What I learnt about life in Karachi

Published: September 30, 2011

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.

  • http://insidedisillusion.wordpress.com Minerva

    Loved the bit about namak paras.Recommend

  • babar

    So true =) great jobRecommend

  • Pakistani

    For some reason, I cannot ignore an article about Karachi, but unfortunately, no offence, disappointed

    A few things for the author though:

    You need to spend some more time in Karachi to get the real feel of it.
    You need to spend some more time out of your room and catch some fresh air.
    Karachi is more than Defence, Clifton, Forum, Zamzama, and Park Towers
    You are no way near to what Karachi actually is.

  • http://zainhasan.wordpress.com Zain Hasan

    wow…..lovely, I enjoyed it, and shared!
    Being a Karachitie isnt that easyRecommend

  • mariya

    Well, although a bit humorous at times but honestly, most of these things apply to almost all of Pakistan and are not just restricted to Karachi :)Recommend

  • Columbus

    good read, made one smile…keep it up…and plz come up with more…Recommend

  • Bilal

    Or just read up the KarachiTips…Recommend

  • Seher

    Nice to know interesting facts about Karachi especially the talkative women of Karachi.. loved the fly-over thing the most LolRecommend

  • Lazarus

    True thang True thangRecommend

  • http://fruitforbidden.wordpress.com/ The Forbidden Fruit

    Brilliant! This just made me love Karachi a 100x MORE! One of the best blogs in tribune thus far.Recommend

  • Choas A.D

    LoL, the white shalwar and dark shades fellow is always ‘intelligence’. especially of the Karachi P.D (hey, that sounds kinda cool!)/ CID. The part about men and women leading segregated social lives and accepting it is so true! bravo! I’ve just come back from the States myself after 6 months and I still can’t quite get used to seeing nothing but men and impoverished beggars all around me.Recommend

  • narayana murthy

    Very funny.

    But, what the HELL is a ‘society lady’?

    Never recollect anyone but Pakistanis using it.Recommend

  • Zuhaib

    lost it, lost it, lost it in the middle,,,a good writing keeps the reader interested and involved,,,i read some where…!!!!Recommend

  • Taha

    Yeah you came up with good perceptions but karachi is more than these placesRecommend

  • sami

    Remember some women do wear just undergarments under abayas in case a situation ever comes up.


    Get to know your dhobi. You never know when you’ll need him.


  • Abira
  • Parvez

    Enjoyed the read. Sould have been titled ‘What I learnt about life in South Karachi’.Recommend

  • A. Reader

    Fun read! :)Recommend

  • huma

    fun read!
    and get off her back everyone, it was a blog, ie personal experience, so shes going to write about places/stuff/ppl SHE experienced personally, and i doubt if any one person can “do” the whole city. or knows abt EVERYTHING there. If u want to write about YOUR karachi write your own blog!Recommend

  • Sona

    Yeah no. Next time alot more Empress Market and a lot less Threads. Lunch at Student Biryani and dinner at Sabri’s ;) That should cover about 1% of it. Recommend

  • Shue

    I agree with Mariya, I got a feeling that the author is unfamiliar with Pakistan, it is similar in Lahore too!
    Except breaking traffic lights bit ! Traffic laws are pretty strict here, and rightly so! :) Recommend

  • Anonymous

    “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.

    Very funny :DRecommend

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/urduboloaursuno UrduBoloAurSuno/SpeakAndHearUrduNow

    I luv Pakistan and its ppl but only met ones here in the USA. Anywayz, I’m married to a Karachiite citizen and see the problem with many pakis coming to USA and their kids never learn URDU. As a result, I am teaching it on youtube! Pakistan Zindabad and yaad karo…urdu bolo aur suno!Recommend

  • Ziber16

    ladies just in undies!…lol…so true ;)Recommend

  • KolachiMom

    You’re preaching to a woman who has staged protests in Lahndi, and been chased by cops. I’d wager she knows more about Karachi than a lot of us. Recommend

  • Rsingh

    How can u write an article on Karachi without mentioning the AK 47 toting Yahoos.
    Remember a mango is not dessert, its a meal.
    Only line worthwhile in the above article.Recommend

  • sars

    “Nipa kaun SI road jateee hai”,If you dont want to get gyped.If you say jata hai the rickshaw wala will charge you extra for being a foreigner, (maybe its a poor urdu tax)Recommend

  • http://none vikash

    50% is true but white salwaar kamez are not intelligentRecommend

  • HJ

    just so that you know….wearing undergarments under an abaya is the same as wearing undergarments under a shalwar kameez. Nothing todo with any OPPORTUNITY as you put it. Depends on your perception of things.Recommend

  • Kinzah

    A little disappointing this article appears to be quite derogatory…Karachi is home to many across the world…while all this is true but not necessarily belittling of the city that offers hopes to many of a better future…I could maybe write more on this than the author chose to…Know your dhobi, cook and driver are more essential than your own family..thanks to Mustafa Kamal we longer have random crazy bottlenecks…fly overs and underpasses! way to go…! Who says wanting to keep up means being slave to fashions…a bit of reality is that what glitters attracts..While im still reeling from the lawn exhibits phenomena….If we choose to dress better and are more aware of the fashion sense I see no crime…Plus tinted prados are very much a phenomena of the other provinces NOT Karachi…Here we get to see the newest Audi, or the Mercedes and the occasional Jag! :)….but overall, the truth is Karachi with all its flaws is our city..
    Karachi is and will always be home :) Recommend

  • http://www.iamhrz.blogspot.com Hammad

    Interesting Experience..Recommend

  • http://www.onlinebazaar.pk Pakistani Lawn Collection

    so hard experience and lots of tensions..Recommend

  • vickram

    “Remember some women do wear just undergarments under abayas in case a situation ever comes up.”

    When I was in Dubai, I have always suspected this !Recommend

  • yasir ali

    these points mentioned in the article apply all over pakistan … so wts up with karachi ??
    no insight no humor ??? Recommend

  • Sana

    Author has a beautiful mind ….Recommend

  • Farhan

    Enjoy reading your article. Write more and as some mentioned can also write on old and central karachi. Anyway, a very good piece.Recommend

  • Hasan

    Nice way to mock Women wearing Abaya/Burqa you need to learn before writing…Recommend

  • Hasan

    Ohhh and by the way wannabee goras and burgers of Defence,Zamzama can never ever represent the true Karachi….Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/pavanmehta Pavan

    wanted to say the same. There is more to karachi than defence and clifton and most of the points you mentioned were so random that they can be applicable to any city in pakistan. Recommend

  • Nouman Qureshi

    true say pavanRecommend