“So when did you arrive in Karachi”
“When did I arrive in Karachi? Let’s see. I arrived here in Karachi in 1968, in a hospital”
I turned around and had a good look at the first member of the group I was taking out to explore the city. She was visiting Karachi after spending several years abroad. This was our first exchange apart from a conversation on phone. She was a poetess, apparently with a sense of humor.
We picked up an Indian stand up comedian and a Pakistani Novelist en-route. We will refer to Indian stand up comedian as Indian stand up artist because he was much more than a comedian. He insisted on being called one also. The Pakistani novelist will be referred as Pakistani Novelist. Period.
The Indian stand up artist lit a cigarette as soon as he adjusted in the back seat but was asked to throw it out because the poetess has recently caught a bug in the polluted air of Karachi. The poetess wondered aloud how people were carrying on with their lives with such levels of pollution in this city.
We drove to the Freemasons Lodge first where we saw the tablets and had a customary walk on the legendary staircase. The poetess found the place intriguing and wanted to hear further about it so we walked to the caretaker’s house. The caretaker, in his 80’s was as animated and helpful as ever. He invited us inside his house which was inside the lodge’s boundary. His family’s been taking care of the lodge for almost a hundred year. He complained that his house was damaged during the recent restoration. The quarter’s boundary wall was broken which exposed them during the protests which is a commonplace in this area due to the lodge’s proximity to Karachi Press Club. The Indian stand up artist and Pakistani Novelist were having an engaging discussion with caretaker’s family when I realized that the poetess was missing.
I went around the lodge and found her staring at the trash. She pointed to few mounted animals which were thrown there for some reason, few of them still in reasonable condition. Pallid winter sunshine filtered through old Neem Trees and the quaint setting was perfect for writing a poem or two which according to her was refined form of prose. She put her shades back and we moved on.
The Indian stand up artist and Pakistani novelist were catching up on smoke. We drove further to the National Museum. We did not go inside and went to see Subhraj Chattumal Terrace at the back. There were flaglets tied to the grill along the walkway which announced that there was a peaceful debate competition taking place in Lyari. The Pakistani novelist found it amusing and took pictures, others did not as much as they have not been to Lyari. There was a horde of children playing cricket in Burns Garden. Another group was playing inside the terrace. The only women in the whole area were the poetess and the novelist.
We went inside the Museum. The Indian stand up artist was amused to see depiction of life of different provinces with the help of mannequins. Life would have been real simple if the people of all provinces acted in the way they were depicted in those dusty showcases. Most of the galleries were closed due to renovation and rest of them uneventful. We went inside a gallery which depicted coins from different eras. Indian stand up artist was made to pose in front of coins from Delhi as if he was responsible for deteriorating condition of the gallery.We took ritualistic pictures outside the museum and settled back in the car. The Indian stand up artist needed tea and we all concurred. We drove past DJ Science College, Pakistan Chowk and Burns road and made a small stop at Kabootar chowk in front of Sindh High court.
Then we decided that we will go to Cafe Mubarak for a well-deserved breakfast. As we were driving by, the road leading to IBA was blocked. A marathon had just started. Hundreds of secondary school children were participating. A number on one of the shirts read ‘6192’. We took a detour and parked in front of IBA. The Indian stand up artist lit another cigarette. The poetess covered her face with her dupatta. We went inside and ordered two Pakistani omelette and One Chicken omelette. The waiter was quick and was back in few minutes with either three Pakistani or equal number of Chicken omelette. We will never get to know. The butter was served separately as they do in typical Irani restaurants. Poetess wanted her slice of bread to be toasted but waiter politely told her that it takes two to be toasted. Due to the toaster design. I volunteered my slice to be toasted along her’s.
On our way back we noticed few marathon participants hitchhiking here and there.
Next we headed to Regal Chowk where a street is converted into a book festival on each Sunday. The Poetess and Novelist went crazy and bought loads of books. The Indian stand up artist and I had to offer our shoulders. I picked up a translation of Yousfi and Shafiq sb’s work for my Urdu-handicapped friends.
On our way back the poetess lit a cigarette. Followed with an air of disbelief in the car.
“I am smoking pot, just in case anyone wants some”, the poetess said
“What? and when we were smoking a cigarette, you forced us to throw it out”, the Pakistani novelist protested
“I am a hypocrite”, the poetess killed the argument
We headed to the Flagstaff house where Rangers have put up a small check post now. You need to deposit your NIC there. The regular caretaker who used to be relaxed and casual was a little tense. He was keeping an eye on our movements and did not even open the door leading to the terrace. He still was diligent and kind. The Indian stand up artist was fully charged and ran around asking us to take his pictures with the quaint stone facade. We loaded back in the car when he got tired.
Mere bane ki baat na pocho was playing on the radio.
“Do you know that Asha Bhosle has also sung Mere bane ki baat?” I inquired from Indian stand up artist
“Yes, and Aaj jaane ki zid na karo as well. But don’t expect a national apology for that”, he quipped
We talked a little about Pakistani singers and actresses in Bollywood. The Indian stand up comedian had a soft corner for Sanam Balouch although she has not been to Bollywood yet. We could not explain to Pakistani novelist who she was.
We called it a day there.