Pakistan – the country I hadn’t known: Kinetic Karachi (II)

Shahriar Feroze
Wednesday, June 14th, 2017


For travellers from far across the world , the country Pakistan may be the symbol of militancy , anarchy , perils to  whatever they derive from the  international media portrayal of the country , but for a Bangladeshi the country and its people has multiple interpretations….Shahriar Feroze writes from the country ‘off the radar’ …..


The senior most office bearer of the club gave a nice intro of the club and it was also him to have ended. However, there are a couple of revealing information about the club which needs mentioned – except for one lone year, some year between 58 and 62, the Karachi Press Club’s election was never postponed or cancelled , and are held at regular intervals . The second is – the club’s bar was never shutdown – despite the Islamic State’s hardcore anti-alcohol stance. It remained accessible even during the regimes of General Zia-ul-Huq and Pervez Musharraf.


The rest of the dialogue was mostly about what all press club members and leaders say in any country: how many news papers and TV channels there are, how they view the delegation country, comparisons between the press freedom of the two countries and not to mention sharing of the nostalgic anecdotes which once linked the two wings of Pakistan. But when the senior man chairing his team declared that the current government has given the press ‘full freedom’ to function in its respective fashion, this writer couldn’t help laughing in silent.


Let me explain why – you may have a lot freedom of speech, but if none is listening to you there is no point talking. The current government in Bangladesh has given almost a carte blanche for voicing opinion and even dissent, but it rarely pays any heed to the sharpest of its critics. On a different count, the Pakistani media has often been regarded as among the freest in Asia but have frequently came under targeted attacks of extremist groups, Islamist organizations, and feared intelligence agencies, many of these are on the list of “Predators of Press Freedom”. We too have the same problem and, instead of bragging about ‘who has how much of press freedom’ it’s time how to jointly make the best use of it, so to make the lives of our journalists’ much safer.


The meeting concluded with a gift of hand spun shawl given to all of us following tea and biscuits, but the good news was that following an hour of shopping we had a stopover at the Clifton beach. We learnt later, the schedule was altered for catching a glimpse of the Clifton sunset.


If you hadn’t hit the beach at Karachi, you haven’t actually been there. Standing right on the face of the Arabian Sea, it’s the extended sea view which compensates for all that Karachi lacks. Though I wasn’t expecting bikini-clad slim beauties or mermaids to rise from anywhere at any time, but the dress-code in here too, is more or less the same what’s seen at Cox’s bazaar. Perhaps a degree more conservative to Bangladesh, that apart the whole scene is mostly the same – scattered groups of large families, rampant roaming of camels, horses, donkeys and four-wheelers, barrows selling beach snacks here and there with new mothers having tough times to control their toddlers. A couple of exclusive under construction skyscrapers overlooking the sea hinted that Pakistan was also on the same course to follow exclusive real estate business similar to other Asian beach cities. Four of our team members became busy disputing over which would be cheaper and also safer, horse or the camel. In the end only one got on top of the camel, one decidedly jumped in the shallow waters while the other two decided to be contented by clicking a spree of selfies beside the beasts.


From its roads to beaches, it’s the kinetics of the Karachites which kept me occupied. Big cities are evidently quick moving but in here it’s the peoples’ rhythm which precedes the speed. No matter what, it often seems puzzling why we all crave for sunsets when all beaches and the sun have almost the same mental and visual soothing to offer. So when I had asked one of my team members to spot the difference between the sunset at Clifton and Cox’s Bazaar , the reply was simple and short – crossover to the other end of the sea , it’s Saudi Arabia. I didn’t know what to say. Whatever the hour spent at the Clifton was relaxing to the senses. Who knew that it would fade away faster than thought?


Without the slightest intent to offend anyone at all, if you want to experience organised chaos – people should watch what a small group of a mere 10 Bangladeshis can do while shopping in a group. First, the couple of protocol officers along with an elderly man became baffled to have lost control over our movements, then the two armed security personnel got separated with two separate groups and finally two groups became five with two in each of them. By then the competition had begun, in terms of – which can spend more, buy more and get lost more frequently. Nor quality neither brand, it was quantity that mattered the most. All of a sudden a shopping pandemic had erupted among my fellow journalists in the midst of a packed bazaar. Amazed shopkeepers from different corners gave curious looks to our group of men and women escorted by armed police. Tens of thousands were being spent in quick repeats, and not to mention it was Pakistani money spent in Pakistan and that too on buying Pakistani ‘B’ quality goods.

In the end, we not only consciously delayed the dinner meeting to conclude our trip to Karachi but had exhausted ourselves to the limits. By the time we reached the threshold of the scenic Karachi club’s annexed premises, many of us prayed the dinner to be a quick one. It, however, was not to be. The ambience, the crowd within the club had once more revealed the Karachi elites, but it was nonetheless the location of the club which appealed this writer. The club with its art deco like design stands right on the banks of the Chinna creek facing a lush jungle-like small island. Looking further ahead, I was able to spot the cranes of the Karachi port and dockyard. Pity we couldn’t get a clearer view of the surrounding area for being dark. Following a spree of restaurant, healthcare and other facilities it has almost everything that a five star club has to offer to its members and guests.


Following another series of introductions and handshakes with a group of editors and media men we sat for dinner. As we were about to close our second and final day in Karachi, one more fact became clearer – the Pakistan media and its journalists as a whole actually intends to get closer to Bangladesh. That said- their keenness about news events in Bangladesh is also selective.


One can actually count them on the fingers of one hand – hanging of war criminals, old-historical ties and nostalgic recollections for that matter, Cricket and our PM’s current cold stance on Pakistan, and how do we view today’s Pakistan. The last is particularly imposing since so many senior citizens, journalists and civil society members had so repeatedly voiced about the painful experiences on the separation of the former two wings. It’s right here one needs to listen more than talk. The viewpoints would largely differ in Islamabad and Lahore but that’s another story. While discussing the common history of the old Pakistan – a resident editor of a popular Urdu newspaper was explaining why the ultimate breakup had resulted from the missing of a power sharing formula since the very beginning. It was a thought provoking analysis. Following one more group photo session it was time to get back to our hotel. Our flight for Islamabad will leave at noon time but before that we had another visit in the schedule before boarding the plane.


The visit, however, links with the most important man of Pakistan – without whom the country wouldn’t have existed – the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.  Physically he may have been dead long ago, but in some way re-incarnated every day. Despite diverse political preferences and viewpoints in the country he is collectively considered to be the undisputed founder of Pakistan. At least on this key national topic – the whole of Pakistan is united, something which is hugely missed in Bangladesh.


However, this writer would say, Karachi is empty without the Quaid-e-Azam mausoleum. Following a long delay of our protocol officers and security men to arrive, we were blessed with few more hours to rest. And we arrived at the spot at high-noon.


Similar to the founder of the country the Mausoleum itself is a huge architecture – resembling the symbol of uncompromising indomitable will.


There are many characteristics in the late Muhammad Ali Jinnah that many people in Bangladesh and in India, apart from Pakistan, yet admire. And though not a practicing Muslim, and even if he is taken as an anglophile sahib by the many of his attacking critics – many of his actions during the course of his political and professional career evidently reflects some of the fundamental Quranic teachings – punctuality, cleanliness, discipline, moral to financial integrity to his adherence to strict principles, but nothing perhaps beats the attribute of his unbending diehard willpower that he had applied for the creation of Pakistan.


His personal belongings and artifacts displayed within the museum inside the mausoleum echoes of a barrister turned politician with impeccable Western tastes. Ranging from his black and white Cadillac to furnishings; a pair of sharply cut suit to dinner and cutlery sets; his favourite pastime – a croquet set to art objects and a spree of photographs during his practicing years as a Barrister all remain footprints on the sands of time. Nevertheless, after having read his descriptions by Dominique La Pierre and Stanly Wolpert, to me, he has always remained as the one exceptional political figure that I never completely understood. Whatever, personal thoughts are my personal property. However, the Fatiha recitation following the guard of honour – like salute by the uniformed jawans within the tomb premises was a moving site. After all he was the founding father of Pakistan.


Nevertheless, none should miss to stroll about the mausoleum premises once here. The massive white marble structure is built with enough empty space on four sides allowing cross-ventilation through all sides. Furthermore, the mausoleum is not housing the tomb of Muhammad Ali Jinnah alone, adjacent to the semi-circular dome a vast room also contains the tombs of some of old- Pakistan’s iconic political figures , such are – Liaquat Ali khan ,  Fatima Jinnah , the late Bengali governor of former East Pakistan Nurul Amin and a few more. Except one or two all the tombs, including Jinnah’s, all have their names written both in Bengali and Urdu on alternate sides. This tradition had continued till the breakup in 1971.


The only sad thing before departing Karachi was that we were not permitted to have lunch at any restaurant because of ‘security reasons’. But the packet beef Biryani which we had while being driven to the airport was more than sumptuous. Despite being basic, the best desi restaurants serve great, flavorsome, tasty food and they have such a high turnover that the freshness can be almost guaranteed.


Even a better piece of news coupled with the Biryani for this writer was that he found the much desired Pakistani books which he was looking for well over a year in other places. If the delegation team’s peak shopping moment was at the Saddar Bazaar yesterday, this writer’s was right inside the duty-free bookshops the next day. The time to board the plane came soon.


It’s usually the planes for international flights which are the best within any country’s fleet of aircrafts, but here in Pakistan it’s the other way round – the plane taking us to Islamabad, its interiors, food to service all seemed to be far much superior to the Dhaka-Karachi flight. Just before take-off, I spotted a 787 dream liner, the latest addition in the PIA fleet with the old classical white PIA logo against a deep green background with a straight-line of stars on the top and bottom. A flying plane divided the block letters in the middle. It was elegantly parked on the ramp and then blasting roars of the engine……see you in Islamabad next week.


The writer is a journalist and a keen traveller

First part link below:

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