Looking for Rainbows

September 3

If the sun is out and bright, and you can feel a drizzle, it is your job to position yourself such and look for the rainbow that fifth-grade science books will tell you, is somewhere up in the sky.

I remember being on the mumti once, it was a bright early morning and Annie and I had not slept the entire night. (Those nights when sleep was like a secretary we didn’t have any need for, so we would always send it packing on a vacation, those summers and winters of unbridled youth, that were too petulant, too bored for slumber). We had seen the sun rise imperceptibly and stretch its yellow arms all over the eastern sky and it seemed like a clear day till I felt a cold drop on my arm. “I felt a drop! Did a bird just pee on me?” (Do birds pee while soaring in the blue heavens? I know they poo while flying; quite gracelessly too, I feel). But then Annie and I both felt more scattered drops and we looked above in surprise, rainclouds camouflaged in the morning blueness above.

And I told Annie, we had to look for a rainbow and sure enough, within a few minutes we saw an arch spreading from one end of Islamabad to the other, a band of pastel colors, God’s magic.  It might have been the largest rainbow I have ever seen, documented in a photograph of mediocre quality, before the digital era, in some flimsy Kodak album. 

More often than not, I find rainbows when I look for them. Whether I have to cajole a driver into stopping by the road and craning my neck out from the car window, or climbing up the staircase/fire escape in my dorms and standing on a two-foot square space, you need faith, and some degree of childish stubbornness. And when I spot it, a pale blue, yellow, pink fluttering like a mirage, I always feel a flutter of pride, a comforting feeling that I am special, that the rainbow is there just for me.

My trip to Karachi was quite perfect; after spending almost two months in the boring, lovely Islamabad, where people follow traffic rules (if you disagree, take your car out on the roads of Karachi and rediscover the meaning of natural selection), the roads stretch black and clean, the mountains loom impassively gorgeous in the background and all men stare as if there is no other expression worth forming, Karachi hit me like a wave, drenching me in its overpowering, salt-scented energy.  The breeze was lovely, tireless like the city, dancing carelessly, unstoppable, through the lofty coconut trees, ruffling the orange, pink and white of papery bougainvilleas, and flirting with girls, tugging at their hair, pulling their long kameezs.

There were the customary stories of new robberies, brazen bandits who don’t care to hide their faces, young boys toting guns at traffic signals, calmly taking your watches, jewelry, expensive phones, and there was the panic of parents calling intermittently, trying to convince their grown-up kids to come home on time, the cordoned roads and lanes, the rude black pajeros and prados and the oily-mustachioed security guards of invisible politicians, the rise in extortion, the daily killings that we take with our breakfast and evening tea, as normal as butter cookies in a bakery. There was the barely suppressed panic when driving at night and a motorcycle with two men showed up in the rearview mirror, there was the regular depression that engulfed us when we thought of who is ruling our city, what is being broadcasted in the mosques… but all the time, I was on the lookout for rainbows. Because would you believe it, even in the darkest, rainiest, murkiest cities and villages, when the sun comes out during a shower, there is a band of colors waiting patiently to be seen.

Every time I was maneuvering a tight corner and a passerby would pause and motion for me to turn, back up or keep moving, I would see the seven colors of a rainbow at the back of my mind; anytime a car stopped for me and gestured that I could go first, after the initial amazement I would nod internally, understanding that this was one of those moments we stop looking for when living our everyday lives, lost in the confusion of what to have for dinner or wear to work. And just like that, the entire stay in the city I counted the stars I saw shining on the ground and pocketed them for future musing (and this blog). Late night couples at Seaview, sharing secrets and mundane stories brightened up by the love they shared while the waves came and went, endless, beautiful, dark, their loud murmurs blending with the music of the wind; the man who stopped in midstride to catch a boy about to fall off his bicycle, righted the bike and slapped his back in the camaraderie of a stranger in Pakistan; the journalists who continue to work despite all odds, who innovate, think, crib, love; the new Chinese restaurant with yummy beef and chili; a tea place with a motto I want to steal – live life, love tea – and the yummy disco chai they served; the story of a policeman who shared a cigarette with a young man on his way home from work who he had initially stopped to ‘investigate’; the Sitar night at my favorite cafĂ©; the glow-in-the-dark rickshaws I saw in Defence…

The shopping! Even though I fall at the bottom of the girly scale of shopaholics, I had a great time looking at all the colors and textures, all the price ranges for a bustling city like Karachi. The chocolate fountain at Park Towers, the sunlight that lights up the entire ground floor of Dolmen Mall, the plays I couldn’t see, the new movie theater I will try on my next visit, the stories I see in old buildings, retired sufis sleeping on the roads, dusty corners, bright streets, everything makes me want to go back and live in this scary, lovely mess.

And then, there are the people, the fabric of Karachi, its trouble, its beauty, its hope, and my friends. I count myself as fabulously, guiltily fortunate when it comes to knowing awesome people, who can support me, my thoughts and dreams, back to back, providing the strength and connection we all need to survive in this world, to make us feel like we are not alone, to challenge me, give me new ideas, egg me on so I can be bold, and most importantly, to make fun of me so I don’t take myself too seriously, laughing right next to me, shoulders shaking, breathing in the content that wafts from true friends. 


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