Two Sonnets

Lapis and Lime

Colosseum, Sphinx and Acropolis,
Ancient wonders across the world are strewn,
Awe more in form and toil to shape than this;
Their bodies proud, from humble limestone hewn.
Teeming sediment of the fecund earth,
As am I, a plinth of unwrought lime,
My like the world has seen nothing of dearth,
Though I may achieve good with toil and time.

You, my muse, of a nature deep and bright
Of chalky lime in heat and pressure honed,
Until reborn as precious lazulite,
Whereas my stony core of dust and bone,
Finds its worth in that of which it is part –
You, my lapis, in yourself beauty are.

Emerald

Though before me laid wise Socratic lore,
Or all the heritage of ancient Thrace,
Yet I confess that these riches did bore,
When gazing up I could glimpse your sweet face;
There radiates your joyous earnest heart,
Where flow facsimiles of Irish brooks
That in Dublin, Cork and Kilkenny are,
Whose streams do gleam behind your tawny looks.

Through opal and azure of sea and sky,
Life takes us on, though our hearts stay behind.
When it reaches its cold, bleak December,
Surely as now, I’ll always remember,
The Isle whose waters of Emerald hue,
That once looked upon bring me back to you.

Dealing Death

Videogames tend to have the most wonderfully optimistic approach to issues of mortality. From the coin-op continue with its underhanded suggestion that your continued existence is no more than a matter of sliding death a quick buck under the countertop, to the checkpoint reincarnation making amends like a beleaguered kid being consoled on grandma’s lap after inadvisedly stumbling onto a schoolyard bully’s turf, Death, the mighty and dreadful, the destroyer of worlds, has become alternatively a capitalist hack selling an opt out clause to all bidders against the doling out of his namesake, and an avuncular slapper of wrists. But Death has had enough. Death is not your bitch. He’s here to reclaim what’s his; and that something is no more or less than an adequately sized stake in your gaming habits.

Integrating themes of mortality in a serious, considered way is never an easy task for a medium that’s historically been centered on power trips and wish fulfilment. The games that try are often confronted with a choice between shoehorning their innovations into pre-existing game types, and creating something entirely unique from the ground up. The latter is likely going to be the result of slow sea change in design habits, rather than a single game overhauling the way we look at the medium. What we’re usually left with, then, are subversive portmanteaus of design that predate on unwary player assumptions about the nature of the game, and subtly or otherwise, pull the ground out from beneath their feet.

The Banner Saga

Almost as soon as it begins, The Banner Saga thrusts both protagonists Rook and Hakon into a situation where someone died and made them king. An alliance between men and the giant varl is the result of generations of warfare against the animate stone foes of the north. Waves of armoured black, pursuing dredge are the circumstance, a caravan full of weary, starving clansmen, women and children accompanied by a dwarfed proportion of fighters, are your protectorate. Kings, chieftains and gods are in absentia as you march past desolate rural settlements. Massacred populations everywhere; anomie looms. You fly by the seat of your embroidered chaps, into the stormy, godless gray. The nature of the game is twofold. A cross country trek between godstones – colossal monoliths dedicated to the game’s dead deities – with the end goal of reaching safety, such as it is, paired with turn based battles when confronted with your many enemies on the way, be they opportunistic humans and varl, or the unknowable dredge. While the turn based sections impart one message – that your heroes are unassailable; they can be downed or injured, but not slain – the overarching exodus conveys another. As you travel across the landscape, you’ll have to contend with the size of your caravan against the quantity of your supplies; the relationship between your supplies and the luxury of rest between cities; the association between all of these and your heroes’ morale, as well as the direct ties between their morale and their effectiveness in combat. No sooner than you understand, in theory, the implications of these relationships, you’re confronted with the incidental choices you must make on your path. An isolated band of bedraggled men and women might meet you on your way, begging to join your company. With no prescience of possible consequences, and dwindling food, do you take on these unknowns and cater to the demands of sustaining a growing population? Or do you ignore them, erring on the side of risk management, and dealing pragmatically with the realities thrust into the forefront of your previously naive pastoral life?

The lack of transparency and, at times, the complete opacity in the relationship between decision and consequence, make death a lurking presence, cutting away steady swathes of your men and your morale. And these losses aren’t kept to the many nameless men and women in your charge, they extend to your heroes – the units you take into battle – too. You can lose a good soldier who stands in the way as a titanic dredge makes a beeline for your daughter, because you insisted on lurking in a besieged town for too long. Or lose a hulking varl who’d cut down three dredge in one swoop, when a cart full of gold topples over a precipice, and you were too stubborn to command him to let go. So the relief you feel as you pile into Boersgard – the game’s final city – with no food, no morale and a weary band of injured and impaired heroes is the emotion the entire game was set up to extort from you, as day by day, on the final leg of your journey you see your clansmen and fighters dwindling, crippled by starvation. The impression the game creates of death is of a transient and opportunistic force. When you’re facing head-on walls of its agents in battle, you can ususally expect to be victorious, but in the quiet hours there’s no foreseeing the ways it might conspire to slip in unseen between the plates of your armour, or the withered constitutions of your clansmen.

Dude you can’t choose rock AND paper.

 –

Dark Souls on the other hand, is a game of a different sort entirely. Playing it is often very much like the chess game in The Seventh Seal. The bargain struck; “if I show you what for at this carnival of the macabre, Death, you’ve got to stop peeking over my shoulder.” In this case though, the player character is a gender ambiguous ghoul with an unspecified motor neuron disease, liable to tumble off a cliff at the slightest provocation, and Death is Garry Kasparov with a prankster’s eye for world design. Your fumbling fatalities are the inevitable consequence when the two collide.

Death flashes its grim rictus at you from all conceivable approaches. Its imminence mediates the player’s relationship to the environment at every turn. It infuses every uneasy twitch of the analog stick with a degree of trepidation, and creates a reluctance to celebrate the toppling of even the weightiest challenges until sitting before the temporary safety of a bonfire, for fear that the uneasy circumstances of one’s victory might be irreproducible. Because along with the frequent and imaginative means to mete out the player’s demise, is instituted a system of reincarnation wherein every antagonist you’ve slain, save for bosses, is there for the ride, meaning that taking a fatal blow, or carelessly shuffling off a precarious perch, results in a fate fit for a Buddhist hell: Endless reconstitution tethered to your enemies and their petty antagonisms, unless you give up and admit absolute, abject defeat, or achieve a meditated perfection to the routes between bonfires the spatial equivalent of Bill Murray’s final recitation in a particular repeating temporal nightmare. Anyone, for example, whose forays into Sen’s Fortress have been repeatedly foiled by an obstacle course involving serpent-headed monstrosities, swinging blades, giant boulder traps and rail thin walkways that overlook one’s inevitable doom, can attest to this. You are out maneuvered at every turn, yet it never feels like you’re cheated, only that the game caught you the second you let your attention slip. Anyone who’s had to deal with tossed lightning and the pummeling gavel of Ornstein and Smaugh, knows all too well: The only way to keep on keeping on, is to be unfatigueable in mind, unshakeable in resolve and perhaps to have more real world time to kill than an ordinary human lifespan can bestow. I suppose that’s as apt a way to interpret the game as any; the only way to move consistently between bonfires, and from microcosmic hell to hell, until you reach your final destination, is to offer your own flickering humanity to the game’s unwavering demands.

“No no, I said your armour was really gray man, gray! Fuck.”

But the abjection caused by the game’s frequent rebuffs is mirrored by its occasional elations. As a consequence, every battle won feels like an accomplishment. The effervescing figure of a boss after you strike the final blow is as satisfying as any feat in gaming – you don’t just kill your enemies in Dark Souls; you master, slay and smite them. Kill is too bland a verb. The game teaches you a respect for death, both because of the fastidiousness required to keep it from you, and the knowledge of your enemies required to wield it against them.

Lahore

Lahore has a beauty, that isn’t shrill

and crystalline,

like soaring Hong Kong or skybound Dubai

Nor does it have the regal charm of Rome and Vienna.

It’s a nighttime niqab for the daytime squalour. It’s the overlit carriage of a kinnuawala,

stocked with celementines, or in the Caravaggian chiaroscuro of a straight road in the dark as you switch off the headlights and see the dust kick up from the furious tires into the dim low lamplight.

It’s in the unblinking brinkmanship of the driver working the wrong way up a one way underpass, looking you in the eye as if to say “so what” yet all the same winkingly mirror the grinning wrinkles in the corner of your eyes.

It’s a conversation about corruption that segues in all directions; a place of possibilities only if you have connections.

It’s just a junk shop orchestra without a conductor, a morass of instrumentalists trying to tune to the key of life, muddled in a plosive peal of dissonant concertos and aubades.

But when you strain at times and in places, unwarningly and at a whim, its better nature can bloom, though concealed by all the din.

Play along with all its absurdities,

try to keep an attentive ear,

and fleetingly you’ll catch

the opening notes of a symphony.

When I Saw The Learned Gastronomer – or – When My Dad Is Taken Out To Eat

When I saw the learn’d gastronomer,

When the herbs, the spices, were ranged in mills before me,

When I was shown the menus and ingredients, to combine, elide or measure them,

When I standing observed the gastronomer where he decocted with much applause in the decoction-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the musty Lahore night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d with perfect envy at the chowkidar with his daal-chawal.

GOTY 2014 Contenders – Wolfenstein: The New Order

Starbreeze are a studio blessed with a Midas touch, insistent on using their alchemical wiles in turning trash fiction such as The Darkness and Riddick into gameplay gold. The success of their projects comprises a range, but the oeuvre as a whole is patterned with a flair for the experimental. Riddick has its fantastically realized anthropological framework and prison ecology, with you as the agent flitting between beleaguered inmates and shank fodder, with all the politics and power games implied. The Darkness has its attempt to humanize the narrative subject of a teenage power fantasy, and Brothers has some of its most poignant moments as well as its final emotional pay off embedded in the ways in which the characters are controlled. Imagine the studio turned loose on gaming’s more pitiable franchises: Duke Nukem could become a reflective look at its own lack of cachet in a modern world, its protagonist reveling in schmuckery while the world looks on and laughs. Imagine a Bayonetta or Resident Evil that wasn’t the output of a syphilis-afflicted mind. Imagine Wolfenstein.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

With The New Order’s developer Machine Games being a Swedish outfit comprised of the remnants of a mass exodus from Starbreeze, I took a similar “what if Starbreeze” perspective to my anticipation of Wolfenstein: The New Order. The end result; how ridiculous is it to suggest that in 2014, a Wolfenstein game is one of the best of the year? Pretty ridiculous, but that’s what makes it such a weird and remarkable achievement.

I’m not going to delve too much into a mechanical analysis, because the game plays pretty much the way you’d expect; you take aim and shoot, and whatever’s in your crosshairs typically explodes into a colourful array at the hands of BJs cornucopia of janitorial tools, purpose made for the mopping up of Nazi dregs. Instead, Wolfenstein’s appeal lies in the creation of a world that surrounds and makes sense of the mechanics. The game is full of juxtaposition and recurrence. Your first hour culminates in a pivotal scene wherein Blaskovicz is held down by soldiers in Deathshead’s medieval Nazi castle, and forced to choose between the demise of two of his fellow company men – a scene symbolically repeated later in the sanitarium as the family of the nurse that tended to him for fifteen years are summarily executed while he’s held down by a sliver of shrapnel embedded in his cerebellum. In the first instance, whichever choice you make is played off as mistake in a later scene when the surviving member of your company expresses both guilt and frustration at having to be the one saddled with the task of leading the resistance in BJ’s protracted absence. The best choice, and the goal of the mission you just failed – popping wrinkly old grandpa Totenkopf – was forcibly kept from you. The instance in the asylum serves as a sort of recompense for the earlier failure, with BJ’s mental shackles serving as metaphorical placeholders for his physical constraints in the castle. Its an interesting narrative contrast, and the outcomes of the two scenes emphasize the play of will and principle against the now gargantuan physical force of the brutal Nazi regime, mirroring the apposition in the game itself of explosive, violent mechanics and a narrative that is far more nuanced and well considered than a Wolfenstein game warranted.

By presenting us with these scenes of desperation at the hands of The Reich, The New Order pulls off an act of will by creating a situation in which the doling out of death and destruction are the only remaining terms success can be couched in. The killing isn’t something that just happens; it’s a calculated choice, contextualized and justified by the narrative backdrop. At the same time, there’s a skeptical predilection anyone familiar with the franchise will be likely to express; that these elements were obviously retrofitted to a series whose underpinning mechanics were long established. And that’ll always be one of the limitations of the Wolfenstein name. But one can’t help but admire the artistic feat of taking barren soil and making it bloom in a way that’s carefully considered and apparent in many facets of the game’s design.

Exemplifying this are crescendos of Waffen S.S. slaughter accompanied by Frederik Thorendal’s musical backing, which is conceptually fantastic, because characteristic of the way the riffs repeat, the subtle differences in note choice and syncopation are lost in the onward march of the broader structure of the piece, sort of in the same way that two Nazis barreling towards you might behave in a slightly different ways, but together their identities are imperceptible as they meet your unremitting, rhythmic waves of machine gun fire. The discussion of how death is synchronized with a beat could be taken as diagnostic criteria for severe psychopathy, but then the same apposition is reflected in the game’s protagonist who has an oddly poetic inner life for someone whose interactions with the world are comprised of the wielding of various implements of grotesque and brutal death. Again, it seems this isn’t by accident. Brazen absurdity is recurrent in a plot that features a Nazi lunar base, a deep-sea diving mission for ancient freemason future tech, giant mechanical dogs, and so on. These elements are conspicuously contrasted with a solemnity in much of the characterization, albeit one which adds to its pathos with frequent touches of levity.

And a feeling of the absurdity of the situation is bone deep in the game, where the Nazis are mocked and the circumstances of their victory reduced to the chance discovery of what amounts essentially to magic. Through the ridicule, though, is an actual engagement with the values of The Third Reich, extrapolated to a situation in which they’re granted absolute power. Meaningfulness and character are given to almost every life you see taken away at their farcical hands. So initially, the juxtaposition of serio-comic violence and poeticism seem bizarre until you clock that every instance of BJs inner life in the game, from his recollections to his dreams, is colored by nostalgia for those he’s lost, a life he’s been unable to live, and wistfulness for a future never to come. The gun-down goonery imposed on a character who in his off hours shuffles around headquarters playing DIY dad to his collection of friends and compatriots, then seems perfectly matched for the mad world of the fiction in which Nazism is the status quo and a psychopathic contrast of inner musicality and outward mayhem is the only available recourse. The game becomes a tussle between contrasting elements, and the dissonance between them is the point of the game.

Stockholm Syndrome In The Mushroom Kingdom

It’s two in the morning and your wrists are sore from being shackled to the Wii remote’s noose. You’ve been unconsciously tallying the totals displayed in the time played messages that are graciously sent to the Wii menu every time you exit the game, but you lost count at around the forty hour mark. Still you keep on, because directing the repellently cheery Italian acrobat as he pirouettes across a screen filled with star bits following you in a mock vapour trail ceased to be an expression of joy and more a test of will and character at around the thirty fifth hour. That was when your tenacity and grit and mental steel latched onto the inevitable feeling of satisfaction you know would grab hold as you acquired each of those elusive last ten stars. And, of course, you want to be able to play as Luigi; who wouldn’t? With his annoying inertia and awkward jump trajectory, it’s your just reward for persevering. Besides, you feel you’re more at one with the game now; you understand its truest expression. The levels stopped being those annoyingly imaginative and flirtatious exercises in game design long ago, and became the wire framed abstractions you see in your mind as no more than an obstacle course between you and paydirt. As it should be. Never mind work tomorrow, sick days were made for psychological trauma caused by entertainment software, and if being held hostage by a videogame seems a familiar narrative, there might well be good reason for that.

Super-Mario-Galaxy1

In behavioural psychology the term “Commitment Escalation” describes the tendency to, well, escalate the extent to which we’re determined to accomplish a task. The more time or resources we’ve spent trying to fulfil a goal, the more likely we are to want to see it to completion, irrespective of whether the costs have started to outweigh the advantages. Of course, the interesting thing about this ostensibly banal observation, is the ridiculous extent to which it subverts our better judgement, and the personality variables that escalation is affected by. The behavioural experiment as traditionally described, goes like this: A dollar is up for auction and the agreed upon proviso is that all bids, not just the winning one, will have to be coughed up. The way the experiment is set up means that the likely scenario will result in at least the first bidder incurring a loss, unless of course, she escalates while nobody else does. Still, this seemingly doesn’t deter anyone who isn’t familiar with the experiment being conducted, and no matter how puny the reward, there’s a grubby hand somewhere that’ll reach for that dirty penny on the floor. This often results in the “winner” paying greatly in excess of the value of the item being bid on; they’ll continue to “allocate resources” to a failing course of action long after the futility becomes apparent to them.

Reading about this, it’s impossible not to laugh at the bald lunacy of paying ten dollars for one, but it begs the question of why our behaviour is psychologically booby trapped in this way. The journal of Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes offers that “although a variety of economic, social, and psychological explanations have been posited to explain why escalation occurs, one particularly informative line of research focuses on people’s psychological desires for self-justification.” This seems to ring true. There’s something undoubtedly humiliating about having to admit halfway into the act that it was self-evidently idiotic to begin with – the only way to make it seem a winning cause is to keep going. Nobody wants to admit defeat, even – or rather, especially – to themselves. Which brings us back to our couch bound star gatherer and his spiralling woe. Replace monetary costs with time and effort expended – rewards reaped with satisfaction and enjoyment, and you have a ready framework with which to apply the insights of Commitment Escalation to the wonderful world of videogames. The difference perhaps is where the value of a dollar is obvious and discrete, the value or extent of the effort versus the satisfaction involved in playing a videogame is far more nebulous, and as a result, more likely to ensnare.

Adding to this is the fact that more and more publishers are incentivising the development houses under their fief to artificially elongate a gaming experience for the sake of maintaining engagement and reducing the chance of the buyer pawning the game for new shiny goodies. As a result you get meta games embedded into the experience in the form of achievements and trophies, although these have been thus far avoided by Nintendo for the most part. Of course, it speaks to the variety of player expression available in some games that might allow you to, for example, get through all enemy encounters without firing a weapon, or complete a scenario in a given time limit, or alas, collect all one hundred and twenty stars. But at worst these things can be arbitrary contrivances designed to tweak compulsive personalities into devolving their gaming experience to a farce. This imposition of a lack of clear end point often makes the more obsessive of us interpret “finishing” the game as fastidiously turning in every tiny little task that might be embedded in it. Added to this is the fact that escalation is an especially pernicious force depending on how you perceive yourself. The same article in the journal of Organizational Behaviour referenced earlier talks about how people are more likely to escalate in the absence of “affirming beliefs”; in other words, self-esteem. We see our commitment to tasks as an indicator of self-worth, even when it might be something as piddling as ten points tacked onto the end of our gamerscore.

Personally, I find that the more entertaining a game has been leading up the threshold of fathomless frustration, the more likely I am to believe that I haven’t extracted all of the fun out of it. I’ve completed Resident Evil 4 nine times, far beyond the point the encounters with the ganados started to bore and the boss battles stopped causing slack jawed trouser soiling, entirely because I imposed the meta-goal of not only finishing the game, but finishing it with maximum efficiency. Wanting to scoop up all the delicious scraps from your pudding pot is a relatable feeling, even if the force of your shovelling is bringing up parts of the the plastic packaging. Likewise, forgetting that games are collaborative is an easy mistake to make, in a sense, you have to create the experience rather than having it happen to you the way it does in more linear media, and perhaps it’s difficult to acknowledge that it’s fine to put the game down when you stop being entertained and engaged, especially when there’s no clear end point. It’s good to remember now and then, when both your composure and your controller are in danger of being shattered against a hard surface, that there are a thousand and one easily available, incredibly rewarding experiences awaiting.

Ride At Your Own Risk

Deep within one of Lahore’s concentric circles, adjacent to the army patrol and machine gun nest stationed on the intersection between Shami Road and Mall Road, exists the Fortress Stadium – a retail park with a hodge podge of clothing outlets, frozen yoghurt dispensaries, street stalls selling a variety of carnival foods, and the garish, gaudy screeching titan of scrap metal and axel grease that is Joyland.

 Joyland, is referred to as an “amusement park,” and to the sort of eye that perceives whimsy in issues of mortality, it’s amusing in several ways. There are thoughts one can entertain about the place if one is so inclined. For example, the idea that the place only really exists because its management was somehow able circumvent labour laws by pilfering ideas from first year engineering students, asking them to come up with a hundred and one ways to make a person spew the gnarly milkshake of fudge cake and masala fries festering in their digestive tract. Amongst the mass of the whirligigs and doodads there exists a colossal, rusting Ferris wheel bleeding paint chips, a dodgem enclosure complete with a creaky, corroded electrified ceiling, and a rocket roundabout that produces a centrifugal force so great that it’s a miracle one’s retinas are still attached by the end of the ride. Perhaps the place houses some sort of clandestine eugenics program, designed to cull and exterminate those reckless enough to take their chances on the attractions. Suggestive of such, the tickets, as the booth clerks hand them to you, read the amount of credits that can be redeemed against rides, which incur varying tariffs, and are each inscribed with the footnote “Ride At Your Own Risk.”

Joyland

 Ride at your own risk, while a sobering reflection of the institution’s lack of confidence in the integrity of its own architecture, as well as a casual abdication of responsibility, is also a sentiment that can be expanded to apply perfectly to Lahore’s increasingly shambolic road system and its users. Platoons of motorcyclists ride out on huge three lane roads, wife and children in tow on their flimsy seventy cc Honda CDs and Suzuki Sprinters with the side mirrors removed and not much more than a prayer between passenger and tarmac. You’ll see three types of cars; Honda Citys, Toyota Corrolas and a selection of dinky Suzukis. This narrow selection for the roadside sightseer comes about as a result of government subsidies for these few manufacturers to set up assembly lines within the country, taking a cut of the profits while imposing exorbitant import tax on competing brands. Interspersing the monotony are cars, vans and rickshaws adorned with advertisements, personal slogans, and the unfortunately increasingly infrequent sightings of the many varieties of painted and ornamented trucks and buses with chains trailing from the rear bumper, painted in a kaleidoscopic mélange of primary colours and inscribed with inscrutable catchphrases. Vehicles are rigged with any combination of a selection of anti-theft devices, yet are unsurprisingly devoid of basic safety features such as seatbelts and airbags; features that, within the prevailing code of the highway, are seen as the accoutrements of the incompetent. The resulting menagerie resembles nothing so much as some sort of inner city demolition derby, interspersed here and there by a wholly weird selection of peacock-plumed personal effects. Here, the one rule of the road is to look out for your self.

In determining what would be a good springboard from which to dive into discussions of the road system’s shortcomings, one is stupefied by the abundance of choice. There’s institutionalized apathy towards road safety, awful civic planning, bad behavioural habits inculcated over a lifetime driving in the city, and the way the road system is built with the expectation of egregious and repeated user error, consisting mostly of methods to circumvent the inability to read, failure of memory in things as expectedly ingrained as the way to one’s own place of residence, non-existant visuospatial awareness and lack of basic survival instincts. The epidemic attention deficit crossbred with a not so much itchy, as furiously inflamed accelerator foot is enough to irritate, but what really characterises driving in Pakistan is the wholesale replacement of every method of highway communication with the car horn.

 There is little understanding that the structure of the roads themselves often plays a prime role in moderating and influencing user behaviour, and in no part of Lahore is this better exemplified in the new layout of what used to be the Kalma Chawk. The Chawk used to be a simple roundabout circling a monument which is now consigned to the Lahore Museum warehouses, and in its place is a bustling, colossal intersection – the busiest in the city, supposedly constructed to better manage the chaotic traffic flow in the city’s busiest zone. An admirable intention in theory, but the ambitions of Lahore’s civic planners is rarely matched by their foresight, or indeed, ability to actually plan.

Kalma Chawk

Approaching the intersection stop lights from the direction of Liberty market or Cantt via the Jinnah flyover, one is theoretically capable of continuing on one of three of the intersection’s limbs – four if you include the inevitable necessity for a large proportion of the road users to realise they’ve come the wrong way, and take a u-turn. Cutting a line through, to divide the intersection onto eight parts, is the city metro service, which will occasionally plough through the centre, providing its own unique hazards.

 You might be asking yourself whether this seems an unduly harsh critique, an attempt to hanker for the bleaching of a city’s colourful character and free and loose style. Still, consider the precariousness inherent in an intersection with four inlets. Perhaps it would likely still be manageable almost anywhere but Lahore, with its euphemistically entitled “load shedding,” on an hourly basis, so named perhaps to give the impression that hourly, hour-long blackouts are there to rid the people of the egregious burden of electricity. In reality, it should have been properly assumed that running such a road system without the aid of traffic lights would be comical at best and disastrous at worst. In the hours when the city’s lights are out, the attempt to keeps its citizens flowing through the concrete veins is managed by traffic wardens, standing, often in above forty degree summer heat, tragically attired in a shade of grey that offers quite fantastic camouflage against the bitumen. All the while the imperceptible gesticulations of the warden are trying to direct you on your merry way, the very real possibility of death presides in the form of unheeding oncoming traffic and the pendulous swath the buses cut through the centre.

 If any of the foregoing is amusing, it’s because of our distance from the reality. The tragedies of the choices made are that, in 2013, the city of Lahore saw over one and a half thousand road deaths – a number that seems larger when you consider that the proportion of the city with access to vehicles is a small fraction of what you would expect in developed countries.