Day One: Back in Karachi, Pakistan

I haven’t blogged in a while. I think it is fair to say facebook and twitter have taken over my attention and I am more frequently posting my thoughts in those easier-to-post formats. That said, every now and then I find them restrictive in what I can say, and how. And hence, this post here…

…many things have happened since I last wrote a few months back. Economy continues to suck and Michael Jackson has died. Pakistan won the Twenty20 world cup cricket tournament in a nail biter fashion, and I am back in Pakistan after 2.5 yrs.

…and Pakistan is what I wish to write about over the next 3-5 days that I will spend here. I got super busy the past 2.5 yrs and just didn’t get time to make it back here. But so glad to be back. 100 F degree weather, 90% humidity, no electricity for hours at a stretch sure sucks…but seeing the extended family, listening to Pakistani music, hearing Azaans and street vendors fight over air-time, and eating mangoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner almost make up for all the shortcomings.

…This is my end of day one – or beginning of day two – given my jetlag situation. A few observations…

  • Lufthansa really needs to start flying to Pakistan direct from Germany. My trip from Boston to Abu Dhabi was awesome. But then I had to deal with the Abu Dhabi airport (can they fix that before building a Louvre there?) and Ettihad Airlines. That was not so nice. I believe Ettihad’s bad service is as much due to their disinterest in  servicing to passengers from a poor country than anything else.
  • Airport immigration in Pakistan went smoothly. The last time I was here they almost deported my wife, but that was my own fault
  • We own a crappy car, but I think the ride felt smoother than I had imagine it to be. It also felt shorter. I am told the labyrinth of flyovers being constructed city wide are trying to reduce wasted time (and fuel) at street lights. Good idea. Only problem is that given the speed at which things work here, the city has basically been dug up for the past 10 years with terrible dust and daytime traffic congestion problems in many areas
  • The last time I came here it was the only country I had traveled to (besides Japan) where my phone chip did not work. This time not only my US number works, but I also have an EDGE connection that provides fast internet and email over my blackberry. Cool! I am so much more productive. Took calls from my lawyer in the US and team mates in India while visiting an uncle over tea. Sweet!
  • I arrived home and given that I had been able to sleep comfortably on the plane, asked my parents if I could connect to the internet on their computer and check my email. I was expecting to sit in front of an old computer and dialing into a modem – dreading the sound of a modem connecting to the web. Instead, I was given a piece of paper with a login password  for the fast wireless DSL connection my parents were using. Sweet once again. I am writing this note sitting in my parents’ living room, watching a talk show on TV and my father reading his daily Jang newspaper.
  • As I wrote earlier, we own a crappy car in Pakistan. A new car would be very expensive, and then you carry the fear of it getting into an accident or being stolen or the owner attracting the wrong kind of attention for flashing his money. So I decided to ask for a rental car with a driver. Guess what? I pay $25 per day for an air conditioned car with a driver for 14 hours. Israr, the guy my family has called every time we need a rental car, knows our family, is trustworthy, knows the city roads by heart, drives carefully, and arrived at exactly 10am sharp. I think getting my valet service in Boston to be as punctual as this guy would be a major feat.
  • MANGOES. Did I say mangoes? They are the best here. I have had them for breakfast, lunch and dinner today…and then I think some more when we visited an aunt in the evening. If you can find good Pakistani mangoes in season (which is now), pay anything it takes to try them.
  • The crappy economic  situation, not just the recent recession but the general joblessness, inflation and lack of growth opportunities, is on everyone’s mind.
  • I have already had a few run ins with relatively educated people showing some signs of sympathy for the Taliban…but when I dug further I realized it was actually a more nuanced issue and support for Taliban was just their way of presenting it:
    • Lack of trust in America. The selfishness and dishonesty of Americans is not just obvious, its essentially puked on in public by average Pakistanis. Americans should better realize it.
    • Poor, jobless youngsters are attracted to the mosque and the extremists. They find respect in society when they grow a beard and proclaim Islamic steadfastness. They get fed well and carry their head high that at least they are supporting God against infidels. Its clear that if they had real jobs, washing the floors of a mosque and collecting charity money would becomes less attractive fairly quickly.
    • Pakistani state agencies have done a dismal job of finding support in the public. Many people believe bombs start going off when Pakistani cash reserves run low…i.e. state agencies are sponsoring terrorist attacks to then show their importance to the Western nations and collect fees in the name of war on terror.
    • Society feels trapped between the vagaries of the rich and the oppressive, and the immoral advances of the religious mafia cultivated by state sponsored agencies. Middle class has evaporated and nobody is able to plan long term for themselves or their family. Tough spot to be in for an average Pakistan, and most desperately looking for a way out
    • Nobody is waiting for a Messiah to arrive. But they are hoping Pakistan will be either left alone by those that seem intent on breaking it apart, or they think it will eventually break up into smaller units that may find greater harmony internally. One is more optimistic than the other, but both represent a resignation into their fate.
  • Enough serious talk….back to watching TV for me. I am fixated for the past few minutes on a religious TV channel. The entire audience seems to be wearing white shalwar suits and green turbans.  My parents tell me colloquially they are jested as jannat kay haray totay, i.e. Heaven’s green parrots :-). I am told I should not make fun of anything to do with religion in public as you never know who might take it as as serious insult.

I am taking some photos of everyday life in Karachi. Will post when I get a chance. Mundane things but important to me. The hospial where I was born, the house where my grandfather lived and I spent many a days and nights, the most famous shrine in Karachi, a mango seller’s cart, the mosque near my house (that looks more like a fortress every passing day), and pictures of rickshaws with their delightful poetry at the back.

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4 Responses to Day One: Back in Karachi, Pakistan

  1. Mehdi Ali says:

    Bilal,

    You have given a true account of the city and really helped to visualise the situation in your unique way. I truly admire your writing skills.

    Good work and try not to walk under those KUNDAs

  2. Shahid says:

    Bilal,

    If you were able to get a “kirai ki gaari driver keh saath” for $25 then I must say you got a hell of deal.

    I visit Karachi almost every year its hard to find drivers who are punctual and not the “charsi” type.

    Shahid.

  3. Sana says:

    Truly Nice Post about karachi. If you’re searching for a Rent A Car in Karachi taking you to any fascinating locations, contact us at any time, We offer the following services. Without Driver or With Driver.

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