The Struggle for Survival in Karachi

This is the simple story of an ordinary man who leads an ordinary life in Karachi. What separates him from others is that not a single day passes without some unpleasant incident taking place between him and members of the traffic police, who are beholden to implement the highway code of Pakistan. It is no staggering epic. Just a simple tale of an ordinary man who buys sells and repairs computers for a living. Well, perhaps he’s not really all that ordinary. He is, in fact, an expert and there is literally nothing that anybody can teach him about computers, laptops and printers. He is more expensive than most practitioners. But he works fast and quietly.

As I am a dinosaur when it comes to technology, I invariably call him when something goes wrong with my desktop. As he happens to belong to the Bohra community, which requires him to wear specific headgear, he becomes a target for the vultures in the police force. He owns a motorcycle. Or rather, he owned a motorcycle. But that bit in this sordid tale will come later.

For various reasons, he had to cross PIDC House on his daily assignments and that is where the first of the official hold-ups began. Whether the flatfoot was a burly cop with a fierce handlebar moustache who communicated in the tart tones of repressed rage, or a lean and wiry hombre flushed with polemic, the computer expert was invariably detained for not wearing a helmet. As the policeman on duty had rather strong views about not encouraging law-breakers to pay fines to the exchequer, but to subsidise the salaries of underpaid officers of the law, a number of bank notes rapidly changed hands. And while negotiations were taking place over the amount of the bribe, at least a dozen motorcyclists who were not wearing helmets sailed by like ballerinas in a Tchaikovsky ballet. At times this ritual was repeated in another location. Eventually, the expert got a press card from one of the local newspapers which stated he had been appointed their official correspondent for culture.


That did the trick for a while. And then, two days ago, while stopping at a traffic light in Punjab Colony, wondering what the missus was preparing for lunch, he was held up by a couple of mean looking robbers wielding weapons. They took away his motorcycle, bag, wallet and cell phone. The bag contained among other things an Apple laptop worth over Rs100,000. It belonged to a client who will soon ask for a replacement or reimbursement. But instead of throwing himself off the roof of the Finance Trade Centre, he kept a stiff upper lip, rented a motorcycle for Rs500 a day and carried on as usual.

Now when he sees the amber light turn to red at a traffic signal, he slows down. And when the light turns to green, he shoots through the maze of cars like Barry Steven Frank Sheene of the United Kingdom. Life has to go on in one of the world’s worst managed and most corrupt administrations. Just think about it. Despite the presence of the Rangers in Karachi, the crime rate has not decreased. In Karachi’s Orange County where the Clifton Cantonment has put up notices about keeping Clifton clean and green, the area has achieved a high degree of notoriety for having the worst rubbish dumps in the city. And to make matters worse, lots of house-owners are charged a water tax without getting a drop of water. So the citizens have to grin and bear it. For there really is no escape.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2015.


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