Lisa was a journalist and she was from Central America. A friend introduced me to her and both came along one day on Karachi Walla tour. That day a political party had called for a rally. That did not deter my entourage or myself from our plans and we still went ahead. We made a mistake. The dearth of public spaces and deteriorating condition of infrastructure was never felt so badly and bluntly. We had to take detours and missed on places as major arteries were blocked or chocked with the traffic.
We drove to Edulji Dinshaw road, a rare addition to public spaces in the city. The road was partially blocked with a container standing in middle. We squeezed our way around it, hoping it would still be open on our way back. We parked our car near the rear gate and made our way through running sewage water. The road – which is in deep contrast to its surroundings was abandoned on a Sunday morning. My friend who looked at all development work with doubt argued that perhaps people of neighborhood were discouraged from entering the road. However I have seen neighborhood kids ride bikes and play badminton here so argued that it perhaps was not the case. We walked back to the entrance and took embankment road, hoping to see Lea Market next only to find that the road was blocked at next crossroad with traffic police diverting traffic to Lyari.
So we found ourselves in Lyari. As we crossed cheel chowk and other infamous landmarks, I tried to convince my entourage that it has been calm and peaceful in Lyari for sometime and only thing that can go wrong is perhaps, the usual things that went wrong at political rallies. The journalist nodded that she has been to such neighborhoods in her neck of the woods.
We made a stop at City’s first drainage system. The ruins which looks like a set from a dystopian movie have been a favorite. I could not say if my group felt the same way especially after they saw decayed body of a stray dog in one of the tunnels. My friend whispered in my ear that up next we should show our guest some aesthetically pleasing place. However all of them were amused with small dhobi ghat adjacent to the building where neighborhood women run the small business in traditional way.
We made quick stops at Christ Mission Church and Narsingha Bhagwan Mandir, both a reminder of Old town’s once burgeoning diversity. My friend suggested that we drive to Shri Swaminarayan and Parsi Coloney next. From Ranchor Lines we took a lane which led to Bunder road only to find it blocked with containers. A traffic police constable told me that we should take the road in front of Lady Dufferrin. We naturally made a stop there walking its corridors and reading up from the plaques. The journalist felt that the original facade could pass for Hogwarts. The group posed for a photo in front of the old building under the gulmohar tree.
As we were stuck in the area, we decided to make another stop in the area – Baba-e-Urud’s home. As we walked towards it we noticed Israel’s flag painted on the floor, perhaps in order to desecrate it. I was coming back to the building after a while and found it all changed. Baba-e-Urdu’s grave has a canopy and the building has been repainted, windows fixed and grills reinstalled. The floor was tiled which was a mismatch with the building built in old traditional style. Apparently the building is not managed by Anjuman anymore and there are plans to make a library and make it a public place.
We assembled back in the car and found our way through a maze of streets to Bunder road. The city was set for political showdown. Some of the people in street were excited and others annoyed. We decided not to take risks anymore and drove back to Clifton with a stopover at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The street was deserted and kids were playing in the street. The walls around the cathedral were painted under IAM Karachi initiative. We walked towards the gate but were not allowed inside by the gatekeeper as he asked to get permission from some office bearer at the church. I pointed to another group playing cricket inside. He said they had permission. Dejected we walked back to the car and had a closer look at the walls. They have painted them colorful with a bit of history and all to show a brighter side of the city. Can people paint the darker side of the city and themselves? I was not sure. We made another stop on our way back at Flagstaff house. There was a VIP family inside which was taking forever. We were politely asked to wait at front gate. We waited for 20 minutes and then called it a day.
Karachi already has a dearth of public spaces. Due to political ambition, fear and VIP culture, the list is reduced even further.