The Karachi that I know

Sep 3, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Expressions, Opinions

Sitting in the car with my mother, waiting for the signal to turn green, I deftly open the zip of my purse to check my phone and swiftly close it again. My back straightens and my senses sharpen when I realize there is a beggar standing on the other side of the window, looking in. It’s a man wearing a dirty Shalwar Kameez, with one hand on the window and the other inside his pocket. I refuse to even look in his direction; he will go away on his own accord. When he knocks on the window again, my breath starts to come in little gasps as my throat constricts. I glance towards the signal and the traffic – it is still red and the cars are still coming strong. I can barely breathe; I spy from the corner of my eye the hand he has inside of his pocket, slowly moving upwards… will it hold a gun? Will this be the last time I breathe – sitting trapped inside my own car with my mother, unable to move, unable to make a sound.. for fear it would trigger the worst in him? Will he only take our belongings – or will he not be satisfied until he finishes us off? I know nobody will catch him! No one ever does in our country. The policeman standing at the light will be just another helpless spectator, unable to come to the aid of the very people he has sworn to protect. Will I be able to reach home alive?

beggar

IMAGE ALSO ORIGINALLY USED ON MY PERSONAL BLOG

I gasp aloud as his left hand comes out of his pocket to settle beside his right on my window. It is empty. There is no pistol here. I am safe. He loudly prays for me and my family to be blessed in his hoarse voice, another trick to push us down the guilt road we refuse so steadfastly to tread upon, before pushing away from the window and going on towards the other cars in search of better prospects.

It is some time after the signal turns green and we start moving that my heart finally resumes its normal pace. I feel as though I have run a mile. As though time has stood by to laugh at my distress, only to be bored quickly into letting me go. Our car inches towards the marketplace; we’re going shopping. The sun still has a few hours to set, and the daylight provides a reprieve from the cut throats and vermin usually littering the streets of Karachi after dark.

The small street is crowded with people milling about. Women in Abayas and teenage girls in jeans crowd the market place, vending their way past the cars and Rickshaws crawling at a snail’s pace; their arms laden with shopping bags. They hold their purses clutched tightly to them as they laugh and chatter with each other, all the while alert to the slightest movement of those around them. We park the car and quickly get out, locking the door behind us. We can hear loud sirens in the distance; another disturbance in some part of the city. Hopefully, it is not near. Our hands grip our bags to our sides as we swiftly move towards the building; beggars crowd around us trying to get some money for food. We refuse to give in to the urge to help as we race inside and enter the first shop. For only a few minutes, the fear of the outside is held at bay.

We are inside the mall, the air conditioning hitting us at full blast. Everything is peaceful, the way it should be. We decide to peruse through the cloth hanging on the walls, haggling with the store keepers over prices and materials as though nothing in the world is more important than our purchase. One stall is not enough… soon we are moving on to other stores, taking in the inventory. I reach out a hand to touch a specifically beautiful cloth of shimmering white, its material as soft and silky as though made from gossamer beams. The price the man quotes for it is extortionate! and I jerk my hand back as though burned.

Soon, we are quite exhausted by our spree and waddling under the burden of all our purchases. Stepping outside onto the pavement, we see that darkness has arrived, with only the last vestiges of the setting sun lighting up a corner of the sky. Lights blink down at us from the poles straddling the sides of the road, and we hurry towards our car, trying to juggle the bags in our hands with the keys. Beggars have begun swarming around us like flies attracted to a honey pot, begging for morsels of food or even change; a lone man wearing a bright orange jacket stands next to the car, notepad at the ready. He is there to ask for money as well; only this time it is legal.

Quickly, we open the doors and dump all the bags on the back seat before sprinting inside the car and banging shut the doors. I reach out behind me and hurriedly click the lock on the one door that needs fixing before sitting back in my seat and taking a deep breath. My mother reaches into the slot at the bottom of the car just before the break to take out the change with which to pay the man before starting the car and reversing out of the parking lot. I can see the beggars and their children following behind as we make our way to the road.

We swiftly drive through the main roads towards home, counting our blessings. No mishaps so far. Nobody took our phones, nobody held us up. So far, we are safe. At the turning just before the main road leading to our house, we see a police mobile. There are men standing around it in black and khaki colored uniforms, with guns slung across their backs. My heart starts to thud again; everybody knows the police are just as corrupt in this country as the vilest of the filth. There is more of a chance that they’ll stop our car only to harass us in the name of the “law”, putting the blame on the tinted back windows when in truth, all they want is the chance to earn some extra cash. But we pass them without incident and continue on our way home.

As we turn into our street, we notice a man standing in the shadows. A memory flashed through my mind of a similar night, when I was coming home with my father. Then, the man standing had thrown a stick at our car’s windshield in the hopes of making my dad stop so he could rob us blind; we had managed to speed past him however. Now, as I see him stand straighter as our car nears him, I find myself mumbling prayers of safety. Our house is just a couple of minutes distant now; I don’t wish to be treated to Karachi’s hospitality this close to home. He just stares into our car, ogling the women bold and independent enough to drive on their own this time of the night. I suddenly hate the illiteracy of my country with a vengeance. Have these men never seen women before?

Our street is dark, as usual. Only a faint glow from adjacent gate lights falls on the ground, lighting the way. There are no pole lights here and the only safety we have is in entering our homes and locking our gates as fast as possible. My mother turns the car into the drive and honks for the gatekeeper. He can’t rush down fast enough to open the door, in my opinion. Once inside, I look in the rear view mirror as he closes the gates and locks them. My daily ritual upon arriving home. Suddenly, I am not afraid any more  I am safe; I am home. Here, I know I have security and the outside vermin of my city cannot come inside and haunt me.

I smile as I realize how paranoid we all have become. Fear, it seems, is a constant companion in our daily lives – more so than the people we live with.  Everyday the news channels will show something more depressing, with each “Breaking News” nothing more than another heartbreaking story. From drone attacks killing countless children in our north to robberies and Karo Kari attempts, that’s all the media is good for. Print, electronic or paper – they all have one agenda: drive us mad with bad news. And it’s working. We have become as paranoid as they could wish us to be. Pessimism and depression are the two emotions that run side by side in our bloodstream; happiness is to be found only in the little things, while a cloud of agony hangs over our heads, waiting to pour.

We need help. All of us. We need to be free of the terror of our daily lives – we need to feel secure in our own country. Will that day ever come? I fear Jinnah may have given up on us after all. I despair we may have failed our great leader; broken his heart. I am so glad he is not here to see us today in this state. He would not have been able to bear it.

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