Friday, September 09, 2005

Slo Mo

I've just returned after another two day trip to Karachi. The horrendous state of Karachi's traffic continues unabated. Roads have been unceremoniously dug up and the city's innards are on display. I'd reached a stage where I decided to avoid going out simply because it would mean hours of waiting on choked roads. Mobility became a luxury to be judiciously used. People (well, journalists really) often describe roads as "arteries." In Karachi's case these would be better described as "veins" as they should, theoretically carry bad blood. This is not the case. On one occasion I drove by watching miles of stalled traffic in the opposite direction. The faces trapped in cars were calm, placid-as though awaiting beatification. In many other cities, road rage would have taken over. I was told (the morning after) by a local resident that my perception was incorrect and that people do engage in horrendous road battles. I prefer my own theory - that there is an inner resignation to the apalling state of Karachi's traffic and that people prefer to retain zen-like composure as an alternative to reaching out for the revolvers stowed away in their glove compartments.
This train of thought synched with the copious Japanese anime films I've taken to watching over the past week. One of them - don't laugh- entitled Mobile Suits Gundam tells of an incredibly complex series of gang war, with the pro/antagonists wearing special suits or sitting in their cars to provide them with protection against the enemy. Watching Karachiites bubble wrapped into their cars gave me a clue. Perhaps sitting in a car is not unlike a return to the womb. Its safe, most cars are now airconditioned and there's music to while away the hours. Perhaps this engenders a sense of complacency or (at best) some kind of neo-nirvana. Stare into the middle distance, watch traffic inch its way forward and remember a better world where the sun shines, children play and cars move at a normal speed. My friends talk stoically about waking up an hour earlier so they can get to work on time. I assume that schoolchildren do the same. Gosh. I feel like an ingrate living in a city where everything (and I mean everything) is no more than ten minutes away.
Scarier still, nobody seems to know when the agony will be over. No two people I spoke to had the same time estimate of when all this would end. Six, eight, ten months. More maybe. There's been political change at the local government level, so perhaps even these figures will change. "They don't care about us" said a columnist friend. (Nearly all my Karachi friends now write columns.) "Who's they and who's us" I enquired gingerly. "They" is the new political establishment which lives over at the other end of town. "Have you been there?" he asked. "Once" I replied, "ages ago. I think I may have lost my way." "Ah well. Go back again. They make sure everything works there." Hang on. But isn't this the ...well... rich end of town. Where you can buy a 100 dollar jar of Estee Lauder moisturiser, rambutans and tubs of Hagen Dazs in one basket? "Fat lot of good our money has done us. We're stuck with bad traffic forever." Sad. Where's the political will ? Zilch. Karachi, despite having some of the most politically aware people ever to the walk the earth, becomes flaccid on these issues. There's none of the civic pride which Lahoris have. Forget roads, people aren't even willing to clear garbage from their front gates. There's a belief that this is Government's job and Government has failed. Self help doesn't seem terribly high on the list of priorities. Strange.
My trip to the airport usually takes thirty or forty minutes. This time round I am on the road for an hour and twenty five minutes. When I do take off, I feel a sense of palpable relief. I have lived away from the city too long and I do not share the bottomless pits of patience that my friends have developed. Airborne, the tailbacks look even scarier. This was a city on the go. When arteries are blocked, the body tries to develop new shortcuts to keep the routes open. When that fails, the system packs up. I hope that My Favourite City doesn't meet the same fate.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Along with the solace in knowing that there are variety of creams (face or ice)to help us through our sojourns, many Karachiites have done the "Art of Living" - a five-day self-help, tree-hugging, love yourself while you sip green tea course. That probably explains the utter calm visible on commuters' faces. We're all too familiar with the quote "this too shall (under)pass".

12:53 pm  
Blogger livinghigh said...

it's like bombay to a certain extent, but that has become slioghtly better these days, of course! Still, travelling from the northern suburbs to the southernmost tip of the island city takes around three hours. hehehe.. thank god, i live in the island city itself, and not in any of the suburbs! hahaha... am i being a snobby "townie" now? lol.

3:26 pm  
Anonymous Sin said...

given the state of the London underground, I almost find myself wishing for Karachi's traffic!

7:26 am  
Blogger say what? said...

my friends want me to settle in khi and live there .. i believe i can never stay there longer. i dont know why.

3:20 pm  
Blogger assiniboine said...

Perhaps the increasing price of petrol will in due course impose a measure of reason and at long last get the public transit system off the ground, or even better, under the ground. Heading towards a buck and a half a litre here in Oz and my mother tells me it's even higher in Canada, where the damn stuff comes from!

2:08 am  
Anonymous ardent admirer said...

why dont you try to lead this nation and fix all the problems that disturb you to this extent! least i for one would support you all the are rich enough and can support a mass media campaign...well gandhi once said that "only you can be the change you want to see". and then again there is the power of the one wala for thought
an ardent admirer

12:50 pm  

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