Drowning and helpless

Published: September 13, 2011

Many small cars were stranded on the inundated streets of Karachi, as the drainage system gave way again. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD AZEEM/EXPRESS

There are many ways in which you can feel helpless. You feel helpless when you think about college, you feel helpless when you realise that very few people around you actually remembered that Thursday was International Literacy Day. And it doesn’t help when someone tells you that 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed since 9/11.

One of those times, and the most recent, involved a car, submerged in waist deep water, stuck while reversing over a ditch, with the water level inside the locked car rising exponentially, the rain thundering outside and leaking through the crack in the window, and with you sitting in the backseat, teeth chattering.

Just another rainy day in the city by the sea – helpless.

I should have known, really. Where the two streets intersected, the second consistent hour of rain had created a mini deep-sea gorge. I was stuck from every way. Twenty feet north, east and west of me was a river of brown, buffeting the walls of every building around. Behind me was a butcher shop, a photocopy-wala, two manmade islands in the sea of muck. And smack in the middle was a smallish sedan, carrying a smallish, old me. Did I expect something like this to happen? No. I had faith in the newly installed drains, the fact that there had been no complaints about the past two weeks’ rain and that the underpasses hadn’t turned into water amusement parks, like they had the last time.

Hadn’t even the Nursery Market or the Nursery Lake, been bearable the last time it had poured like this? Evidently, not here… I rolled down the window and stuck my head out.

Aap thori si madad karsaktay hain?” (Can you please help me a little?)

A short man wearing an acid-green shirt stared back at me. He was standing on the (relative) safety of the sidewalk, eight feet away from me. He looked at the water. I could see his face and it was screaming, “Please, pagal larki.”

In English he yelled back…


He’s just having bad day, I told myself. A few minutes later two men waded bravely from the butcher’s and tried giving the car a ‘dhaka start’. One of them flashed me a thumbs up sign. It was very hard to share his enthusiasm, with the water now at knee-level in the car. Bro, just get me out of here!

I was now suddenly aware of the amount of people watching me. From the man-made islands, hanging from the gates nearby houses, and all wary of coming forward, like the acid-green man. I don’t blame them or the cars that whizz by. A Prado, a Suzuki APV, a Suzuki Bolan- all of them at ease as they swish through the street, cascading water on my window as they go by. The last Prado slows down in front of the butcher shop. It has a government licence plate, and for some reason this eases me. Surely, they’re bound by law to help?

The shop owner gesticulates hysterically:

Yaar, bachi hai gaari mein, madad karlo!” (Buddy there is a girl in the car, please help her!)

The Prado revs up immediately and saunters ahead. Come back…?

Therein lay the problem- I was a bachi. If I was a baji none of this would have ever happened. If I was a baji, I would have opened the car door, waded fearlessly through the water and pushed out the car myself with spectacular inhuman strength. If I was a baji, I would have walked- sorry, swam- to the Prado-wala and given him a piece of my mind. If I was a baji, I would have climbed on to the roof of my car, and using my dupatta and the nearby telephone pole, swung myself to higher ground. But as it was, I was a bachi. And all bachis can do is sit in the back of the car looking frightened, while well meaning strangers outside ask, in a perfectly non-sarcastic tone, “Mummy papa ko phone kiya hai?” (have you called your parents?). Mummy, papa, shopkeeper, driver, police, other people’s chowkidars standing outside- these were the people who would do something and could do something. All I could do was try not to count how many electricity wires there were in the area (four). I had never felt more stupid and brat-ish in my life.

One man had by now found a large wooden pole and jammed it under the tyre to make it move. Snap, went the wood, plop went the tyre, and both were now floating aimlessly in the putrid water. The man holding the other half of the pole started laughing, his helper started laughing, the chowkidaar on the opposite edge of the street started laughing, the crowd at the butcher shop started laughing- why was I laughing hysterically as well?! Because the whole situation was ridiculous. I’m drowning, I realised. Just when I was wondering whether my history textbook would make a good life buoy, the car, as if sensing my despair, suddenly jerked up, reversed itself, and swam across those twenty feet of boggy rain. The crowd cheered, as I called out a feeble ‘shukriya’.  I felt the (remaining) tyres hit ground, felt the water slurp itself out of the car door, and the exhaust pipe cough out the last of the baarish.

My rite of passage is complete- I’ve survived the rain. Was I helpless? Yes, completely and utterly.

But the fear of allowing the pani to get to you somehow makes you more resilient to everything else that may happen.

The window breaks down by the time I get home, but I’m drenched for the better.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

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

  • Abraham

    We have our very own J. K. Rowling in the making. :) your writing makes one see the event as it happened. :) Glad you made it home. If the Prado guy is reading this, shame on you bro. keep up the good work.Recommend

  • http://Houston Ali

    Bachi good one..!Recommend

  • Abraham

    We have our very own J. K. Rowling in the making. :) Your words are descriptive in such a way that one can see the event happening right in front of his/her eyes.. they set the stage; even though I have not been to the street where you got stick, I got a pretty good mental image of it. I could see the guy standing in his green shirt saying no. and the Prado revving its engine, inching forward and then moving away. On a side note, if you’re reading this Prado guy, shame on you.

    Keep up the good work, and remember to use the safety vest stowed under your seat in future emergencies. :)Recommend

  • http://www.6la8.com Confused

    wow, I hope you didn’t catch a cold after all that..Recommend

  • http://bakedsunshine.wordpress.com Shumaila

    This was such an honest and cute bit of writing. I sympathise with your predicament – it can be tough being a lonely girl in a fix like that. One of the reasons I am thankful I’m a baji now – last time I got stuck in the rain, I said screw it and waded home :P. But let’s hope the city government does something about these drains, or there will be a lot more people going through situations like yours before the rains end, and it will not be a good thing.Recommend

  • http://gmail abdul jabar

    nice writting………Recommend

  • Abhi

    I really do not understand the whole episode. I don’t think you were driving the car! If you had a driver, what was he doing meanwhile. and really speaking it is not such a hopeless situation as you made it out.Recommend

  • Kiran

    Nice piece of writing about the helplessness caused by Karachi rain! Again people crowding around and trying to help is another part of such episodes! Great writing! Recommend

  • Ahmad

    If a cosmo city like karachi is facing such an issue, have we ever imagined how it would be in the flood affected rural areas with no one to save and provide shelter? i introduce to you all http://www.tentsplace.com, contact number 0300 – 8239990 / 0300 – 2971845 so that you may buy tents from these local manufacturers and drop them at army points for them to be shifted to the affected areas. More over, you can do this task of taking the supplies yourself just incase you donot trust the forces. Please, refrain from slaying these guys for why they are selling and not donating, the phenomenon is just as similar for them as how most of us would only give as much as we could and not our entire monthly salaries in donation. I write this so that we get up from our slumber and do something for our people, and because i have done business with Rayhan sahab from BNC or http://www.tentsplace.com. God bless you all.Recommend

  • Samra Alauddin

    I understand the helplessness and misery of the situation completely. I, too, was stuck at Nursery on Saturday in my car, with my brother and driver, as water level inside my car continued rising every minute. People in cars ahead of mine, conveniently decided to lock their cars in the middle of the road and go home by foot. With left of the road, crowded with motor bikers and right side with people whose cars broke down, there was simply nowhere to go. At last, my brother and I decided to walk from Nursery to all the way to Tipu Sultan in knee-deep and at some places waist-deep water. If you ask what the general public in such a situation was up to? Well, majority of the men, with their really distorted sense of entertainment were standing at the roadside taking pictures and making videos of women, laughing at their predicament. It took us three hours to get home, wading in rain and sewerage water, avoiding live wires, hoping we don’t step on manhole and end up drowning ourselves.
    I wonder what is it that our city government is really up to, that an hour long rain can turn Shara e Faisal into a scene from 2012.Recommend

  • Asad Baig

    Very Well Written.Enjoyed reading it.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Loved it. You have this amazing ability to draw the reader into the picture you are painting with your words.Recommend

  • Javeria Mahmood

    What made you go out of your house hun……. Recommend

  • Batool

    I wish I was a baji :)Recommend

  • http://hotmail nazir alam

    yes our all metropolitant system is totaly has gone to wrong in the mape of the world but we are the pakistaniRecommend