June 20, 2009

I've looked out of the window as a plane descends down to Karachi many, many times in the past twenty-something years. It's something I look forward to almost every time I return to the city at night. For those of you have never been priviledged to see it, it's clear why Karachi is called the city of lights. Once the aircraft breaks through the cloudy night sky, for as far as your eye can see is a sea of shimmering, dancing lights. There is no visible skyline Manhattan style, or a distinctive necklace of lights like in Mumbai, Karachi is defined by a twinkling ocean that spreads for miles and miles around the plane until eventually the aircraft is enveloped within it as it lands onto the runway. Yesterday early-early morning (or late-late night) when the moon was still high in the sky, the pilot announced his descent into Karachi. From my window seat I looked outside patiently waiting for the clouds to break. When they did, for a second I thought we must be some distance away from the city because the lights seemed duller somehow. No longer was there an ocean, or even a sea, instead - at best - several large ponds and small lakes of struggling lights were visible along a dim, sparse expanse of land. We got closer and the lights did too, but somehow they didn't twinkle like they used to. I wondered if my reluctance at coming home was playing tricks with my mind. I wondered also if - like children often do - I had exaggerated in my own head the brilliance of Karachi's dancing lights. Even as I looked out, trying to reconcile vivid imagination with the sober scene in front of me, the lake of light closest to me was - in less time than it takes to blink - wiped out as if it never existed. In less than a second it faded into the vast expanse of unlit land around me. And it struck me, ladies and gentlemen, I had - for the first ever - seen loadshedding at work from 24000 feet up above. I dismally watched as the plane descended in dimly lit, almost darkness into Karachi, once the city of lights. I wonder when, when none of us were looking, Karachi was robbed of her lustre.

I return to Karachi with mixed feelings. Not entirely unexpected given the multiple variables in the equation that has demanded the 'return' to the motherland. As I stepped outside the airplane the first thing that struck me was oppressive heat coupled with humidity. Exhausted after thirty plus hours in transit, my body felt like it would collapse under the pressures of both the weather and disgustingly heavy luggage. We exited the hanger into the airport, but to my surprise the heat did not lessen. If anything as the crowd increased so did the temperature. I wondered if my Amreeka returned self was now too 'burger' to be satisfied with a mere AC as I once knew it. Then I looked around and saw that none of the escalators or the moving walkways were, err, moving. People - larger crowds of them than I have ever seen in many, many visits to Jinnah International - were sitting around fanning themselves with odd peices of paper. Big, big men with giant-sized pot-bellys and drooping moustaches stood in corners looking harassed and sweating copiously. All around me was more noise, and confusion than I have heard at the airport before. Again, I wondered what the hell was up here.

I walked down the non-functional escalator lugging my heavy hang bag with me inventively cursing the inefficiency of whatever airport agency had messed up this time, and entered the immigration hall. Here I just stopped absolutely shocked for a full five seconds just taking in the scene in front of me. It looked, somehow, as if Pakistan had regressed about twenty years in the past six months since I landed here last. No smooth, ordered lines punctuated by officials cutting in for VVIPS were in front of me. Instead throngs of people of all kinds were standing around in utter confusion filling out blue colored forms I had never seen before, milling around, squatting on the floor in groups of harassed adults and squealing babies. Everyone looked tired, out-of-sorts and were generally making more noise than one would find in a proverbial fish market. Huge banners warning everyone who registered there presence (and given their size, it would be impossible not to) warned of a 'high alert' against Swine Flu. Given the thronging mass of people it took some time to weave through to find the immigration desk, let alone the line they usually have for unaccompanied ladies and children. Since there was no line for my category (poor-helpless-female-whose-refined-sensibilities-will-not-allow-her-to-stand-with-an-unwashed-male-population) I marched to the front of a line, found a harassed official and demanded (yes, after thirty hours and transit and not a particularly understanding mood, I did end up demanding) he clue me in to what was going on.

It turned out that the airport had been devoid of electricity for about eight hours (and it was still not back). Their computers had stopped working and six (or more) international flights had come in during the past three hours. Everybody had to fill out a form (which they had now run out of) to announce their entry. Those forms would subsequently somehow (they hoped) be entered into their databases. The generators powering the airports were being prioritized for essential functions which did not, it seemed, include air conditioners. The heat was - ofcourse - compounded by the number of people. After having a ten minute conversation with me he took my passport, told me not to bother with the blue form (which was fortunate since I had no clue where to obtain it from) and handed my passport to the woman at the immigration desk who stamped it, willy nilly, and just threw it at him. He handed it back to me and let me through to the baggage claim area.

Not entirely to my surprise only two conveyer belts were (intermittently) working. A large chunk of baggage was placed haphhazardly along the side and people - in their hurry to escape this madhouse - were tripping all over in an effort to idenity their bags. Given that my bags were probably one of the first bags in the plane (courtesy a ridiculously long stopover) and the last bags out of the plane, I spent a lot of time just standing there uselessly being pushed, shoved and stepped on by the chaotic throng of people from multiple flights. None of the signboards that conveniently illuminate flight numbers and names were working, bags were randomly thrown on the coveyer belts and the luggage - from the plane - arrived at a snail's pace. By the time my bags showed up and I left the airport it had been two and a half hours and - as my brother informed me - two cups of bad coffee from the airport McDonalds. I was both exhausted and hugely perturbed. It occured to me that perhaps living in the Amreekan ivory tower there was a lot about the the gradually worsening socio-economic situation in the country that I missed out on. How bad, I wondered, is the energy crisis that everyone is feeling but no one talks about? How much of an impact is this having on businesses already suffering because of the recession? What-oh-what are the implications of this mad loadshedding spree? Is our stupid government actually doing something to alleviate these issues or is it too busy trying to convince the ICC to hold the 2011 games in Pakistan after all? Are there any moves being made for sustainable solutions? Is this going to get worse before it gets any better?

8 comments:

Lonely Perverted Soul said...

the scene was bad... things are geting so bad in the country...

Ubaid said...

khair, welcome to pakistan buddy :)

yaar itna bhi bura nahi, bas its a developing country, per atleast its ours!! hai naa ?

Xeb said...

I differ. Development is usually some sort of progress. This is retrogression. And it's scary.

Ubaid said...

no doubt it is, per that was the only positive i could think of, and say :p

JDèé said...

Welcome to Pakistan. I am sure, you'll love it here. :)
Hard luck you had to land on that scary black day. It wasn't the best of days we Karachiites have had in a while.

Gaia said...

Ouch! that must've been pretty terrible but the good news is you get used to it after a couple of weeks... :P

specially after seeing people in conditions ten times worse!

jadedworld said...

Welcome home love! *huggggggggssssssss*

brok3n said...

You're in pakistan...........hmm..normally this is the point I'd feel jealous but right now Im not too sure o.o ...maybe because I've been reading your super awesome travel around the states haha.