The Only City

January 10

It feels like time stopped when I left my house in Karachi. The hands of the clock finally took a break, construction on the house next door stopped, layers of dust collected slowly in the terrace, and the leaves on the dead Neem tree never sprouted again. The sights are similar, the sounds exactly the same. From the ticking of the clock in our former lounge to the azaan from the mosque followed by the less melodic, more throaty azaan from the makeshift prayer area in front of our house on our street. The one or two cocky crows that come sit on the balustrade in the terrace when I come out to walk, waiting till I’m two steps away before they finally fly off. The Omore ice cream man who cycles in to our lane around 4:20 pm, and the Walls ice cream man who visits an hour later – the guard smiles and waves and I wonder how much his family in Peshawar misses him.

The house next door seems to be perpetually under construction. It has started to look a bit like our house in Islamabad and I wonder how it would be to wake up in that white square house, look out the window and see our old home, weather-worn, and beautiful with holograms of my past hanging in silent suspension everywhere.

The beauty of transience is how easy it becomes to love. Five months since I last saw Karachi, and the four days I spent there were not enough. Everything was beautiful, the dry, warm days, the cold night breeze, the dust that hung so palpable in the air it was like I was perpetually kissing the earth.

I hear of increased car snatching, muggings, stolen phones, there’s a sit-in on one of the busiest roads in Karachi and the shopkeepers are pissed, whose rights are these bearded men shouting about at the cost of our business? Conversation starters include videos of policemen teargasing protesters made on phones from tall office buildings. But it doesn’t matter. Winter in Karachi is beautiful, the sea is calm like a glassy emerald lake, float on your back and the sun shines in your eyes, utter calm. My favorite cafes and restaurants, the 3-D cinema and I finally found khussas that don’t cut into my toes or heels! DVDs for Rs50, gol guppas, and Pakola, my friends, and of course, you are in Karachi.

Where else will you find a school called The Set School or, even better, The Only School. Where else do men inside cars get so annoyed at pesky persistent child window wipers at traffic lights? Where else do I fit in so well?


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