I came for none
But pick a flowering bloom
Yet it withers to dust
In my sincerest gaze,
my softest touch.
The following is a poem written by Dr Shaik Ubaid in light of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in India’s Jammu/Kashmir state, allegedly to drive out Muslim nomads from the Kashmir region of India. Read more here.
Why didn’t you fore warn me about the monsters mama?
Who clawed my face and ripped my clothes to tatters mama
You always said, “dont be afraid child there are no wild beasts in Kashmir” mama
But you forget about the followers of Veer, mama
You couldnot ‘Ve been more wrong mama
Im sorry I could not say “So long”, mama
No Tigers or hyenas live here you said
No lions, no wolves not even sloth bear you said
The snow leopard went extinct long ago you said
Tis safe to graze the horses in the Valley and Jammu you said
But you forgot about the beasts in human stealth mama
Monsters with scary eyes and stinking breath mama
More cruel than the wild dogs more repulsive than the vultures mama
Who hate diversity in religion and in cultures mama
They hurt me bad even though I plead mama
I cried, apologized and I begged mama
I called for you and for dad mama
I prayed long and really hard mama
But it was all in vain mama
Only death did end my pain mama
10 till midnight—here’s my listicle. The best of 2017 on my end:
Best food I had:
1) A spaghetti at Chicago’s Tesori restaurant containing pea, shoots, fennel pollen, garlic, fresno peppers, lemon, and pecorino romano.
2) A masoor daal (kaali daal) that my mom makes which she’s altered to include curry leaves and tamarind. oh my goodness, it’s good.
3) A salad an antie in aramco made earlier this year. It had coarsely cut parsley (like in tabouleh), chopped green apple, chopped bananas, and pomegranate with a yogurt-mayo-lemon dressing.
4) “Cowgirl” maki roll at Blue Sake Sushi Grill — pickle vegan tempura, sriracha-fried onion rings, vegan mayo, bbq paper. Possibly the best sushi I’ve had.
Best dessert I had:
1) Bobby Flay’s Cinammon-Maple-Oat Biscotti (thanks Sofia!)
2) Rock Sugar restaurant’s Caramelized Banana Custard Cake — Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Malted Creme Anglaise and Nut Brittle
Best TV show I saw:
Sherlock, hands up, hands down.
Best movie(s) I saw:
1) Dangal (Hindi)
2) Jawani Phir Nahi Aani (Pakistani)
3) The Darkest Hour (English)
Best documentary I saw:
Pakistan’s Hidden Shame
Best ad(s) I saw:
1) Star Plus “mat kar”:
2) Conservation International ad series:
3) Norwegian ad:
Best book I read:
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
Best songs I heard:
1) PAF songs redone by Junaid Jamshed
2) Jamie’s Song by Sylvan Esso
3) Interlude by Alice and the Glass Lake / Rebecca Spektor on Eminem’s Revival
Best article I read:
Best lesson learned:
Nothing can change people like loving them can.
While there were actual reasons such as weddings and work projects—both which demanded due time—it occurred to me recently that I haven’t written or made a phone drawing in months.
Finally today, after a long, long time, I made what I hope is a ‘comeback drawing’ on my phone. And I suppose this is my ‘comeback post.’ And I’m afraid it’ll be rather obvious.
Back home when we came back from vacation and turned on the faucets, the water would sputter out at first. And it was also a burnt yellow from the rust inside the pipes. This post will probably be similar.
Anyway, I read something on the New York Times today, and it may or not have been the spur needed—but the article began talking about a location that is a small dream of mine that led fast to a bigger dream, but then it took a turn towards me and inside. Ironically as it talked about silencing the noise around us to hear ourselves, I felt my vision defog. The article referenced something else that interested me. And then something else after that.
I saw myself again. And it felt good.
Meanwhile and on that note, the Universe has been as gracious as ever—sending more things my way to learn than I can even handle. Between blockchain, excerpts from a new book on the history of colours, and the new program deciphering Allama Iqbal’s Khizr-e-rah, I am simply frazzled with ecstasy. So many things show up just over facebook that I’m having to screenshot so I remember to get to them. I’ve almost depleted my 10 free articles of NYT this month in a couple days too.
I’ll have to write the things I actually have commentary on that I’ve observed in the past day in another post as a tiny, flying bug is bugging me, and it won’t rest till my light gets shut off, and I’m pretty sure that’ll be more effective than all my scolding and gestures at it thusfar.
I’m hoping this is the re-start to writing again. And drawing.
(Have to record this somewhere because it’s so outrageous: pine nuts in Pakistan are at 18,000rupees/kg as of today – ARY News)
No doubt, in the past couple of weeks if you’ve tried to purchase ISO-certified eclipse viewing glasses, you’ve had tough luck. Following high demand, vendors on amazon are only selling these glasses in bulk packs, sometimes as expensive as $300 for a 5 pairs. Rental cars are booked out for that day as are hotels along the total-eclipse path.
Nonetheless, there are still many bright sides under the sun:
1) Libraries across the USA are hosting eclipse-viewing events. If you are able to attend one of these events at your local library, or contact them for information, you might still be able to find some glasses (and likely for free!): http://spacescience.org/software/libraries/map.php
2) Media projects everything to become bloated. Solar eclipses occur around the world every year. While it’s true that the last-total-solar-eclipse-to-span-all-of-North-America was 99 years ago, the next one of that same kind is only 7 years from now on April 8, 2024.
3) A solar eclipse is not a visual event. It’s an experience. And viewing the sun through glasses is one of many ways to have this experience.
Other ways include using a colander or making a pinhole camera to view the phenomenon without looking directly at the sun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKgK-hGmFQQ
Another way is to observe what’s happening around you under the eclipse. Even though a lot of hard science doesn’t exist (yet), there have been accounts of animals acting differently during solar eclipses: http://www.cnn.com/…/animals-react-to-the-eclipse/index.html
It’s important to not rely on only one of your senses during an eclipse. One eclipse chaser from San Diego remarked: “No photo or video can convey the experience of a total eclipse, but audio recordings come closest. I am not a very emotional person, but when I listen to recordings I have made at previous eclipses, I often get tears in my eyes.” So watch out for changes in the air, in sounds, and in plants and animals outside!
There’s nothing more wonderful actually than learning itself. Hearing and learning about what others have experienced has a higher value than it might sound. There’s a wonderful TED talk up by an eclipse chaser ( https://www.ted.com/…/david_baron_you_owe_it_to_yourself_to… ) as well as these brilliant individual accounts that are definitely worth reading: https://www.buzzfeed.com/sallytam…/astronomers-and-eclipses…
From an Islamic viewpoint, eclipses are seen as two signs among the signs of God that He shows His worshipers—so when we see them, we pray, invoke Him, and ask for His forgiveness. A beautiful, lengthy prayer called Salat-ul-Kusoof is designated for eclipses. An eclipse is seen as an opportunity to reflect and remember God, and to connect to His presence. This prayer has been the most powerful experience of an eclipse I’ve personally had.
And again, I can’t stress it enough: do not look at the sun without certified eye wear. Do not look at the sun through a reflection of something (mirror, CD, water). Do not, do not, do not be careless about this. Eyesight > eclipse.
Happy experiencing! 🙂 ❤
[image credit: NASA]
Nov 22, 2016
As it began nearing to 3:30pm, we made our way to the Shamu Amphitheater for the scheduled show.
People were flooding in and filling bleachers. A bee was after the glass of Sprite in my hand. As I tried to wave it away, forgetting I was holding the glass still, that Sprite fell on me. My niece was trying to escape onto the bleacher steps. Kids in the row behind us were using their brand new Shamu shaped bubble guns. It was all that a tourist could create. We sat and waited. Some lights started turning on. Some rehearsed lines sounded over the microphones. But the voices didn’t matter. The water’s appearance change, almost brewing. What the water announced drowned out the microphones.
And then, rising out from underneath straight into the air, appeared a black and white orca. My eyes and heart fused into one. My senses went numb. My face was skewed, not out of disapproval, but an overwhelming state. What I saw before me was magnificent, and beautiful. It actually did take my breath away. It was the kind of thing, had I any room or time to pace back and forth between the bleachers, I would certainly have been doing so, bewildering at the creation I was seeing.
I knew Blackfish was out there though. After I came back home that weekend I watched it. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in my life. The living conditions that were revealed were inhumane. But what I will never forget is the way Tilikum was captured as a child from his family, as his parents floated alongside the boats, wailing for their baby.
It’s very difficult to appreciate ‘good efforts’ after that. People argue that without places like zoos and sanctuaries, no one would know or care about any of these animals. The fact is santuaries, zoos, and Sea World are different things. How many sanctuaries can be boasted about around here? The few places I’ve heard of as anything truly ‘sanctuary’ were places like New Zealand where nature is actually preserved with great effort. I don’t mean to say they don’t exist here, but it’s also true that many zoos also have awful living conditions. Even for animals that were bred there and are taken care of well, some animals’ size naturally requires them a larger area to move around in.
As for Sea World, I don’t think I learned anything about Orcas. It felt like pure entertainment. I don’t deny that the people working there have great care and admiration for these creatures and that they know the risks involved. But the issue isn’t about the people, is it? The issue is that these animals are being kept in an area that would be analogous to us being kept in a bath tub. Often they’re starved until the show so that they will perform for the treats they receive during it. Often they get hurt in other ways.
Should orcas be put back into the wild? Obviously not. They couldn’t survive because of how they’ve been bred and raised. But what is the reason to take so many animals and keep them in these sort of places. Sanctuaries might be great, if they’re being done right. But from what I saw in Blackfish, SeaWorld doesn’t seem like that.
Unfortunately we live in the day and age where it’s hard to look at any piece of news or admonition, and know if it’s true or not. Blackfish for me personally, was convincing, and I think it serves as a powerful reminder to us regarding not just orcas, but the very many animals that are in captivity under terrible living conditions.
I do have to say though, without seeing an actual orca while visiting Sea World, I actually may not have seen Blackfish, not this soon anyway. So it’s all been a bit dichotomous, if that’s the right word.
And I’d like to end on a recommendation for anyone reading this post. Wildest India, on Netflix, is another one of the most fascinating documentaries I’ve seen. Even if you can only get to the first part about the Thar desert, try to see that episode.
It shows a relationship between humans and animals in the wild that raises another powerful reminder: we are capable of better.
“It was literally like something out of a dream. We didn’t see the Kaaba, but upon entering that district with the hotels, all I could see were towers. The huge minarets. And the hotels. And the loud adhan echoing through the city. And buzzing. Constant buzzing. I only caught a glimpse of the mosque, before we entered a tunnel. It was a large tunnel with huge industrial fans. That’s where the buzzing was coming from. It was like some futuristic scene. And construction everywhere—it was so chaotic, but in an orderly kind of way. It’s so hard to explain, but imagine going to a concrete city with ludicrously high towers, passing under large tunnels, coming out and seeing larger structures before going into tunnels again, all under constant buzzing noise.
It was crazy. The entrance to the hotel was also inside a bridge, which added to the surreal scene. We went from a dark tunnel, into a palace. We were in Zam Zam. It’s the one directly beside the clock tower. But that whole complex…is an ecosystem in itself…six floors of shopping and food, little pockets of people and things everywhere, and then on top of all that, these massive hotels. It must have been quite an engineering feat.”
I recalled my friend’s words about entering Makkah from two years ago as I exited the Haram after having performed Umrah, two years later.
Lifting my chin at a steep angle, I looked up at the Abraj-al-Bait, often referred to as the Zam Zam Towers. A structure higher than the Sears Tower, comprising of six different 4+ star hotels, vast levels of shopping and eating, I looked up at Zam Zam Towers with an awe I didn’t have before.
If you were like myself, you saw Makkah from a young age, when there were no big hotels, only small ones with simple rooms—sometimes with a warped mattress, other times with a minor malfunction in the bathroom.
The Haram was surrounded by tiny shops then, and the lights from bazaars twinkled around the perimeter. Getting inside the Haram wasn’t difficult at all. And many, many of our prayers were in the sehen surrounding the Kaaba itself. Even women, all the time.
My parents saw an even simpler Haram. The sehen back then was not fully tiled. Some of it was gravel. And the tiles alternated black and white in color. Today the flooring exists in two layers with a gap in the middle, and water runs through that gap underneath the tiles so that they stay cool. That didn’t exist back then.In Makkah’s heat, if you stepped on one of those black tiles, your feet were in for it.
Over time the hotels grew, and the Haram expanded. And needless to say, when the Clock Tower appeared all of a sudden, many of us found ourselves in a blend of disappointment and outrage.
We weren’t happy. It was obvious that even if it housed a large number, a lot of people just wouldn’t be able to afford staying in those hotels. Under that subtext, the decision to put up the complex seemed extravagant, superfluous.
But now returning after a five-year absence, I looked up at it differently, baffled by its size. It was really big. And I could only think one thing: ‘It must have been quite an engineering feat.’
I told my friend I remembered his statement, and he finished our conversation from two years ago concluding:
“I know a lot of people hate the buildings. But for me it made the Kaaba stand out even more. Because it’s in the center of it all.”
I had never thought of it that way.
For the next few days, the pathways in my brain took an investigative turn. I absorbed what I could, in and around Zam Zam Towers. Its sheer size would not cease to confound me. We took two different sets of elevators to get up to our hotel. And we were tired by the time we made it outside because of how much walking area just the lobbies covered.
It occurred to me that in addition to engineering, this was also a marvel in management. The signage worked great. It showed you exactly how to get down to the lobby, toward the Haram, toward the market. I thought about all the people I’d seen working here: the staff that takes your luggage as soon as you step out of the taxi, the people working at reception, the man in charge of breakfast room count, the pair in the lobby who offers Arabic coffee and Sukkary dates after every prayer—and then disappears like Jinn, the many, many shopkeepers, the people running food establishments, the guard who sits outside the prayer room during congregational prayers, the TV repair man who fixed our channels, the people who change towels and sheets in each room daily. How many people did it take to run this place? It felt remarkable just thinking about it. So many jobs must have been created because of this establishment.
The next day after Dhuhr, we set out in the opposite direction of the Haram. My dad took me into an alley in between the buildings of Zam Zam Towers to show me part of the mountain that existed underneath the hotel it was carved for. Walking past our hotel and others, we made our way through the strip where women sit on the road selling seeds for the pigeons that gather in masses. We walked, and walked, and soon realized everything had changed. The bazaars with little shops, the life of Makkah outside the Haram, were no longer there. In the distance we saw a street way that may have been where some of them got pushed back to. But it was much too far of a walk.
We went back in dismay. They were all gone. Even the few that were left last time, were now all gone, replaced by concrete buildings. I felt so sad. Those little shops were such a vital part of Makkah’s character.
The experience of experiencing Zam Zam however, is a lot like the tunnels and pathways of Makkah. At one turn there is one outcome. At the next turn, another. That evening on the way back from the Haram, I told my mom to take the first entrance into Zam Zam from the side street. I thought I had seen a few shops there earlier. We walked in and took a turn to the right. But it wasn’t a few shops. It was a whole bazaar. The whole bazaar that used to be outside. I walked through the aisles, feeling both puzzled and enchanted. Shopkeepers were reciting “Do riyal, do riyal, do riyal” to us, brilliantly colored tasbeeh beads hung in bunches on walls, the bracelets and necklaces I used to buy sat in large piles, toys walked around doing flips. Other shops had stacks of the most recent scarves and Abayat. A simple tea shop or ice cream counter would take its place in between.
I discovered that the higher up you went in the Zam Zam Towers, the more expensive things got. The tasbeeh that was 2 riyals at the bottom-most level, became 5 riyals a few floors north. Perhaps the 5 riyal one had slightly better quality. But what a surprise! The entire bazaar from outside was in the basement of this hotel now. It had the same character, same feel, the same bargaining.
Later when we decided to look at what the food court on level P3 was like, we met more of the same familiarity. I’ve never seen a food court that takes up that much area. There were so many establishments with shawarma, kabsa, noodles, the regular KFC and Hardees, and in one corner Faisalabad Restaurant. Desi people sat at the group of tables in this segment, eating daal and biryani, everyone seemingly having a good time. It reminded me of the small Pakistani restaurants we would visit down the street in the middle of the bazaars. It was all the same, just in a different way.
My favorite part of the hotel though, was when you go down to the ground level and take the escalator toward the ‘Souk.’ It disembarks you out onto the boulevard to the right of the complex. To get outside, you first pass through a large, tiled veranda that is part of the hotel itself. Two tea shops exist on one side, and the rest of the area is used by people all day long. Some are fast asleep, napping. Others sit together and have tea in the afternoon. Some people are praying, and many offer their fard Salah here in congregation. In one corner there might be a couple sharing lunch together, in another someone may be resting from the heat outside. A cat or two casually walks over people’s prayer mats. People laugh and talk and spend time together.
The boulevard outside is always moving with pilgrims going back and forth from hotels. It’s a wide roadway where cars are not allowed. The other end of the street is lined with tea shops, tiny restaurants selling shawarma, biryani, falafel sandwiches. Other shops sell soft-serve ice cream, snack size bags of popcorn, and fresh juices. People sit on the steps that line that end of the road, snacking on foods, talking with each other, or resting against pillars. It’s wonderful.
When Zam Zam Towers was first built, I didn’t understand it. I feel grateful to have seen Makkah before its existence, and do miss it. However, after remembering the growing influx of pilgrims every year, and reading about the pressures that the government faces about housing all those people, I understand the matter a bit differently. And it feels so wonderful that the spirit of Makkah still retains itself—in the basement bazaar, in the veranda, in the foodcourt, and out in the street.
But the best thing remains. After a day had passed post-Umrah, my mom and I went to do another tawaf around the Kaaba. I walked round and round, raising my hands in praise at the Black Stone corner, and making duaa fervently. I thought about the night I came here, when I stepped down the white marble steps toward the sehen and caught the first glimpse of black and gold. I couldn’t grasp that I was there. After all those years of wishing I could come, searching for that moment when I would see it again, here I was facing the Kaaba. For the first few times around during tawaf, I could barely even look up at it because my tears wouldn’t stop if I did.
I looked up during this aftermath tawaf at the Kaaba, and then Zam Zam behind it. There was no overpowering, no comparison. I wonder now why we got so offended.
Another structure could never have that pull, could never move us to tears, could never be higher in any way. I smiled at what I saw before me and understood what he meant.
It would always be the center of it all.
January 6, 2017
It’s getting harder to wake up early now and I’m struggling to keep my grip on jetlag. Sleeping at ten and getting up at five feels so good, like I’ve mastered life. It’s the exactly perfect number of hours within the exactly perfect time frame of the night.
I cleaned the leaves off my plants today and got
ready for Jumuah. My mom came downstairs and handed me a custard apple. I stared down at it astonished, asking where this came from. Asim Bhai had brought them a few days ago and they had been put away to ripen and were now ready to eat. Of course my favorite fruit had to be something that requires such far travel. But it didn’t matter. It had been three years since I’d had it, and only smiles existed as I held it in my palm.
Mumaanijaan, Sadaf and I went to the masjid above Mairaj for Jumuah salah. I was sitting in the khutbah when I heard the sound of wrappers from a corner. Minahil had come too, and was sitting munching on chips. When we finished, I pushed past the curtain and the metal door that leads to the side street and found Abdul Rahman waiting for us, glowing in his green shalwar kameez he wore especially for Jumuah. His face seemed to brighten the entire alleyway.
In other news, memories are bubbling near and far. The other day we went to Park Towers. My parents and I watch the Azar Ki Aayegi Baraat series pretty much all year long. I walked around amused when I saw the spot where Chaudry Sahab was caught by Nabeel, where Annie and Vicky were having lunch before Laila shows up, where Rabya and Faraz were having ice cream, and a child comes for his autograph. We also had paan at the stall outside the food court. Two each.
Later in the afternoon today we went to Bhabi’s for tea. I seem to remember how to get to her house even better than my own. She lives in a really interesting spot. It’s in North Nazimabad a few streets before the Kati Pahari (Slit Mountain). It’s wonderful driving toward her house because you can see the mountain in the background, and it twinkles at night from all the small houses built upon it. It got its name from the fact that a road was built for getting to the other side by carving an opening through the mountain itself. The road leads to a part of Karachi called Orangi Town. I don’t know much about it except that sometimes in times of political unrest, it comes off as a place to avoid. True or not, I cannot confirm. All I know is that the region is beautiful. A few years ago upon my wish, on the way back from Bhabi’s house then too, my dad asked Mohammad Hussein to take us for a quick drive-through so I could see.
On the way back from Bhabi’s today, we were in a “high roof”. It’s a tiny van-like vehicle that has two long seats facing each other in the back. Most of the car seems to comprise of windows, making it a really good viewing device. You’re able to see a lot more of the city at once. Of course that goes two ways, and the whole city can also see you. The nature of traffic in Karachi pushes vehicle much closer to each other. You could high-five someone, or pull their hair. Things are very, very close together. At some point I felt uncomfortable because in peak rush hour, it was challenging to look outside without making eye contact with every other motorcyclist that went by.
What to do.
I took the part of my hijaab that hangs free on the left side and pulled it over my face, tucking it in to the other side. Niqaab. That oughta do it. A motorcyclist passed by and at least seemed to make some gesture at me with his eyes. Oh well, worth a shot. Properly amused, I sat back face covered, eyes delighted, watching Karachi around me.
January 3, 2017
We woke up early again this morning. I’d forgotten to turn down the brightness on my phone, and the sudden burst of light from the screen induced pain across the right half of my forehead.
The day began with duaa and thoughts, much like usual, lying awake long enough to realize I was up for the morning. There would be no falling back asleep. Conceding sleep is so easy here. It is but three of us on our floor, and no one else is up for many hours to come. But that very thing is the charm. We wake up and witness the entire morning—the sun rising, the crows squawking in choir, motorcycles starting to pass by with short intervals in between, faint noises of neighbors also rising. Around 6:15am we have our first tea. Shortly after, school coaches come by to pick up children from their homes. Closer to 9am, Mumaanijaan comes downstairs. At 10am Alia arrives, and asks what we’d like for breakfast. It is living a sunrise. Gradually, our world appears.
Today after some conversation, I cleaned the newly accumulated dust off of the plant leaves. One morning while on a mission to clean dust off of things, I noticed the two plants in our front sehen. I wiped off a leaf and an entirely different hue revealed itself. It was astounding how much dust these leaves were surviving under. I had to wipe them with paper towels and water, even scrubbing dirt out of a few. My mom found me occupied with the leaves and said it reminded her of her dad, my grandfather. He used to clean every leaf himself, each day. Since then I’ve resolved to do the same every other day, at least while I’m here. It reminds me of Zain’s dad from Tanhaiyan, the way he would talk and pay attention to his plants, and Zara would say “Abba, you’re talking to them like they’re real children.” He responds saying, “But they are children, nanney-munnay.” I already feel like they’re my babies.
While I cleaned things around the house, my aunt ironed clothes for a couple days and my mom hand washed several things of ours, handing them to me to hang around the house for drying. The floor quickly transformed into the likes of a dhobi ghaat.
These are special mornings. They cause me to feel that my grandparents would be happy at their offspring taking care of the house, making their once-home into home again. And perhaps the most special part is that I’ve been given these mornings exclusively with both mothers. The Prophet alayhis salam has said: “Jannah is at the feet of your mother.” When I walk with two pairs of those feet treading on either side of me these days, my heart bows to Allah’s Grace.
Wanting to continue my aspirations for a cleaner Karachi, I try to take the first step today: picking up trash from in front of our house. I figure it has to start from every individual, every home. It was impossibly difficult for a few reasons.
One was the trash itself. There was so much of it that plastic bags had become layers within the ground. It took great effort to pull them from the earth. Secondly, I had no gloves and only so many plastic bags to tie around my hand. I found a syringe, wondering if it had been used for medical purposes or drugs. I felt more and more vulnerable with just the plastic bag around my hand. As I cleaned, my cousin came out with her daughter who boarded her coach and went off to her first day back to school. Sadaf called me inside and we talked about how the street will look exactly the same tomorrow again because of how much trash people find is okay to throw. I told her about the syringe and she laughed good heartedly saying, “don’t go cleaning the Ground in front, you’re sure to find a lot more treasures there.” She told me that there are often empty liquor bottles in the ground, the same place that was not very long ago filled with grass, bustling with families and children, goats, snack vendors, and youth playing sports.
I continued my cleaning after my cousin went upstairs. It was then that I faced the most problematic reason: caution. There’s a lot of fuss made about Karachi because it’s not regarded as a very safe place, and the fuss is usually made by people who don’t actually live here. Is it safe the way another city might be? No, but why should it be? There are a lot of factors at play, including heavy migration, widespread poverty, and political corruption. A lot of the people who are educated professionals end up leaving, for their own valid reasons.
I’m mentioning this now because I don’t want my third complication with trash collection to make Karachi sound like it isn’t livable. Many people live here. The way to live in Karachi is a little different especially if you’re from outside. You walk, talk, appear different and it’s very easily noticeable. Mugging in general—but of cell phones in particular—is at a rise, yes. Every city has its cost—Houston has low cost of living, but its terribly unattractive, and not stimulating, for me at least. Chicago is a large, beautiful city, but it can be frigid cold. Karachi is fun and full of life, but it has certain risks. The way to beat the cold is to layer up. The way to beat risks is to be cautious: don’t flash your cell phone in open markets, don’t be careless with your purse, and for goodness sake, don’t wear gold while going out shopping. It’s not a defense against crime, but it’s important to understand that things are unfortunate right now, but not hopeless.
Anyway, back to my garbage. It’s necessary to be extremely vigilant here. And I do miss the way things used to be, but it is what it is right now. I can’t leave the gate open because the morning hours in particular are quieter and there are less people. If in case, someone is a robber, he can easily get into the house if your gate is left open. Thus, while I’m outside the gate has to be closed. In addition to that, unfortunately motorcycle riders are often the ones mugging but a large part of Karachi’s population rides on motorcycles and all of them can’t be muggers. Still, vigilance has to be black and white.
I went to pick up trash eight feet away in front of our house, but every time I’d bend to pick something up, a motorcycle would come by and I’d have to straighten up and be alert. It would pass, I’d bend down again to pick up one more scrap, another two would come by. I’d straighten up again. They’d pass, and another few would come by while I was still reaching down again. My mind felt puzzled. At this rate of success, how in the world will I ever clean my own 3 feet of trash in front of the house? Sometimes I’d have to walk back towards my gate. Sometimes I’d have to have my mom stand at the gate while I cleaned. A little later I went in and cleaned other things around the house instead—the back door and walls, the floors, the doors and windows.
I think it’s the first time I’ve had a problem with security here, not because it was difficult to be cautious, but because the caution made it very hard to do something for the city. I gazed out at the crows and kites flying tree to tree, wondering whether they’re aware of their own freedom.
January 2, 2017
When it comes to worldly matters
Look to those with less than you,
so you may be humbled.
Having heard this advice often, I thought I knew its meaning well: look at the people who have less because they don’t have as much as you. Simple enough? This morning though, I saw the words anew realizing what they may also mean: look at the people who have less, maybe they have more than you.
I gingerly walked up the white, tiled steps leading into the market. The complex was brightly lit and we appeared to have arrived early. Early meant noon—it’s when many places open here. Today we are in a clothing market lined with shops that sell unstitched material varying from cotton to silk, from organza to jaamawar. Embedded in between these shops are much smaller ones, almost stands against the wall that sell fancy buttons and laces. This is Aashiana (Urdu for ‘home’). And it kind of is one of our homes. Mona and I have been regulars here for years—annually that is—visiting certain spots for certain materials, having cold drinks and chai at places we spend more time at, and bargaining up storms.
The scene was serene and peaceful today. We were among a handful of customers roaming around. My mom and aunt fished out the silk store they buy from, and took their seats for what would likely be an era. Some things don’t change—this was always the dragging part during childhood. But then some things do change—because childhood has passed and I can go walk around instead.
Aashiana is set up in the floor plan of an old time Indian home. The central hall supported by large pillars is a courtyard full of shops facing each other. Towards one end, there is a little stand that sells baked snacks and cold drinks. When you get to the end of the hall in the back, both sides have little alleys that lead to another few rows of shops on each side of the courtyard as well as behind. There’s nowhere to walk without treading alongside a fabric shop. I made my way through the main courtyard shops, stopping longest at the ones with the Balochi-influence kaam. What’s with me, I wonder. No outfit-design epiphanies struck so I take the right side alley and look at the shops there. Colorful dupattas are hanging outside some stores. One store is selling fancy net. Another has kaamdaani. There’s color everywhere, sparkles everywhere.
I stop at a dupatta that has handwork done with thin yarn. I saw something like this in a picture and have wanted it since. Also Balochi. The storekeeper told me it’s 2500 rupees and he wasn’t feeling too inviting. I made a note of the location though and kept moving.
The other storekeepers were instantly activated by my walking by. “Yeh dekh lein baji…Ji Baji…Kya chahiye aapko…Aayiye na baji, bilkul nahi cheez hai…!” Dear me. Exploring on your own has its cost. But the fabrics weren’t as interesting as what else I saw. In one corner of an alley, a worker had a mask on and was sweeping accumulated dust and trash with his jhaaru, cleaning for the morning. My gaze on him was cut short when it was captured by a young boy with steaming tea mugs in a tray held above his shoulder, accompanied by baked patties. I looked down at a shopkeeper, sitting collected with a clear, glass mug of hot tea, and a single pattie sitting next to it. These shop owners were having their breakfast.
Other shopkeepers were setting up long thaans of fabric outside their stores. I walked by another, and the shopkeeper was turned away in a corner. I realized he was reading his morning Quran, seated on a tiny stool. I traveled from alleyway to alleyway, making turns, my fingers gently grazing different fabrics, marveling at the explosion of color. Shopkeepers talked and joked with each other in Pashto. It felt so warm. So happy.
The moms are still at the silk store. They’ve bought a ton of identical outfits by now. I’m forced to another round of exploring. This time I find the Balochi dupatta in the left side alley at another store. He’s a wholesaler, and selling for 1800. I go back to the right side alley shop from before, and ask another worker the price and he tells me 3000 something. I point out someone just told me 2500. They have a 3-second consultation in the air and tell me yes it’s 2500. I tell them about the 1800 guy and they say it’s not the same material. I insist it is, and he politely but coolly says something along the lines of “it’s upto you of course ma’am, wherever you buy from.” He has a black dupatta with multicolor kaam that the other guy didn’t have. But this customer service is entirely unappealing. After the moms are done I take them to the 1800 shop.
This guy is new here. Whoever owns his shop also owns 9 others in Islamabad and they’ve been here for a month now. They’re a wholesaler like I mentioned, which is why their prices are lower. He also told me that dupattas that are in white or black are rare, and only a few come in 100s. However, he sells them all at the wholesale rate to whoever is there at the time they happen to carry them. He had nothing in black while I was there. But there was a beautiful one in white with orange and pink and black and green kaam. We look at a few colors and it turns out he has many more dupattas in the back. And then more. One is bright cyan with yellow, black and magenta kaam. Another is olive green with red and brown kaam. Some are pinks, others green. Some have round motifs, others have paisleys. Each time he opens one, we look at each other and say “well gee, this one looks good too.”
He opened up for us every dupatta of the kind that he had I believe. He also tried them on over both his shoulders to show us how they look. Eventually I was behind the counter inside his shop, also trying them on. My aunt bought a warm shawl for our great aunt and a Balochi dupatta for her daughter. I walked out with two Balochi dupattas. It felt good and welcome in his store, and he was a very courteous young man. He told us about how important ikhlaaq is to their business. And we gave him duaas for the success of their new shop in Karachi.
We did a few other small errands—the moms bought dupattas that would be dyed for suits they purchased, I bought some buttons for a non-existent kurti—and we exited to go next door to The Forum. On the way out, I passed by two security guards outside. They were sitting in a tiny space atop the edge of the stairs. Facing each other and on small stools, they sat with a small, spongy loaf of unsliced bread between them, neatly wrapped in thin plastic. One of the guards was emptying a saalan out of a ziplock for them to share, and this would be their lunch. My mom said “nazar mat lagao.” But I couldn’t help staring. The smallest things here feel like moments of so much wealth from where I’m standing.
Seeing the beauty of people’s everyday lives in Karachi melts away the ugly magnification of what we feel are such large problems. I say this not because our problems are not valid, but the stress I feel from my own and other’s issues—Karachi cuts through that even.
People go about their day and their work, with such energy and such happiness. I haven’t seen a single person mope here, not even the poorest of the poor.
How beautifully people live here, despite all their troubles.