Ride in Karachi
By Rafiq Ebrahim Valjee
Glen Ellyn IL
Just to get a taste of the good
old days in the late eighties when I was in Karachi,
earning my bread and butter as an advertising man
and a pen pusher and riding a mini bus out of necessity
when fortune, like power supply in Karachi, fluctuated
and rested on the low, I got an intense urge to
ride a mini bus when I visited my country last April
after fourteen long years.
“Don’t say that I didn’t warn
you,” said my cousin who, on my request, dropped
me at a minibus stop near his house in Defense.
I assured him that I wouldn’t and that I would
be home soon on my own after the ride.
I boarded a minibus just as it began to move. I
clutched a supporting bar at the entrance and was
then pushed in by an unseen hand forcefully. My
arm received a terrible jerk, which I was sure at
that moment had dislocated my shoulder, but no,
it was okay. Since no seat was available, I had
to stand along with a multitude of others. Air inside
was scarce and it was so hot and humid. My eyes
fell on something written – or rather painted
– on a panel near a seat: Jaisa karoge waisa
God! I reflected and tried to remember my deeds
in the past. I was sure I didn’t to anything
so bad, so why this torture?
I kept standing quietly and had to bow down. In
these minibuses one has to remain bowed down while
standing, because for some reason or the other the
roofs are very low. Perhaps these buses were originally
made for passengers with shorter heights. Then my
attention was drawn to a muscular, naked arm holding
a rod above for support just ahead of me. The dark
arm was shining with perspiration and a layer of
dirt, looking like that of Balaji bowling on a hot
day. I made it a point to avoid direct contact with
it at any cost and this had become my immediate
purpose in life. I managed to keep off this arm
in spite of a pressure of passengers from behind
to move ahead.
The conductor sneaked from a side and demanded the
fare. I gave him some coins and asked for a ticket.
He just laughed and showed his paan-stained teeth.
The passenger with shining arm informed me that
it was not customary to issue tickets in these buses,
and while informing me he made a gesture of moving
back a few paces making me shake like a leaf on
a windy day.
Bowed, shoulders aching, and hot engine fumes going
down my lungs, I waited patiently for the next stop
to get down. Finding some room in front, I slipped
ahead, carefully avoiding the ‘Balaji arm”
A seat on the right got vacant. A fellow passenger
and me rushed to get hold of it. He got in first,
but as soon as he sat, we all heard a painful yell.
It turned out that a nail on the seat had got dislodged
and hit him on the rear. He got up and began swearing.
The driver stopped the bus, took out a hammer from
the glove compartment, forced his way towards the
seat and fixed the nail. The conductor, meanwhile,
had pacified the passenger by not charging any fare
from him. I felt myself lucky not to have occupied
that seat, and wondered that if this scenario had
taken place in America, the man would have sued
the bus company for a million dollars!
A lady then requested the bus driver to stop immediately
as she had to get down. The driver, an obliging
fellow, stopped though it was not a bus stop. The
seat got vacant, and a rough-looking fellow near
me rushed to get the seat. I was brushed away, almost
losing my balance; and it was then that it happened!
I got a direct, unhindered impact of the shiny arm
right in the face giving me a taste of salt, and
then it traveled down on my white shirtfront, leaving
a conspicuous impression on it. I closed my eyes
in deep despair and heaved a sigh. The bus then
stopped near Empress Market and I got down, aching,
disheveled and very much low in spirit.
The multi-painted bus then moved off, but not before
I read another slogan on it: Achha dost Khuda Hafiz.
I hailed a taxi, the driver of which demanded rupees
fifty to take me home in Defense. I told him that
I would give him one hundred rupees if he delivered
me to my place in one piece.