Once a week without fail, the Thar Express makes its way from the Karachi Cantonment Railway station to Zero Point in the Tharpaker Desert. Travelers from there on go to India to visit relatives, for business or simply explore the country they are so madly in love with.
"You cannot take India out of the hearts of the people of Karachi," says Muhammad Mansuri, a seasoned journalist. One reason being that many of the people of the city — the Muhajirs (immigrants) trace their origins to parts in North India, particularly UP. That is why in Karachi areas have been named after places left behind: UP Morh, Benaras Chowk, Delhi Colony, Amroha Society — all places in this bustling city.
Trade continues despite all the hurdles. Almost every pan shop has the Pan Parag and Indian gutka. Indian brands are easily recognised. That is also because the most popular TV channel in the city is Star Plus.
"Thousands of people tune into Indian soaps every day," comments Muhammad Ayaz, a media planner, who says that this reality means that Pakistani advertisers are keen to plug their products on Indian channels. But the government will have none of it.
In fact, the local TV regulatory board has not only disallowed such advertising but also banned the airing of such channels. But enterprising cable operators still air them.
Most of the travel now is one way, with Indian nationals, by and large, staying away from Pakistan. The closure of the Indian consulate general as well as the discontinuation of the Indian Airlines flight to Karachi contributed to this.
At the same time, people of Karachi continue to go to India. Given the excessively tight foreign currency regime between the two countries, most travelers either buy Indian currency from local money changers or go for the "done" business.
In this, you go to one of the "done" shops in Motandas Market. Here you make a payment to the shopkeeper, who gives you a small parcel containing possibly handicrafts or even dry fruit. This you carry in your luggage. Once you have arrived in India, you ring the number provided, someone comes to collects the parcel and gives you the Indian equivalent of currency. It is strange system which has survived and benefitted many.
Many people here live and breathe India. Indian movies do roaring business while people who bring in Indian clothes in their baggage are able to make a tidy sum by organising dress exhibitions.
Fashions for both the rich and poor are also drawn from Bollywood. It is said that the innovative movie shops here make sure that a film is "released" in Karachi on the same day as it is in India — albeit usually through a pirated print smuggled via Dubai.
With the India obsession, one can only wonder why the people of Karachi don't do more to enhance relations between the two countries. "We try our best and leave the rest to Islamabad," says Moina Niazi, a housewife. So far, that best has not been good enough, say others.