A Minibus 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 bharoge.
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 Perhaps these buses were originally made for passengers with shorter heights.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. Phir milenge.
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.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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