Stories about urban life

Bombay slums: Dark, dingy and full of hope

Bombay (now known as Mumbai) enamours me like it has many people. While the plane lands over the city, you see a seamless mix of shanties and high rises. It is not so inconspicuous on the ground. Riding a local train from Santa Cruz to Malad East, I gazed at the best and the worst of living conditions of the people of Bombay. I was in the city to report on the raising real estate prices in the city’s slums. As I reached my destination in Dharavi, one of the largest slums in Asia, there was a strange sensation in my stomach ...

Read Full Post

Online retail therapy: A guide for Pakistani shoppers

There’s no therapy like retail therapy. Whether it’s window-shopping, trying on multiple outfits, or finding something cute on sale, shopping may lead to a state of euphoria akin to falling in love. And now, it doesn’t matter where one lives as long as there’s Wi-Fi to enable one’s virtual shopping fix. An example of online shopper’s adrenaline rush: clicking your way through an online bidding war with a young woman in Tokyo over a handbag made in Italy that’s sold in America and, if you succeed, your prize is subsequently shipped over to you in Pakistan. Yes, you’ve got it right; ...

Read Full Post

Domestic violence: The scars that remain

I had met Sumaira Waseem* many times for work. Vivacious, smiling, in control – she seemed to be a confident, educated woman who had it all: a home, a comfortable lifestyle, three children, a ‘nice guy’ husband and a career she enjoyed as an HR consultant. But sometimes, just sometimes, I felt her eyes did not smile along with her lips. Over the years, slowly, we developed a friendship. This year, during one of our heart-to-hearts, Sumaira spoke out. She came out of her closet. What I heard stunned me. Waseem and she seemed like the almost perfect couple. He was quiet, ...

Read Full Post

The Capital Vulture: Pindi in 3D

“No cigrahtt.” “But…why?” “No.” “Ok…so can I just leave my pack with you-” “No!” This is usually the sort of scene that awaits me at Cinepax, the crown jewel of Rawalpindi. Because Islamabad proper doesn’t have any massive entertainment venues, we have to leave the city for a movie. Still, Cinepax is no longer a novelty (thank God). People are getting accustomed to going to the movies; they’re learning to behave themselves. The crowd has become tolerable. Yet some issues remain unresolved. Not allowing gum and lighters I understand – there are Rawalpindi sociopaths out there who’re fond of pyrotechnics and sticking masticated Juicy Fruit wads ...

Read Full Post

My Blackberry and me: A love-hate relationship

I was meeting my friend after 18 months. We hadn’t seen each other since our college days and athough we had kept in touch, Skype is really not an adequate substitute for a face-to-face conversation. Needless to say, I was looking forward to meeting and catching up. Conversation started, we laughed, we talked but she devoted an absurdly large amount of attention to her BlackBerry. Every three minutes there would be a ‘ting’ after which she would pick up her phone and read something, smile, giggle or frown, and type furiously. The first few times, I waited patiently and listened to ...

Read Full Post

Our izzat is attached to a cricket bat

“Twenty-eight in two overs.” “What the heck is wrong with the Bangladeshi bowlers?” “Commentators are asking the same thing. Now, should we order pizza or Chairman Mao?” “India will make 300 as usual and Bangladesh will only manage to get to 50, so let’s watch something else…” “You guys, shut up! Yes, hello, one Manchurian, two chowmeins — IT’S AN OUT!” This is how a typical conversation goes around world cup time. Some can be rather interesting though: “Check out the Bangladeshi captain’s shades!” “Poser, scene on.” “I’m sorry, but Bangladeshis can’t pose. They’re just not cool enough. They’re not even ‘kewl’, ok?” “Dude, you know what’s really ...

Read Full Post

10 reasons Islamabad isn’t lame

Islamabad, although valued highly by its long-term residents, is often criticized by people who have moved here for personal or professional reasons. “It’s like a ghost town,” a recent arrival commented. While a long-time resident remarked, “Islamabad is a place for retirees. Anyone younger would go crazy there.” I have heard mixed reactions from tourists. I often hear acidic remarks like “Islamabad has a lame and depressing social scene and I prefer not to socialize here,” and “the nightlife is sleazy and full of shady old uncles.” But there is much to love in this sleepy, young town. One visitor remarked: “I was ...

Read Full Post

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 ...

Read Full Post

Revelry for relief: Fiddling while Sindh sinks

The sensitivity of young people today should ideally never be gauged by the first question that comes to their minds when a bomb goes off in Karachi: Will there be school tomorrow? Instead, Karachi’s generation-next should be assessed on how much hard work, effort and time its members put into relief camps and charity distribution, placard holding and general running around they did in an effort to contribute to alleviating the pain of the people hit by the flooding this summer. There was a definite perception that young privileged girls and boys just live in their bubble on that side ...

Read Full Post

To ‘civilised’ Pakistanis: Learn to stand in line

A four-way road-crossing magically functions in many Western cities, without a traffic policeman or a traffic signal. They call it the four-way ‘Stop’ sign; every car stops before the crossing, waits for other cars before it moves and then moves on its turn. Such discipline is a rare, if not impossible, sight when you live in a developing country. This unsupervised display of morally and socially correct actions speaks volumes about the citizens of any country. No concept of standing in line The concept of waiting in queue is missing in Pakistan. While it represents unruly, misguided and animal-like behaviour, it ...

Read Full Post