Bridge kay us par
As a child growing up in Karachi, in PECHS, I just had one dream, one day I will go bridge kay us par (across the bridge, to the other side). The Kala pull was the Berlin wall of my world.
Every rickety road I travelled on only strengthened my desire. Every night I slept with a pillow on my rear end, dreaming of the perfectly paved roads on the other side of the bridge. I even wrote a poem,
“I have a dream that one day we will live in a city where we will not be divided by the imperfections in our roads but the content of our character. I have a dream that one day the bikes of Gulshan and the BMWs of Defence will be able to drive on the same tarmac of brotherhood. I have a dream today!”
Then the day came. I still remember it vividly. It was a rainy summer afternoon; the monsoon met the city with all its glory. We did what any self-respecting Karachi would do on the rainiest of days – we decided to go to Sea View. My entire neighbourhood decided to rent a bus and go together. All of us boys immediately took off our shirts and climbed on top of the bus with a Pakistani flag in each hand. As our ancestors migrated from India to Pakistan to look for a better life, aboard that W-11 we crossed that Kala pull, it felt like Rosa Parks was also on that bus with us. (I cannot be sure though, but I did hear some woman screaming that she did not want to go to the back of the bus; it could have also been my Phupho.)
As soon as we crossed that bridge, bridge kay us par seemed like a dream come true. No more was the bus bumping along, no more did we have to hold on to the railings for dear life, no more, no more. We were in Defence. It felt like we were floating, it seemed like we had left Karachi and entered Venice. It was beautiful. It felt like time stopped; an eternity stuck in that single moment.
It took me a long while to realise what was stuck was the bus in a ditch. It did look like Venice but only because none of the rainwater drained away. It did not feel like we were floating, the bus was literally floating. The words of Faiz Ahmad Faiz immediately came to mind,
“Ye dhaag dhaag ujala, ye shab gazeeda sahar,
Woh intezaar tha jiska, ye woh sahar toh nahee,
Ye woh sahar toh nahee jiskee arzoo le kar,
Chalay thay yaar kay mil jaye gi kaheen na kaheen,
Falak kay dasht main taaron ki aakhri manzil,
Kaheen toh hoga shab-e-sust mauj ka saahil,
Kaheen toh ja kar rukay ga safina-e-gham-e-dil.”
(This tattered raiment of darkness,
This sputtering of dawn,
This is not the dawn that we had hoped for.
This is not the dawn we had set out for.
Through the darkness,
Towards the last station of the night stars;
Hoping to find the end of our journey,
Somewhere on the distant shore
Of the languishing sea of night,
Where our sorrow-laden ship
Would at last come home to anchor.)
Where were the roads made of melted butter that I dreamt of all my life? Defence was no better than MA Jinnah Road on a Friday afternoon. In fact, it was hardly better than the roads of Shikarpur. I remember every time I went to my village I saw the naali ka pani (sewerage water) running along the roads. The same sight was now in front of me in the promised land of Defence.
Slowly, we lingered on and I gathered the crushed pieces of my dreams. I was glad to see at least some infrastructure when I noticed a pond right before Do Talwar. Somebody later told me it was an underpass.
Then, I went to Lahore. And it was in Lahore that I truly saw what underpasses were. Thanks to Shahbaz Sharif, the city has been littered with underpasses. I can only imagine the amount of money that transferred through underpasses beneath the tables of bureaucrats to ensure Shahbaz Sharif could play SimCity 2000 with Lahore.
Defence, Model Town, Gulberg; all of Lahore was united in their use of these paved roads. I was glad to leave the infrastructural disaster of Karachi behind and enter this land of underpasses, bridges and overpasses, sometimes all on the same traffic junction.
One day I went to androon Lahore. It was almost as if the inner city was a land time forgot. The architecture was Mughal, the clothes were Mughal and the roads felt like the Mughal’s elephants played football on them. I cried out,
“Where are you Shahbaz Sharif?”
The man, the saviour, legend has it that Shahbaz Sharif even laid the road to Bethlehem but one has to walk through horse manure in Lahore just to get to Cuckoos Den.
Is there no peace to be had in this country?
No city where we can shoot a half-decent episode of Top Gear in?
Heartbroken, I made my way back to Karachi, as broken and battered as it may be, it is still home. I drove over 1200 km through the heartland of the country. No motorways, no highways, just a man and his car. (And another man herding his cows in the middle of the road along the way.)
I would highly recommend the drive to everyone; it was the most adventurous drive of my life. The government has strategically placed potholes along the route to ensure the drivers stay vigilant throughout. Their genius should be lauded. After all, nothing puts the fear of God in your heart more than hitting a pothole at over a 100 km/h.
Hungry and thirsty I entered Sindh; the land looked completely barren and lifeless. I was even willing to be kidnapped by dacoits only if they would give me some water. I drove next to carcasses of animals.
Somewhere far away I saw a silhouette of giant soldier, was it a mirage?
I had to take the risk.
I drove to it as fast as I could, watching half-naked people and children looking for sustenance and women carrying water in pots from far-away wells whizz by.
Alas, I reached the gates of heaven. It was not a mirage. It was an army cantonment. In the middle of the desert I had found life. I had to take the risk. I faked my credentials thinking of the most generic Pakistani name for a general.
“I am here to see General Muhammad Ahmad Ali.”
As luck would have it, as all cantonments do, that cantonment had a General Muhammad Ali. Saint Peter had my name. The barrier was lifted and I was let through. As soon as I crossed the gates, I forgot about my thirst, the dreams of my childhood were finally coming true. It was a perfectly laid down tarmac. My tyres did not drive over the road as much as they were caressed by the road; they were in love. I could hear the music they were making.
Watching the lush polo grounds and the perfect roads made me forget all about the misery outside. I had finally found peace – I had finally found the perfect road. Maybe, just maybe, Pakistan does have some infrastructure, even if it cordoned off for most of us. I enjoyed that perfection for all of those five minutes before they found out I faked my credentials and sent me to Guantanamo Bay.
People still ask me,
“Shehzad, was that five minute ride on that perfect road in the middle of a desert worth spending 20 years of your life being forced fed by the CIA through a pipe?”
And I always answer,
“How much wood can a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck can chuck wood?”
Clearly their torture techniques could not break me.
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