Just another Day
By Mariam Azam
Chicago, IL

My plants are burning. Literally. It’s about 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the afternoons and all my plants on the balcony are wilting from the heat, so I decided to put up some chatais (bamboo blinds) to hang down from behind the little emergency water reservoir on my balcony all the way to the ledge.

Plant ko bacha kay!” (watch the plant), I scream, as the carpenter precariously dangles himself on the edge of my second floor apartment to drill holes for the nails that the chatai will cling to. “Plant ko bachanay kay liyeh chatai lagwaa rahee hoon, uss ko damage nahi karna!” I warn sternly. (I’m having the blinds put up to protect my plants so you’d better not damage them with your clumsy feet.) “Apni jaan ka khayal aap ki zimadari”, I add (your life is your own responsibility) as he inches sideways on the ledge. “Kaam to karna hai, Baji….aagay… Allah malik hai,” he tells me (one needs to work, sister… the rest is up to God). I smile and feel my agitation slipping away.

It is such a Karachi attitude, this statement, this total lack of fear toward the inevitable (in this case, the possibility of death), this acceptance of having to work hard, sometimes in dangerous conditions to achieve something, to make a buck. Coincidentally, my fridge has gone down the tube at the same time. It just stopped working. Mind you, the freezer was making ice cubes like nobody’s business but the fridge croaked. So while the carpenter worked, and I use the term carpenter liberally since he is really a jack of all trades involving an electric drill (moonlighting as an electrician, perhaps even a plumber), the fridge guy lifted the fridge off its wooden base and with the aid of my special driver (driver-cum-handyman-cum supervisor of various carpenter-type people) cart-wheeled it down the two stories of my apartment to his shop. But before that, I had to empty the contents of the freezer which was already rather empty (I’m not much of a domestic Goddess - I’ve come to accept this stark reality) and I discovered I had a whole tray of a rare and coveted item in there: ice cubes. I decided that the carpenter, his associate, my savior, and I, must not let these ice cubes go to waste so I plop them one by one into glasses and fill these glasses to the brim with drinking water.

I drink mine first then I instruct them all to drink in order not to let the precious ice cubes melt in the 90-degree weather. And I love what happens next and I tell it with relish because honestly, only in Karachi does this happen in this way: the carpenter, whose associate is holding him by the waist as he teeters on the balcony ledge, first says that he must finish his work before taking a break. Then he changes his mind and asks if the water is cold. Once he’s received an affirmative response, he instructs his associate to release his waist and he is hoisted down. They all straighten out their shalwar kurtas, let out a collective ‘Bismillah’ and sit down in a little circle out on my balcony and relish each drop of the ice cold liquid before thanking me, (“shukriya baji”) brushing off their clothes, and getting back to work.

Making a familial relationship with a random person you’re working for, doing the job (and mostly complicating it much more than is actually necessary), appreciating the importance of an icy glass of water when it’s hot as hell out, collecting back all your tools, and off to the next job….to the next baji, to the next cool drink of water. That, to me, is simplicity. That, to me, is Karachi.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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