9 reasons why I hate being a motorist in Pakistan

Published: September 24, 2012
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If it rains for more than fifteen minutes, everyone scrambles for home in a mad rush, as they try to escape the lakes that begin to form over their streets. PHOTO: REUTERS

Here’s a hate-list I was compelled to make as a motorist in Pakistan:

1. Driving in the rain: In some nations, driving in the rain is a serene and beautiful experience, which is likely to fill you with relaxation as you appreciate your surroundings, and take in the earthy scent of rainfall.

In Pakistan, if it rains for more than fifteen minutes, everyone and their mothers scramble for home in a mad rush, as they try to escape the lakes that begin to form over their streets. To make matters worse, since the down-sloping side of any road in Pakistan gathers water more quickly, traffic moves into a single file on the drier side, slowing things to a crawl as the drivers are left cursing mother nature. This is when one of the cars in line suddenly takes a gasp as its engine dies due to rainwater, slowing traffic further.

2. Fraudulent mechanics: It is true that finding a competent mechanic in any country is a reason to celebrate, but in Pakistan, good mechanics are harder to find than an Akmal cricketer who doesn’t need braces. Chances are that if a small problem existed in your vehicle before you went to the mechanics, it has become a lot bigger now that he is done with it.

3. Everyone is in an emergency: I have never in my life seen anyone overseas drive with their emergency hazard lights on. Not once. In Pakistan, I witness at least one motorist every week speeding away on the wrong side of traffic, with their emergency lights flashing as if their life depended on it.

Note to Pakistani drivers: Making it home in time for the first ball of the Pakistan India cricket match is not an emergency.

4. The minibuses: The first rule of driving in Pakistan is to avoid minibuses like the animals in a jungle keep away from stampeding elephants. You’ve got to hand it to these minibus drivers. Aside from collecting and dropping off their passengers, they won’t stop for anything. They will break red lights, scratch your car, crush pedestrians, crush small animals, crush large animals, race with other drivers, and shout hellos at the world, all the while only taking a time out for their one favorite vice: neswar.  As the musician Rick James once famously said, ‘That neswar is a hell of a drug.’

5. The motorcyclists: If there is even a small space between your car and the next, you can expect a motorcycle to try and squeeze through, taking some of your car’s paint with it.

6. The dangers: I figure every person in Pakistan has been robbed at least once on the road, or knows someone who has. It has come to the point where muggers don’t even take out their weapons to threaten you. They know you know the drill. Worse is when chaos has broken out in the city due to political strife, and you are left trying to safely make your way home through an angry and violent mob, while your family keeps ringing to make sure you are safe. In this predicament, I find that it helps if you look at the situation as preparation for the looming zombie apocalypse.

7. VIP vehicles: The SUVs with tinted windows and government license plates are to be avoided like minibuses. Not only are they followed by a police entourage large enough to invade a small country, they shamelessly hold up traffic for hours. It is regrettable that these very officials, who are supposed to uphold the law, violate every traffic rule in the book, and then some. It is almost as if they are used to breaking laws.

8. The broken roads: If cars could talk I am sure they’d discuss how moving in Pakistan is like crossing a sea of broken glass. They’d surely mention how their owners equip them with inappropriately large and wrong fitting tires, only because they look good, without making any practical sense.

9. The lack of respect for traffic signals: Red means stop. Yellow means wait. Green means go.

In Pakistan, when the traffic signals are actually working, all colors mean go, depending on how large your vehicle is, and what power your license plate holds. This local rule applies most to gadha garees, which apparently don’t have brakes. Any accidents involving them are suitably grotesque.

If you actually do stop at the traffic signal, you end up facing the wraith of the window cleaning boys. No, I don’t want my clean wind-shield wiped by your extremely dirty wiper. Please stop! Why aren’t you listening?

But it isn’t the just wiper boys to deal with at traffic signals. The transsexual ‘hijra’ beggars who patrol these signals will give anyone a compliment if it means earning a buck. You could be so unsightly, that even your mother would cringe when looking at you, but the hijras will always give you a loud clap and call you a beautiful shezada (prince), just to score some money!

Yes, to the Hijra community looking to score some money, you will always be Salman Khan.

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Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.