Monday, November 21, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed    Pakistan Today     22 November 2011

Irrepressible still                                                
The sight of female passengers hefting their own luggage off the carousel at the airport is as good as a ‘Welcome to Karachi’ sign. It also brings home to me how much I love this bustling city, much as I have grown to like IK’s Lahore, now my home.

Karachi has changed. Superficially, the flyovers are responsible for this; great, indispensable but ugly concrete ramps that swoop from one side of here to the other side of somewhere else, scything great swathes from commuting time for harried Karachi drivers. Newcomers, however, come off these flyovers disoriented and faintly green, unsure if they face the airport or Saddar and get to either in record time when they actually needed to get to the other. 

The beach haunts of yore Hawke’s Bay and Sand Spit are now less frequented due to security concerns, and it is the more accessible Sea View beach that boasts the raunaq. The sight of hundreds of tall buildings lining the coast road is probably a reassuring sight, and appears to embolden people in more ways than one, because at one of the parks along the beach I saw a sight not very common in this country: a young girl ensconced in her swain’s lap.

Security guards around Bilawal House,
President Zardari's private home, Karachi
That is a darn sight better than the sight (and infuriating nuisance) of the permanently partial and frequently totally blockaded public road, Khayaban-e-Saadi, unhappy host to Bilawal House. The residents of this house live in the lap of luxury and fear, and encroach on the tax-payers’ property and purse barricaded behind gates, roadblocks and gigantic cage like walls set up along the middle of the road.

Did Hosni Mubarak ever barricade himself behind cages too, or did he just find himself in one when it all ended?

If Karachi’s security situation were not so, dire it would be one of the more congenial cities in Pakistan. As it is, while housewives in Lahore move in a cloud of dahi baras, samosas and triple-decker tea trolleys, their counterparts in Karachi move in a nervous jangle of keys. The bunch handed to me by my hosts consists of: three keys for the gate, one for the front door, three for the kitchen, one for the side entrance, two for the reception areas, and one for each bedroom, which makes it a total of what, fourteen keys in all? Every door belonging to each key is locked every time one leaves the house because it is uncertain how reliable the maid is, which makes the exercise similar to running an obstacle race. And while on the subject of the uncertain maid, she a young lass of twenty, has been receiving menacing calls from a stranger offering to give her a ride to work on his bike, via his home. Given the horror stories with which the city abounds, this is no trifling matter.

Then of course there is the burglar alarm, but let’s stay with the ‘panic buttons’ for now. Scattered around the house disguised as light switches they fool unsuspecting guests into pressing one, and bingo! All hell breaks loose: the alarm screams and the house is surrounded by armed security men, while the red faced guest whispers, “I just needed to go to the bathroom!”

To a person now used to and most appreciative of the somewhat less murderous propensities of the citizens of Lahore, this aspect of Karachi weighs heavily on the mind and the hand bag, which sags with all those keys.

Meantime, I have been warned on no account to open the gate without first checking a caller’s identity on the intercom, never to remain in a parked car, to protect my cell phone with my life, and to keep the car door locked at all times, with the windows up. Obviously, somewhere along the line, Karachi turned into a safari park.

The residents of Karachi appear to have accepted this state of affairs much like the rest of the people of Pakistan for whom bombings, murders, kidnappings and robbery have become the normal way of life. This was amusingly illustrated one day when I saw a marmalade cat jump onto the wall and settle quite comfortably onto the bottommost strand of the barbed wire meant to protect the wall from intruders.                             
Pakistan has its faults, but the resilience of its people is impressive. As for Karachi, this wonderful city on the coast of the Arabian Sea with its fascinatingly diverse population picks itself up and moves on following each setback, totally despite the mind boggling indifference of those who are supposed to protect it.

Karachi tairay haal pay hum rotay hain,
Jo tairay darban hain khudh wohi sotain hain

Translation: Great city, pathetic government.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you have any comments, please leave them here. They will be published after moderation. Automated comments will be deleted.To contact me please leave a comment. If you do not wish that comment to be published please say so within the message. Thank you.