You Want a Minaret?

You want a minaret? Lahore has you covered. Here is my favorite literary passage about minarets. And donkeys:


One of the men pointed to the dim interior of the minaret. ‘Look. .. see?’

‘A very narrow, winding staircase,’ said the Patrician. ‘So… ?’

‘There’s nowhere to turn at the top, right? Oh, any fool can get a donkey up a minaret. But have you ever tried getting an animal to go backwards down a narrow staircase in the dark? Can’t be done.’

‘There’s something about a rising staircase,’ said someone else. ‘It attracts donkeys. They think there’s something at the top.’

‘We had to push the last one off, didn’t we.?’ said one of the guards. ‘Right. It splashed,’ said his comrade in arms.

‘No one is pushing Valerie off’f anything,’ snarled Beti. ‘Any one of you tries anything like that and, s’welp me, you’ll feel the wrong end of–’ He stopped, and a wide horrible grin appeared behind the veil. ‘I mean, I’ll give you a great big soppy kiss.’

Several men at the back of the crowd took to their heels. ‘There’s no need to get nasty,’ said the guard.

‘I mean it!’ said Beti, advancing. The cowering guard cringed. ‘Can’t you do anything with her, sirs?’

‘Us?’ said Lord Vetinari. ”fraid not. Oh dear… it’s going to be like that business in Djelibeybi all over again, A].’

‘Oh dear,’ said Colon, mugging loyally. The crowd, or at least that part that thought itself sufficiently far away from Beti, started to grin. This was street theatre.

‘I don’t know if they ever got that man down off the flagpole,’ Vetinari went on.

‘Oh, most of ‘im, they did,’ said Colon.

‘Tell you what, tell you what,’ said the guard hurriedly, ‘suppose we get a rope round it–’

‘––her–’ Beti growled. ‘Her, right, and then –’

‘You’d need at least three men up there and there ain’t no room!’

‘Sir, I’ve got an idea,’ whispered one of the guards.

‘I should make it quick,’ said Colon. “cos there’s no stopping Beti once she gets going.’

The guards held a whispered argument. ‘We’d get into trouble if we do that! You know all that stuff we were told about the war effort! That’s why they were all confiscated!’ ‘No one will miss it for five minutes!’ ‘Yeah, but you want to tell the prince we lost one?’ ‘All right, but do you want to explain to her?’ They both looked at Beti. ’And they’re easy to steer, after all,’’ one whispered.

‘Valerie?’ said Sergeant Colon.

‘There is a problem?’ Beti demanded.

‘No! No. It’s a fine name for a donkey, N– Beti.’

‘No-one is to do anything,’ said one of the guards. ‘We will return.’

‘What was all that about?’ said Colon, watching them go.

‘Oh, they’ve probably gone to get a carpet,’ said someone.

‘Very nice, but I don’t see how that’d help,’ said Bets.

‘A flying one.’

‘Oh, right,’ said Colon. ‘They’ve got one of those up at the University–, ‘Ur has a university?’

‘Oh, indeed,’ said the Patrician. ‘How do you think Al learned what a donkey looks like?’ Once again, laughter dispelled doubt.

Colon grinned uncertainly. ‘I’m really getting good at this stupid idiot stuff, aren’t I?’ he said. ‘It just sort of happens!’

‘Marvellous,’ said Lord Vetinari. There was another angry braying from far above.

‘Trouble is, they’re all locked up because of the war effort,’ said someone behind them. A piece of mud brick shattered on the ground nearby. ‘The way it’s thrashing around up there, it’s going to fall off anyway.’

‘Perhaps I should persuade her to come down,’ said the Patrician.

‘Can’t be done, offendi. You can’t get past on the stairs, you can’t turn it round, and it won’t come down backwards.’

‘I shall consider the situation,’ said the Patrician. He ambled back into the tavern for a moment, and returned. They saw him enter the door and they heard him climbing the staircase.

‘Should be good,’ said a man behind Colon. After a while the braying stopped. ‘Can’t turn round, see. Far too narrow,’ said the elevated donkey expert. ‘Can’t turn round, won’t go backwards. Well–known fact.’

‘There’s always a know–all, right, Beti?’ said Colon. ‘Yeah. Always.’ The tower was full of silence. Several members of the crowd found their attention drawn to it.

‘I mean, if you could get three or four men up the stairs, which you can’t, you could sort of move it a leg at a time, if you didn’t mind being kicked and bitten to death…’

‘All right, all right, back away from the tower, will you?’ The guards were back. One of them was carrying a rolled-up carpet. ‘All right, all right, give us room–’

‘I can hear hooves,’ said someone.

‘Oh, yeah, like our friend in the fez is getting the donkey down the stairs?’

‘Hang on, I can hear them too,’ said Colon. Now all eyes stared at the door. Lord Vetinari emerged, holding a length of rope. The voice behind Colon said, ‘All right, it’s just a bit of rope. He was probably banging a couple of coconut shells together.’

‘You mean, ones that he found in the minaret?’

‘He had them with him, obviously.’

‘You mean, he carries coconut shells around?’

‘You can’t turn a donkey round in– all right, that’s a fake donkey head…’

‘It’s moving its ears!’

‘On a string, on a string – all right, it’s a donkey, OK, but it’s not the same donkey. It’s one he had in a hidden pocket… well, no need to look at me like that. I’ve seen them do it with doves…’

Then even the unbeliever fell silent. ‘Donkey, minaret,’ said Lord Vetinari. ‘Minaret, donkey.’

‘Just like that?’ said a guard. ‘How did you do it? It was a trick, right?’

‘Of course it was a trick,’ said Lord Vetinari.

‘I knew it was just a trick.’

‘That’s right, it was just a trick,’ said Lord Vetinari.

‘So… how did you do it, then?’

‘You mean you can’t spot it?’ The crowd craned to see.

‘Er… you had an inflatable donkey––’

‘Can you think of any reason why I should go around with an inflatable donkey?’

‘Well, you–’

‘One that you wouldn’t mind explaining to your own dear mother?’

‘If you’re going to put it like that–’

‘ ‘s easy,’ said Al–jibla. ‘There’s a secret compartment in the minaret. Must be.’

‘No, you’ve got it all wrong, it’s just an illusion of a donkey… Well, all right, it’s a good illusion.. .’ By now half the people were around the donkey and the others were clustered in the doorway of the minaret, looking for secret panels.

‘I think, Al and Beti, this is where we walk away,’ said Lord Vetinari, behind Colon. ‘Just down this little alley here. And when we turn that corner, we run.’

‘What’ve we got to run for?’ said Beti.

‘Because I’ve just picked up the magic carpet.’

— Terry Pratchett, Jingo


Lahore, Pakistan

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