A Roller Coaster Ride in Karachi
By Rafiq Ebrahim
Glen Ellyn IL

I was standing at the corner of a street, outside my host’s house, looking for a cab to take me to my old buddy’s advertising firm at Shahrahe Faisal. I was anxious to meet him, as I had not seen him for the last fourteen years, that is since I migrated to the USA in 1990. A rickshaw turned up near where I was standing, and the driver, who had a broad smile on his face and a respectful attitude, asked me whether I needed a rickshaw.
Yes, why not hire a rickshaw, I felt. The ride would give me a taste of the good old days when my frequent mode of transport was the rickshaw, because my old Mazda had made a mechanic’s workshop its headquarters. I hopped into the rickshaw and told him where I wanted to go. He immediately pulled a rod on his right to start the engine, and as soon as it started, a thick, black cloud of smoke emitted from the engine. It surrounded the whole vehicle. Dangerous fumes, no doubt, with a concentration of carbon monoxide, making breathing hazardous. Luckily, it disappeared once the rickshaw gathered speed. Had it lasted for a few more minutes, I am sure, I would have been taken to an emergency room at a hospital almost dead with carbon monoxide poisoning.
The driver, on the other hand, looked completely immune to this danger. With a tune on his lips he sped along and we came to a busy road near Gizri. Here the traffic was heavy and waiting for the signal to turn green. There was a little gap between a donkey-cart and a minibus, and it is in this gap that the driver of the rickshaw maneuvered his vehicle, coming so close to them that all the vehicles were almost touching one another.
I felt a heavy breathing on my side and turned to see that a donkey had put his head inside. I could detect a little smile on his face as if he was greeting me with a “hello”. Since I had no intention to enter into a conversation with an animal, I just moved aside. The driver, unaware of my unease at the presence of a donkey’s head near me, yelled at the minibus driver, “ Race ho jaey?”
The minibus driver nodded, and as soon as the signal turned green the race began. The speed with which both the vehicles were going would have put a racehorse to shame. My requests to the driver to slow down were unheeded. There was nothing I could do except to keep my fingers crossed and feel my heart leaping inside my frame like an enraged frog. The race lasted for about two miles that is till the next traffic signal. The rickshaw driver was ahead of the minibus driver, which made him so happy. He turned his head, showed his palm to the minibus driver and yelled, “Kaisi rahi?”
The race was over, and now for a while it was a smooth ride, till he turned left at a signal. Ahead was a stretch of katcha road, full of bumps and speed breakers. I thought the driver would slow down, but it was just wishful thinking. He maintained his speed with the result the rickshaw started jumping up and down. It was difficult to remain seated in one position, and I started jumping too, and swaying from one end of the slippery leather seat to the other. “Slow down!” I shouted, but he just smiled and started singing, “Hai raasta uncha nicha; kahin dil ka jam ne chhalke….”
And then what I feared did happen! During one of the upward swings, my head got a direct impact with an iron rod above, which supported the hood. I literally saw stars in front of my eyes and began rubbing the top of my head, which only had a few hairs on it. The driver, unaware of the happening, continued his song. I was feeling as if I had taken a roller coaster ride like one at Six Flags America in Chicago. At last we arrived at the destination.
I got down and thanked God that the ride was over and I was still in one piece, though I had developed a little lump on the top of my head. Looking at the meter, I saw figures of 99999...
“Don’t look at the meter. It is faulty. Just pay me whatever you think is reasonable,” he said with his characteristic broad smile. I pulled out two hundred rupee notes from my pocket and handed them to him. He seemed extremely pleased, for he got up from his seat and gave me a big salute. Then he took out a piece of paper, soiled with grease, and gave it to me. “Sahib, this is my mobile number. Whenever you need a rickshaw, just call me. I’ll always be glad to be of service to you.”


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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