of a City We Love
By Anila Ali
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?