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27/06/2024
ISTANBUL, NOT…
ON ISTANBUL, JUNE 2024



Turkish cuisine is to die for, not from. What seafood is to the Japanese, meat is for the Turks. It promises longevity.

The average lifespan of a Japanese is 84 years, a Turk 71 years. Indulgent Pakistanis last only 66 years.

Türkiye today is where Pakistan should have been, had it been properly husbanded. Pakistan, although a brother in Islam, took instead the path of unbridled procreation. Türkiye’s population (99% Muslim) increased from 21 mn. in 1950, to 86 mn. in 2023. Over the same period, Pakistan’s population burgeoned from 34 mn. to 245 mn. Birth control is spelt differently in Turkish.

Today, while Pakistan is still struggling to emerge out of its ideological sac, Türkiye knows what it is. It is the Türkiye envisaged by its Jinnah - Kamal Atatürk. On 10 November each year – Atatürk’s death anniversary – all Türkiye comes to a halt and observes one minute’s silence. Jinnah shares his birthday with Jesus Christ and Nawaz Sharif.

The late president Pervez Musharraf studied in Türkiye until 1956. He spoke Turkish fluently. Unfortunately, that is all he learned. He forgot Türkiye’s seismic shift from a khaki kleptocracy to a democratically elected dictatorship.

 

Its present ruler Recep Erdoğan has been in power as PM then president since 2003. On his way up, he served as Istanbul’s mayor. (In China, being mayor of Shanghai helps in reaching Beijing.)

In 1999, he served four months in jail for making a speech in which he recited Ziya Gökalp's 1912 poem ‘Soldier's Prayer’. Erdoğan quoted: ‘Minarets are bayonets, domes are helmets, mosques are our barracks, believers are soldiers’.

Is Erdoğan a second Atatürk? No. Türkiye’s pantheon has only one place at the top. Is he a Turkish version of the Saudi MBS? Erdoğan, even if he had the money, is too canny to waste resources on the folly of a $1.5 trillion Neom city project.

Türkiye – dismissed in the 19th century as the ‘sick man of Europe’, and in the 20th century denied entry into the EU – has decided to steer its own course. It is a vibrant example of a benign Islam - shorn of ritualism and an intrusive clergy.

Its priorities are education, infrastructure and expanding tourism. In 2023, Türkiye's income from 57 mn. visitors exceeded $54 bn. The largest number – Russians – live within spitting distance across the Black Sea. Pakistan sent 140,388, less than 155,155 Mexicans. The Mongolian hordes have yet to invade Türkiye. A Turkish Chinatown is still decades away.

A 1990 guide book warned travellers that Turks were just ‘beginning to learn about living on plastic’. Modern Turks are now as addicted to plastic cards as the Americans are to plastic surgery.

Turkey is becoming a preferred destination for medical tourism. Almost half a million foreign visitors come to have their Iooks improved (or damaged) by botox procedures. Some hospitals have dedicated hotels where patients check in, go next door to have their operation, and return for five star recuperation.

In Istanbul, stray dogs and cats are tagged at official expense and pampered with free meals and comfortable kennels. The Indian cynophile Maneka Gandhi who fought for Delhi’s canines would have been gratified. After the recent Eid ul Azha holidays (known as Kurban Bayrami), bones became hard to come by. A rabies epidemic could though force the Turkish administration to rethink its hospitality.

Despite the keenness to encourage tourists, Turks are curiously xenophobic. They insist on speaking only Turkish. This often leads to a dialogue of the deaf between Turks and strangers, until both tap into their mobile phones for translation.

Istanbul’s shopping malls are a treat, even for a tourist tired of London. In them, designer outlets rub cheeks with shops offering every kind of Turkish sweetmeats and flavours of honey. Haunches of cured meat compete with Harrods’ Food Hall. The generational divide appears in the Food Court, where hamburgers and fried chicken overwhelm traditional adana kebabs and shorba.


Türkiye is now more than a country; it is an experience. To savour its fullness, one needs to immerse oneself in it. Young locals do it by dipping into the Bosphorus, which is remarkably clean considering the armada of tankers, cruise ships, ferries and boats that ply through it.

To spend a few days in a Turkish hotel is to escape from home. To live in a villa in the cool, silent suburb of Zekeriyaköy, high in the green, undulating hills that overlook Istanbul, is to holiday in heaven.

Over Kurban Bayrami, its affluent residents fled to their second seaside homes, leaving streets empty for dogs, their walkers, and for those who prefer their Eid away from an urban abattoir.

Holiday in Türkiye. You will emerge from its hammam physically cleansed, emotionally relaxed, and pummelled free of domestic anxieties.

 

F. S. AIJAZUDDIN

[DAWN, 27 JUNE 2024]

 

 
27 June 2024
 
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