Karachi is a crazy place. People regularly eat dinner post midnight, and then complain of heartburn in the morning. You can see wives, kids and goats seated at the back of a motorcycle, and donkey-cart races take place on major streets of one of the largest cities of the world. Life is frantic, and everybody sweats profusely even when they are not even moving an inch.
These are some observations from day two of this stay in Pakistan:
- I decided to not leave the house very much. So stayed home and watched TV, read Urdu newspapers, and debated the merits of a carbon tax on fuel sold in Pakistan. Yes, Carbon tax. While US legislators are taking decades to figure out how to levy a fine on pollution they are spreading at a tremendous rate, Pakistan went through the cycle of a state imposed carbon tax, supreme court declaring it illegal and forcing its withdrawal, and then the same percentage imposed in the form of a petroleum development levy – all in a matter of days. Two days to be sure since I observed this crazy tax business play out over the past 2 days.
- Since I stayed home I noticed what a labyrinth like electrical infrastructure has developed at homes to deal with the power/electricity problems. Let me give you a taste of it:
- When you reach the entrance to my house you will notice an oddly placed, rather visible (and ugly) meter installed on the wall. Turns out the meters are now installed outside the homes so people cannot steal power. Fine. But could they not find a spot a bit less visible?
- Note that a typical Karachi home at this time of the year doesn’t get power for roughly 6-10 hours in a day (loadshedding – the most dreaded word in Karachi vocabulary). So inevitably, if you can afford it, you end up buying generators or UPS backup power systems.
- Everyone seems to know exactly how many kwh units are used to run each major appliance at home. Ask my dad and he will tell you that the UPS is 20% efficient – so you waste 80% of power when charging it up – an air conditioner uses x units of power a day and each unit of power costs y Rupees. A rough calculation tells me that these days our bill is running into hundreds, probably thousands of rupees a day since I have the air conditoner on whenever I can. When I am not here, my parents manage that resource much more frugally.
- My father has installed a UPS backup power system that runs a few fans, lights and the TV. he used to own a generator but his neighbors complained it was too loud. He typically would tell them to buzz off, but this particular neighbor happens to be a big shot minister in the government and he could cause some serious damage if we pissed him off.
- The UPS backup power system has an SOP associated with its operation. When power goes out, my mom goes around the house shutting all major electrical appliances. Then my father goes to a main board in our garage, turns a few knobs, turns off a circuit, turns on another switch, and then turns the UPS system to ON. Backup power starts juicing our appliances. He has also installed a manual bell that he periodically tries to test for ringing – which is an indication that power from main lines is back on. In which case, the procedure is repeated in reverse to turn the UPS off.
- These days a most elaborate industry has evolved around diesel and gas generators, UPS backup systems, and fixing of electrical appliances due to constant on and off. My father has 3 refrigerators from relatives sitting in the garage since his trusted repairman is now a favorite of the extended family.
- A cousin came to visit me and we had a delightful discussion on the world of cricket. He is a big fan and so am I. Tuns out he is of the age when street cricket becomes all the rage. He is the captain of the his local team and organizer of night-cricket tournaments on the streets. They use a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape and set up flood lights to play at night. I asked him who pays for the power and his response? a sly grin and then statement that we use a kunda. Now what in the heck is that? Turns out one of their team mates is an electrician and his contribution to the team is that he hooks up a connection in to the main transmission lines to steal power for their night cricket. Yes, I scolded him for stealing like an elder brother should….but it was clear he was thinking I am so out of touch with the reality of daily life in Pakistan. He listened with one ear and let it out the other.
- An uncle called and I heard the story of his car getting stolen. He also owned a crappy car, in fact crappier than our car. So I was surprised it was stolen. But I guess he had at least one valuable item in his car – a CNG conversion kit which allowed his car to run on cheaper CNG fuel onstead of petrol. He told me that after weeks of running around (and using all the bigwig connections he had because of his job with a major newspaper), the Police had finally located his car. Alas, the CNG kit was gone, as expected, and since he had not bothered to ever repair the hole that had developed in his rusted fuel tank, he now doesn’t know how to recover the vehicle and drive it back. I am invited to join him on a search for a second hand fuel tank that would fit his car. No, thank you.
- My parents and I spent the entire afternoon going through old photographs. So cute! I see how my empty-nester parents hold memories of our childhood so dear. My father went under his bed and pulled out a large box of Bata Shoes in which he has hid a treasure trove of old photographs. I had a great time reminiscing old times – when I danced to Michael Jackson’s Beat It at weddings, and my father used to dye his hair jet black. Life is a bit different now, except that I hear dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller is back in vogue at weddings! My father also pulled out osme of my earliest photographs and tried to prove that my daughter looks more like me than my wife. I wonder how she would feel about that.
- In the evening I decided to get a haircut from a local hairdresser. I had been saving it for a cheaper cut here (SuperCuts in Boston now costs me $18/cut which feels like a lot). Well, this was fun. The shop was airconditoned – though the owner kept turning the airconditioner off every 5 mins to save power. I was given an awesome haircut for a sum total price of $0.75. No machines to speed up the process. Old fashioned styling…But then the guy mumbled something in my ear and I thought he was asking if I wanted some gel in it. I agreed. He went away and I dozed off feeling the cold air wiff through my wet hair. When I woke up he had already plastered some white crap all over my face. I freaked out. I thought he was going to give me a waxing or something. Turns out he was massaging my face – I was getting the royal treatment typically bought by grooms on the day of their wedding. But now I had no choice but to sit through the experience. Four layers of massaging creams into my face later, he washed my face, andbrough out a large mirror for me to look…and as I examined the damage and dreaded the facial breakout that may result, he cheered me on: “Look how fair you look now. The sun had really made you dark but now your true fair color is showing”. Fantastic! It seems I had just received the Michale Jackson skin treatment! Shit. But at least I looked fairer, something admired around here.
OK, I should go now. Its morning againand I have asked the rental car to come in again to take me to my tailor. I have been using this guy to get my suits tailored for God knows how long. This time is no different and I am scheduled to show up today for a fitting session for a couple of suits. He has instructed me to not show up in sneakers but to wear proper shoes, and to wear a shirt with a collar. He is bossy, isn’t he? But he is 70+ yr old and I wouldn’t mess with him. As I am finishing of this system, loadshedding has begun again. Thank God for the backup batteries in my laptop.