What I learnt about life in Karachi

Published: September 30, 2011
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Never get on a flyover - it will lead you to a never-land where you will encounter Mustafa Kamal who will hug you, and you may never be the same again. PHOTO: IOWNKARACHI.COM

Never get on a flyover -  it will lead you to a never-land where you will encounter Mustafa Kamal who will hug you, and you may never be the same again. PHOTO: IOWNKARACHI.COM When lost in places far from Clifton and Defence, stop and ask the nearest ricksha wala. PHOTO: REUTERS Women in Karachi talk so much about tailors; if you could tap all that energy through some scientific magic, you'd have several gallons of petrol.PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID While living in Karachi, trust aTrust a hijra (eunuch) about how old you look. PHOTO: NEFER SEHGAL

When you first come to live in Karachi, you are a bit anxious about how things are, and often get frustrated easily.  Slowly, however, you learn how to work the city.

Here are some small lessons I have learned:

  • Never talk to society women about where to buy lace; they’ll never shut up.  In fact they’ll talk so much about tailors and boutiques, if you could tap all that energy through some scientific magic, you’d have several gallons of petrol.
  • If you see a woman who gets unusually animated when talking about her tailor, run for your life.
  • Never get upset with a waiter who brings you your samosa with his fingers underneath the plate, and his thumb pressing gently into your food. Just peel off the part he touched, toss it, and enjoy the rest.
  • Never talk to men if you think you can get the job done by talking to a woman. If you do, not only will the job not get done, he will think you desire him.
  • When lost in places far from Clifton and Defence, stop and ask the nearest ricksha wala:

 “Ji, yeh Nipa chowrangi kidhar hai?” (Where is Nipa Chowrangi?)

And if you are really desperate, “Saddar kaunsa road jaata hai, bhaiyya?” (Which road goes to Sadar, brother?)

  • Never get on a flyover –  it will lead you to a never-land where you will encounter Mustafa Kamal who will hug you, and you may never be the same again.
  • If you find yourself walking alone on a road with a motorcycle wala behind you, run, scale a wall, or surprise him with judo.  Whatever you do, be ready for something.
  • Be endearing and call everyone beta.  It may hurt your ego a but remember 75% of the people around you are under 25, and it just helps ease the situation.
  • Don’t be a fool when the waiter brings the bill in a restaurant and say: “Whats 15% of this?” Just shut up and leave a generous tip.
  • Always pay the boys who clean your window.  Its just bad karma to be stingy.
  • If you have an important day coming, do not eat salads, pani puri, or at Mr Burger, Roasters, or Mcdonalds.
  • Trust a hijra about how old you look:

  “Khuda tujhay pyara sa beta day” (May God give you a handsome son) – means you look young and fertile.

“Khuda tujhay Hajj karai’ (May God give you the opportunity to perform pilgrimage) – you look old and respectable.

“Khuda teray naseeb achay karay” (May God give you a happy future) – you look troubled and middle aged.  

  • Never overtake anyone; if they beep at you  from behind you, let them pass.  You never know, they just might shoot you in a drunken rage. And don’t try to stare into Prados with tinted glass for the same reason.
  • If it’s a red light on an isolated road, don’t wait for it to turn green, creep forward, look on all sides, and keep moving.  Otherwise, obey traffic rules.  Do not bribe a police officer; apologize profusely, provide an excuse for talking on the cellphone, and, if need be, accept a citation.
  • People have a very strong relationship with their cellphones. So whatever.
  • Whenever you give directions, always rely on teen talwar, do talwar, and Park Towers, and if its a society lady just tell her:

“You’ve seen Threadz, right?”

  • Never share information about yourself.  If you’ve lived in the US you have probably chatted up the grocery store guy about your college experience, your vacations in Kenya, your first crush, but out here people don’t share personal details. Zip it, and zip up.
  • Remember a mango is not dessert, its a meal
  • Be a slave to fashion.  You don’t need to be an elitist to make sure you are wearing what other people are wearing.  Its easier to blend in and avoid unnecessary tension when you can rattle things from within.
  • Embrace the fact that men and women do not interact with each other in a normal way.  Men and women have segregated social lives.  Accept it, and don’t try to cause ripples.  Change comes slowly.
  • Always trust an intelligent woman on things.
  • Remember some women do wear just undergarments under abayas in case a situation ever comes up.
  • Nachos aren’t really worth it when you have to pay Rs300 for a packet.  Learn to enjoy namak paaray.
  • Get to know your dhobi.  You never know when you’ll need him.
  • Refuse to acknowledge a man trying to give you parking instructions unless it is a good looking Pashtun.
  • Get used to Sunday Bazaar.  You may find it dusty and overwhelming at first, but its a community shopping experience.  Bargain wisely and don’t buy used shoes.
  • If you are in a hurry, don’t start to talk to a group of women about their experiences giving birth.
  • If you’re in a hurry don’t start a conversation about weight.
  • Never trust a man who spends more than five minutes talking about himself or on the book he is writing.
  • Never the trust the world bank, the IMF, the military, the agencies, the feudals, the politicians, Israel, the US, or the capitalists.
  • Remind yourself that you are living in a place with weak regulations – the chicken may have hormones and you won’t know it; the building may not have a fire escape, its elevator may not have been inspected in years.  Always believe that God is on your team.
  • A UPS is essential.  So are ice lollies for children.
  • The guy in the white shalwar kameez and the dark sunglasses is an intelligence guy.

Abira Ashfaq

Abira Ashfaq

A law teacher in Karachi who works with human rights organisations. She tweets @oil_is_opium. (twitter.com/oil_is_opium)

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