The Karachi Moments

imageUnashamedly, for me Karachi has attachments which only happen, when you have spent your early life, memories and emotions in a place. I have written about this before, about how one would go through the art of living daily (https://sarfarazar.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/old-karachi-a-string-of-memories-from-days-gone-by/). But living is not just about eating, playing and being entertained. The soul needs nurturing also. It is this nourishment that I will try and remember here.

My nourishment and the grounding of my insides in the streets of Karachi, has so much to do with the culture and image of the place. Its got into my head and even today, when I look at my hometown, I look at it with a rose tinted glasses. Biased and unreal, but nevertheless, my perception.

Part of that imagery recalls the old, old Karachi. From pre-partition days. Archaic, but the landscape so enticing. The architecture of Elphinstone St and Victoria Rd. Those old style stone buildings. Most are gone now, but they left an impression! One building which survives today is the Karachi Grammar School building in Saddar. Huge thick stone walls, cold as hell in the winter, but the warmth of years and the embrace of history grips one. There was Mereweather Tower. I identified it with the bus conductors call of “Tower!Tower!”. But it was so much grander than a mere tower in reality, and when you saw it, the centuries smiled down from it.

There was Wazir Mansion, Katrak Mansion and a few more. Old, walls of stone, Gothic art mixed with God knows what. To me they smelled of age and richness. The ceilings high, the walls plain white and the ‘roshandaan’ such a characteristic of old days.

There were those old houses in Bath Island. Thick Walls made of stuff (sand and straw), which fascinated one and told such a story of life within. Termites had to be regularly battled on these walls, but they have survived a hundred and fifty years nevertheless. The lawns had these pepal trees. Massive ones, maybe a couple of hundred years old, having dropped their roots all over the place and grown and grown. They reminded me of Buddha and one envisions a holyman sitting under these trees thousands of years ago. Then there were those lovely old style houses, which don’t exist anymore. Why? Because we dont need the evening breeze anymore, nor do security concerns allow it. They would have a courtyard in the middle, and around it a square structure, with a patio all around and rooms behind the patio. The breeze would waft through, but then so could an intruder from outside. So such a structure is gone in today’s world.

A necessary part of those memories are old markets. Empress Market takes precedence. It was truly fit for a queen and inside I remember fondly the parchun walas shop. There were others; fish, vegetables, fruit, meat and chaai. Then there was Bohri Bazaar with its fascinating merchants, pots and pans, shoes and clothes outlets and in the middle of those winding lanes, Capital cinema. Bolton Market, burned down today, but what a place to recall. An old style market structure, with its old building and its old shops, selling many wholesale items. Old Kharadar with its small markets and apartments. Same as Burns Road (Bunz). Those balconies, from which day long women conversed with each other and with the people in the streets and hung baskets on ropes to purchase daily sustenance.

Lastly are the parks. Polo ground, Frere Hall, Jahangir Park, Hill Park, Jheel Park. No walls and children all over the place. Before and after Maghrib. Plenty of cricket and hockey taking place there. Also people having a picnic well into the evening, when it was very dark. No security concerns. But even more fascinating, there was greenery, including grass and trees. Some shrubbery too. Tell you what, I don’t remember seeing a water tanker in my childhood. But the greenery thrived. It means that water pipelines did exactly what they were supposed to do; they delivered water to everyone.

Alas, it all seems like a dream now. My old Karachi.

*the above books were with the compliments of SEED

A Whiff of Air

imageMemories of a crabby individual, small grubby hands, dishevelled shirt and always ready to grab ones snacks. He was not very nice I think. All that in a rather stark environment; white school building, with some blue in it, and a ground with not a blade of grass on it.

I think it was hot, but then maybe it was not. As far back as memory can stretch to over 50 years, I know we played a lot and sweated; so it felt hot. Mind you, not that it mattered, as we had different engines inside and these could run the best part of 12 hours. The Tuck Shop – don’t know if it is still called that- was cheap and a paisa 50 coin was a king’s ransom. There were plenty of trees, but mostly neem and jungle jalaybee. Both seem to have gone out of fashion nowadays. One did not need to break the jungle jalaybee fruit either, as it fell down and could be picked up by us predators. Teachers and prefects were ‘sirs and miss’ and you had better obey them. Sigh!

These asides and digressions notwithstanding, getting to the main point. So here they were, part of memory, crabbiness and grubbiness all in one individual. But what to do, he was in the same class and also shared the same long double desk. As if this was not the outside of enough, he would accompany me at break-time and home-time. I don’t think I was forced to be friendly, but he was around and convenient and to be truthful, back then, I did not really think beyond the next hour or day, so really had no long term plans. Had I known i was setting the agenda for a school and life long relationship, I might have reconsidered.

As the years progressed, life became a bit more structured, and the simplistic thought processes stretched beyond hours to days, then weeks and even a full term. Still, he was around. The long desk had disappeared, we had desks in various places in the class, but old habits die hard and he was still around at breaks and home-time. That classed as strong friend. I remember him being bigger and beginning to develop a gross sense of humour. Very gross!

This then merged into teens, O levels, sports, A levels, personal ambitions, music and girls. Yes also not to forget, the cigarettes and cards. Of course now the net was far wider and many friends grouped together. But by now we were fast friends and shared together, compared notes, grew scruffy moustaches and side-burns and tried to look cool. Truth be told, in the world of that time without internet, we knew little and TV did not help. We were gauche individuals, who had a lot to learn and little refinement in us. Shudder!

So came school ending and finally we went our separate ways. One went to UK and the other to US. The last few months post A Levels were rumbustious. We were in anticipation of an adventure. Little did we know. The world turned out harder, tougher, and more real than anyone knew. It taught us lessons worth a lifetime.

Now, I am sitting across him. The hair is gone, weight some way heavier, prominent jowls, jaded look and health a huge question mark. The crabbiness is back, but even more so, there is a look of defeat. The intervening years have not been kind to my friend. He chose to live his life abroad and a good degree and a successful career seemed beckoning. Life intervened and decades of over indulgence later, this is now someone else. Is he even a friend anymore? Well there is shared history and nostalgia. But our thought processes are so different. Our belief’s are different and cares are different. There is just an eagerness to be curious about each other, maybe shades of some envy and a glut of sadness.

This life has passed by like a whiff of air, caressing as it went by. So we who started by sharing a desk and snacks everyday of our lives, spent a decade plus sharing all the days of school, we are now 12000 miles apart and probably a world and a lifetime apart. Sigh!

The picture is from dreamstime.com, a free picture site.

Parting from close ones

imageimage

One of life’s ultimate emotional stress comes through in the form of parting from close ones. Recently, on a Sunday morning visit to my fathers grave I recalled his last day and various other goodbyes which have occurred during my life. This is probably a blog to myself to assuage a personal need.

I was living in London during my professional study years. Coming from a school where we were together right from Prep to our A levels, school relationships were very strong. We had been together for fourteen years and when we ventured forth at eighteen, the bonds remained. Mind you, these were the non technology times and communication was an issue.

In London, a whole lot of us would meet regularly. However, many of us ended up in the universities in the US. Every early summer, these friends would drop in and at the end of the summer some would come back again. These were short two day visits of friends returning to Pakistan early summer and then going back to US in late summer. I came to look forward to these visits, but at the same time to dread them. The Tube link to Heathrow was made in the early 80s, and one would go to the airport, either via Tube or drive, to leave the departing visitors. The times when I have hugged old friends at the airport and felt that the world was ending were countless.

Is not a parting something like that? How does one know if you will see or hear or talk to this person ever again. Life for either party is uncertain..is it not? Now, I am not sure if everyone feels the force of this, so some out there would say this is nonsense. But, throughout the early and late summer I would be depressed. The loss of a company of friends and the effect of bidding these adieus would really shake me up. It was as if the departing people had taken away ones happiness.

In later years in the 90s, I was working abroad and would come back to Karachi couple of times a year. Enjoyable holidays, where friends and relatives would entertain one, coupled with a bit of nostalgia. During one of my short visits, a close relative was diagnosed with late stage cancer. On my last night here, she came to see me, as we were packing and friends were floating in and out. I still remember her traditional last words, as we hugged. “acha tou zindagi rahi tou phir millain gay” (if life allows we shall meet again) and in saying this she faltered when our eyes met. It was obvious to both of us, that we will not meet again. A month later she had died and I have been left with the haunting memory of those words. Awful; enough to shake the soul. A memory which has remained with me, these last 19 years.

Another form of parting is when people go away from a work place. My own resignation from Engro Foods in October 2011, was a traumatic experience. While I expected some sadness from colleagues – we had grown the company together and start up operations have a family sort of bonding – but was totally unprepared for the adulation and tears which I encountered in various farewells. So the last large good bye event at the Boat Club, which ended with me giving a speech, was extremely emotional and traumatic. It felt like multiple friends and family had been surgically removed and I was bereft of a huge part of myself.

Lastly comes the ultimate departure. This is the genuine final one, when we leave this world. Most have faced this. My father’s death was earthshaking, but he went in his sleep. So while the particular day will be etched in my memory, this was not, in a classical sense a parting. In one other case, a close relative died in my arms, while I was trying to get a heart pill into his mouth. That was an experience which shall remain in my mind. One literally saw life ebb out. Totally. Death is so final and such a significant event. It shapes our lives and we should never forget it.

So goodbyes, separations and partings, whether short or long term or permanent, are a serious examination of ones emotions. The particular person is gone, out of our lives for a period or forever. It is one part of our existence being physically taken out of our souls. Its a form of death! The closer the links, the greater the examination and hurt. In todays world, with family and friends spread all over the world, this has become all too frequent. One almost wishes for those “beam me up Scotty machines” from Star Trek, so that we would never have to part for a significant period from loved ones and friends. Alas, we come here alone and go out alone, with other smaller partings in the middle. Sadly, a process we have to live and thrive within, like it or not.

*Picture is taken from dreamstime.com a free picture stock

%d bloggers like this: