Thursday, December 18, 2014

Erosion

A pile of bricks rests on the side of the curb. The curb was black and yellow once upon a time but it is faded now, the paint had gotten bored, slid off and gone to brighter horizons. You can see the dull beige of the stones.

A motorcyclist zips to the right, cutting it close to avoid a muddy pothole.
The sky is blue, brilliant, fresh, as if just colored in an hour ago, serrated streaks of clouds stretch across one part.

Neat, calm houses line the street and the traffic is rude, which is normal for 5:45 pm on a Tuesday.

Short stubby trees line the sidewalk that divides the main road and as the wind rustles, three green leaves fall off and onto my windshield.

Inhale.

The grounds are quiet, scattered with broken chairs, spilling piles of notebooks, lonely shoes without laces and stains of blood.

Smoke still lingers in the sky that has lost all color. 

The trees in the courtyard and by the boundary walls are quiet, stooping, immovable, stunned. The leaves still bright green from their morning shower.  

The echoes of sirens have stopped. It is quiet for 5:45 pm on a Tuesday.

A lady stands at the tea station, her hand moves in quick circles as she stirs her morning tea. Steam rises from the green and white cup.

There are three photographs, and several post-its pinned to the desk separator in front of me. Just past it, two colleagues talk to one another, one of them tells a joke and they laugh.

The soft patter of fingers flying across a keyboard, the ring of telephones, the squeak of a chair being pushed back too hard. The elevator beeps and a man gets off, bent under the weight of three cardboard boxes.

Exhale.
Hide, mouths a teacher, the sound of a door being closed quietly is lost in the echo of gunshots. Her students cower on the floor, beneath desks and chairs. A boy reaches for his friend’s hand. Another notices the eraser he had lost earlier this morning, it lies right in front of his nose and he wraps his fingers around it.

There is a poster of Quaid-e-Azam pasted outside grade 6. He looks young, and kind. There is a pale blue chart next to it, which has a quote about knowledge and light. Its top right corner has become unstuck and it droops slightly, the tape discolored around it.

The sound of shoes scraping against the coarse floor, the slam of doors being thrown open. The rapid fire of guns. The held breath of a dozen children, the thump of their hearts. A cell phone rings, rings and rings, never pausing for a minute.

The fairy lights hang from the left end of the curtain rod. The lights are from Thailand, brightly entwined around tiny bulbs. The room is dark and dim, save for the warm glow of these lights.

The silhouette of books fills up the shelf, a ceramic vase stands at a strange angle, probably 
pushed aside to lean behind the shelf for the TV switch. Two picture frames stand at different levels of the shelf. The people in them look happy.

The gentle hum of the stabilizer, the blinking blue of the PC, blinking again and again, flashing in front of my eyes. There isn’t any sound except for that of our breath.

Inhale.
It’s a dark path, narrow with the walls of the night pushing in from all sides. There is no moon, there are no stars, there is no sky. A dense fog hangs everywhere. There is no sound, there is no movement.

It catches me off guard, the sight of a blue sky as I turn onto the main road towards my house on my way back from work, the quiet conversation of people in the morning in office, or the glow of the lights in my room when I find myself suddenly awake in the middle of the night. Flashbacks of a place where I haven’t been, of a horror I didn’t experience except through the news.

Sometimes it isn’t anything concrete, just a sudden jolt, and my heart feels heavy, like an anchor thrown into the sea, slowly sinking, sinking into unknown depths, a physical sensation that almost overpowers.

Living in Pakistan, we’re not strangers to grief. It was in 2007 when the term “suicide attacks” became part of everyday language, from the 7 blasts in 2006 to a staggering 54 the next year. And it hasn’t stopped since then, all the trauma reduced to statistics for digestion and survival.

It is the end of 2014 – eight years is a long time. It is long enough for a baby to be born, learn to talk and tie his shoelaces and start grade 2. It is enough to wipe out memories of peace, of what life was like without the barriers, the snipers, the extra police, the headlines, the photographs of bodies and blood; enough to make you realize that if you are to function like a normal human then you had to ration your grief.

And so we did. Our minds adopting a cunning, unconscious means of comprehending brutality:
For casualties under 20, we skim the newspaper, shake our heads sadly (unless the targeted area is unfamiliar). Places in KPK, Balochistan and most of Karachi have featured in the news so much that our eyes and our hearts have adapted.

When the number of dead reaches 40 and beyond, our heart skips a beat and a pallor surrounds for a few minutes. We pray for the dead and their families and then change the channel.

60 and above, a longer prayer.

I remember the suicide attack that killed 61 people in Lahore at the Wagah border on November 2. I remember the shock, the sheer number of deaths, the incredulity at the unlikely target. The story about a boy who had put a picture on Instagram, at the Wagah border with his friends, just a little while ago. I remember being there with my friends around six years ago and the thought was heart wrenching.  But two hours later, the feeling had subsided and I was eating dinner.

Every now and then the scale reaches proportions that make me cry, that bring me down for a while and swathe me in hopelessness and anger.

But nothing like this.

Nothing has shook us like this before, nothing has interrupted our days like this, our minds, our hearts, suddenly overcoming us in the middle of dinner or the drive back home, leaving no room for comprehension.

And it makes me mad. It makes me mad that this is who I have become, that it takes a tragedy of this proportion to affect me like this. It makes me mad that we have to ration our grief, because in reality, the lives of 13 children killed in a school bus are as precious as the 132 gunned down on Tuesday.

I remember the Boston bombing. I was in St. Louis at that time and I remember the horror of my class mates and colleagues, everybody was glued to the TV and in shock. I remember seeing that three people were killed and the word ‘only’ flashed in my mind.
I’m not downplaying the tragedy, just the injustice of living in a country where three deaths isn’t even worth a shrug. Because we have to move on. Because if you look at the number of bomb blasts in our country, it peppers the calendar like sunny days on a weather forecast.

But sometimes, the injustice of it all, of having to move on because we have to, crushes me inside.

The walls shook, the floor heaved
A light in my heart
Went out.
I’ll sit still for a while,
In the dark
Because it’s too soon
To get up and move.

take a look at these links for some cold hard facts:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Coloring is Fun

Karachi Scribbles V

I love the locations of our schools*.

We enter a labyrinth of narrow, dirt roads, over open sewers and past little kids grinning cheekily from street corners, poking at our dabba-van as it rattles within inches of them. Houses and shops crowd close, built almost into each other, side by side, sharing boundary walls and cups of tea over neighborhood gossip. The shops are numerous and tiny, almost identical, and I see them at every other turning, with their plastic jars of biscuits and candy and bored keepers, their customers usually under the age of 10, making well-balanced, slow decisions about spending a rupee or two.

Sleepy dogs and small children looking after even smaller children scatter the unpaved lanes, every now and then there is a long trail of garbage, plastic bags of blue, black and pink, peels of potatoes and squashed tetra packs.

It’s in these neighborhoods that I realize where the actual population of Karachi lies. If you think “Aaj Zamzama per bohat rush hai” you need to come into one of these areas at lunchtime and see where the 18 million + population actually resides. A whole different world exists outside of our neat streets with two-story houses in which six or seven members of a family live comfortably, the wide spaces, the lawns, the terraces, the roads large enough for people to park their extra cars on.

Imagine living six or seven people to a room, with tattered blankets for doors, no proper electricity, no sewage system, not even a water pipeline system that can provide you free, clean water to wash your face with in the mornings.

Anyways, so there we are, winding our way through the maze (how our drivers know the way without any street signs or numbers is incredible), past the tightly-fitted structures and burning trash, the barefoot toddlers and discarded vegetable carts, and suddenly, without warning, there appears a bright blue door set within a pale yellow boundary wall. The schools are always beautiful, off-white yellow or burnt-red in Karachi, the beautiful bright bricks in Punjab with brilliant green gardens bursting with kaleidoscopic flowers (as opposed to the dusty grounds in Sindh) and a clean grey stone with blue trim in Azad Kashmir.

Clean classrooms, colorful charts, neat paths and corridors – in the midst of all the nots, there is suddenly a place where there is. It’s a place of opportunity (not without its baggage and obstacles and restrained resources) where the kids are so cute you want to pull their cheeks in the middle of a lecture on nouns.

I love observing classes. It takes me back to how school life was, a time when seating arrangements mattered more than dying phone batteries, when there was always that one kid who lost his pencils by the second period and would be harassing you for yours, the smart girl who the teacher would always call on, the whispering and passing notes, the giggles over someone’s unfortunate hairstyle.

Kids in class I are tiny and their bags gigantic, covering 2/3rds of their small plasticky chairs as they perch precariously on the edge. They swivel their heads like owls and follow me as I make my way to the back of the class and sit on the same tiny chair, all of them invariably assume I am a teacher. Some gaze with wide-eyed bewilderment, others smile shyly, and one or two greet me.

The kids today were learning how to make sentences. There were essentially only two rules: start with a capital letter and put a full stop at the end. Pretty simple right? But they kept fumbling, forgetting to capitalize the first letter, or suddenly making the b in bat at the end of the sentence big, skipping the full stop in half of the sentences. The teacher was very patient, walking around, bending down to point out a mistake. Which reminds me, I also love the way kids use erasers. They erase furiously, making such a mess of their paper, sometimes ripping it and then looking up guiltily to see if anyone noticed.

They also steal each other’s stationery. “Miss, she’s not letting me use her pencil!” a boy whined. “It’s mine!” the girl with the bright eyes and bright green ribbons rightly responded. “But she has two!” the boy’s sense of justice needed a little straightening up but the teacher sided with him. “Shehzadi, do you have two pencils?”
“This one is mine.”
“Do you have another one?”
“It’s my brother’s,” Shehzadi tried one more time but the teacher told her to take that one out and use it.
The boy didn’t look up but his smile widened considerably.

The battle over lost pencils, erasers and shared rulers, the unquenchable desire to sharpen pencils (just so there was a chance to get up from the chair and walk across the class to the corner with the dust bin), and the kids with the coolest pencil boxes in class – stationery was so important in those days.

One of the boys sitting in front of me was an adorable perfectionist. He wrote really slowly, erasing a letter if he thought it was even slightly imperfect and writing it again. The writing was good enough to be framed or added into Microsoft Word as the Perfect Kid font. He meticulously capitalized all his t’s, regardless of their position in the sentence. I pointed out that he only had to write the first letter in capital and he should look over his work and find the ones that didn’t need to be big letters. That set off another round of rigorous rubbing.  

The student workbooks mostly have line drawings, which just invite coloring. After every ten minutes a kid would speak up hopefully, “Miss, can we color in?” and the teacher would be dismissive, say ‘no’, no doubt thinking about the time left and the irrelevance of color to full stops and simply not realizing how much the children wanted it.

It made think of the Indus Valley (Karachi’s best art school) exhibition I went to this week and the mind-blowing talent that was set up symmetrically across the rooms. That work was worthy of at least one full blog post, but I bring it up because of how little we think of art in our schools, especially in the low-cost private schools and public schools.

Yes, grammar is important but sometimes we forget how little kids think differently from us. Sometimes we say ‘no’ without thinking about it, forgetting how that one syllable can bring down shutters and lock up a child’s imagination and creativity. Sometimes we need to remember how annoying it is when we hear the word ‘no’ in response to a request.  Think twice about whether it really would hurt to say ‘yes’,  maybe the two minutes of happiness a ‘yes’ would bring, and letting a kid change a black-and-white drawing into a messy colorful picture, is worth it.



*(I work for TCF, an education nonprofit with over 1,000 school units across the country). 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ammah’s First Flight

Karachi Scribbles IV

My mom is without inhibitions when it comes to love and affection. She’s the kind of person who says salam to strangers, goes up to cute babies and asks their parents if she can play with them, who strikes up conversation with anyone and talks to them like they’re best friends. She’d go up to a crying stranger and ask them what’s wrong, or gently chide two young men yelling in public in a way that would make them change their tone and instead start whining to her about each other.

I’m not exactly like that. I’d think it all but I’m afraid of the people who wouldn’t say salam back, or glare at me for being intrusive. Basically, I’m an introvert. And afraid of benign repercussions. But sometimes, life makes it easy to be kind.

Traveling by yourself is great for sociological observations. It’s stressful to travel these days – are my bags too heavy, did I misplace my ID, is it dangerous for my four-year old to be bending down to touch the escalator belt – and a thousand other little anxieties that come crowd over your shoulders, adding to the weight of your overstuffed backpack.  And although we live in a time where we’d rather check our email than offer help to a stranger, sometimes you see it. And kindness to strangers during such times can really go a long way. It could be offering to help with a bag, or volunteering to give up your seat so that a family can sit together, or just smiling at a young mom whose toddler keeps running his toy car up your arm and letting her know it’s no big deal.

On my way back from Islamabad a few days ago, there was a wrinkled old woman with orange henna-dyed hair, a hairy chin and very few teeth standing in front of me in the boarding card line.

Kithay ja rai ho?”  she asked me in Punjabi, kind of cute in a strange geriatric way.
“Karachi,” I told her and she became so excited she grabbed my hand.
“Me too!” she told me (obviously still in Punjabi. Assume for the remaining story that she conversed solely in Punjabi.) “Can you help me out?”

She told me it was her first time travelling on a plane and she was terrified. “Mein unparh han na, kuch perhna likhna nahi aanda,” she was unabashedly honest about how she couldn’t read. She asked me to stick with her till the end and so I agreed, we even got adjacent seats on the plane. 

Ammah jee was mystified by the baggage belt and how she’d get her bag in Karachi. Instead of a purse she had a plastic theli she tied around her wrist and she kept putting her boarding card into it even though I told her we needed it at the next checking point. “I’ll lose it,” she explained just as a surly security man came holding a bag of biscuits. “Is this yours?” he glared at her and she nodded, petrified like a child got with her hand in a cookie jar. He gave it to her and stalked off, still giving her the look reserved by mothers for disciplining their children in public.

It was her first time on an escalator, and you probably don’t remember your first time but it’s the slight fear of mis-stepping and falling face first into the sharp metal steps that makes you miss your step and totter. Which is what she did but then stepped off expertly.

Our time in the waiting lounge was well spent. She refused to let me out of her sight, afraid I’d disappear into thin air and she’d be left alone to fend for herself on the airplane. By the end of those 30 minutes, I still didn’t know her name. But I knew she was married into strangers, her daughter was divorced by her cousin and her son had an unhappy marriage with another cousin. “It’s better to be married into strangers than your own family,” she told me sadly and I nodded awkwardly.
“You don’t look married at all!” she said with empathetic cheer, “not at all!” shaking her head to emphasize the incredulity of it all. “Is he nice?”
“Yes.”
“What’s his relation to you?”
“He’s my husband.”
“No silly, I mean is a relative?”
“Nopes.”
“So you got married into strangers too!” she was happier still about our common state of affairs. 

“How will we get to the plane?”
I told her by bus (since we were at the village-airport of Islamabad) and pointed outside the windows overlooking the runway.
“Do I need bus fare?” she got worried and I told her it was a free ride.

Ammah and I had a grand old time on the plane. She had the window seat which I had my eye on. I was hoping I could swindle her into getting it (especially since she couldn’t really read) but she said, “nahi nahi, mein aythay betha gee” and so I had to sit in the middle seat. I taught her how to put on her belt, bring down the dinner table. I introduced her to the miracle of bathrooms on planes. When the airhostess came around, Ammah jee wanted the apple juice that I chose and the Miranda that the lady next to me was having. And for refills, she had chai.

When her son called her on the phone she told him all about the itni neik aur  achi bachi that was helping her make this journey.

Ammah and I were together till the baggage claim, where thankfully our bags came together and we rolled our trolleys out to be received by our respective men.


“How was your flight?” he asked as I came out, and I told him it was pretty good.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Light Up, Karachi

Karachi Scribbles III

Strings of tiny lights canopied over the garden, pink and yellow paper lanterns swayed in a light breeze, and polka-dot balloons nodded in the air.

Bright colors exploded on canvasses and captured in frames, stuck up on wooden boards with clotheslines pins, or set stark against white borders, kaleidoscopes of imagination articulated on paper, drawn with charcoal and saturated with blues, yellows, pinks and violets.

Postcards of Karachi, snapshots of imaginary women, the neon colors of truck art and the faded photographs of forgotten city buildings – it was lovely to be in the midst of it all.

Cities across the world burst into action as soon as winter packs up her bags and starts her trek back up to the mountains – here in Karachi, winter is like a diva that creates too much fuss before coming and only stops by for a perfunctory peck on the cheek. Here in Karachi, we call it winter when we don’t need to turn on the ACs, where we take out shawls because we own them but then have to wear slippery thin shirts so that it’s comfortable to drape them around ourselves.

The weather these days is beautiful at night, pleasantly cool, and every now and then there’s the balmy breeze that Karachiites take so much pride in you’d think they had something to do with its creation. It’s the perfect time really to have a Creative Karachi festival, a two-day event at the French cultural center bringing art, music, drama, and gol guppas to the public.

The center is fairly small but lovely, with winding paths and dusty trees, a rooftop and a courtyard. When you first walk in, it smacks of elitism – you hear all accents except your local ones, toddlers are wearing jeans that fit them better than any pair of jeans ever fit me, the blow-dried hair, the tank tops, the utter lack of spoken Urdu, the stereotypical ‘Western’ feel that makes me feel anxious because we don’t really live in the West and the disparity between the world outside the four walls and this one is too jarring.

Once you get over the ‘I’m surrounded by rich people’ feeling (I don’t really have anything against rich people, I mean I love wearing jeans and I even dream in English so I can scarcely crib about that. It must be a hidden jealousy caused by the fact that I don’t look good in red lipstick and my shirt wasn’t sleeveless), once you get over that, the entire ambience of the evening surrounds you in the sweetest of hugs. It’s one of those rare happy feelings that lasts beyond one moment and fills you up from the lightness in the heart to a silly smile on the face and you can just walk around, listening to good music.

I love fairy lights and as the evening darkened into night, they lit up the trees and stalls like fireflies winding around trunks and twines, beautiful, magical, a garden of wonders where you could listen to The Shins, and The Verve, Pink Floyd, and Paul McCartney, and even some techno beats snuck in by the cute, bespectacled DJ who was enjoying his selection so much that you would’ve been content to listen even if he were playing Justin Bieber.

Then there were the kids, ranging from all sizes between XS to L, toddling around the place, the polka-dotted ladybird balloons tied around their wrists and finger puppets in their hands. A smattering of them were losing it out on the floor near the DJ. There was just enough marble floor for them to run from one end to the other, head bashing, sliding, skidding, rock stars in the making till they would inevitably hit their head on the floor and then burst into tears.

There were a little boy with silky hair curling at the nape of his neck, smiling appreciatively at the musicians as he climbed up the steps to the stage and walked around amidst the instruments. A similar-sized girl joined him and they just hung out up there, swinging lightly to the music.

Kids climbing up to mark their stake on stage is a uniquely Pakistani phenomena, it doesn’t matter if it’s a wedding or a concert, if children can access it, they are going to make it to the top. I secretly love the whole drama: the stealth of the kids as they make their way up, the few minutes of unadulterated joy as they rush around madly, pulling off flowers or tangling wires, muddy footprints all over, then the battle and the eventual sad demise of their fun as they are dragged off by accursed adults.

Which is what happened to these two young-uns. It was an opening band so the toddlers got at least a few minutes of fame but as the musicians wound up their song, a red-shirted organizer strode across and with gentle but firm hands, started to herd the boy off stage. He obviously underestimated the kid though, who dug his heels in like a stubborn horse and the organizer toed the line between management and child abuse on stage. Finally the parents/caretakers arrived and after a little haggling and bartering, the children were finally carried off. 

The fair had a lovely family feel to it, kids helping their parents sell fish and chips, or stacking sauce bottles to the side, running after a forgetful customer with their change, slightly bemused adults standing in the midst of four or five children running around them, and the flowery picnic mats being sold at the venue and then spread out on the ground so cupcakes could be eaten in peace.

There was a concert stage at one end of the area and the first evening, we listened to a band called Chand Taara Orchestra, and the next a couple of songs by Sounds of Kolachi. The former was very good but the latter just blew me away.

Sounds of Kolachi featured guitars, a sitar, a violin, drums and what looked like a cross between a sitar and a violin and very good vocals. The music was beautiful, the harmony of so many different instruments blending in, augmenting one another, carrying on an unending rhythm that reverberated in my heart, bringing the heartbeat in synch with it. The first song by Sounds of Koloachi carried into the night, a rising crescendo that ran like goose bumps up my arms and down my back, all the instruments playing together like they had one musician, beautiful, fierce, and so powerful we wanted it to never stop. They did stop though and the audience burst into applause.

I wish there could be more festivals like these, open to an even greater audience, a chance for all of us living in Karachi to remember what an amazing city it is, with its multitude of talents and our proverbial wind.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Too Close for Comfort: Introduction

Karachi Scribbles II

Bakra Eid is not my favorite. I have some snippets of memories associated with it that are flashed at the back of mind every now and then, five-second holographs, tugged into motion by some unaware association:

A still image of bright red blood streaming into the drain outside our gate, just the grey-tiled floor and the sliver of red (because I would keep my eyes trained to the ground on slaughter days).

The large, smooth spheres of cattle intestines that would line the backstreets of Islamabad, I can see them at the edge of my vision, as my cousins and I walk down to the market nearby. (That must have been at least 12 years ago, when the walk to the market itself was the treat rather than the few rupees we’d spend on sweets.)

I remember the goat that stepped on my foot, sparking a lifetime grudge. I was wearing open-toed slippers and was actually in a sweet mood, offering green stalks to the heavy-hoofed creature and he just came too close for comfort. And the thing is, I felt it was very deliberate. So I was hurt physically and emotionally. I’ve never really warmed up to the animal as a species after that.

Then there is an audio memory. It is the pained yell of a goat that sees its death flash in the silver of the knife, glinting under the sun, accidentally exposed a second too soon. I woke up to the sound one Eid day many years ago, and that ruined it for me. I can still hear that scream every now and then, and it makes me lose my appetite not just for meat but even cereal.

So, needless to say, I prefer staying indoors on this Eid. I don’t like eating meat in general but I swear it off completely on the three Eid days and the month following it for good measure.

This Eid-ul-Azha we had the pleasure of having a cattle market right next to us.
Ever since I can remember, there has been an empty plot adjacent to our house. All the other spaces have been filled up but this 500sq. yards of land remains. Sometimes it serves as free parking space for the neighborhood but largely its left alone, you know, seeing that it doesn’t really belong to any of the people living on the street.

Till the house on the other side of the plot was built. This blog post (and a few others in the future) is dedicated to our neighbors in the House of Jerks.

Their house took a couple of years to build and really, it’s nice looking from the outside. Who lives there is a mystery because Fahad and I are both introverts so we don’t really care. We don’t really see the inhabitants as much as the cars that drive these inhabitants.
At any point in time there are always at least two vehicles parked outside, taking over half the road. (They are always being cleaned. As are the windows of the house.) Is it nice to permanently take over the road, especially if your house is right at the street corner? No, not really, but it’s okay, I guess, at any rate it doesn’t bother us too much.

Then as Bakra Eid rolled closer, a large canopy was put up, a rugged carpet rolled out covering the entire land space between our house and the House of Jerks. A few chairs and a small stage or two at both corners which was somewhat confusing. Is this for cattle as the troughs indicate or for an event as the chairs and stages suggest?

The animals came slowly, almost magically because every time I came back home from work there would be another massive cow – imported from Australia was the rumor – chewing dry grass in the plot. Some five cows, a goat or two, a sheep, and a camel, all came to populate a very bright cattle market lit up with strings of white bulbs that swung in the Karachi night breeze. The three days of Eid saw the end of the market, with the camel being left for last.

The third day of Eid, we were getting into the car for a dinner party at a relative’s when Fahad turned on the headlights. The misty ray of light fell on a bloody carcass, more apt for the set of a horror movie than a nice neighborhood in DHA. “Ew!” I shrieked, “turn it off!” He did and the image disappeared, but then he turned it on again for that is somewhat amusing to a 28-year-old husband, and there was the all too real blood and gore remains of the poor camel.

The next day a strange smell had invaded our home. My ammunition of candles and fruity sprays proved futile.
What is this smell!?”

It was the camel’s head and hoofs, pleasantly tucked into our side of the plot, right by our wall. Our kitchen window actually faces this plot and the smell there was not exactly conducive to cooking.

The next day it was even worse, for obvious reasons. This is Karachi and its hot – imagine the dried blood and bones and fat and muscle rotting in the sun, crows pecking away at the shredded leftovers and the disgusting scent of meat and death hanging heavy in our entire house.

So we finally complained, get this mess picked up. And kindly so, after two and a half days of living next to a camel corpse, I came home from work one day to find the plot empty save for a white powder scattered along the space, hopefully an antiseptic of some sort.

Needless to say, I’m not sending over any kheer to these neighbors.


(Note: House of Jerks  will be featured in at least one more entry due to their incredible daftness and disregard for human life)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Are We There Yet?

Karachi Scribbles I

It’s hard to tell when you’ve really, truly entered adulthood. Even the definition is somewhat ambiguous: fully grown – physically or psychologically? Mature – that’s definitely relative, and my favorite: of age.

I know for sure I didn’t feel like an adult when I turned 18. How can anyone feel like an adult in college where jeans, sneakers and t-shirts rule supreme and irons are unheard of? Where cooking two-minute ramein is a skill and bed sheets are optional, where you feel independent and free – from authority, responsibility and worry. Where you stick your head out of the car window and feel happiness tug at your hair, where music can never be too loud and where your youth is tangible, in the way you walk and talk and breathe and laugh.

Did I feel like an adult when I turned 21? Not quite, because I came right back home. Starting a job? Nopes, still living with my parents, although ironing slowly wormed its way into my life and closet.

I felt a semblance of adulthood rear it’s scary head when I went for my masters. I was living with two housemates but I had an internship which was essentially an unpaid job, school work and then the tedious job of cooking for myself and sweeping the living room floor. 

Cleaning a bathroom – and I mean really cleaning, getting on your knees and scrubbing with a brush, wondering how does one clean a toilet brush and how frequently does that have to happen? Those days were definitely gentle nudges towards adulthood.

But the realization that this was just a transitory period in my life, funded by a scholarship, eased my shoulder muscles a bit, allowed me to sit back and muse over the birds and changing colors of trees.

If going for masters abroad was a small push towards adulthood, getting married and moving (back) to Karachi was like a hard shove that careened me over the shifting borders, into the land of grown-ups.

Now I have no excuses. We have adult jobs and we live in a house with bills that actually lie on the table till you pay them, a fridge that empties out if you forget to do your grocery, A.C.s that break down and cars with busted tires you have to spend your Saturdays getting fixed.
Is this what my parents were doing all the time? I wonder sometimes, more bewildered than tired, amazed at the list of things to do that never end and then slightly freaking out, am I ready for this?

I think back to my parents, and their mountain of responsibilities was much higher, in fact the odds they faced and conquered make our life seem a casual walk in the park, where the biggest worry would be to swat a butterfly that flew too close to us. They had their parents, siblings, and at our age – their kids – to worry about and take care of.

So I agree, the arena of adults that I’ve rolled over into is an easier landscape. But it needs getting used to. Especially if you happen to live in Karachi, a city that exhausts you because you skip from hating it to loving it and back to hating it within minutes, an emotionally taxing city that can drain you out with just a 20-minute walk or the gesture of a man in a four-wheeler as he rams his way past your insignificance on the road.


 The idea of waking up to a job five days a week, coming back and putting away your laundry, of waking up in the middle of the night with a toothache and having to make a decision yourself – go to the doctor or take a painkiller and cry? It’s those little things, the broken appliances, the daily grocery lists, the termites, the light bulbs, the water pipes, the shampoo that finishes every day, those little things that our parents – like magic elves – would fix for us so smoothly that I barely noticed. These little things that prick and prod reminders: yeah, you’re there now.