As I switched off the engine and noticed scores of vehicles coming to a standstill behind me, I realized that pretty soon we would be stuck in the middle for good and would have no option but to wait for the road to open. I traversed the shallow ditch separating the roads and managed to turn back. After driving northward for half a kilometer I parked the car by a petrol station and got out to stretch my legs. A group of truck drivers was deep in conversation by their parked vehicles and judging from their dialect, I figured they were from Hazara. My Hindko endeared me to them in no time as is the case when you find common ground with a stranger in a strange land. After letting out a stream of invective directed at JSQM, as only truckers can, they too advised that I should try to find another way instead of waiting, as that may take all night.
There was a fleet of cars that had found a place to drive down into the fields and were moving southward in billows of dust. Throwing caution to the winds, I too took their lead. Sun had by now disappeared and the clouds of dust made driving almost impossible. This was a rather desolate area and visions of armed men stopping the car and either looting us or taking us hostage passed through my mind. Soon we saw vehicles coming back toward us shaking their hands and gesturing us to turn back. A paan chewing, young man driving a Suzuki Carry grinned at me as he went past and was kind enough to stop when I waved at him. On my query he said the only hope was to get to the national highway and that too ASAP as the rumor was that it was being shut down too. He told me ‘ mearay peechay aa jao’ and that is what I did. Driving like maniacs we managed to find a connecting road to the national highway amid hundreds of other vehicles, mostly trucks, who were also on the quest to find a way out. It was a mad run, every man for himself and suddenly many young men carrying JSQM flags appeared on motorbikes and started telling drivers to pull over. They were closing this road too it seemed and as two motorbikes pulled along my car I resigned myself to fate. And then something totally unexpected happened. The riders looked at me, spoke to one another and told me to get the hell out of there. Ours was the last car they let through as after that this road was blocked too.
It was a grueling drive along the national highway and onwards in Karachi with the traffic jam packed and unruly but to cut a long story short we managed to reach our destination, my uncle’s home in Malir Cantt, at about 11 pm. Entry into Malir Cantt, which is a clean and green island like most Cantts was facilitated by my uncle who was there at the check point to welcome us.
My uncle, my mother’s brother, is an inspirational personality. 80+ years of age and still going strong, Commander Retd, Bashir Malik, is a man for all seasons. His life is a kaleidoscope of interesting experiences which include working as a student / scout volunteer at Wahga Border at the creation of Pakistan to currently being the central Vice President of the Pakistan Policy institute. He is a also a successful businessman and has travelled all over the world. My loving aunt is also my first cousin and we were welcomed with great warmth and love and treated like royalty for the rest of our stay. We were told that we were to go out for dinner and soon we were taking in the sights and aromas of BBQ Tonight. After a sumptuous steak dinner our spirits were raised considerably and we were ready to forgive Karachi at the strange welcome it had afforded us.
Karachi has this deeply ingrained culture of sleeping and getting up very late and it draws you in quite effortlessly. So it was a lazy morning that greeted us the next day. Refreshed and rested we had a scrumptious breakfast. My son, Asad, has applied for a USA visa and we had arranged for his interview at the USA Consulate the following morning. So we spent some time getting the documents ready.
Dr Ghulam Mujtaba, President of the Pakistan Policy Institute, a senior leader of the Republican Party of the United States and a Member of the President’s Circle of the American Security Council Foundation had invited us to tea in the evening. Pakistan Policy Institute USA, is apolitical think tank open to all nationalities interested in creating religious and ethnic harmony. It aims to recuperate Pakistan’s image outside the country and is doing a wonderful job of creating harmony and peace among different nationalities and raising a strong voice for Pakistan’s interests in the USA.
Dr Mujtaba is a sagacious and eloquent intellectual with a finger on the pulse of national and international developments and we had a stimulating conversation and a lavish tea with him.
The next day my uncle and I drove Asad to the US Consulate and while he disappeared within the high-walled, high security area to give his interview we manage to take in some sights of the city. The sea view at Clifton gave us our first glimpse of the sea.
The nature of our existence and our affinity with water makes the sea a strangely awe-inspiring, attractive but fearful sight. It’s vastness, depth and power draws you under its spell and I, for one, can sit and gaze at it for hours. My uncle explained how a large part of the sea by the shore had been reclaimed and made habitable.
We also had a look at 70 Clifton, once the cradle of many a political developments and debacles. It looked rather forlorn, deserted and abandoned now. 70 Clifton is the house which was built by Mr. Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto and used as official and personal residence of Bhutto Family. Bhutto’s daughter, the late Prime Minister, resided in the house during her house arrest.
Murtaza Bhutto inherited it and currently, the house is owned by Murtaza’s widow, Ghinwa, where she lives with her children, Fatima and Zulfiqar.
We also had a look at the Habib Bank Plaza, located. It was the tallest building in South Asia and Pakistan upon completion in 1963. It remained the tallest building for four decades until the 116m tall MCB Tower was completed in 2005. However, even after the MCB Tower, the Habib Bank Plaza is the fourth tallest building in Karachi today and the ninth tallest in Pakistan with 22 floors.
Frere Hall is one of the many remnant buildings of the British Colonial era. It was built in honour of Sir Henry Frere, who was known for promoting economic development and making Sindhi as the only official language.
Meanwhile Asad had exited from the US Consulate and had got his visa approved so we headed home with the plan to revisit the sea in the evening. That evening however we experienced the madness that is Karachi traffic. The long Shahra e Faisal was choked with traffic, most probably because of the security arrangements for the visiting Prime Minister. It took us three hours to crawl to the seaside and by the time we got there it was dark. A cool sea breeze blew handfuls of sand in our eyes and I was most disappointed to see that the local government had done precious little to make the seaside attractive and safe for visitors. Although there were hundreds of visitors, including families and young children, the waterfront appeared dark and menacing and there was no help visible in case of any emergency. There is so much that can be done with such a valuable resource as the sea but it was a pity to see it going to the dogs like so much else.
After Amen and Asad had unwittingly surrendered their sandals to a big wave, we left the area and ventured toward Port Grande, Karachi’s answer to Lahore’s food street.
It’s a set of restaurants and amusements lined along the esplanade by the sea. To enter you need to purchase a ticket worth Rs 300 per person, out of which Rs 200 can be redeemed when you spend money within the compound.
It’s an attractive site with a cool sea breeze and the sea almost under you, twinkling and gleaming with the lights from the ships and the waterfront. It has a wide range of eateries and we had some nice sea food and a Prawn Karahi dinner here.
We saw a gripping show of a performing goat and monkey and I was most amazed to see the goat so well trained. In a discussion that ensued with the trainer / entertainer, I came to know that the goat picked up tricks quickly, was more amenable to being trained easily and could perform tricks within 3 weeks, whereas the monkey posed problems in training because of its mischievous nature.
And so another eventful day came to an end. The next day promised a lot as we had planned to see the sea up, close and personal… but that is another story!