All kinds of madness

After a very weird and violent Friday, ‘resilient’ Karachi is back to ‘normal’.

Karachi has no choice but to do so. Ordinary people have to go to work and life must go on, despite the colossal damage to so many lives and property.

Much has been said in the papers, local as well as international, about blasphemy, the film that mocks Islam and the Prophet Muhammed, the protests that have ensued, the demands for a worldwide ban and censorship on anything that ridicules any religion, so I won’t go into any of that.

Suffice it to say that we, along with the majority of Pakistanis, stayed at home and watched helplessly on tv, as mobs gathered after Friday prayers and proceeded to break, burn, hurl stones. The police, outnumbered as they were, tried valiantly to bring the situation under control, but the mobs were too caught up in their own frenzy.

Five famous cinema houses were gutted, and a couple of banks burnt down too. Not sure about the exact number of people who lost their lives, but hundreds of people were injured.

Amidst the pall of gloom and the outrage at being held hostage at the hands of a few and at the State’s complicitness in furthering the aims of the miscreants/protesters, a bunch of people came out of their homes on Sunday and set themselves to cleaning up the mess in the aftermath of what can only be called a storm. Here’s a glimpse of what they did.

And while Pakistan busily loses points in the world in so many different ways, I thought I’d share with you one Pakistani who ploughs on with his brilliant music. Dubbed ‘the guitar prodigy from Karachi’, Usman Riaz began playing classical piano at the age of 6, and took up the guitar at age 16. Now, at 21, he has two albums under his belt, the first being ‘Flashes and Sparks’, and the latest being ‘Circus in the Sky’.

It was his video ‘Firefly’ that caught my attention sometime last year. Unfortunately, since Youtube is banned in my country since last week (a genius move by the government to stop people from watching the idiotic blasphemous film) I cannot link you to it, but if you search for it and have a listen, I promise you a fascinating few minutes.

I also cannot link you to his solo performance at the TEDGlobal 2012 where he got a standing ovation, and where he finally got to jam with Preston Reed, one of the guitarists whose work he learnt from while watching him play on Youtube.

But what I CAN link you to is this very uplifting video of Usman at a Walmart in Florida. I watched this today. Such fun. Take a look at a different kind of mob altogether.

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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