End of an Era

About ten years ago I started business school and most daily journeys to my classes went by listening to the chirpy baritone of Khalid Malik as he woke up the nation on his Breakfast Show on CityFM89. 

As Facebook shared memories of my graduation four years later, the BFS was still going strong. It was what FM89 was known for. It was called the Breakfast Show with Khalid because obviously there can never be a breakfast show without Khalid. 

Morning shows came and went on television but nothing replaced the BFS. You could only listen to your playlist for so long but you could never tire of Khalid’s voice as he unabashedly roused people from their slumbers or wished them Happy Birthday with a  song you never heard before and never would again. 

When I started working, the BFS was the only thing keeping me upbeat on my way to another long day at work in a beat up pick up van. At my next job it helped me bond with my Dad even more as he drove me to work everyday. I was never a regular participant but occasionally I dropped a message in the show and wondered excitedly who would have heard and known it was me Khalid was talking about. 

As someone mentioned about Khalid Malik leaving the BFS, I let it pass as a joke. Like come on, it’s the BFS with Khalid! What’s a BFS without Khalid? No way the radio station is gonna let that happen! 

I never actually gave in to the idea that maybe it was Khalid who would be moving on. This guy who loves people and loves entertaining them. This guy who has spent ten years as the voice in the ears of thousands waking up in the morning. This guy who has made the mornings better. I never thought for a moment that he would have his own life or aspirations that he would want to fulfill. This person who has inspired and motivated so many to do more would want to do it himself? I was too selfish to assume so. 

But when the announcement came, when I played the video of his farewell speech, it hit me hard. He gave ten years of his life to us, his beloved audience. And we truly were his beloved, his sincerity could never let us doubt that. He was the son, brother, uncle, nephew, colleague, mentor and so much more with just his voice. And now he wanted to do more, be more. How could we stop him when his heart was breaking just telling us about how difficult it was for him to do this. 

And so we let him go. Happily. With cheers and blessings and a standing ovation as the amazing Saad Haroon humbly took up the mantle, perhaps knowing that he would have to build this show as his from scratch again, as with Khalid’s final goodbye there truly came an end of an era. The era of the Breakfast Show with Khalid.

Today I begin…

I’ve always been the sort of laid back person who could have been a hippie but would choose not to because it sounds like too much work. I wouldn’t want to live my life at a snail’s pace, but would love to be able to do things at my own pace. But of course that cannot and does not happen since one remains on the clock at all times. So I learned to take out pockets of time from each day to allow myself the luxury of enjoying small moments.
It is only recently that I realized how every day I learn something new, or figure out a tiny part of the universe, or wonder at something that is yet to unravel it’s mystery to me. Only a few days ago I decided that I will document the memory of these moments that suddenly stop me in my tracks and make me yank myself out of whatever thought bubble I am immersed in and fully experience that particular phenomenon as best as I could.
And so it begins…

Career pathahahaha

I am a firm believer in fate; it is just so much easier to blame it for your own failures. But more than that, I believe in fate because if the choice was left to me to steer my life the way I wished to, I would’ve been in a completely different place, doing a completely different thing and been a completely different person from who I am today. I can almost imagine myself in an alternate universe, nearly fainting at the sight of flowing blood while bravely trying to carry out a surgical operation with toothpicks and shaving blades in a grimy state-run hospital, because obviously I had decided at the tender age of 4 that I wanted to be a doctor when I grow up, accomplishing never-done-before feats and saving the world single-handedly.

Safe to say, ever since I found out that dissecting frogs was the first step towards becoming a medical messiah, I pretty much buried any such aspirations.

nope

I can recall the time when I was watching the Olympics approximately twenty years ago, I thought to myself that I could very well get Pakistan its first gold medal in gymnastics because gosh could I do those cartwheels! For the longest time I assumed I just had to just that and I would be selected, but of course that was not the case. And while I was still moping over my shattered dreams, I was told by my very proper mother that young ladies should not be trying the contorted positions I was attempting to do with my feminine body. It’s quite another story now that my very proper mother tries to explain the difference between gymnastics and exercise and how I desperately need to start doing the latter so I can stop resembling a sack of potatoes.

My dream to become a figure skater was also short-lived because it occurred to me that one needs grace, poise and balance to even go a yard on those skates; I don’t possess any of these qualities. Also, one should have career aspirations suited to the climate one resides in…it is really hard to find an ice skating rink in a city where the coldest of winter nights can be comfortably spent in a hoodie and sweatpants. And where the winter season lasts as long as the new iPhone in stores on its launch.

let's skate no thanks k.

So I sought comfort in socializing with the dead, I mean not exactly socializing, I just spent a lot of time reading about the history of humankind. Suddenly I found my calling in the ruins of Rome and the pits of the Pyramids; I was gonna be an archaeologist.

It seemed quite a promising choice considering Pakistan was home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, namely the Indus civilization. But then I noticed nobody was interested in clay figures and crumbling bricks, there was no proper education and there was no career opportunity. Everything uncover-able in Moen-jo-Daro had been uncovered, everything loot-able had also been looted, I was a couple of decades too late in being part of the great discovery. It wasn’t helped by my brothers who ‘encouraged’ me to become an archaeologist by telling me that I would take so much time brushing away the dirt on some stone idol that it would add even more value to the antiquity, because let’s face it, where historical things are concerned, the older the better.

I'm ruined

So I poured my emotions onto my sketchpad, pleasantly surprised at my own artistic abilities. Gee, I could totally grace the walls of art galleries worldwide with my black and white sketches. So it was decided, I was going to be an artist.

The only problem with this lovely picture was that I refused to pursue an education in art. I had seen people hating their talent when forced to sit and draw still-life when they were itching to paint the world in abstracts. To me at that age, the idea of being taught by another in something that I was gifted by God was just too stupid to comprehend. If I draw an obese Cinderella well, why should someone force me to draw the Misty Mountains? Who are you to tell me that hair cannot look like the wayward rays of the sun? This argument was of course somehow translated into me being too stubborn for my own good and to this day I think it better to pick up a pencil and sketchpad when I feel the need to draw, instead of splashing paint onto canvas because my livelihood depends on it.

nobody likes mountains

And so I found solace in the written word, consuming books and novels by the dozen, stealing the abridged works of Shakespeare from my brother’s desk (he never noticed of course) and reading and then re-reading the plays by the age of ten. I was a Reader and I would happily indulge in my love for reading at the cost of my eyesight, which is now so poor that my own arm ends in a beige blur when I can’t find my glasses. Near-sighted people would understand the paradox of needing glasses to find glasses whenever we lose them. It is also the reason I cannot enjoy the measly splashes we call rainfall in Karachi.

its raining

Btw, being a Reader doesn’t pay well I learnt. Actually it doesn’t pay at all. In fact, you PAY to read, so basically let’s just strike that off our list of career choices. And yes I have considered being an editor, even served as one in college, but that’s just too much responsibility, and to be honest, I am overcome by hysteria when confronted by spelling and grammar errors, so yeah, I’m quite happy reading nicely edited books at my leisure which do not put my sanity at risk.

Left to ponder the greater mysteries of life which involved my future, I suddenly found myself drawn towards the stars, not in a romantic way mind, but more in the Stephen-Hawking-and-Black-Holes kind of way. I was convinced I was going to be an astrophysicist because it was just so cool. Over time I realized astrophysics is not limited to NASA only and that a citizen of a third-world country spends more time on the lower levels of the Maslow hierarchy than to ever bothering to climb up and into a space shuttle and shoot off into self-actualization.

spaaaaace

So when that ship failed to sail I looked deeper within and wondered about atoms and electrons. Nuclear physics seemed pretty fascinating, why not think about pursuing that eh? It just so happened that I failed chemistry and at the same time come to know about the destructive powers of this field of physics. Nope, I was not going to venture into mushroom clouds, I am quite content with the Cirrus, Comulus, Stratus et al, thank you very much.

But I was still the only geek in high school who aced the physics test out of sixty students and seemed to be like a bunny on Red Bull when left in the physics lab. With my final exams under way, I needed to pick a career and choose a university for my undergrad, so I decided to put my artistic skills and love for physics together in the quest to become an architect. The entrance test for the art school was going to be in December, I still had half a year to waste.

On a sleepy Sunday in the summer of 2006, I was forcefully sent to sit for an entrance test of one of the top business schools in Pakistan. I was half-asleep, still in my pjs when I sat for that test.

I cleared it.

Wait-what

Convinced it was a fluke that I was part of the lucky 5%  who got in out of 3000 hopefuls, I spent the first semester in IBA always ready to go home when the REAL slim shady turned up to claim his enrolment that I had stolen.

Four years passed.

Finally accepting that I was the real slim shady, I was now a finance graduate, hoping to become an investment banker. Finance just made sense, marketing to me was more intuitive, and I was bad with emotions anyway.

Then the industry collapsed, investment banking in Pakistan was no place for a fresh graduate, who was also kind of weak in maths (I know, I know, I should have thought this through). I was left unemployed and confused, thinking what now. So I did a couple of internships in the financial sector

Lo and Behold! I got hired as a graduate recruit in the top global technology giant as a consultant for banks. A business graduate in IT. Rumor has it that I did it for the lulz. Fellow male recruits speculated that I was ‘Equal Opportunity Employment’ in action. A year and a half later I was a pro in my field, sort of, but I was still only just an undergrad. But would they make me a senior consultant without a Masters degree? HAHAHANO . So the decision was made, I was going back to school for my MBA.

Having spent so long away from finance I couldn’t reconnect, and my marketing graduate friends seemed to have much more glamorous careers so I decided to take the plunge. I was going to become a marketer.

I swore never to go back into the banking sector, and slowly let go of my love for finance like a gold-digger who gets no inheritance. Spurred on by friends I was sure that I would acquire the coveted title of Brand Manager at one of the top MNCs in Pakistan. I dove right into the Philip Kotler collection.

cant study

Two years passed.

I was now an MBA, with a major in Marketing, an above average student who cleared all aptitude tests thrown my way. I was interviewed at all top companies. I was on a roll. Everyone was sure I would be one of the first to get a job, one of the few to get into an MNC, one of the few with an enviable salary package.

You remember what I said about fate running our lives? That’s exactly what I told myself whenever I found out I didn’t make the final cut for one or the other reason. In fact I wrote about my job-search experience in this post a while back. I decided to put it all on fate; if I didn’t get a particular position at some company, it wasn’t meant for me.

In the end I found myself in a completely different place from where I had first imagined myself to be. All for the best I hope. For sure being a marketing manager is on the opposite end of the spectrum from where a doctor would have been, if I had been left to my own devices. Who knows, ten years later I might actually become an anthropologist, studying indigenous tribes in the Amazon. Who knows? For now I shall perform a surgical operation on this marketing plan on my desk and hope it doesn’t bleed the company to death.

i regret nothing

25 kinds of people who interview you for jobs

During my time searching for gainful employment I’ve gone through my fair share of interviews. Although most recruiters have a similar set of questions, there were definitely some interesting individuals that I encountered in my quest for the perfect job…which is still continuing by the way.

1. The Cyborg

“Hi, nice to meet you, bye. NEXT.”

But.

7egm4

2. The Definite-Maybe

“You are exactly what we need, you clear all our tests, you are the perfect company material…I’m just not sure if we actually have a vacancy.”

So…did I get the job?

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3. The Judger

“What are you passionate about? If you’re passionate about music then you won’t be passionate about your work would you huh? So you don’t actually know what you want.”

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4. The Mother Goose

“We loooaaavvveeee young people like you, absolutely loooaavveeee mentoring young ones, I feel so much looaaavveee for the young lot…just not right now. Just not ever. Just not you.”

I…okay…

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5. The Reaper

“So you’re a marketing graduate? Sell me this pen. No wait that’s too easy, sell me a condom. No? Okay sell me your soul.”

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6. The Romantic

“I know you’ve applied for this position but are you sure you will like it? Love it maybe? Promise me that you will love it and cherish it and hold it close.”

9cCdC5q

7. The Professor

“What is the investment portfolio like for a risk-averse investor? Give numerical working. What is the relationship between Reach and Frequency. Explain with examples. Don’t cry, I just want to know how good you are academically.”

Please stahp.

Jo-Kwon-Leave-me-Alone-buhuu

8. The Newbie

“What do you know about our company? Oooh I didn’t know that. I don’t know what I’m doing right now either, I just joined last week.”

Neither do I. *highfive*

im-new

9. The Good-Bad Cop

“I would like to take ten minutes to introduce my lovely colleague here in 500 words…now I will let this amazing colleague ask you all the nice questions while I watch you slowly die inside from my stare.”

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10. The Procrastinator

“I’m gonna interview five people at the same time so I won’t have to do this again and again, now you better remember the questions I ask candidate #1 because I don’t wanna repeat myself.”

Aren’t I lucky…

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11. The Best Friend

“Omg you write? Send me something you’ve written! And no I won’t give you my email address for this because I’m obviously just trying to make you feel better about the lack of any other talents in your existence.”

We could totally be frenemies.

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12. The Non-believer

“Why this company? No but why? No I’m asking why? Why do you want to work here? Where are you going? Don’t you want to work here?”

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13. The Investigator

“No I will not look at your degree that states you have finished 18 years of education. I just need to verify this myself. Tell me everything about your life, your family, your job, your friends, your secrets.”

too-much

14. The Crook

“Some people say the way we do business is wrong but it’s only some people. Let’s go with what the majority thinks we do eh?”

I feel so…disillusioned…

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15. The Sleazeball

“What may I do for a beautiful, young girl like yourself? Desk? Yours. Corner office? Yours. Company? I come with it *wink*.”

Uh…no thanks.

feelawkward

16. The Desperado

“I know our company isn’t famous and you don’t wanna work here but just give the interview okay?”

HP-Who-are-you

17. The Forward Thinker

“Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?”

In a goddamn mirror, that’s where.

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18. The Commitment-phile

“Do you have children? Are you married? Are you engaged? Are you committed? Oh you’re single? But then you might get committed and engaged and married and have kids and then you’ll leave us. Forever.”

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19. The Commitment-phobe

“People leave us very quickly. I want to know if you think you’ll leave us. And how soon.”

You want me to go before I even join? Ok.

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20. The Philosopher

“What have you done with your life till now? How do you measure success? What is heaven and hell? What is my middle name?”

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21. The Soliloquist

“At this company we…

*30 minute long monologue ensues*

…What else would you like to know about us?”

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22. The Player

“Hey yeah I know you didn’t apply for this position, and you’re not even the right fit for this job, but I thought I’d call you over to make you feel horrible about yourself.”

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23. The False-Hope-Giver

“No of course this is the last stop, but I’m only saying this to get rid of you because we actually take three-tiered interviews but we won’t tell you that.”

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24. The One Distracted by Shiny Objects

“This position is actually- OMG I LOVE YOUR NAIL COLOR!”

Easily-Distracted

25. The Non-existent

“I feel like you’re the ideal candidate so I’d like to make you the final offer.”

Haha. This is actually a myth. There are no happy endings.

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*end of list*

 

 

Across My Universe – III

On my quest to reach my destination I race forward on the jugular vein of Karachi’s roadmap, Shahrah-e-Faisal, a road if blocked, could bring the whole city to a standstill and flood every street to the west with cars trying to make their way across town. I smile at the irony of the warning signs on the boundary walls of military force’s protected areas on either side of the road saying “trespassers will be shot on sight”, wondering about those trespassers who shoot on sight instead. But as a civilian the armed force’s business is none of my concern so I shall go on with my life as I always have, with their presence always on the periphery of our existence, often encroaching, never retreating.
I have reached the famous Metropole Hotel roundabout, a place once a jewel in the crown of Karachi, the hub of social activities now considered immoral by the confused conservative masses fed the doctrine of hate for liberalism and social advancement. Could I actually believe the stories my parents tell me of foreigners, celebrities and socialites drinking and dancing, gaming and gambling in this dilapidated building? Some of its hollow, half-boarded windows like melancholy eyes hiding memories of its glory days in their dark depths, now home to pigeons and their nests, their droppings like salty tears dripping down the broken facade, making it look like the sad face of an elder bruised and beaten by changing times and replaceable rulers, an elder who has much to tell but none who would listen. The offices inhabiting it and posters of foreign airlines adorning its walls are a cruel reminder of the days non-stop flights brought westerners to its welcoming doors. No, I find it too hard to believe such days existed, or maybe I cannot accept that my unfortunate generation never has and never will experience the golden days of the place I call home with no happy stories to tell my children.
With these sad thoughts I pass by the Frere Hall, a hauntingly beautiful and surprisingly intact reminder of the British rule. A library I always wanted to visit, a place I feel my unread self unworthy of stepping into, telling myself that one day I would have read enough books to not feel intimidated when I enter through its doors, another fear stopping me from going because I might never want to leave its high ceilinged rooms and lush green lawns. Perhaps tomorrow I will go, perhaps this weekend, perhaps never.
I keep going straight, past more sandstone buildings whose architecture hints at the British influence, now old and crumbling as weary passengers of time carried away by the elements, making way for steel and glass behemoths that overwhelm the subtle beauty of the old structures that none now have the time or patience to pause, observe and appreciate anymore. What we can observe is the graffiti on the walls near this bridge beyond which the new world awaits; walls that peek out from behind yellowed posters loudly announcing political rallies done and gone, and where there are no posters along the side one could see spray painted advertisements for witch doctors who have cures for all ailments, physical or spiritual, ranging from “mardana kamzori” as a euphemism for male impotency, to finding your soul mate, just a call away. Beneath this bridge there is a juxtaposition of the rich majority and poor minority, a church that hints at the presence of this local community given airtime on national TV only on Christmas or when the fundamentalists burn their houses down.
I descend the bridge into the utopia where suddenly you see big shiny cars driven by drivers whose salaries are a fraction of what the kids they drive around get as pocket money from parents who search for happiness in money and an elevated social status. Here, the more traffic rules you break, the more it hints at you being above the law. Everyone is headed towards their own illusion of an oasis that shimmers and beckons towards supposedly greener pastures. Maybe my vision is bleak, limited and weak, but this slow and steady spiral into decay, this rat race that leads to a moldy piece of cheese at the centre of this maze is one from which we cannot escape.
I stop at the red light at the crossing of Teen Talwar, literally Three Swords; three tall marble columns each representing Unity, Faith and Discipline as the qualities the founder of this nation wished to see in his people. This once proud remembrance of our country’s formation is thronged annually on our independence day and forgotten on the rest, or when some political leader requires a landmark where he could gather his followers. I feel the faint stirrings of that spirit of patriotism that drove me to salute every passing policeman as a child, only to have it crushed as I realize this abused structure now means nothing more to this generation than a phallic symbol to form the punchline of some political joke.
It makes me wonder if I’m an idealist, with an undying faith in the goodness of my people, one who would not, could not, accept that every man here is evil, but is a victim of his circumstances. It makes me wonder if I would accept the measly bribe handed to the traffic warden by the sahib in his car if I was in that warden’s old and cracked dusty black boots. Would I have broken the rules and appeased the warden with that money if I was sitting in that car instead? The truly scary part of being in this place is that there is no easy answer to this question. Maybe I am a cynic after all.
I bypass the high street of the city where designer stores line the cramped streets jammed with big, expensive cars and jeeps. The irony is not lost on me. I feel claustrophobic, not sure if it is the pollution from depleting fossil fuel these vehicles are burning, or an existential crisis on some metaphysical level that I’m suffering from. I race to get out and find open space, unintentionally challenging a youth in his souped up sports car who races past me, momentarily ecstatic at having “smoked me”. This race with a random stranger is a battle not of cars but of egos, occasionally there might even be the show of the middle finger to the loser, who would subsequently look for another stranger to beat and show the finger to. It is a vicious cycle, making us all adrenaline junkies living in fleeting moments. The sheer lack of any progressive, healthy activity makes us anxious to become the bystander of any event, incident or accident. We like to stop and watch as two men fight each other over a bump on the fender, we like to squeeze into the view of the cameraman in hopes of coming on TV while the reporter struggles to remain relevant covering bombings, we like to ransack the city along with namaloom afraad who may have a different agenda behind their violence but all we want is an outlet for our frustration, we like to beat up a robber caught red handed because this criminal represents every other criminal that we encountered at least once in our lives.
I now pass between mansions through a small diversion courtesy some real estate magnate who rips the thoroughfare to build a golden city smack in the middle of a heritage site. A fifteen second blur of slums on either side and I break free into little America where the “burgers” live, where cars number more and clothes cover less, where nannies raise children and the mothers attending charity events for other underprivileged children would not be caught dead speaking their mothertongue because Urrdew is like…so ugh. School kids here wear their uniforms to elite(!) fast food restaurants where everyone should kiss the ground they walk on because nobody else could possibly afford to go to such a premium institute. Their younger siblings do not understand what a playground is because they are too absorbed in Angry Birds and the gadgets it runs on.
As I pass the tomb of a famous holy man I see those who have nowhere else to go for their prayers, I see malangs dancing in a trance, and I see those climbing the stairs for whom being religious is fashionable. Hypocrisy and pretence are necessary weapons if we wish to be respectable, making me painfully aware of how I self-righteously mock the citizens. I see the sea and the homes facing the sea. I see the peeling paint and exposed bricks, I see the patterns on the walls where sewerage pipes leaked, I see rust and decay of men and materials.
I step onto the sandy beach of the Indian ocean that claims lives on special occasions; I am suddenly calmed by the noise of waves breaking on the shore, distanced from the cold reality, a cliche as old as any. So many identities in this city, so many faces, so many stories that would never be told because no one would stop to ask if the frowns on the faces hide pain beyond the ordinary, if they have gained what they lost or lost what they gained. We all are fighting our own demons, we all are cogs in this machine that grinds us down in the guise of daily life. We live the extraordinary everyday; it is a blessing that we get to live everyday. We look half a man but carry the burden of more. We seem apathetic but feel to the core. We curse this place and embrace it every second. We are my city and this journey across my universe has come to an end.

Across My Universe – II

As my journey continues, I overtake Qingqi trikes carrying ten passengers in the space for five and am roused from my deep thoughts by its puttering predecessor, the small but readily available rickshaw. I think about the times I’ve travelled in this three-wheeler with no doors, hiding my purse from passing motorcyclists/possible looters and trying to tame my hair that my fluttering dupatta is never able to contain. Bedhead has nothing on Rickshawhead. But I actually like the longer rides I’ve taken where its engine’s tinny whine drowns out all sounds and its violently trembling chassis numbs my senses enough for my mind to push all thoughts about trivial everyday activities aside and blank out in peace; a peace shattered by either aggressive honking by those angered by the rickshaw proudly going the wrong way, or the arrival of my destination where, an amateur at haggling, I surrender the twenty rupees I couldn’t lie about not being part of the usual fare to this point.
That’s another talent a person is either born with or not, the art of skillful bargaining, a talent I sadly do not possess, neither am I proud of it because it points to a future where I won’t be able to eventually buy a car from the saving that I could do by haggling for every ten rupee note at every fruit/vegetable vendor’s cart during the regular grocery shopping, every free yard I may persuade a cloth seller to include in my unstitched suit purchase, or every extra mile ahead of the stop I mention as my drop off point that I push public transport to take me to save on my fare. In my city this skill is key to economic survival, a skill I see my mother use so efficiently when she announces with unquestionable certainty that tomatoes are priced 20% less at every other vendor’s shop in the city but she won’t go there because this location is more convenient. This is a confidence born of experience and knowledge. I see my sister-in-law use it in another highly effective manner when she takes the item in question and proclaims it hers for a price she deems worthy of it and suddenly the seller finds himself unable to argue with one as sure of herself as my bhabi. And then there is me, whose belief in the general goodness of humanity, faith in justice and overall exasperation with the idea of an argument leads me to hand over the money for the first price quoted by the lucky guy who gets to sell anything to me. It’s a strange flaw in my character where instead of considering it my right to ask for the remaining amount back I feel too embarrassed to take back what’s actually mine and pacify myself with the thought that it is a charity that might just grant me sainthood.
I’m pulled out of my reverie by the traffic jam caused by the long line of cars idling on the main road outside a filling station, hoping to fill up on CNG before it’s too late and the CNG stations close down for the next day owing to shortage of gas supply in the country. Everything here is erratic, from fuel supply to electricity to the stock market to the temperaments of the people who need all these things. It shows in how they live, also in how they behave on the roads; mullahs driving fast straight ahead because that is the path of the righteous, motorcyclists swerving in out of tiny gaps as if they spent their childhoods winning at Tetris, some small hatchback drivers who graduated from motorbikes yet still believe a car operates in the same way, buses which have the accelerator built into the seat because once the driver sits the bus doesn’t stop till its lack of wings is the only thing preventing it from flying, also that particular class of car owners we label “nayi corolla waley” who retain plastic seat covers and AFR number plates in the delusion that theirs is the very latest brand new car on the road and they are the true Dominic that the Fast and Furious franchise needs, these drivers are usually the ones who think every stretch of road is a quarter mile drag but end up hauling the totalled remains of their precious vehicle because they were and always will be Mr. M. Bashir etc. And then there are the VVIPs; the ones who can’t yet afford Prados so they let the national exchequer pay for a few, who have haari toiling on their fields but they choose to live in the cities where they can actually spend their inheritance with a flourish, trying to one up their neighbour in defence who’s doing the exact same thing. But the one entity that instills fear in every man, woman, child and dog on the road is the female car driver; an individual who remains the butt of every driving joke yet retains the power to get any man beaten up by “ghairatmand mard hazrat for actually pointing out her mistake. As long as the misogynists criticise women drivers, the feminists will support women’s right to wreak havoc on the main roads, but the female driver will always remain a mysterious object that everyone wants to look at, maybe even touch and tease, but never get hit by.
Not to forget the pedestrians who are every driver’s worst nightmare, and come in a wide variety ranging from handholding supposedly straight men walking on the sides, kids playing cricket or football on the roads because their playground is a victim of landgrabbing, whole families with mothers carrying-slash-dragging their offspring across while always forgetting the one child who stops in the middle of the road thinking it best to go back to heaven. And then the shadowy burka-clad ladies who suddenly imagine themselves invisible AND invincible once the burka is on. One can only watch them in incredulous wonder as they float across the roads as if granted the power to walk on water and be immaterial. None of which is true of course because all they are, are a demonic version of Harry Potter’s dementors. Funny thing about these pedestrians is they would curse the same once they’re behind the wheel for doing the exact same thing they themselves must have done numerous times.
Self-serving selective amnesia is a national characteristic I suppose, just as I am presently choosing to ignore my own contributions to this culture by blaming everyone else. I am no better than the passenger in the car next to mine, nor is he better than me, yet we would each like to think that only we are privy to some secrets of this universe, the chosen few awarded certain privileges that we have no clue of but would still like to boast about.
Such are my thoughts as I finally break free from the jam after inching forward long enough to mentally compile this blog post. And the journey is still only half-done. I must continue.

Across My Universe – I

This is a journey across my city, the fifth, or perhaps the sixth most populous city in the world. The statistics don’t matter, it’s what I see and what I live with. The people I brush shoulders with unwittingly, unwanted touches with a wrinkle of my nose, squeezing my existence to pass thru a shred in the fabric of humanity that is bursting at the seams. This is my city of crime and punishment by the criminals, of war and peace not found by the warriors, of pride and prejudice of the all classes of society, this is Karachi the lifeblood of my country and of me.
I am sitting in an air conditioned car, setting off from one corner of this concrete jungle to the very edge where sand meets sea and towering corporate headquarters of multinationals jut out from the ground, standing guard over the restless waves crashing against the walls of reclaimed land.
I certainly am one of the lucky ones protected from the blinding sun in my shiny black car, an elite in one neighbourhood, a pauper in the next. Middle class has its own pros and cons, that of easy negligence by the policy makers and constricting restrictions by everyone else. It certainly has its benefits when I find I could blend in with the jet setting crowd holding designer bags buying more designer bags in shopping malls, as easily as I could with the masses in a flea market, wearing rip-offs of designer lawn suits and a chaadar over my head. I am lucky because I get to choose what class I could represent whenever I wish. That is more than what seventy percent of the population could hope for. Someone with a different perspective might consider me unfortunate in this respect; I suppose the twenty million or so perspectives residing here are what make this city survive the brutal reality of daily life anyway.
I cross the amusement park that opened for elites ages ago but with it’s decay it came alive as a playground for the masses. The typical route every new source of entertainment over here takes, be it a restaurant, a mall or a cinema. What once would be frequented by the latte-sipping, capris-clad crowd would become the haunt for those who come here as an upgrade from sea view, while those upscale eateries make way for cheap fast food stalls whose menu lists items like “franch frice” and “brost chikan”.
I ponder these changes as I pass by shops that used the ampersand as if they had an Epiphany that calling their shop Milk & Milk or Cool & Tasty would bring in more sales, three separate small stores called Bismillah Superstore, a questionable Good Luck Men’s Salon, a few pathan hotels where the taste makes one forego their doubts about the dubious ingredients, and those shady small nooks with tinted windows, nestled between bigger shops, that could either be shisha-offering hangouts for college drop-outs playing snooker or offices for estate agents.
I realize I have only come a few kilometers away from the start. There is much to see yet in this city, much more I must put into words as I continue my journey.