Karachi airport was all cool, swish, green plants, white paint, shiny floor. Security guards with black berets, military sweaters, neat black machine pistols and seriously psycho stares patrol the immaculate corridors. Green tailed PIA Jumbos slumber on the tarmac in the shimmering heat.
All of us pile into a tiny car. Seven people in a car designed to fit four at a squash. The luggage is jammed into between us in a masterpiece of spatial improvisation worthy of a Timelord. There are no seat belts of course. R relaxes in the open boot space in the rear like a Khan on a cushion.”Welcome to Pakistan” says J.
On the road, buses and auto-rickshaws, tingling with dangling mirrors, brightly reflective with polished chrome, fluttering and flaunting with plumes, flags and tassels, honk and shriek. Mopeds weave wildly carrying stick backed men trying to look like film stars, pop popping along at about ten miles an hour, or whole families, father in front, son in the middle, mother and baby on the back horns honking with a wildness that is at the same time completely routine. Pedestrians walking blithely into lines of oncoming traffic with complete faith in divine protection. They will get to the far side, inshallah.
The sides of the road look quite desperate but full of life. Crowds of people exuding an electric energy, half wrecked buildings in a state of constant make do and mend piled full of dusty merchandise, street stalls, a children’s playground with a manually operated wooden big dipper that wasn’t so big but was heavy enough and full of laughing children, piles of junk, piles of goods, adverts high over shops on dizzying piles of scaffolding.
Karachi is under martial law, so at junctions and in the middle of roundabouts we zip past pill boxes with light machine guns poking out, oiled, manned and ready to be used; the soldiers in WW2 era steel helmets and light khaki uniforms. Big houses belonging to society’s higher ups are barricaded off and guarded by more soldiers, standing with a relaxed aggression and casual arrogance; confident in their control of superior weaponry to any potential challengers.
We pass a grimy industrial waste land with no industry full of shanties – all wriggly tin and flapping canvas.
Journey’s end – a cool oasis – R’s family house – huge white building with three generations of the family living in it; both elderly grandparents, two married sons with their wives and children, three unmarried daughters and two more unmarried sons: over ten adults and several children under five. Nevertheless, it is calm and peaceful. The noise outside is somehow in a different dimension, as though its an echo from somewhere else that is far, far away that you can choose to heed or not – the calls of fruit sellers, the honking of horns.