We’ll find a way to work it out…

Today being Yaum e Ali, a day of commemorative mourning when processions block roads, Huz and I didn’t think it would be a very good idea to go to the Atrium to buy tickets for Deathly Hallows-2.

So we didn’t venture out anywhere until taraveeh prayers were well and truly over, around 10:30 pm, before Amu and I decided to go out to see if Karachi was up for some pre-Eid business.

We didn’t need to go very far…Zamzama boulevard is a hop, skip and a jump away from where we live.

I half-expected to see the street that sports a nice little collection of boutiques to be busy, but it bore an air of strange quiet. The twinkly lights festooning the street made a feeble attempt at festivity, as we got out of our parked car and marched up to the boutique where we’d purchased an outfit just a couple of days ago. In retrospect, the outfit seemed too simple to be worn in Eid, so we hoped they would exchange it for something more fun. Come what may, we must have clothes to wear.

The manager of the shop obligingly took the outfit from us (after inquiring as to the date of purchase and if the tag was still on) and shooed us off to peruse the three-storey shop to look for another.

The boutique is usually a bee-hive of pre-Eid activity, full of women busily flipping through rows upon rows of lovely mass-produced outfits, and the dressing rooms are all a-flurry. The clothes are nicely tailored with attention to detail, and are colorful and trendy, which make this place a popular haunt.

Seemed very quiet tonight, with just a handful of women, husbands in tow.

After inspecting the ground floor and not finding anything suitable or the right size, we ventured down to the basement. The place is like a warehouse, only very pretty, with lovely lighting and dark wood flooring and interiors. It has a traditional, ethnic air to it, and an artsy Sufic soundtrack playing ethereally in the background. But it wasn’t playing tonight.

We wandered through the racks, searching for something that clicked visually but everything was either too casual, too ordinary or simply not available in the right size.

I caught the attendant’s eye to ask him if a pretty ensemble in size 16 was available in size 8 and he shook his head, saying this was the last of the stock.

Perhaps it was my friendly smile that did it, but while Amu rummaged through thickly crammed outfits, the attendant seemed to be really glad to have found someone to talk to.

He was tall and wore thin, silver lobe-hugging baalis in both his ears. He told me he lived near the Tower area and narrated a story about a bunch of armed gunmen, who had stopped a minibus and told the women to get off, abducting the rest of the passengers.

The bodies of six men from that ill-fated bus had been found stuffed in gunny sacks from different areas of Karachi. Men from his neighbourhood.

I had heard about this as well as numerous other gruesome stories, and also what he went on to say–that random and brutal killings of people could only be carried out unchecked, by government agencies. How else could police and Rangers arrive on the scene only after an incident had taken place? The implication was clear in the things he left unsaid. We talked about the nonsensical destruction of so many families, with sole breadwinners being killed for no reason at all, violence for the sake of violence, to prove what point? No one really knows anything, and it seems the city is in the grip of events that are up for speculation, with daily dramas being enacted by the various ministers and leaders of political parties.

He talked quite calmly and with only a trace of bitterness, about how difficult it was to find transportation to get back home at half past 1 and 2 am, and how rickshaws put a dent in their 7000 rupee salary. The manager has a car to take him home, but no one cares about the safe transportation of the attendants in these trying times. I asked him how he managed then, and he just shrugged and said it was difficult but not impossible. He usually walked a long distance before either finding a bus or a kind person willing to give him a lift.

I thought uncomfortably about the fact that I was here with the intention to buy something worth half his monthly income, and I didn’t know where to look.

But I nodded sympathetically and hoped the management would arrange something for them or at least give them a separate transport allowance, and that the situation in the city would improve soon and peace prevail.

A bunch of fair Burqa-clad women arrived on the scene and distracted him, providing me a window of opportunity to re-join Amu and renew my guilt-tinged quest for the perfect outfit, though as I made to move away he sheepishly apologised for taking so much of my time. But after a few minutes, he turned up again with a couple of outfits that he thought we’d like. We told him to bring us anything nice in size 8 or 10, and his face turned purposeful and determined  as he told us to wait while he dashed off to look.

He returned looking rather triumphant, and with good reason. Among the outfits he fetched from the store room was one that was exactly what we were looking for! We thanked him for his help (which Amu was convinced might not have been forthcoming if her mom wasn’t quite so chatty) and left him to deal with the burqa’ed women, as we looked for one more outfit in my size, paid and walked out of the store.

Outside, a bunch of attendants and various other people were having a pow-wow, no doubt to discuss the best ways to get home, and also how things would be in the city the next day, which has been declared a ‘day of mourning’ by one of the political parties.

Funny, in a macabre kinda way, how our nation has so many things to mourn…past and present.

All the rest of the multitudinous shoe shops and boutiques in Zamzama were eerily dark with the shutters pulled down, most unusual for this time of year, and there were groups of men standing around under the odd street light, deep in discussion. Two little Afghani kids were lying fast asleep right next to the door to Gunsmoke, one of them clutching a bunch of plastic-wrapped half-wilted roses to sell…..but the restaurant didn’t seem to have any customers at this time of night.

As we turned on to the main road, several men on motorbikes cut across our path, going the wrong way. Up ahead we saw a police car with flashing lights, just parked on the side, exuding an air of action at the same time as being quite stationery. A sense of urgency and expectation made me drive as fast as I could through the back streets to get home. Adrenalin was in the air, dilating our pupils, and our hearts thumped in tune to Alan Parsons Project. The area was in partial darkness, but the car headlights illuminated a gaggle of boys from Neelum Colony, engrossed in a game of street cricket, right on the main road.

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19 thoughts on “We’ll find a way to work it out…

  1. photokunstler August 22, 2011 / 11:56 pm

    Geeze Munira!
    I don’t know what to say. Stay safe?
    I guess it isn’t boring there…

    • Munira August 23, 2011 / 12:17 am

      I think I speak for most fellow citizens when I say I wish I lived in a more boring place. It’s horrible to imagine what the families and dependents of these senselessly killed men are going through.
      But imagine how desensitized we are that we can venture out anyway to shop frivolously. Sometimes I hate myself.

      • photokunstler August 23, 2011 / 1:04 am

        Hating yourself isn’t too useful. I don’t hate you.
        And it is amazing trying to imagine what the families are going through, absolutely.

        Do you have to stay in a non-boring place forever?

        • Munira August 23, 2011 / 8:54 am

          I’m grateful for living in a relatively trouble-free area (lots of security because the President as well as a lot of other politicians live nearby) so bad things happening elsewhere in this huge city don’t touch us as much (which makes me feel guilty.)
          Things are crazy right now, but then again, craziness is never too far away in a volatile city like Karachi. If only it could be more peaceful and clean, there’s no place like it (:
          Thank you for not hating me!

  2. satsumaart August 23, 2011 / 12:25 am

    It’s hard to know exactly what to say to this post, but I’m so glad you wrote it. Sometimes I think the best way to write about complicated situations is just to write what happens and show the way our thoughts and emotions shift as we experience them. You’ve done that here, and I thank you!

    • Munira August 23, 2011 / 8:40 am

      Thank you for reading Lisa, I can understand why it would be difficult to comment. Took me the whole night to write it, but this rather tame foray into an uncertain city just had to be written about. I usually don’t talk about unpleasant things because it makes me feel like such a fraud. I cannot begin to imagine the horrors ordinary people in different localities are facing. I feel guilty for being safe and comfortable in my tiny island.

  3. Kathryn McCullough August 23, 2011 / 12:51 am

    This is difficult, Munira. Please be careful. Things were dangerous when we lived in Haiti, but we had two armed guards at our house. Plus, it was nowhere near as dangerous as this. Stay safe, my friend!
    Kathy

    • Munira August 23, 2011 / 9:02 am

      Thank you so much Kathy, these are scary times and one must be careful of course. I was surprised to find that particular boutique open last night, when mostly everything else was closed! Nothing ventured, nothing gained I suppose, though in a city like Karachi you can end up losing a lot too! I have been lucky so far, but I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it.
      Just grateful for being relatively safe and I hope the killings stop. Can’t bear to think about the anger and the grief.

  4. fatema August 23, 2011 / 1:32 am

    i agree completely with satsumaart……….and very well written…:)…and what the heck were you doing wandering around at ten thirty when the entire defence area was systematically shutting down!!!!!…….jeez!!

    • Munira August 23, 2011 / 9:04 am

      Awww Fatu 🙂 You are one to talk. You have done far crazier things than I.

  5. Single Malt Monkey August 23, 2011 / 12:17 pm

    It saddens me that there appears to be so much violence in Karachi when all that ordinary people want to do is live in peace and get along with their neighbour. Diversity adds colour to our existence and yet when it becomes division through hatred you would have thought by now that we’d get it – nobody wins. You shouldn’t feel guily for living the life that you do. It is what is in your heart that matters. We’re relatively comfortable here in England and I’m often chided by my friends for being a “Champagne Socialist” . At the end of the day we have what we have but it hasn’t changed our belief system and I suspect from how and what you write, Munira, that your belief system remains intact too – otherwise there would be no feeling of guilt. But you are where you are and you owe it to yourself and your family to live a fulfilling and expansive life. Only the very few are blessed with the courage and will of a Mother Teresa or an Aung San Suki (spelling?).
    This is a very interesting piece, well written, giving a sense of time and place – and playing your part, you tell the rest of us what is happening when it’s sure as hell not going to get covered over here.
    Well done.Stay safe. We need your voice here telling us how much fun Karachi can be, too.

    • Munira August 23, 2011 / 7:18 pm

      We just don’t seem to get it Al, it’s just sickening. The federal government chooses to turn a blind eye to Karachi, which is the financial backbone of this country. It’s paralysed right now…..there is rampant lawlessness, blackmail and extortion going on, and this in addition to political strife and ethnicity-based murders.
      154 people have been brutally killed so far this month, decapitated in many cases, their limbs chopped off, and every gunny bag comes with a note saying ‘Is this enough peace or would you like more?’
      What kind of a message are they sending? What sort of people are these?

      Thanks for the vote of confidence though. When all is said and done, at least I will have used my time to be that window. Trying hard to keep the faith!

      • satsumaart August 24, 2011 / 8:56 pm

        Uch that’s awful. 😦 But I agree with Al — we need you to give voice to something we’re not seeing. We can always think about doing more (wrote about this in April), but bearing witness is important too. And bigger action can’t happen without it.

        • Munira August 25, 2011 / 1:54 pm

          I guess that’s the only part I can play Lisa :/ Glad I have you guys to ‘listen’ to me.

  6. shazia hasan August 23, 2011 / 12:40 pm

    very well described the situation in khi & the fear of the common man!

    • Munira August 23, 2011 / 7:24 pm

      I can’t say I’m glad you got a feel of that fear Shazia, but thanks for reading. We get enough bad news in the papers without you having to read it on my happy peaceful blog too!

  7. sparksinshadow August 30, 2011 / 4:37 am

    I’m sorry to have come to this so late, Munira. This post didn’t show up in my subscriptions until today.

    How brilliantly you’ve used the details of your evening’s excursion to shine a light on what’s happening in Karachi. I agree with Lisa and Al that you do the world and your city a service by telling us the truth about what’s happening there. Besides that, please remember that writers who record what they see around them, good or bad, are the ones who collectively illuminate history for future generations. This is what you are able to do now. You must remember that not everyone will see, much less make a record. You are doing something. There is nothing inherently wrong with being physically “safe and comfortable.” I’m glad that you and your family are safe. After that, I think the most important thing is that you aren’t silent. Thank you for writing this.

    • Munira September 3, 2011 / 5:54 pm

      Thanks Re, for your words of support…I’m touched by your thoughtful response. Love you all for your concern!

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