Karachi, the nocturnal city with unblinking, wide-opened eyes, glittering under the moonlight.
Karachi jolts by the bumpy roads, jerking the vehicles into potholes and bouncing off the bulges; with jammed cars from bumper to bumper, honking and smoldering engines, seething with gasoline.
Karachi clutters with brightly painted, rickety rickshaws with cacophonous, ear splitting engines. Amusing the passersby with Urdu poetry printed on the back covering: “Maalik Ki Gaadi Driver Ka Paseena – Chalti Hai Road Par Ban Kar Haseena.” (“Owner’s car: driver’s sweat, riding along the road like a gorgeous female.”)
Karachi is numbed by the dope heads dwelling in filthy makeshift camps under Liaquatabad bridge and Kaala pull; filled with the rush of heroine, but devoid of the verve of life.
Karachi cheers with bubbly, honking and bustling buses, with ecstatic names: Khan Coach, Super Hassan Zai, Safari, rushing to their destinations like the colorfully bejeweled eastern brides eager to kiss their husbands-to-be.
Karachi has hours of blankness, a period of stagnancy where one feels disabled and trapped; no one in Pakistan is as punctual as Karachi Electric Supply Company, it’s decided hours where one can see and with a blink is blinded. The power breakdown hushes the hubble of city, but people still continue their undertakings in the murk. There are discordant generators in rich houses, silent UPS in middleclass houses, and melting candlelights or nothing at all in the poor houses. Karachi becomes a heavy-eyed nightclub, flashing lights in the gaps of hours instead of seconds.
Karachi gets tipsy by the cheap liquor tasting like petrol, sold undercover through a window in a cramped lane of Boat Basin. The rats and roaches accompany, scurrying onto your shoes while you stand in the queue.
Karachi becomes a loving mother on Thursday nights, feeding the hungry and drugged at Abdullah Shah Qazi’s tomb; forgiving their drunken mischief one more time.
Karachi is the tranquility when the fruity flavored hookah gives a buzz under the silver glittering and discoing nights at Damascus restaurant.
Karachi could have been beautiful if the Arabian Sea was not chocolate brown with the industrial waste. It could have attracted tourists if the seashore did not stink of horses’, camels’ and humans’ shit with buzzing flees feeding on it. It could be a little clean if lavatories around did not charge Rs 3. to urinate and Rs. 5 to shit.
Karachi twists and turns by its haphazard roads without signs. The Numaish signal becomes the intersection of the crossroads, leading to Saddar in the north, Nazimabad in the south, Garden in the east and Gulshan-e-Iqbal in the west.
Karachi the season of endless weddings before Mauharram arrives.
Karachi is driving halfway on the highway leading to Hyderabad in the evening, speeding at 160 km/h, 120 km/h by law, watching the lavender blue sky with the stereos blaring remix versions of Bollywood songs. It stops over for Karahi chicken and hot kulcha at the dhaaba, Habib truck stop, a shabby inn originally made for truck drivers and Pathans, but evolved into a family place. In the open field, sitting on the wooden platforms and charpai with circular, oblong-shaped pillows, feasting and watching Bollywood movie playing on the projector.
Karachi is the wedding tent adorned with golden lights, vivacious music, hoots, claps and laughter echoing in the empty streets before the morning azaan.
Karachi preserves wildlife for the sake of owning a zoo. The once lush greenery is now sun-roasted with barren soil. The monkeys are nearing death; elephants and lions have deserted, leaving the rusty cages echoing.
Karachi dazzles with laughter, jingles with glass bangles when people await the clouds to uncover the moon, relieving them from fasting one more day.
Karachi is the green, red, yellow, brown sherbet on the snowy golla gunda, a rainbowed syrupy snowball on the wooden stick, melting to be licked and then sucked.
Karachi is the food stalls lining the footpaths and streets in Ramzan. The hawkers frying potato and meat samosas, and pakoras, and busy shooing the flies, which settle on the displayed food.
Karachi is driving straight from Lasbela to Patel Para and being stuck in the huddle of rickshaws. A permanent showcase of 200-300 rickshaws parked out on the road of a stretch less than a mile waiting to be sold and contribute to the air and noise pollution.
Karachi is the swarming vehicles at Guru Mandir, an intersection named after the Hindu temple of which most of the Karachiites have heard but never seen.
Karachi is to benefit from the philanthropy of Hakim Mohammed Said, distributing free medicines for the immigrants from India at his first pharmacy Hamdard Dawakhana in Pakistan.
Karachi is to be proud of having this philanthropist as the Governor of Sindh.
Karachi is then to assassinate him right in front of his first pharmacy, and then to mourn his death.
Karachi is about admitting its street food being infected, and yet taking pleasure in savoring its gol gappay. The crispy, salted, gol, spherical bread punctured in the middle by the vendor’s thumb, his hands, God knows, washed or unwashed, and then filled with boiled chick peas. A plastic bowl of unfiltered water flavored with lemon, tamarind, chaat masala and diced potato. The puri dipped into the bowl to fill bread bucket with water, stuffed in the mouth, gappa, eaten in one go, with cheeks blown, lips tightly sealed for not letting the water gush out.
Karachi is the sound of the rain with children laughing, hopping and splashing; the early morning symphony of tinkling glass bangles and clattering steel dishes when masci does the household chores; the painfully sweet melody of the flute muffled in the air coming from afar after midnights.
Karachi is about changing names. The Khadda Market, in Defence phase 5 commercial area, named for being situated in a sinkhole of almost 14 ft, is called Dalton’s to make it sound posh.
a) “Hot and Spicy” is Khadda Market’s crux, a drive-in, which sells Karachi’s most delicious premium-style Kebab rolls. The huge servings of grounded, spiced and fried meet, seekh kebab and behari kebab, rolled in fried parathas, so heavy that one gets full by just having half of it.
b) Scissors is another specialty, which makes Khadda Market so Dalton’s. A salon for men owned by Pakistani TV actor Adnan Siddiqui, where the haircut rates begin at Rs. 500.
c) The Jimmy Studios there flourishes for using the most expensive cameras, their clients being the celebrities who often go to Scissors, and the rich male Karachiites.
Karachi port is the heartbeat of Pakistan, world’s second most populous city, the financial capital generating 75% of the income of Pakistan.
Karachi port is where the food, arms and ammunition of the NATO troops in Afghanistan are unloaded.
Karachi has its blissful moments of sitting on the swing in my balcony, waiting for the sunrise and watching the chaotic city fast asleep. Listening to FM on my mp3, switching from one station to the other in search of another Atif Aslam song, I wonder what was the first thing that could have deteriorated and corrupted this city, if this country should have even existed or not. People say that Pakistan’s at the brink of disintegration, unfastening the already loosened knot of faith in this country. Would Karachi be the same if its seam was detached from the rest of Pakistan? Would its sweet madness still prevail?
Karachi is the America of Pakistan, its demographic ranging from Muhajir from India to hardcore Sindhi.
Karachi was the first capital city before Islamabad, and even before that an ancient port, Krokola at which Alexander the Great is believed to have camped at the end of his conquest.
Karachi is so popular that ice cream made in Peshawar city is advertised as “Karachi’s famous Peshawari ice cream” because of its popularity in Karachi.
Karachi is everything but what it could be.