Tuesday, August 23, 2005

On The Beach


Going to the beach is an indelible part of my Karachi experience. It all started when my father decreed that he would go en famille to a company "hut" on what is now (for unfathomable reasons) known as the French Beach. Those days were mildly enjoyable. The parents would bicker on the way to the beach, while we were there and then back all the way again. Conceptually, the beach to them was an extension of the home. Leisure was an abstraction. I would take my latest Blyton blockbuster and sit on a rock chewing sandy chicken sandwiches while following the infinitely more interesting adventures of precocious children in rural England. My parents would play Scrabble (bickering in between turns) and my creative sisters would design sand towns that would put Corbusier to shame.
As a young adult, the experience was a little better. A bunch of friends would traipse out to the beach. I would join them in slathering Hawaiian Tropic all over myself (having decreed that my natural tan was insufficiently sexy) and we would lie out with Heineken's, books and a boom box. The idea was to get away from the hustle of the city, to stare endlessly at the horizon and to chatter ceaselessly with ones friends. Oh yes. The sandy chicken sandwiches were still on offer and provided a link with my earlier beach experience.
The years rolled by and I moved away to Islamabad. The beach became an abstraction. Once I remember opening some old bags and my yellow beach espadrilles popped out, replete with Karachi sand. Unfortunately, my Karachi trips were never long enough to accomodate a trip to the beach. Friends tried to organise something for a decade and a half but we never made it. My parents had decided it was easier to bicker in the airconditioned privacy of their bedroom and their beach experiences faded into sepia. So it was with some excitement that I allowed myself to be talked into a trip to the beach. "We'll be there in the morning, right?" I asked with breathless anticipation. "No you idiot. Nobody goes to the beach in the mornings any longer. We meet in the evenings for cocktails, followed up by a good barbecue." Ouch. I didn't dare ask about tanning. Maybe the health warning had finally filtered in to the Karachi demi monde.
The first apparent change hit me on the way. The shanty towns and cardboard "soft drink" stalls were now concrete structures. Hideous electricity pylons boasted the arrival of modernity. A flyover under construction announced the importance of this part of town. Further on, "green" signs advised against intefering with the sand turtles which breed in the area. The beach "huts" looked the same. Dilapilated, corroded and unfit for long term habitation. I had thought that Karachi's trademark conspicuous consumption would have worked its way into five star huts. Nothing of the sort. Maybe the well heeled enjoy the thought of slumming it for a few hours, safe in the knowledge that real comfort is only an hour away.
My spirits came crashing when I saw the sea. It was black. And it was angry. The waves crashed against the rocks periodically spraying us with a fine salt mist. I tried walking barefoot in the sand hoping that the tactile experience would bring my childhood back to me. It didn't. The sand was polluted and the soles of my feet hurt after a few steps. The sight and smell of fresh camel dung assaulted me every which way. Yes, the sunset was pretty. But the sun set behind a nuclear reactor which some demented scientist had placed on the prettiest part of the beach many decades ago. Worse still. The sandy chicken sandwiches had been replaced by canapes, salmon rolls and chi-chi cocktail kebabs. I tried hard to put on a brave face for the benefit of my hosts, but deep within I was desperately disappointed. I wanted to go home. Right away.
What is about places? You yearn for them endlessly, think about them, recreate them and (as I am doing now) write about them. Yet when you finally arrive, there is an underlying sense of not wanting to be there. The beach looked the same (from what I could honestly remember) so the change must lie within myself. Perhaps I had whitewashed the camel shit, the dirty sand, the stray dogs and the hordes of visitors in my mental drycleaning of the place. Maybe my addled brain had muddled it all up with several other, sexier beaches I've visited before. Or maybe a decade and a half in the hills had altered my aesthetics. On getting home, I plunged into a hot shower desperate to get the sand out of me. I do not think a visit to the seafront will rank highly on my next trip home.

5 Comments:

Blogger say what? said...

Yearning to visit makes us imagine the whole ordeal as it would happen ideally.
That does get the expectations high.

Still what you say about the beach back then just makes me sad. There arent many good places left around for a relaxing trip are there. I have been visiting northern areas all my life. They used to be peaceful and fun to visit. Now, if you don't watch your step, you can get the hiking boots to land on somebody's makeshift bathroom. I havent mentioned the odour here, its that disgusting.

10:13 am  
Blogger rocky said...

it's memory - the good times always seem better and the bad times worse...you're right, i doubt the beach changed much.

when i went back to karachi and visited my old house, which had seemed beautiful and luxurious as a teenager, i was shocked at how small and horrible it actually was!

it hadn't changed one bit, i had...

10:57 am  
Anonymous boibunnie said...

what does uber usually wear on the beach? *tries to visualize tight lil speedos*

11:28 am  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

TDH: Yes. I guess that is the price any country pays for development and improved standards of living. Murree and the Karachi beaches are two examples of how NOT to develop resorts.

Rocky: yes. memory plays strange tricks on us. Kundera rules ok!

Boi: Trademark black speedos. Bermudas are too flappy in the Karachi breeze!

1:57 pm  
Anonymous boibunnie said...

uber in speedos *squints eyes hard and smiles the bigsmile at the visuals that come*

6:45 pm  

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