It’s enigmatic, it’s aggressive, it’s enchanting, it’s scandalous, it’s vibrant, it’s magical – it’s yours. Karachi. The City with many names: Krokola, Kolachi, Karachi; the city where the impossible becomes possible, where past hostilities are overruled in the favor of fun and gaiety of the present. A metropolitan stretch of land with a spectacular array of massive buildings built randomly, areas springing out – formed without any proper planning; roads zigzagging in between without a seemingly coherent pattern; a hospital right next to a chain of crowded, heavily smoking barbecue restaurants. A “burger Islamabad-ian” might just pull a face and roll his eyes when encountered with such a haphazard, topsy-turvy city, but this is what makes Karachi, Karachi – spontaneous, random, daring, majestic…
A Karachiite’s life is laced with sensuality: Eating the oily, totally unhygienic Chana Chaat, Bun Kebab and Gol Gappay offered at one of the many roadside dhabas; walking on the street on a cold winter night and chewing hot peanuts; selecting fat potatoes and ripe tomatoes from the thella-vallas who stand next to a gushing nala (open sewage drain pipe); trying to avoid getting squashed flat on the road by that maniacally speeding, horn-blaring, flashy-yellow bus with red calligraphy and a flamboyant display of drawings; getting thoroughly drenched in the first rain of the monsoon season, paying a devil-may-care attitude to the impending chances of sickness.
It grips you suddenly and unexpectedly: this city’s allure, its romance, its charm. Perhaps in as trifling a thing as the shy smile of a child-beggar or as substantial an experience as standing at the Netti Jetti Bridge, watching enormous ships make their way to Port Qasim for loading and/or unloading. Either way, romance is scattered throughout the City.
Belonging to Karachi is a glorious pleasure. You feel a strange power, an inexplicably jazzy sensation at being identified as a Karachiite – a cut apart from the rest, a tad different from others. The very air of Karachi is electrifying, tangy and salty, stinging your nostrils when you pause on your way to the car in the morning to breathe it in deeply.
You can sense that Karachi has a hoard of mysteries stashed away somewhere hidden. The endlessly shifting weathers, for one. Stiflingly hot in the day, bone-chillingly cold in the night. It almost appears as if it’s Karachi’s idea of a joke – to drive weathermen up the wall by continually proving their predictions wrong: “mainly hot, dry weather throughout the day, folks. Take out your summer shorts.” And it rains…
Every Karachiite’s picnic go-to is the beach. Running around barefoot on the glittering golden sand; erecting castles out of shiny, silvery mud; collecting stinking sea-shells and smuggling them home; tangling your arms and legs in slimy, slippery tendrils of sea-weed; riding on horseback and urging the man with the reins to move the horse faster; munching sandwiches with a visible layer of sand over them – such pleasant memories are mutual.
Even with all the aforementioned joys of being a Karachiite, the dark side of it still prevails. Uncertainty, fear and terror – Karachiites live with all three. We saw our Airport succumb to a terrorist attack on 8th June, 2014. Newspapers keep a daily record of the deaths in Karachi. We hear of robberies, we witness road-snatchings. And, yet, our battered spirits are forever on the lookout for fun, amusement, hilarity. We search for the joyful traits of life, streaks of color in an otherwise dark and gloomy picture, and the search is never entirely fruitless. We choose to overlook the more sombre, melancholic aspects of Karachi where the more tragic notes of the melody the city’s wind seems to sing.
Ignorance is the first rule of survival in Karachi. Good thing or bad, it allows us to cope. Stuck in a traffic jam on a particularly hot day, lined up in the long queue for CNG-filling, or stranded with load-shedding for five hours in a row, we nevertheless manage to find a reason to laugh (albeit after cursing K-Electric endlessly in the latter case). We’re Karachiites; nothing is ever enough to really annoy the hell out of us, so much so that we are rendered incapable of enjoying ourselves. That, I suppose, will happen only when hell freezes over. In short – never.
Let’s vow to keep it that way.