Will Karachi ever receive the same affection as Lahore?
With state-of-the-art bus stops, multiple lane roads suitable for the most developed countries and educated traffic police to remind one to put on a seatbelt, the chief minister has done well to clean up the most metropolitan city in the country—Karachi.
Suddenly, the daydream is broken with an ear-piercing horn from behind. The traffic light turns green, or at least appears to be, as the cars in front start inching forward. To be honest, it’s difficult to see through the cloud of smoke emitted by the Lal-Kothi-bound bus.
As one throws the car into drive and honks at the stationary Flintstone mobile in front, I realise that my daydream is nothing more than a pipedream.
People averse to change will love a city like Karachi. They’ll be glad to know that the same khadda or ditch can still be found at the same place it was a decade ago. Just in case you are also against development, the Pakistani metropolis is again the place to be. After all, the only growth that has taken place in some areas, apart from the rate of street crime, is the size of the khaddas. But that’s not to say they are totally useless. They are a multitude of applications they can be used for. Since I live in an area that is quite confusing to navigate, I use them to usher in a lost friend.
“Take a left after the third big ditch,” usually gets them there.
For those with more nefarious designs, splashing a pedestrian with rainwater accumulated in the ditch can be a fun activity, but it could also result in destroyed tire rods or suspension struts for your car. Remember, karma is a b*tch so best not to try your luck.
Moving on from b*tches and ditches, let’s talk of bridges. Some of those meant to cross over troubled waters may send one to the bottom of the kind of sewage that created the teenage mutant ninja turtles. Driving over a newly-constructed bridge can be an exhilarating experience. Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like uncertainty. Even more rewarding is the knowledge that you have made it through to the other side—unscathed. The next morning’s news reports of cracks in the same bridge almost makes one feel like a war veteran; the man who lived to tell the tale of March 24.
The status quo is likely to remain for the foreseeable future as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which the people of Sindh vote in, time and again, seems far more interested in filling up its own pockets rather than the dreaded khadda. Not to say that its leaders haven’t built roads, but most of them ironically get the PPP’s top brass, and their friends, to the comfort of palatial farmhouses in interior Sindh. All the while, the poor sod trying to reach Hyderabad from Karachi through either of the two major highways bumps and grinds his or her way to their destination.
So I will beg you not to be judgmental when I turn green with envy when looking at Lahore’s roads, buses and bridges. The man who built them may be considered the devil by some, but there is little doubt that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has done his fair share of work for his capital city. The roads lull you into a strange sense of comfort which is almost similar to sharing a waterbed with a soundly asleep Sofia Vergara.
Compare that to Karachi where traveling on the roads is about as pleasant as getting a tooth extracted and you get an idea of the difference. Does that even come as a surprise? After all, Sindh’s Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah was busy drinking milk for the last decade, while his counterpart in Punjab was building away. Perhaps Shah and his pals got lost in the vastness of the Sindh Chief Minister House and never had the chance to sit down and map out any sort of a road, let alone one that leads to progress. Colourful as Karachi’s buses may be, it is the metros of Lahore that will inspire you to leave the car at home.
The flipside to the wonders of Lahore is the rest of Punjab, which doesn’t seem to feature to prominently on Shahbaz’s radar. In his earlier tenure, the initially famous and now permanently infamous Honey Bridge in Lahore was built at a backbreaking cost. At the same time, the rest of Punjab was not the object of similar affection.
So why haven’t I moved out of the boulevard of broken dreams and into the utopia of Lahore? It is because Karachi is the beating heart of one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Here, people from all over Pakistan come together to fight, love, wed, birth and earn their bread.
The city is always abuzz with activity and the historic commercial centres dwarf their counterparts in Lahore. And let’s face it, Karachi’s food is much better—no matter how many Lahori charghas stake a claim to fame. Speaking of food, I have a fantastical theory about Karachi, but one I like to believe is true—here, nobody sleeps hungry unless it is out of choice. There’s always somebody just around the corner to feed a growling stomach—such is the character of the metropolitan’s people.
Here, you will be hard pressed to find a damsel in distress or a man stranded on the side of the road. Help is always at hand; whether needed or not. Indecision, married with a lack of vision, has left Karachi and the rest of Sindh with an infrastructure that may as well not exist. It is almost as if the most important city in the country has been left orphaned by the state and those who claim to be the champions of its people.
Dear mister new chief minister and same old political party, please realise the beauty of the people that you house and give them at least a small portion of everything they deserve. Otherwise the people may just realise that the right man for the job done is a little further north.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.