Sunday, July 5, 2009

Descent into Karachi

Four of my friends took the bus to Dulles airport to see me off and help me with my horribly overweight bags and we all huddled together at the security checkpoint, the farewell spot, and wept shamelessly. The first flight, fourteen hours, went by in a fog.

The Muslim meal constituted cold paratha with suji ka halwa and doughnuts, while everyone else ate turkey sandwiches. I think a highly qualified anthropologist might have to be contacted to find out what western airlines think halal means.

At Dubai airport it gradually began to sink in. I was flying home; this was it, the two years of study over, back to Pakistan. The airport was eerily un-crowded. Maghrib azan, a reminder that I was approaching Muslim lands once more. My laptop happily belted out the Zohar azan reminding me how far I had travelled. Zohar in DC, Maghrib in Dubai and possibly close to Isha in Karachi. And soon, whether I was ready or not, it would be time for: the final flight.

I supposed it was safe to assume that I was now travelling with fellow Pakistanis. One of the two guys behind me strained at the phlegm in his throat long and hard before noisily spitting, goodness knows where (I really don’t want to know where) in the aircraft. His neighbour and apparent travel companion told him in a regional Pakistani language (which I will not identify for fear of inadvertently indicating that ethnicity had anything to do with the behaviour) that one is not allowed to spit here. The spitter made some dismissive sounds.

As we began to lose altitude, the pilot came onto the PA system and said, “Ladies and gentlemen we are beginning our descent into Karachi.”

Once we had landed, while we still taxied, and the seat belt signs were still on, the passenger situated immediately behind me (spitting gent) jumped from his seat and proceeded to pull out his carry-on from the overhead compartment. The stewardess yelled at him from her jump seat down the aisle — to no avail. The heavy bag slipped from the spitting gent’s grasp and nearly killed me. He giggled when he saw my expression.

Descent into Karachi!

Then next day I go to a happening grilled chicken place for lunch with my friends and am so overwhelmed by the changes in noise levels, temperature and general ambience that I speak little — they do most of the talking. I’m surprised by how removed I feel from the very things I was once intimately acquainted with. The office politics, the work hassles.

Since I am now jobless as well as car-less, my friends pay for lunch. They also generously open up their contact books along with their pocketbooks and assiduously try to set up interviews for me. One of my friends suggests that I omit mentioning that I was on a Fulbright scholarship because supposedly no one in Pakistan likes to hire someone too highly qualified. I’m a little nervous that my friend might be right.

After a disastrous interview (which would be a complete article in itself), as I am about to succumb to jet-lag and a deep, dark funk, another friend picks me up and takes me to coffee. Karachiites never stop and don’t believe in jet-lag. Again I am touched because she too ridicules the idea of me paying for myself “please, don’t be silly.” I am lucky I have such awesome friends but my friend says that she is disappointed to see the changes in me. “Pakistan is not as bad as you seem to think it’s going to be,” this means a lot coming from her as she recently evaded a riot, shelling and bullets in Korangi on her way home from work. She says that I have become what all scholarship kids become: blindly in love with America, over exposed to Pakistan’s faults and overly anxious about bomb blasts and such events.

Karachiites take such things in their stride.

I am chastised and tell her that the hot chocolate at this cafe is definitely comparable to Starbucks in the hope of demonstrating that I am perfectly willing to appreciate Karachi. “Do you know where the Startbucks money goes?” she asks.
Karachiites love conspiracy theories.

She also informs me that I have gained too much weight to be allowed and must immediately join her particular gym before going to her tailor and shopping at her favourite boutique. I am now clinging to her like a drowning Fulbrighter to a floatation implement. I think it’s because I am gradually Karachiising. A Karachiite is nothing if she’s not hooked up with the right gym/parlour/boutique and Apple repairman.

Perhaps tomorrow I will start this re-entry process again. Think mangoes, think bougainvillea and flame of the forest flowers basking on Karachi boundary walls; think anything, but think positive. I can do this; I can overcome reverse cultural shock in the land of my birth. I can and I will begin again. As soon as the load shedding ends and the power comes back on.

I reconfigure my computer’s azan software for Karachi and also reset my computer clock to Karachi time. The azans are nowhere near synchronised with the neighbourhood mosque and the automatic clock is about an hour off. This is going to be harder than I thought.
Above article is written by Fauzia Husain and published on 5th July in Daily Dawn....It is very close to my story, just wanted to share.


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Imran Baloch

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