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Weekend notes from non-stop city

Karachi is too short a word to describe this city. The Karachi I speak of is close to the sea and far away from the rest of the country, yet it is the caretaker, the provider and the stimulant to it.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2010 00:42 IST
Raania Azam Khan Durrani

Karachi is too short a word to describe this city.

The Karachi I speak of is close to the sea and far away from the rest of the country, yet it is the caretaker, the provider and the stimulant to it. It is Thursday night non-stop in the city. The heat wave hit us hard last week. It is only at sundown that the city finds relief. The sun goes to sleep and the breeze sweeps the sea and envelopes this loud, dusty metropolis.

High on art and literature

At the gallery where my art is on show, a young boy with an almost incomprehensible American accent came to interview the curator and artists. He spoke of art and youth with great energy — suggesting that our exhibit was a rare and noble event for Karachi. His ignorance was amusing. This week Karachi was beaming. Between the Birth of Pakistan exhibit at the Mohatta Palace Museum, the Tilism theatre fest, the All Pakistan Music Conference, the literary festival and the gallery openings – Karachi is definitely too short a word for this huge celebration of people, culture and invincible resilience.

Revelry at critical mass

Fridays are dedicated to the anticipation of Jumma prayers. Everyone wants to get chores done before the namaaz. Businesses shut down between one and three. Friday is when the traffic jams begin around one, when streets are occupied by the spillover from mosques. It is also the only day when the licensed liquor shops are closed.

I live off Khada Market. Salons, bakeries, art galleries, dry cleaners, dine in and take outs — everything is available at all hours. It is in Khada Market that Mehek, the salwar kameez-clad hijra, drinks tea at the chai khana late at night, and keeps abreast with market gossip. It is here that the ladies get their hair done over coffee and chitchat. It is here that artists buy canvas, paint and clay. It is in this market that the Balti families run the best bakeries, and Noor sells prawns at atrocious prices. I often call it the East Village of the city.

Facebook tells me I am invited to a St Patrick’s Day party on Saturday night, bar open only till half past eleven. It says I must wear green. I think about Sunday morning. I have to wake up at seven for Critical Mass.

Critical Mass promotes biking on city roads. I go biking with two girlfriends — one a single psychotherapist who rides a jeep, the other a writer and energetic mother of three. Last time we rode, we ended up at the roadside Café Clifton enjoying chai and paratha.

These are people who speak of the environment, peace, cooking and jazz. We are the people who dream of a gun-free Karachi.

The sea of stories

The beach calls on Sundays. Though the sea is just five minutes away from where I live, the beaches to go to are an hour away. Hawksbay and French Beach are where the private huts are.

The French Beach is a quiet fishing village surrounded by a boundary wall on one side and the ocean on the other. Inside are private beach huts opening up to the rocky beach. The people are perhaps the most laidback in Karachi. Joseph, the old fisherman, walks around delivering home-cooked crabs to visitors. Then there is Fateh bhai, who hates leaving the village. A dark skinned fisherman with long, grey hair, cargo pants and Jesus sandals. He is often seen cooking fish, while sipping Murree beer and enjoying the good life in the sun.

Tonight Maaria went home to her four kids who are fasting for Lent, hoping it will affect their school report card. Mrs Abidi returned home with travel plans on her mind. Kishore went home thinking about his upcoming wedding. The single friend will come home to assess her dinner date, the mother of three plans her week on her kitchen chalkboard. I come home and feed baby Ivan some fish.

Ivan sleeps peacefully in his cot. Removed from the activity and stresses of the house, yet being the heartbeat of the home.

Such is my Karachi, away from the rest of the country, removed and sheltered, but sending the ancient marine breeze with love to the land.

The author is an artist and educator based in Karachi. She blogs at raania.wordpress.com