Devastation of a City We Love
By Anila Ali
Irvine, CA

I arrived in Karachi on the hot morning of July 14, 2006. This was the first time I was going to spend over a month in the summer in Karachi. For the first few days, which marked my adjustment period, the power didn’t go out at all. I was wondering why my parents had warned me so consistently about the outages when the power didn’t go out for so many days. Little did I know what lay in store!
I roamed around the city of Karachi in the afternoon hours and saw how the city sleeps to avoid the heat. I saw the beautiful park close to Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s Mazar, which was a generous gift from the PM. It was a shame that the concrete walls were filled with graffiti and advertisements about ARY Awards, VMA’s. I immediately thought to myself, “If I were the Nazim of Karachi, I would heavily fine ARY for advertising on government property and teach them a lesson on civic duty.”
I was happy to see the addition of many parks in Defense and Clifton. They charge a small fee for entrance but provide a refreshing retreat for Karachiites hungry for entertainment. Yet at the same time, I noticed that in a decade nothing has been done about the roads in Karachi. Even the roads that were dug up for reconstruction remain incomplete. I drove to Boating Basin, Clifton and saw the most horrifying sight: the Nehar Omar Khayam. It was filled to the brim with refuse. Cyclonic fumes of stench were erupting from the various objects amassed in the trash. Hundreds of crows were crooning as they viciously tore away at sanitary napkins, mango peels and other stinking bits in the rubbish. Many ferocious cats were biting at the morsels of food left in the piles of trash. Close to this hideous monstrosity were several nurseries for oxygen supplying, beautifully grown plants. “Sweet stench, a perfect oxymoron for such a sight,” I thought.
Citizens of this unfortunate city were unabashedly breathing the fumes and brazenly embracing this new dumping sight. If the affluent and educated people of Clifton are oblivious to this horrific sight then what must the poorer areas be like? I decided to discover that for myself.
My drive to Pakistan Chowk was quite comforting, no dug up roads on the way and relatively less traffic. However, soon the roads got narrower and increasingly congested. Since it was only 12 o’clock, the shopkeepers were merely emerging from their slumber. Most of them were sleeping on cots placed outside their shops and many were huddled up on carts. Stray cats were rampant; I saw many sitting comfortably inside the huge cooking pots, which were lying on the curb and licking any possible remnants of food.
Some shopkeepers were aimlessly spewing beetle juice onto the streets. I remembered how I used to love Sabri and would go every few weeks to have the nihari from Burns Road. I wasn’t sure if I could anymore. The printing presses are scattered all around the Pakistan Chowk. When I got there, I felt I had entered the Dark Ages.
The walls, the doors, the windows, and the roads were completely covered with smudged black ink. Narrow inner streets were filled with political grafitti. Poor, naked, crying children sprawled all over the lanes. Amidst this state of pathetic poverty, stood the fruit vendors. They possessed the most exquisite tasting mangoes in this world. The dilemma of buying the most exquisite mangoes from the most deplorable surroundings was puzzling me. Alas, temptation took the best of me and I bought the mangoes. Had I been in the state legislature, I would have passed a law whereby every shopkeeper would be responsible for cleanliness in and around his shop. I would have incentives for the civic authorities who fine shopkeepers who are in violation and would fine them lightly, the first time, and then progressively increase the fines. The police who really need extra income as they make a subsistence level income, would be more than happy to enforce this law if given financial incentives. With that motivational thought in mind, I returned home.
The next day was the advent of the most disastrous event of this year for Karachiites, the coming of the rains. The first bout of rains really cleared the foliage around the city. In my naivety, I was very happy to see the rains and immediately asked the house help to make “pakoras” for me. As I was gaily enjoying the pakoras with my parents, they commented, “ We never pray for rain because major disasters ensue.” And so right they were.
The first thing to happen was the power outage. We were told that cable, cell phones, and electricity would be out during the rain. As the rain gained momentum, the main roads started flooding. The traffic jam on the 26th Street in Clifton was unbelievable; it was not at all moving. As we were running out of gas for the generator, I decided to go out and see the sights of the city myself. The roads were completely flooded in Clifton. Sewage lines were erupting right onto the streets and mixing with the rainwater. Manholes were not marked and many cars had tires jammed into them.
As frustrated drivers were coming out of the cars, the poor locals were heading towards the beach for entertainment. The deprived residents of Nilam Colony, mainly the children came out to play in the rainwater. There were groups of children ranging from two years to fifteen who were stark naked or in shorts swimming on 26th Street. They had plastic bags and were filling them up with rainwater and then squirting each other with it. As they were precariously playing on the main road, buses of screaming passengers were heading toward Clifton Beach. I made my way to the crowded gas stations and they were all out of gas. I headed toward Teen Talwar. My, what a disaster!
The newly built underpass was inundated with water. I could see cars driving into the pool and there was no civic authority to stop them. Geo and other news channels were rolling their films at this catastrophe. No one was taking ownership. Ocean drains were not cleared up for the rains and so this was to happen. As if this wasn’t enough, an Edhi ambulance blaring its sirens emerged from somewhere and wanted to pass, but no one was to budge an inch for the next 45 minutes. The poor unfortunate soul in the ambulance must have expired but in this mayhem, I commended the Edhi people for trying to save lives.
We decided to take the smaller streets and that turned out to be even more catastrophic. They had more water than the River Indus. Cars, rickshaws, and people were getting submerged. As we were slowly driving through this chaos, we started having a glimpse of the horrors to come. Petrified carcasses of cats, dogs, rats, moles were floating in the rivers behind Agha’s Supermarket. On the electricity poles, dead crows and other birds that got electrocuted and scorched were dangling in mid air. Subsequently, they were to join the parade of corpses on the streets.
Gizri was suffering the same fate. There was no way out of Clifton. We headed toward Phase 5 and saw the roads clearing up a little bit. Suddenly, some policemen, who asked us to stop by the curb and wait as the President was passing, accosted us. We stood and waited; I hoped that President Musharraf was in town to hear and see the plight of the Karachiites for himself. I hoped as the Prime Minster, Shaukat Aziz, passed by that he would be devastated by the failure of the civic authorities, and the failure of the Nazim and the provincial government. In my naivety again, I was hopeful that might be true.
Alas, they were both there to attend a wedding. As they drove pass the city they both belong to, they kept their eyes shut. The rains persisted for days and the leaders, the proponents of economic reform, stayed unmindful and insensitive to the needs of the people of Karachi. I ask why do Karachiites not rebel? Why is Karachi being treated like a stepchild when it is the largest contributor of taxes? Why aren’t our leaders more compassionate and heedful of the needs of the people of this great city? I ask my fellow Karachiites: Why don’t you speak up and take action?


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.