tried to put a stop to it by telling her that there are no desi men where she lives and obviously, the Hijabi lady would not want her to end up with a gora

The aunty thought for a while and said that after watching the Turkish soap, she has realized that there are other kinds of Muslims out there and as long as my friend ends up with a Muslim — even if he happens to be a sharabi kababi Turkish or Algerian man — she is okay with it.

Who would’ve thought Turkish invasion would bring a change of heart and an overall acceptance for bad boys among ladies of Hijab. If airing just one soap has done this, imagine the hell that will break loose if they start airing two or four of them simultaneously!
This picture is added solely for the benefit of female readers and has absolutely nothing to do with the text

PS:This was written sometime last month, now there are three Turkish soaps that are being aired from three different channels. We don’t know if they are as popular as Ishq-e-Mamnoon or will impact the hijabi ladies as strongly as Behlul did. I did manage to catch the first episode of Manahil and Khalil and though the play was a bit of a meh, I found the tickers with text messages sent to the TV channel about the Turkish Hottie most hilarious. Azra from Lyari wanted Behlul’s phone number and Zareena from Khushab wanted to have dinner with him. The boys in Lyari and Khushab will have to up their game if they want to have a chance with either Azra or Zareena. 

Originally written for Monthly Pique, I like them Pique people, not only because they pay on time and well, they call me a major league blogger.
Aug 31, 2012 - RAW, Salman Khan, Turkey    12 Comments

Romance of a Ballerina and Tiger Balm

Contrary to my earlier plan of watching Ek Tha Tiger in Cinepax during Eid holidays with the boys and girls of Rawalpindi, I ended up watching Ek Tha Tiger on my computer with a copy downloaded via torrent because the film was not officially released in Pakistan. It was no HD, but was still good enough to see that Katrina Kaif has increased the amount of collagen she injects in her lips to an alarming proportion and now lives with a permanent pout. It was actually quite painful to see her delivering longer dialogues, her lips must be hurting like crazy.
The film opens in Iraq where Salman Khan was busy jumping off buildings and killing people with guns, sharp objects, blunt objects,  with hands and a scarf (Yes, a man jumped after him from one building to another, while the hero landed perfectly on his feet, he rolled a scarf and threw it on the face of the goon following him, the scarf conveniently opened when it landed on the goon’s face, blinded him for a moment, he couldn’t jump neatly and fell to the ground and died, so yes, that was death by a scarf). Oh and he is also a nameless agent who goes by the name Tiger (I wondered through half of the film why a self respecting adult man would respond to a name like Tiger, Salman Khan also realized that in the latter half of the film and said, “yeh tau kuttay ka naam hota hai”.)

Tiger Bhaijan beating up an ISI agent


To cut a long and totally unnecessary story short, Tiger goes to Dublin, meets Katrina Kaif, a Dancer/Ballerina/choreographer/stage manager/ lighting director who also moonlights as a maid and dances with a vacuum cleaner. Before you can say something like ‘meteor shower’ our Tiger Balm and Katrina Ballerina are in love and before you can say ‘Abay kya bakwas hai yaar’ Tiger Balm aka deadly RAW agent finds out that Katrina Ballerina is not the sweet simple girl he thought she was (what’s with the desi dudes wanting simple girls, they do know that in English language simple also passes for a simpleton, right?) but an ISI agent! Hai Allah Mian Ji!

They part ways, Tiger Balm is back in the mother ship (that is Delhi and his sarkari daftar) and is kinda miserable. He finds out that there is some foreign ministers’ conference happening in Istanbul and Katrina Ballerina would be there. Tiger Balm suits up and goes as a member of the Indian delegation. Katrina Ballerina too is removed from active duty to become part of the Pakistani diplomatic entourage and though some sherwani wearing dude played the role of the Pakistani foreign minister, the film director paid a fitting tribute to our fashionista Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar by making Katrina Ballerina wearing clothes that look straight out of Ms. Khar’s closet, complete with blow dried hair, duppata pinned to her hair and small studs in her ear lobes – the only item missing was a Berkin Bag in her hand.

Katrina Ballerina in her HRK avatar

At this point, things got intense; kinda sad and very emotional, but I could not get invested. As I recently came back from Istanbul, afterbeing royally robbed, I was busy figuring out the exact spot where my bag got stolen. While Katrina Ballerina confessed her love for Tiger Balm and saying poignant words about tragic love between hostile spies and how they can never get together, I was busy telling my cousin that it was probably shot on one of the bridges in Eminönü and it was Süleymaniye Mosque in the background with our jasoos Romeo and Juliet.

Süleymaniye Mosque , Tiger Bhaijan and Baji ISI – Love in Istanbul

Tiger Balm and Katrina Ballerina duped everyone in their respective organizations, ran away from Istanbul and ended up in Havana where they lived like ordinary folks, or as ordinary as a balm and ballerina can get. Tiger Balm painted at night and sold his art on the streets of Havana during the day and Katrina Ballerina became a Ballet teacher, until one fine day someone tried to snatch Katrina Ballerina’s purse and being the agents that our love birds were, they ended up killing a bunch of low level criminals in front of an ATM machine with a camera. That image got transported back to Islamabad and Delhi and by defying all travel related logic; the agents from both the agencies reached Havana in just few hours.
No matter how modern Bollywood gets, there is always a lecture about the values and morality of Bhartiye  naari, this time because the naari in question was a Pakistani, there was a lecture about the izzat and abroo of a Pakistani dosheeza. What makes this lecture most distinctive is that it was not delivered by some Ammi, Baji type but by the guy who played Katrina Ballerina’s ISI boss! Katrina’s ISI boss, Capt. Abrar, was a very shareef pappu type boi who respected her so much that he used to call her Bibi. I have spent enough time in Islamabad to know that no one calls anyone bibi in any of the sarkari offices and they would never call a girl bibi who look anything even remotely like Katrina Kaif.
Among other things, there was a car chase in Havana where both ISI and RAW dudes were chasing the spies who loved each other and one of the cars was a brand new Range Rover! A shiny black range rover! Now I have not been to Cuba but I know that Fidel Castro is still alive and they would not start importing shiny new Range Rovers while Fidel still breathes and his brother heads the government.

Tiger Bhaijan romancing an ISI agent in a bed sheet

Btw, if Katrina Ballerina is an example of how ISI trains its agents, they are certainly top notch. If ISI puts it out in their recruitment brochures that their training includes ballet, Spanish language, jumping off the buildings, flying small planes, killing random men and pataofying the likes of Salman Khan, a lot more women would join the organization instead of all the shalwar qameez wearing uncles with handlebar mustaches and pot bellies.
Both RAW and ISI failed in catching the love birds, they are still on the run and my young cousin who was watching the film with me thought that it was sweet that they defied such odds for love but it would have been great if they were not living in sin. I am still trying to tell her that finding a maulvi who would agree to a nikah between a Zoya and an Avinash – the names that Tiger Balm and Katrina Ballerina were given in the film, would be a tad difficult, especially when they are on the run but she still insists on legal matrimony. Ah these children, they want this, that and the other!

PS: That checkered black and white gamcha that Tiger Balm sported in the opening sequence may be all the rage in India now, but we in Pakistan have been wearing it for quite some time. 🙂 

City of whirling dervishes

I first heard about Konya from Rumi’s poetry during my teenage. I read about it a bit more when I visited Tabriz as an adult and developed a fascination for Shams Tabriz and his relationship with Rumi.
So, when my friend suggested we go to Konya during our Turkey sojourn, I said why not and we ended up in the city of whirling dervishes.  There are many stories surrounding the birth of the city. According to a Roman myth, when Perseus killed a dragon that had been wreaking havoc in the nearby area, the people set up a stone obelisk with an icon of Perseus engraved in it, which gave the city its name Iconium or Ikonyum. 
The Muslim myth is about two dervishes who were teleporting from far away. During their flight over Anatolia region, one of them asked the other, “Shall I land?” (“Konayim mi?”). The other responded, “Sure, land” (“Kon ya!”) They landed, found the city and that is how it got its name — Konya.
The archeological reality predates both the myths. The ruins of Catal Huyuk show that the region was inhabited as early as Neolithic Period — around 7000 BC making it one of the oldest sites in the world. 
Konya was the last stop on our itinerary. We took an overnight bus from Kushadasi to Konya and were pleasantly surprised on arrival — after the mind-numbing heat of Istanbul, Seljuk, Izmir and Kushadasi, Konya at the altitude of over 1000 meters above the sea level was pleasant. 
It is quite different from the other Turkish cities we had seen and the Islamic identity of its people is more visible here. Women are seen in more conservative clothing, there are mosques and public wuzu (ablution) places everywhere. The pace of life is much slower and one gets the feeling of being in a different country — perhaps also in a different era. 

Women in scarves, a sight more common in Konya
 The biggest reason for visiting Konya was to pay tribute to Rumi and attend the weekly Sama that is performed every Saturday in Konya in what can be called the world’s biggest whirling dervish hall.
We had been told by our travel agent that visitors must buy a 50 Turkish Lira ticket to attend the festival. After reaching the venue, Mevlâna Cultural Centre, we spent the entire day in anxiety, wondering how we will get the tickets or how much will it cost — but to our surprise there was no entry ticket and whosoever goes in first gets the front seat. 
The ceremony started with recitation of the Quranic verses and durood and then moved on to excerpts from Rumi’s masnavis on which the dervishes whirled. In the jam-packed hall, there were people from all the continents. It started slowly but it later picked up the pace and kept the audience captivated.  It was only when the music stopped that we realised a good 90-minutes had passed. 
The origin of Sama is credited to Maulana Rumi, who one day heard the hammering of the gold beater working in the local market and heard the zikr (Zikr of the Almighty) and kalma in the hammering of the people beating the gold. So spellbound in happiness was Maulana Rumi that he just stretched out both of his arms and started spinning in a circle and that is how the practice of Sama and the Mevlevi order were born. 
The annual Urs of Maulana Rumi, or Mevlana Festival as the Turkish people like to call it, falls in December. It runs for two weeks and ends on December 17, Rumi’s death anniversary. Those who want to attend it need to make plans much earlier as more than a million people visit Konya during the festival fortnight. They also need to be prepared for very cold winters and snowfall during that period. 
The weekly Sama ceremony in Konya
Before we attended the ceremony, we spent the day visiting the beautiful Seljuq era mosques and Maualna Rumi’s shrine. Rumi’s Shrine is distinctive with the rose gardens surrounding it and the turquoise minaret atop the mausoleum. I was quite surprised to see a ticket booth at the entrance of the shrine as shrines are considered holy places that are open to all, but found that after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish government turned mausoleum and the dargah, where dervish disciples used to live, into a museum. It is now called Mevlana Museum, hence the entry ticket. 
The main hall of the tomb with graves of Maulana Rumi, his father, his son and many other contemporary dervishes is a majestic building with high ceilings, silver calligraphy and beautiful wood carving. There is a smaller Tilavet Room next to the main hall that is home to some of the most beautiful, rare and precious examples of Quranic Ottoman calligraphy. It is said that Koran was continuously recited and chanted in the tilavat room before the shrine was turned into a museum.

Rumi’s shrine

The dervishes chambers are turned into museum, and house some of the rarest specimens of Mevlevi order. Some of the rooms display clothes and musical instruments that are used in performance of a Sama such as the mevlana dress, the cymbal, the tambourine, small hand operated drums, the rebab, and the flute, played once by Maulana Rumi himself. Then there were beautiful lamps, reading and writing desks, Maulana Rumi’s dervish clothes, and two specimens of masnavis written by Rumi. 
Besides Rumi, pilgrims to Konya also get to visit the shrine of Shams Tabriz, the shrine of Sadreduddin Konevi and the shrine of Yusuf Atesh-Baz Vali. I was quite surprised to see Shams Tabriz’s tomb inside the shrine because I have seen his tomb in Tabriz (Iran). I later found out that Shams Tabriz has multiple tombs in Tabriz, Konya, Nigde, Hoy and Multan. The one in Konya is called Shams’ post.

A model of what a dervish’s room looked like
 Food, like the rest of Turkey mostly consists of salads and meat. The local specialty of Konya is tanduri mutton and iskandar kebabs. Both dishes are served on the bed of local naans. Konya is also quite famous for Turkey’s carpet trade and locally made carpets and rugs can be purchased at much cheaper prices than in Istanbul.
Local delicacy – Iskandar Kebab

As we had to head back home the very next day, we caught an early morning flight out of Konya and could not see the ruins of the Catal Huyuk which I do regret. After all one does not get to be in the vicinity of places that are about 9000 years old. Those visiting Konya should mark at least half a day to visit the ancient ruins.

First published in The News on Sunday
Jul 27, 2012 - published work, travel, Turkey    8 Comments

Tourism of another kind

Alain de Botton writes about the relationship between the anticipation of travel and its reality in his book ‘The Art of Travel’. Before traveling to a place, most people think about the amazing places they would visit, the exotic food they would eat and interesting people they would meet. The reality could be different; they may not get to visit the places they planned, the food may be disappointing and the people, not very exciting. On the other hand, the reality could be everything they desired but it is always laced with the reality that is not anticipated, like braving long lines at the immigration counter at the airport, haggling with cab drivers in a language they don’t know and their inability to do something as simple as reading a road sign and the subsequent frustration over it.
Before my vacations earlier this month, my level of anticipation was high. I planned a visit to a country that I have always wanted to see – Turkey. I read books about the country; travelogues, stories about the history of the land, influences of Roman and Greek mythology on Turkish architecture, and something as touching as the ode that Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk wrote for his beloved city Istanbul. To say that I was high on anticipation would be putting it mildly. I was anticipating a visit to the Topkapi Palace which would transport me back to medieval times in Istanbul; I would spend afternoons on the beach in Izmir; I would be enthralled by the Sama ceremony of whirling dervishes in Konya; and I was so looking forward to drinking Turkish tea on a balcony one evening overlooking the Bosphorus. The reality was different. Topkapi was so overcrowded that I was literally jostled from one room to another; Izmir was struck out of the itinerary because of a shortage of funds; and the Sama ceremony turned out to be a lot less spiritual and more concert-like than I would have liked. I also ended up drinking Turkish tea not in a balcony overlooking the Bosphorus but in a police station in Istanbul.
Everyone who has ever been to Turkey has regaled me with tales of how Turkish people love Pakistanis and how it is the last place in the world where we are still respected/loved. I lost that illusion a few minutes after I entered Ataturk Airport. The Turkish embassy in Islamabad assured me that I will get a visa on arrival if I have a US, British or Schengen visa stamped on my passport, so the first thing I needed to do in Turkey was buy a visa. The sign told me that I will have to go to Immigration Counter No 2 to get my passport stamped (they have a separate counter for people from Pakistan, India, Iraq and South Africa). I looked for it but the trail of arrows kind of died in the middle of a long corridor, so I came back and asked the help desk. A man here told me that Counter 2 is closed so I need to go to the counter where everyone else is getting their visas. There was a crazy long line at that counter and when after 20 minutes I managed to speak to the visa officer, he told me to go find Counter 2 again. (This man was not authorized to give a visa to a Pakistani.) I asked several people but everyone spun a new tale about visas for Pakistanis. I saw a desi-looking family walking to the same long corridor where the trail of arrows ended and decided to follow them. It turned out that one had to keep going even when the trail of arrows ended to get to the desired counter. When I got there, I saw a few people gathered around a closed counter and some Turkish immigration officials on the other side chatting with each other. I went up to them and asked if the counter was closed. I was told that the counter was indeed closed. I then told them there must be some mistake because I was specifically sent to this counter to get my visa because I am traveling on a Pakistani passport. One of the immigration officials almost snapped my head off for not telling him earlier that I am Pakistani. I wanted to tell him that I was at the counter for only 30 seconds but refrained from pointing it out. I just wanted to leave the airport as soon as I could. I was then given a piece of paper and was sent to another counter to pay for the visa. I came back with the receipt and gave them the passport and then waited patiently for one of the immigration officials to deign to pick up my passport and stamp my visa and entry into their country. I waited, along with that desi-looking family – they were Indians from Delhi – for the officials to finish their tea. After what seemed like an eternity, one of them took pity on us and gave us our passports back, stamped. In the meantime, I cussed up a storm in Urdu/Hindi with the eldest daughter of the family from Delhi about the sterling work ethics of the Turkish Immigration officers at Counter 2.
Meeting a friend who was joining me all the way from Canada and getting a tram to our hotel in Sultanahmet went smoothly. Another friend joined us from Amsterdam later that night. We had dinner and made plans for a blitzkrieg tourism-filled weekend. We started the day with a visit to the Blue Mosque which is every bit as majestic as I anticipated it to be. The difference from the anticipation was the rush of people who wanted to get their pictures taken with every calligraphic inscription and every bulb in the numerous chandeliers.

If the Blue Mosque met my expectations, Ayasofia far exceeded them. So steeped in the history is the place and so different it is from everything I have seen until now that I couldn’t help being mesmerized by it all. Where else would you get to see Quranic inscriptions side by side with mosaic paintings of the Virgin Mary and Archangel?


Where calligraphy of the word Allah coexist with a mosaic painting of Archangel: the main hall in Aya Sofia

Bascilla Cistern, a Bosphorus cruise and a day at Topkapi rounded up our weekend. After a long day in Topkapi, we came out and sat on one of the benches in the courtyard between Ayasofia and the Blue Mosque. My friend needed help in looking for a key in her bag so I put my bag under my left leg and the 60 seconds I spent in looking for a key in her backpack, someone came and stole my bag from under my leg! Yes, there I was, in Istanbul… with no money, no credit or debit card, no passport, no cell phone and no proof of identification, it was like I didn’t exist any longer. After the initial panic, I went to the tourism police office where a gentleman who could speak English refused to believe me; he actually had the audacity to treat me as a criminal and asked me repeatedly if I am sure that I have not forgotten my bag somewhere and am now crying that it was stolen. The policeman was rude, misogynist and quite adept at blaming the victim – just like the policemen back home. After a big hassle, I got the address of a nearby police station where I could file an official report. The policemen at the station desk knew rudimentary English and told us to wait. While waiting he asked us where we were from and when we said we were from Pakistan, he sang JeevayPakistan and said he was doing it to cheer me up. I was looking at him in a state of shock. Never in my wildest imagination had I ever thought that one day, every penny I had on me would be stolen in a foreign land and I will have to hear an impromptu rendition of Jeevay Pakistan in a police station. Truth is certainly stranger than fiction.


Some of them very farigh Turkish policemen.
And, as if that was not enough, random policemen would come, talk to the guy at the desk, look at me, nod their heads, smile, laugh and then leave. Freaked out as I was, I just stood up and asked him why no one was filing a report on my behalf and why everyone was coming and looking at me like a circus animal. I was told that they were waiting for an official translator to sign off the report and that I looked like some Turkish singer who apparently was only popular with the policemen (nobody told me anywhere else in Turkey that I look like a pop singer) and that is why they all wanted to see me. One of the over-eager policeman even shook hands with me as if I was the local celebrity. So flabbergasted was I with this turn of events that I actually complied. This is something I would never have anticipated before I embarked upon my travels.


The next day was spent at the embassy getting a new passport made. They charged me 168 dollars – which is kind of ironic because I was robbed of every single penny and had to borrow money from friends for everything. I later learned that the embassies are supposed to help such victims and have a special fund with which they pay for your passport and stuff. I don’t know if it is true or not, but I am still grateful to the embassy staff for being courteous and making me a replacement passport the very same day.

Apparently this chori chakari is so commonplace in Istanbul that the embassy folks were not in the least bit surprised when I went to get my passport made and regaled them with my sob story. The fellow there asked me – very calmly – if it happened at Taksim Square or Sultanahmet. When I told him that it happened at Sultanahmet, he wisely nodded his head and said that that’s where most of the passports of Pakistanis were snatched. They get around 5-6 stolen passport cases every week. The day I got my passport made, there were three other Pakistani guys who were mugged in the alleys next to Istaklal Street.
If you think it was not shocking enough, on my way back to Pakistan, I learned that I cannot get through the regular immigration counter. They have a separate immigration desk at Ata Turk Airport for people whose passports have either been stolen or lost! You need to show them a copy of your police report; your newly minted very expensive passport, they write the date of your entry on your boarding, stamps the exit on your passport and viola, you are free to go back home. A special desk for people with stolen/new passports! How bizarre is that?
The usual crime scene: the tram that travels from Taksim Square through the length of Istaklal Street
If anyone had told me before I embarked upon the journey that I will end up spending a day at the Pakistani Embassy in Istanbul and would be shaking hands with over-eager Turkish policemen who thought I was a celebrity lookalike, I would have laughed out at the ludicrousness of it all.
Originally written for The Friday Times, this is the longer version.
PS: Special shout out to Saima and Karan for bearing with a very gloomy and morose me in Turkey.
PPS: Sorry for not warning you earlier, this is a rather long rant.