Street violence in Karachi
There are times when nothing else exists. You know there are rebels in Libya and refugees fleeing Syria, and today, Yemen has seen the resurrection of a dead president. You know these things. And your day has been mundane at best. You spent it in your bedroom—hours relocating from the bed to the couch to the floor as, sentence by excruciating sentence, droplet by droplet, you squeezed out a research-heavy first draft of a 2,000 word article about Karachi’s art deco buildings. Tomorrow you will get to scrap half of it.
When you felt like you really needed a table, you went to the whole foods café, because in the afternoon it’s quieter than the artsy coffee shop, which teems with teens on summer break. And that one guy who brings his keyboard and rehearses Sarah McLachlan’s “In the Arms of the Angels” with that one girl singing, unselfconsciously, that same song over and over and over again. For hours. Don’t they realize it’s a funeral song? Plus, it’s just bad.
You ordered an Americano and a white chocolate chip gluten-free organic cupcake.
Later you went to a friend’s for dinner and a movie, only you had to leave after dinner, because the roads will be closed soon. Not in YOUR neighborhood, of course, nothing ever happens in your neighborhood. But in the driver’s neighborhood. Because there’s been a bit of unrest recently. Just a few gunmen on buses, only about 10 or so wage-workers dead and 20 injured—Pakistanis who can’t afford cars or even motorbikes, shot on their morning commute. Just a few days, it’s been maybe 72 hours or so, and 69 people dead of gunshot wounds.
Some of them are party members. Some of them aren’t. Some are refugees from a different sort of war—the kind where your children are hungry and the stores are shut, so you can’t go out to buy food, and the secular political parties are slaughtering each other and your neighbors, too, even as they rail against the bloodthirsty fundos. And the Chief Minister issues a “shoot on sight” order, which means that anyone in an open space is fair game. Except that your children are hungry, and your neighbors are dying, and you’re scared. So you risk it. You step into the open—but only long enough to flee. What’s that saying about a moving target?
But that “you” isn’t me, remember…because I am gori, to shoot me would be an international public relations disaster. Because I live in Defense, my life is worth more, and I would never take buses. Or wear the requisite burka, the uniform of women who brave public transport.
This latest violence in Karachi doesn’t even make international news, or at least not the homepage. Or at least, not any homepage but Al Jeezera’s. Not enough death, mayhem and destruction. But anyway. Tomorrow there’s a bus strike.
And today there were false rumors of a petrol strike, and stations were sucked dry, with cars winding a kilometer down the road and hundreds of pedestrians crowding each pump, brandishing plastic containers of the earth’s glistening plasma. (The dinosaurs are rolling in their graves…or should that be, rising from their graves?)
Was it only yesterday that I bought a dozen DVDs at Boat Basin? Less than $1 a movie, the owner telling me proudly how he purchases them overseas, fills his suitcase with Best Buy and Wal-Mart and the latest in burners. “Even the British Ambassador shops here,” he said. Under the harsh fluorescents, this bizarre bazaar culture.
Eating a nutella sandwich at Roadside, having a coffee with friends who are about to escape the anxiety. Hunza, Karimabad. Yeah, I had that ticket too.
But here, the real café culture is low-brow. It’s the hotels and the teahouses, the charpoy’s and plastic chairs. It’s men, only men. Men out till all hours of the night, men discussing sex, politics, money and love. If you’re poor with a penis, the city’s yours for the living. Except that for a few days (before I even realized), it’s been yours for the dying.
Had to see the lines at the pumps and even then, I didn’t understand until gunmen fired on a TV team’s van.
All I could see was my stifling room, so that, on the first day of the slaughter, I climbed a rickety, homemade ladder to the roof, danced for hours to the world inside my ipod. The roof makes an ideal studio, except there are too many tiny rocks. But I danced for years, I can ignore the pain. Then on my back, gazing into the infinite. A single flash, catch a ride. (That night in Rumbor, there were so many rides…)
The clouds were amazing, dense and mobile and so close. I got locked out, and once I climbed down to the veranda, I had to bang the window to be let in. It was 2am.
Tonight you have hot flashes from all the sugar you’ve consumed. Tonight you are worried about the Afghan kid you’ve been interviewing, the one who lives in the firing. You’re wishing he would return your texts.Tonight there are no roofs and on your route home, no gunfire. Not even any cops. The roads are eerily deserted at 11pm, except when you pass the one Caltex station that isn’t dry, because when you saw it three hours earlier a whole new truckload was being piped into the ground. Or wherever that shit is stored. And still, there are lines—longer even now—but the only people crowding the pump are station employees in red shirts. About twenty of them, trying to maintain law and order, you guess.