At 3:30 in the afternoon, we ambled as a group, in single file, up a foot-path which skirted a mountainside.

There were about 40 of us in our party, which consisted mainly of armed tribesmen and suitably-bearded tribal elders. We climbed into a region that seemed to consist only of stones and slabs of shale and flint, as no trees grew there.

Siddiqi chatted in a low voice to his informant; I kept to myself.

The setting sun, reflected off the mountain peaks, bathed the valley in a soft light, displaying the rocks and stones and sharp sand as shades of salmon, peach, and grey.

I understood the atmosphere to be solemn, as not many words were exchanged between anyone, and the prevailing expression was unsmiling.

Ahead of us, the path led to a patch of cleared ground, about the size of a playing field, at the end of which another path snaked a short distance up a steep slope. There appeared to be a number of tiny cave-like entrances to the mountainside dotted above the second path, and a small group of tribesmen in grey turbans and flowing cloaks had positioned themselves some way up the mountain.

We joined with another loose group of 100 or more people as we reached the clearing, and our numbers were swelled by stragglers I saw coming up other paths from other directions. Clothing by now was no longer uniformly tribal; some men had on trousers and shirts, and I noticed one man wearing a variation on a safari suit.

Nothing seemed to be happening; the men stood around chatting in low voices, though in a dialect I could not understand, but the topics could not all have been serious as a number of them grinned at one another, and I heard one or two snatches of laughter.

Siddiqi was looking pensive and a little pale. He had a crescent of sweat along his brow.

Men continued to arrive in sixes and sevens from all directions, and the numbers by now had risen to several hundred at least, but although we stood as a loose crowd on the clearing, the gathering still had no apparent focus.

I toyed with the idea of going for a walk, but Siddiqi, although he would not tell me what we were waiting for, told me to stay put.

Then I noticed a flurry on the far side of the crowd, and the men appeared to be paying exaggerated respect to a man in pyjama pants and a white shirt, with a neatly trimmed beard. I thought him to be a designer mullah, but he turned out to be the local chief and government representative.

At this point the crowd appeared to disperse, or at least grow less cohesive; some men moving up the hillside, others edging back down the paths they had earlier come up. The centre of the group had broken up to a greater extent, and it would have been possible to walk about in various directions on the playing-field unhindered.

Siddiqi’s informant was now talking to him excitedly and pointing at a group moving slowly in the direction of the path that led up the mountain.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“See for yourself,” said Siddiqi, curtly, and not looking very well at all.

I could see a smartly uniformed soldier—in khaki fatigues—prodding, with a swagger stick, a slightly-stooped figure hooded in white.

The gathering was now murmuring animatedly and crowding in and around the group inching up the path, yet giving them room to move.

The policeman raised his stick above his head and struck the figure heavily on the shoulder.

A woman’s cry, and the shrouded figure stumbled forward and then dropped to the ground.

“Is it a fucking woman?” I asked.

Siddiqi pursed his lips, but did not answer.

“Fuck this, I can’t see what’s happening. I’m going in,” I said, elbowing my way through the tribesmen.

Next to the soldier-policeman, who continued pushing, prodding, and kicking the woman, now crawling on all fours, up the mountainside, was a bearded mullah in black, who alternately bent forward and harangued the woman in a lowered voice, or turned and proclaimed her sins to the rest of us. Between barked phrases, his lips—which were covered in spittle—quivered, as if he were about to weep in anguish.

The woman’s forward progress had fallen to a snail’s pace. She wailed and howled in repetitive phrases, in a restricted few animal-like calls and moans, almost as if it had been decided beforehand the exact manner in which she would be permitted to express her suffering.

Her feeble progress up the hill was wasting our time. The mullah pushed the policeman aside and took a running kick at the woman’s backside. “Move it, bitch!” he roared in Dari dialect. “Move it, filthy bitch!”

Some men glanced at one another and began laughing. Then ripples of laughter broke out about the crowd. The mullah took to kicking her repeatedly, as if, as well as playing to his audience, he were incensed by the laughter.

The woman was cowering now, and rolling rather than crawling.

The mullah bent down and, pulling back her sari head-covering, grabbed her by the hair and pulled her forward, moving several yards in a few strides.

A shocked, slightly angry hush fell across the crowd, as if disgusted by the woman’s lewdness in showing us her hair uncovered and in her thoughtless inconveniencing of the mullah by making him have to grab her to get her to move forward.

The mullah dragged the woman—by now making a disconcerting whooping sound—hooah! hooah!—half-absurd, half-pitiable—up to one of the small entrances into the mountain. Still holding her by the hair, and despite her shrieking and struggling, he twisted her head round towards us so that we could get a good look at her.

And what do you know.

It was a predictably ugly, swarthy-skinned, bucktoothed, uneducated, sub-normal face, pockmarked and small-pox-scarred.

Her black eyes were lifeless, unseeing.

Then he turned to address us as a group: “This bitch insults us! She is insulting Islam!”

The men murmured in agreement, repeating the phrase, “She is insulting!”

“She deserves nothing!” the mullah roared, shaking her head back and forth with his hand to emphasise his words.

“Nothing!” I heard from several men, and I detected a sudden change in the intensity of their interest in the spectacle, a sudden expectation.

The mullah slapped and punched the woman’s face and began tugging at her flimsy sari, while screaming at her “Take it off, you filthy bitch! Disgusting bitch!”

He pulled off her stained rags and, still holding her by the hair, punched her in the mouth in an attempt to silence her hysterical screaming.

Not a pretty sight, believe me.

Was it meant to be?

Anyway; we were treated to the sight of her tired, cigarette-burn-scarred, dried out, sexless tits; her navel; her pathetic patch of matted pubic hair; the splotchy, unsightly birth-marks on her thighs; her spindly, stunted legs, dripping with urine and a thin, liquid faeces; the many truncheon welts on her back and shoulders and upper arms.

The crowd of men sighed, strangely, its interest intense.

The mullah leered triumphantly. “You see! You see!” he roared with satisfaction, as if she had deliberately stripped off as an act of lewdness.

“Disgusting bitch!” He struck her on the side of the head and slapped her to the ground. The soldier, unbidden, quickly moved forward and bundled the woman head-first into the small rock fissure, no wider or deeper than a few metres, in the mountainside; kicking her into a crouching position, facing away from us, so that she showed us her anus and the slit between her legs.

The soldier prodded her anus savagely with his swagger stick, to roars of laughter. Someone shouted in Sindhi, to frantic giggling, “Don’t stir your karahi with that now!”

The mullah picked up one of the rocks at his feet.

A stoning!

He explained to us that he wanted to crack open the woman’s skull.

But just then someone objected that this would not be correct Islamic procedure, as this was an immuring, not a stoning.

An immuring!

The word sang of medieval sadism; it was like being around when Genghis Khan was alive.

Someone else piped up that it was acceptable to finish the woman off, if you wanted to, according to something he’d once read or heard or understood.

The argument became heated.

I kept my eyes on the woman.

She remained crouching and quivering in her rock coffin, no doubt paying close attention, as best she could, to these technicalities.

I was sure the mullah, beside himself with righteous anger, would bring the shale slab down on the woman’s head, but instead he reluctantly placed it at the base of the cave entrance.

“Allah-o-akbar!” he spat.

As did the crowd, in a keenly rehearsed reply.

You simply had to agree.

“Allah-o-akbar!” I roared with the rest.

Suddenly, everyone surged forward to grab rocks and stones and slabs, and pile them over the entrance, and on top of the woman inside, slowly crushing her to death.

I added a pebble of my own, spinelessly going with the crowd, perhaps.

Or helping her on her way; there was no way out of this one.

Within minutes, the fissure-cave opening was no longer visible, hidden under the newly-made cairn, and the crowd, satisfied, stood back, and admired its handiwork for some minutes, before beginning, very half-heartedly, to disperse.

Anticlimactic, in my opinion.

The whole episode had looked and felt like a stoning, but hadn’t been, and as a decisive religious event, it lacked clear parameters.

Was the woman dead or what? And how long did she take to die? She couldn’t have lasted very long, what with a huge pile of rocks pushing down on her back.

I thought I could hear the faintest scraping noise; it must have been my imagination. I thought of a cockroach, a tell-tale heart, its legs still flailing, crushed under a brick.

I must say I felt a little tight-chested, but it may have been the high mountain air.

Cigarettes were lit; some tribesmen, to accompanying shouts of “Allah-o-akbar!,” fired their rifles into the air; others chatted volubly, explaining to one another their fascinating angle on the events they had all witnessed moments before, all bathing in the afterglow of a shared excitement.

Then some wandered slowly off down the paths. The mullah and government official had disappeared—we heard a jeep revving up some distance away—leaving the soldier to guard the cairn. He took out a packet of Lucky Strikes and offered it around.

I took one. It tasted like shit.

Siddiqi, still not looking chirpy, stumbled over to where I was standing. “Powerful stuff, eh, old man? Islamic justice, tally ho!” Then he suddenly put his hand to his mouth and turned away from me.

“What’s the matter with you?” I asked.

“I’m going to be sick,” he squeaked.

“Get a grip on yourself, chappie; this is not our first public execution. We spent two years in fucking Saudi, remember,” I said. “Do you remember the Filipino guy who was given 200 lashes every week for eighteen months? Now that’s what I call justice.”

“It’s not the bloody woman,” he spluttered, “it’s that fucking Paki version of jugged hare we had for lunch.”

“I told you not to eat it,” I said as he spewed over some rocks.

“Oh, fuck off, Dr Zhivago,” he said, wiping his mouth.

“Can I help you, Professor?” said a dapper young Asian gentleman in English, offering Siddiqi a scented handkerchief.

“No thank you, Ahmed,” he said, before turning to me and pointing to the young man. “This is Ahmed Khan of the Times of Karachi.” He gestured to me and added, “This is Professor Daud Seyyid Ashraf of Harvard.”

Ashraf is not my real name (although close), but the one I had been using on this jaunt.

“I didn’t see Benazir Butto here, did you?” I asked Khan.

“Benazir? Here?” He looked mystified. “I don’t think so. She’s dead.”

The soldier, hearing us speaking English, came over.

“Sharia law,” he said, with a triumphant smirk, implying that he hoped that, as a spineless part-Westerner, I had learned my lesson.

Let me tell you: I fucking well had, I think.

“What was her crime?” I asked.

He gave it some thought. “Very bad woman,” he said to me, confidentially.

“Is she dead?” I asked.


“What happens now?”

“We go home,” said the soldier.

I turned to Siddiqi. “I say, old man; if you like, if you give me the word, I honestly think I could kill this prick, perhaps with one of these slabs to the back of the head, and then maybe we could somehow disinter the woman? Give her a decent Christian burial?”

“Don’t even think about it,” he said, sagely, before turning to gaze wistfully out across the valley behind us.

“Why not, for fucksake?” I pleaded.

He paused, rubbing his stubbly chin. “Look,” he said, putting a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Let’s understand the situation analytically. These filthy fucking part-Pakistani, part-Afghan swine are the lowest scum on the planet. Lower even than Iranians, or Egyptians, perhaps. Maybe not, forget that. But these are the very people who converted from the benign, if preposterously silly, Hinduism—which had previously been unsuccessfully reformed into Buddhism—to a religion of such disgusting savagery that it perverts and destroys the humanity of all who come near it. Lower than its debased, filthy, mind-numbing, soul-destroying, brain-deleting, catastrophically asinine teachings, one cannot sink. Human history had to wait nearly 1,500 years, until David Koresh, Jim Jones, or L. Ron Hubbard, for the advent of a philosophy even remotely as revoltingly psychotic as that fucking trash from the desert. At best, that ‘radical revelation’ was but an alcoholic reworking of Judaism, itself a piss-brained proto-Scientology, something any dumb-fucking Arab could concoct as he was sticking his head up a camel’s arse. But you cannot change human nature; there will always be vermin who delight in cruelty and in vindictive self-aggrandisement. Always. And these complete pricks invariably succeed splendidly in life; they lead countries, attract massive followings, and die peacefully in their beds, with women attending leisurely to their members, while the likes of us have to jerk off, apace, in the back seats of celebrity-filled Pakistani busses. God permits them the intoxication of self-righteousness; we have to make do with fourth-grade heroin, adulterated with Bangladeshi talcum powder.”


I personally never touch heroin, a very dangerous and disagreeable substance.

But he had given me a lot to think about.

But what did it mean?

Siddiqi glanced briefly at my face, sighed, and then lit up a Marlboro High Tar.

Then he continued. “No, my poor dear boy. In truth, they did that desperate woman a favour. Imagine if you had to try to live in the same society as that mullah, or that soldier, or those many spineless trollops who come to a public execution for a glimpse of pussy. These are societies where the pig-ignorant and narrow-minded are celebrated; where the biggest fucking idiot with the stupidest fucking beard is believed to possess spiritual insight; where the most bestial, debased, craven, and corrupt aspects of the most constricted, twisted, and psychopathic soul are given free reign. They’re so fucking illiterate, even their spiritual leader was unable to distinguish fact from fiction, a novel from a genuine attack on the filth he propagated. His head was so tightly positioned up his arse, he even needed someone to explain to him who Mao was!”

“But Master!” I pleaded. “You said none of this in your address to the International Islamic Conference in Malaysia!”

He raised a hand, to quieten me. “We all have to make a living. Anyway, those bloody “hanging and flogging’ morons wouldn’t have known what the fuck I was on about. No, no: the point is, none of these people can appreciate the magnificence of a Hendrix album, or the bracing goodwill contained in an episode of The Rockford Files. The men are quick-tempered idiots whose only perspective on life is that of the aggrieved; their only topics of conversation are sexual decadence in the West and martyrdom by car-bomb. The women are listless, malodorous slobs, shuffling stupidly around overheated kitchens, endlessly preparing snacks for their ape-shit families and doting over their podgy-cheeked, brainless, so-called ‘boy children.’ Christ, the women don’t even know how to fuck properly; they so lacklustre and passionless, you’d be better off pumping a sack of potatoes. Can you imagine trying to satisfy one of these fucking turkeys, with her lying unresponsively beneath you, her eyes staring disinterestedly at the ceiling, her cold hands lying limply at her sides? Hideous. These are societies where the homes are without books, human delight, fellow feeling, or even Beatles’ records.”

The soldier had moved a few paces up the mountainside and was urinating up against a stunted tree.

I suddenly realised that the reason I had been unsuccessful in propositioning the landlady of our boarding-house in Dushanbe was that Siddiqi was well ahead of me.

Siddiqi drew his penetrating account to a close. “No, treasured companion. Killing one of these fucking dogs would be a foolish waste of the vital energy of Western civilization. Our talents, humble as they are, lie elsewhere: as disaster tourists, petty drug couriers, sensation seekers, cable TV aficionados, and would-be-adulterers. And if we ever needed an excuse to live life to-the-full, in the here-and-now, while-we-fucking-can, ponder this one: I guarantee you that the first person anyone sees when they get to Heaven is the Ayatollah Khomeini.”

This was too deep for me.

“At least let me waste the mullah!” I begged.

“Do you know where he lives?” asked Siddiqi, insightfully, as ever paying scholarly attention to detail.

“I could find out!” I said, excitedly.

“No, my fiery, essentially-decent—if ridiculous—young friend,” he said in a voice altogether mellifluous with spiritual wisdom. “Our time in this ungodly and pre-Beatle hell is coming to an end. We shall soon return to another civilisation, and to another era, where each and every one of us can buy their own Beatles albums and listen to them in their own time and not have to go to Friday prayers, and not listen to some stupid filth-fuck mullah expounding his debased dog-shit thoughts, and not have to go, after prayers, to a public execution, for edification. We can put on Abbey Road, followed by Beatles for Sale, followed by The White Album. And if that, my dear friend, is not enough, you can always put The White Album on again. And then again, after that. And so on.”

He patted me affectionately on the back, and began singing, in a heart-rending voice, the opening verse of “Hey Jude.”

Huge, red-hot tears of confused emotion streamed down my cheeks as we wandered along the path back to the village.


For all installments of “Love You, Zyra,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2