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Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Best Things in life are Free

It is three in the morning and I am wide awake. I woke up at two to the sound of firing that went on for what seemed like ten minutes, but was probably five.
    I have returned to this city by the sea after four years, the longest stretch that I have ever been away from it.
    We arrived at five in the morning. I stepped off the plane, and took deep gulps of "Karachi air," - that lovely mix of smell and scent.
   In the queue for passport control, there were nasty words exchanged in the line next to us. An elderly gentleman dressed like an Arab, shouted obscenities at a woman my age, because she objected to him butting in the line.
   While waiting in line, our kids asked how we managed the heat in the summer, when we were younger and still lived in Karachi, considering that it was so suffocatingly hot in the winter. According to Google, it was 18 degrees centigrade, and because Canada is home, let me clarify that is a positive 18.
    My father and mom-in-law came, at this ungodly hour, to fetch us from the airport. Both wore thick sweaters and smiles full of love. My father on seeing my thirteen-year-old daughter informed her that she has become even prettier. I acted as if the compliment was for me and thanked him, causing both grand parents and grandchildren to laugh. I joined in, but did wonder at all the laughter.
    At home, there was homemade channay ki daal ka halwa, parathas of the kind that are crispy and layered, aloo ki bhujia, omelet, and karahi murghi. Listening to my mom-in-law, my parents, my children, and my husband converse was my favourite part of the meal. "The best things in life are free."
    Later, we walked to the graveyard to visit my father-in-law. I don't believe in visiting graves, in principle, but in practice, I derive some comfort from this: That old friend may have been laid to rest, but he is not forgotten.
   Later still, we dropped off my son's cell phone for repair and then spent the rest of the day, under the blanket of jet lag, drifting in and out of sleep, resurfacing only to fill up on food: Brain masala, chicken tikka, seekh kabaab with Afghani naan, and fruit chaat. The phone was ready for pick up at eight at night. Ahmed, the storeowner, works twelve hour shifts, and yet, was courteous and dignified.
   Tomorrow morning, we are invited for halwa puri to my parent's home. At this rate, I will have to be rolled back onto the return flight.
   While walking down the street outside my mother-in-law's home in the evening, stepping over garbage and plastic bags and dodging pot holes and random construction materials, my fifteen year old said of my country of birth, "I thought it was a country on the brink of collapse. Now, I know that it is past that point."
   He may be right, though, it hurts me to acknowledge the truth in his statement. The government of the country seems to barely function. It provides little security, hardly any health care or education, no protection of the rights of minorities, scant water, electricity, or gas, and everywhere you go, you see the heartbreaking disparity between the lifestyles of the rich and the existence of the poor. It is a country where nothing is free. You need money to purchase private security, water, paid for in cash, is delivered in tankers in this city, good schooling is private, and the same goes for health care. And yet, collapsed or not, it is still my country of birth, and walking the dirty streets feels like homecoming.

1 comment:

  1. yes what Ali said is true but hurts all the same as the the country is sliding back .Take Pia inthe sixties with Nur khan as the boss it was the top airline now it is the worse one