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The two faces of Karachi

cricket Updated: Jun 25, 2008 01:03 IST
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Is it safe to go there? That's the question people popped at me – some said it in as many words, some just shot back a strange look – when I told them I was going to Karachi to cover the Asia Cup.

I brushed it aside as friendly concern and boarded the flight to Pakistan, feeling excited and slightly anxious. Fortunately, I had a Pakistani teenager sitting next to me and I decided to find out the actual situation, straight from the horse's mouth. "Don't venture out at night, take radio taxis only, don't take out your mobile on road, don't even think of carrying cash with you, and always move around in a group," the teenager advised.

I had to make a big effort to stay smiling. The same suggestions came from quite a few more people in Karachi, making us wary of exploring the city.

By chance, a senior Pakistani journalist took us out for dinner yesterday and then drove us to the beach. It was well past midnight, and what we saw there swept us off our feat. We had expected an abandoned beach at that hour, but we found it swarming with people.

Toddlers, children, young, old — they were all there, eating, and enjoying themselves at 2am, clearly not bothered about the so-called security threat. The journalist smiled silently as we stood there, spellbound. “If security was a problem, do you think these people would come out with their families at this hour?" he asked.

After a well-spent half hour, we drove back to our hotel. And even as we were marvelling at the city's nightlife, the Pakistani journalist pointed out some sites with a gory past to us. “It was here Murtaza Bhutto, brother of Benazir Bhutto, was killed”, “And here terrorists blew up a truckload of ammunition”, “The bomb that scared away the
Kiwi cricketers exploded here”, he pointed out as we drove around.

Suddenly, some anxiety returned, and I hit the bed with two contrasting sights jostling for space in my mind – that of people enjoying themselves by the seaside and of the sites scarred by violence. All I could do was marvel at the contrast.le enjoying themselves by the seaside and of the sites scarred by violence. All I could do was marvel at the contrast.