Sleepless in Karachi

An acquaintance of mine recently posted this article from The News on her blog, and I think it really sums up what life in Karachi is like these days.

Sleepless in Karachi
Afiya Shehrbano

By coincidence, some friends and I have been suffering sleepless nights all of last week — a kind of urban neurosis. The regular earthquakes and marathon electricity breakdowns haven’t helped. In the stifling dead of night some absurdities become metaphorical — such as the idea that just as we continue to suffocate due to inadequate power supply from the KESC, our democratic rights are similarly undergoing slow asphyxiation. Under the local bodies elections, we have the privilege to vote for “headless” parties remote controlled by absentee leaders. Images of the “leaders” dominate the city hoardings and a new form of negative campaigning is evident, with parties attacking opposition candidates rather than the real usurper of power — the military. However, the urban elite has its own share of concerns and I share some of the issues that I hear are keeping people awake at night.

My good friend has a conspiracy theory regarding what she calls “fabricated earthquakes,” which are really a cover up for missile testing in the sea. Since she used to be a journalist she assures me over the phone at 2 am, that as we speak, journalists are getting calls from the public and will just file anecdotal reports and quote some made up met office official. She makes the X-files sound mundane during the rest of her theories, which include gas pipes, Gwadar, Dr. A. Q Khan and Iran. The scary thing is, she makes more sense than the papers the next morning.

I meet a mother at my children’s school, who informs me she is deciding whether to retain her hijab or give it up. I ask her the arguments for both sides and she’s leaning towards the idea that the hijab is not to make women invisible but instead attract attention to the Muslim women’s identities. For added emphasis she readjusts her swarovski crystal encrusted, brightly motifed hijab as she waves off in an attention grabbing Mercedes. Meanwhile I overhear her daughter’s comments at the swimming pool full of eight year olds, “In Mecca we stayed at a four star hotel and in Medina at a five star!” That’s the spirit.

A friend is despairing that his children have no recourse to recreation in Karachi except the beach. What about Hill Park, the water park, safari, zoo, museum, Thatta, Bhombat etc? Oh gosh no, he pleads, can’t I recommend places that don’t require “crossing the bridge” (Clifton), preferably nothing beyond Agha’s supermarket. I tell him Agha’s is a great place to spend the afternoon with the children.

Another young woman is struggling with the idea of emigrating. She is concerned about the future of her children in Pakistan. She explains that here they are learning no civil consciousness and instead her son is becoming consumer conscious and money is becoming his new obsession at the age of eight. I ask whether she really thinks America is a great option — a nation whose religion is money.

My doctor tells me he is relieved that he moved back from England after many years there, in view of the recent London bombings. I find it ironic given that so many people moved to the UK during the repressive 80s when bombings were becoming the norm in Karachi. Still, he tells me he’s never had such a thriving social life and is looking at the possibility of starting a private practice. However, he is concerned about his British born wife who is an architect and has taken up the hijab only after returning to Pakistan and disapproves of their social mingling in Karachi. I’m thinking of introducing her to the swarovski hijab observer mentioned above.

Towards the end of the week, I overheard that a major multinational was planning a motivational event for its employees that would include a mujra. I called the CEO to confirm this, which he vehemently denied but I warned him the press was on it — a slight overstatement since I was the “press” I was referring to. The next day, by coincidence, I overheard two people from the event management company that organised the show. They confessed that the “entertainment” had to be cancelled at the last minute because they had “orders from above” that the non-family programme must be cancelled. Apparently there was going to be too much press representation for anything unsavoury.

Finally, I heard one that actually made up for all the neurosis I suffered last week. My six- year-old’s peer proudly announced at our house one day that his businessman-grandfather travelled overseas in Prime Minister Musharraf’s private plane. My unimpressed son retorted, “that’s not true”. Offended, his peer snapped, “yes it is, ask my father”. My son responded, “I don’t need to, I know that General Musharraf is not the Prime Minister but the unelected President of Pakistan’. That night I slept better than I had in a long time.

The writer is a sociologist based in Karachi. She has a background in women’s studies and has authored and edited several books on women’s issues.


5 Comments so far

  1. MAHBOOB AHMAD (unregistered) on August 19th, 2005 @ 4:50 pm


  2. misha (unregistered) on August 19th, 2005 @ 5:33 pm

    Great article, thanks for sharing!

  3. Kaash (unregistered) on August 19th, 2005 @ 7:58 pm

    Awesome!!! I luv the last part about un-elected Mushi.

    thanks for sharing


  4. Omer (unregistered) on August 19th, 2005 @ 9:10 pm

    Miss Afiya,

    I read your article or blog entry.

    Although I am a bit disturbed but I also was happy to see that people like you have a good sense of reality in Karachi. I am interested in Karachi because inshAllah I am moving back to Pakistan later this year with my family of 5.

    I donít have a degree in sociology but since I am the VP of an Islamic center in the US besides my day job of an engineer, I do know that human beings will always stay the same. They will always be diverse in their perspective of life and perception of reality. Each personís reality is best seen from their own eyes or thoughts if they share them. And even from the subtle hints that people give out from their seemingly discrete comments. The more avid observer will figure them out if he or she really listens.

    I have seen people and muslims from all corners of the world and atleast 5 continents. This is the benefit of living in the US. Allah will keep the traffic of human beings moving in and out the inner city districts of life. Each will cross their own stop signs and decide which way to go at the intersection. Some will take the hijab off and others will put it on forever. Life is a test. We just have to be patient to see who makes it with a winning score!


    Muhammad Omer Siddiqui

  5. Naz Hussain (unregistered) on February 18th, 2006 @ 4:49 am

    LOL, what did you Karachites do before the advent of the internet???? :-D

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