Fates along the Bridge

Nov 24, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Non-Fiction

The other day, I was driving over the Nipa flyover. Just my luck, a tyre went flat. It’s rather funny how that persistently keeps happening around me. Pappa says I should keep two spare tyres in the car, just to be on the safe side. Anyway, I got to the work in hand. Changing tyres is one hell of a job, especially if you drive an old squeaky Mehran, have to make do with a rusty jammed jack, and summer temperatures in your country tend to rise to around forty degrees. I paused to catch my breath, and in doing so, my gaze wandered over to the pitiful dwellings that had been set up on the barren piece of land below the bridge. They were, to moderately state it, a disconcerting sight; dozens of tattered tents pitched in multiple rows alongside heaps of filthy waste and trash.

In a circle of such tents, were around six children, dressed in rags, chasing each other and shrieking loudly. They were having a good time, apparently. As I looked on in amusement, a middle-aged man emerged from one of the tents. He was rubbing his eyes, and had probably been disturbed in his slumber by the racket created by the children. What happened next was a matter of seconds, and absolutely horrifying! Shoving a kid aside, he grabbed two more by the scruffs of their necks, and dragged them with inhumane cruelty inside the tent. Within moments, he was out again, cursing the remaining kids (in words I dare not mention here), who were now scrambling away from the clearing to avoid the wrath of the madman. Satisfied apparently, that they would not return anytime soon, he trudged back to the tent. God only knew what fate awaited the two unfortunate kids at the hands of this psychopath, possibly their father. The whole scenario might not seem as menacing as you read it here, but standing there watching it live, and the sheer rawness of it all, left me rather disturbed.

I stood still for a couple of minutes, staring at the tent, as if expecting to witness some sign that the kids were safe. None came. Then, on instinct, and totally devoid of any purpose, I crossed the tracks, went over to the other side of the bridge, and looked down. Below was the entrance to Sindbad, a family amusement park. My eyes snapped automatically to a man walking out from the exit, who held in his hands a boy of around eight. The boy certainly had had an splendid time at the park, as the expressions on his face revealed. The man threw his son up in the air, and as the kid came flailing back, caught him and engulfed him in a deep hug. As the boy emerged from the hug, he let out a loud giggle which faintly reached my ears and a smile escaped my lips.

As an onlooker, I could not help but contrast between these children. Their worlds, less than a mile apart at this moment, could not have been more aloof. His, a haven of affection and fulfillment while theirs’, an eternal abode of restrictions, depravities and misery. One locality, two fates. A broader representation: one country, two fates.

Even worse, was realizing that those poor souls in the tent would not even have a chance at changing their life or reshaping their future. Only a small percentage of kids from poor families in our country are sent to secondary school. Most are made to slave away for meager wages or forced to beg for money on roadways. With the unaffordable fee structures of private educational institutes, the miserable plight of state schools means that even those who do receive secondary education, in their turn, have to make ends meet with little more than what their fathers had. The idea that poverty stagnates illiteracy is less familiar than the view that illiteracy leads to poverty; but in our country, equally true.

My phone rang. It was pappa and he was worried. I told him I was stranded at Nipa, and that I would be back soon, and hung up. I walked back to my car and finished changing the tyre. As I got back into the uncomfy driving-seat, I did not make a promise to myself to help these kids one day if I could. No, I didn’t. Maybe, sometime in the future, when I drive over Nipa in a better car, and recall the seven kids I saw on either side of this bridge (unlikely, very unlikely), I would build a charitable school somewhere nearby. But making promises to yourself that you can’t keep right away; risky. Very risky!

The Author

Ali Qamber is an engineering student at PNEC, NUST. He is a certified maila from St. Patricks High and lives, loves and wastes his time in Karachi. Besides writing useless stuff such as above, he also enjoys the finer things in a Karachiite's life, like night-cricket, hangouts at the beach and strikes. Find him on twitter (@qamberger) or facebook (saliqamber).

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