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A Region's Unique Canvas

R. Banerji

By Willem Marx and Marc Wattrelot
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 140, Rs. 1747.00


Tantalizingly titled, this endearing coffee table volume showcases through stunning imagery—albeit in black and white—the sharply contrasting and majestic landscape of Balochistan; the book serves as a bird’s eye view on the region’s complex problems and convulsions of civil military conflict through the eyes of British reporter Willem Marx, along with his French photojournalist friend Marc Wattrelot.   The collaboration of Wattrelot’s expressive photography and Marx’s dramatic commentary offers a perspective that is definitive yet refreshing. Breathtakingly emotive scenes juxtaposing the land’s harshness with its scenic beauty and the ceaseless hospitality of its people speak volumes of the region’s rich yet troubled history. Ironically, the characteristic barrenness of Balochistan, captured aptly through Wattrelot’s lens, represents a disturbed tranquillity of sorts—an effective depiction of how the multifarious hues of heritage, political history, demography and topography come together on the region’s unique canvas.   Balochistan: At a Crossroads perhaps owes its dynamic narrative to the fact that both authors are no strangers to Balochistan, having travelled through the region several times since 2007. Even as they set out to plan their travelogue at the Quetta Press Club with the help of a local translator, Abdul Hakeem Baloch—to whose memory this book is dedicated—the authors are confronted by the ubiquitous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) tail: ‘the same escort I had encountered countless times before: a small, unremarkable white car, carrying two small unremarkable men.’ The journey begins in the port city of Karachi, from where the authors head north towards Hub, the first town inside Balochistan. As they traverse the region, readers are treated to a vivid and memorable experience, replete with stunning scenes and hard-hitting commentary.   Adding another layer to the narrative, Marx and Wattrelot share their many brushes with authority, the first being along the eastern stretch ‘of unlovely beach at Gadani’, as ‘the route is blocked by a chain fence and uniformed men with guns.’   The narrative is interspersed with compelling pictures throughout the journey, which weave fascinating stories of the people and their existence. There are images of workers at Gadani’s shipbreaking yard where decrepit super tankers are being dismantled to scrap. There is precious little vehicular traffic on ‘this expensive thoroughfare’, with the only sign of human life being ‘the occasional cluster of jerry cans on the side of the road’, which held ‘smuggled Iranian petrol’. There are ...

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