Karachi in a body bag…
Way back in the early 90s, the operation against MQM had just started and life was almost at a standstill. I was a wee little lass of nine and in answer to all my questions, I was told that some bad people were out there killing others. I did not understand the dynamics of politics; “army operation”, “PPP” and “MQM” were familiar but meaningless words that were somehow involved in the havoc that was being raised.
I felt afraid of Benazir Bhutto, who seemed to be somewhat responsible for calling the shots during a scary, unstable situation. There were endless strikes and school was out almost all the time. We were boxed-in at home, fidgety and restless, having to cope with grown-ups who were constantly mad with worry. Even at home, horror stories were everywhere.
We heard of a man whose hands had been punctured with a drill. A teacher disappeared and a week later a fatiha was offered for him in the Assembly.
A few neighbors moved to more secure places.
For a nine year old, it is very hard to make sense of all this and I felt mostly confused. Through this confusion, the only thing that was tangible was the feeling of absolute fear. Gunshots had become a part of life. We were not allowed to sit through political discussions, but this censorship was not enough to filter out the talk of tortured bodies found in bags.
It was against this backdrop that the Incident of the Body Bag occurred in our neighbourhood.
There was yet another strike that day and the city was in mourning for something or the other. It was a lovely Karachi evening and a heavy breeze blew. We were no longer allowed to play outside, so all the neighbourhood kids were out on the terraces, shouting to each other, having fun despite the gloom that spread everywhere. We saw a car drive up slowly, but initially nobody paid any attention to it. It stopped beside an empty plot and I thought maybe they didn’t know the address of whoever they were visiting.
But then, the door opened. And a huge bag was flung out.
A huge, black trash bag, which looked heavy and obviously did not contain any trash. We stood still and watched as the car sped off.
Someone must have called their parents, because hardly a minute later, a crowd of men surrounded the plot, exchanging theories, pacing to and fro. Women looked out from balconies and gates. I don’t remember what I was thinking when the police arrived.
I do remember being sent inside as they investigated. A few minutes passed and the tension grew. I tried not to imagine the horror they would find. We waited quietly for news.
From outside, there was a sudden roar of laughter.
There was a body in the bag – but not of a man. It was a poor Doberman. Someone had disposed of their demised pet in such a morbid way.
The relief that washed over everyone in that moment brought home the intensity of fear that had engulfed us.
Even though it all turned out to be a false alarm, our rules became tighter and the danger seemed to have moved closer to home.
I do not remember much more of those terrible times. Yet, I can still feel the same chill creeping over me every time I hear the news from back home. I call and hear tales of this or that friend stuck at someone’s house because of firing. I call friends and hear the despondence in their voice. My mom tells me she has stocked up food because shops hardly remain open. I’m told that the city which never slept now experiences deadly silence all through the day.
My city – the city whose love I have so fiercely defended here. The city of my making, my past and my stories, my city is held hostage yet again by parties donning their mafia masks.
I no longer live in Karachi, but as the city burns, I find myself pulled back through time, wondering yet again, as I did as a child of nine, who could be monstrous enough to do this? And how?
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