house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Karachi in Fire and in Shadow

'Gaily bedight
A gallant knight
In sunshine and in shadow
Had journeyed long
Singing a song
In search of El Dorado'...

And so we, my gallant knight and I, journeyed too - and found ourselves in the sunshine and the shadow of Karachi, the fiery heart of Pakistan.

Karachi is a troubled place these days. Unsafe and highly flammable, too prone to incomprehensible violence. Its inhabitants are routinely kidnapped, attacked, shot, knocked down by runaway vehicles, blown up. Some are personally targeted; for others, the expression 'wrong time, wrong place' takes on a most sinister meaning.

'We're off to Karachi', we tell friends - and get the same reaction: eyes too sad to hold the gaze, head shaking slowly. Then they tell some terrible story. A friend hit by a stray bullet as he drove to work. A journalist silenced. A bullet hole smashing the windscreen of the husband's car, sometime in the night. A bomb blast ripping apart a whole neighbourhood. One day later, mourners attacked as they bury the dead.

The place sounds like Bosnia in the early '90s. A war zone and no combat rules. A bit of a cold sweat then, around this 'flying to Karachi' plan. Then I remember life in Bosnia and it doesn't seem so bad after all, so I keep packing. Kira stays behind, with friends in Islamabad. I can't begin to imagine what it must be like to bring up children in Karachi.

The flight is 4 hours late: midnight almost, by the time we take off. Curious now about Karachi and stuck in a window seat I look down for an early glimpse of it. A mega city like this (equal to the entire population of my country!) should be amply mapped by its electrical lights... Still, as the plane descends, there is complete darkness. The landscape below remains black, veiled, unfathomable: is there anything out there AT ALL?

'Over the mountains
of the moon,
down the valley
of the Shadow
Ride, boldly ride
the Shade replied
if you search for El Dorado.'

We pass the mountains, the moon, the dark valley. And then, somehow, we land. The runway appears at the last minute, a yellow electrical line sprinkled across the dark land. More lights inside and the roar of generators. A power blackout has blinded Karachi - the whole of Pakistan actually: hundreds of millions, people enough to fill three Englands, left to face the night without any electrical help. As we drive to our hosts, we see little of Karachi.

Even afterwards, after power is restored, after mornings and afternoons, after trips and meetings, we see little of Karachi. 'Security' has grown into a sixth sense. A van with darkened windows and drawn curtains takes us everywhere. House to van, van to office, van to the interior of Sindh, van back to Karachi, van to house.

Outside The Van, people appear to lead normal lives, there's traffic and commerce and shouting and laughs. Karachi feels like any other city, and yet Karachi, don't forget, walks closer to the fire, ever closer to the shadow...

One day, one day we'll go back to Karachi and maybe then we'll find it too. Inshallah.


At 6 March 2013 at 18:35 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awww... That is beautifully captured. Really enjoyed reading that Monica. Lots of love, Chayya.


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