With a disclaimer attached for the fitness freaks, who may collapse at the sight of the oil laden kebabs and syrup dripping Gulab Jamuns available at Burns Road, home to the iconic Karachi Haleem.
Even with the relatively sheltered life I led, I was fortunate enough to be awarded with regular visits to this street, as opposed to my friends from the “other side of the bridge,” who stuck to the authentic pronunciation of the name of the British general, whom it was named after. An avid fan, however, will pronounce it just as the majority of Karachi does, that is, “bunce road” with emphasis on the vowels being of utmost importance.
One must observe this street amidst the perpetual chaos it is in, because not only is there never an hour of the day when there is silence, unless as a result of an unannounced strike, the absolute lunacy adds to the charm of the place. Be it the innumerable motorcycles parked in too small a place in direct defiance of the “no parking” sign, or the illegal occupation of roads as makeshift dining rooms by restaurant owners, which takes away from the four vehicle capacity allotted for the roads, leaving a one vehicle path for cars to inch through. The brawl between the driver and the waiters is a regular one, infused with profanity and ended with promises of getting the restaurant shut down, one which comes to no decision each day.
The sweltering heat does not do much to reduce the throng of customers at the bun kebab stall or the one at the Karachi Haleem shop. Over the years, both have expanded their businesses, from carts to concrete structures, now boasting a seating area for families. What has not succumbed to time is, however, the taste of either of these two delicacies, the spices appealing to each taste bud of the customer’s pallet, one helping never being enough.
A “doodh bottle” is ideal in this situation, particularly to cool down tempers. Whether or not the city suffers from excessive bouts of load shedding, this bottle is always found to be perfectly chilled, a mystery which is best left unsolved. This milk is loaded excessively with sugar and dry fruits, the full fat cream at the end of the experience leaving one smacking one’s lips, stomachs satisfied, but not craving.
While the Gulab Jamun may be a sweet meat popular all across Pakistan, there is no comparison to the ones made by a gentleman belonging to the Bohra community in his corner shop on Burns Road. Variations of brown and around three different sizes is as versatile as it gets at this shop, but the succulent surface punctured by greedy teeth provides a burst of sugary liquid incomparable to any other. Those who may call it “sickly” sweet are generally not welcomed at this shop, only being open to the courageous few who shun their healthy lifestyle to indulge.
As night approaches, the pavements become home to the drug addicts who sit sniffing their glue dampened handkerchiefs, the gesture nearly making their eyes roll back in their heads. They are almost always fed by the waiters who may at first be angered by these unwelcome visitors, but cannot help but feel sorry for these homeless people. It is with this expectation of humanity that the addicts return, day after day, never sleeping on an empty stomach.
This road embodies the spirit of Karachi, old and worn out, but never one to give up.