24 July, 2014 / Ramazan 25, 1435

If I can drive in Pakistan...

Updated Jun 06, 2013 10:11am

enter image description hereIf I can drive in Pakistan, I sure as hell can drive anywhere in the world.

That notion sparked my quest to learn driving in Karachi. But what was supposed to be a journey to unlock more roads of adventure, turned out to be a series of unfortunate events.

I must first give some premise on what kind of a person I am. A foreigner is one, a Chinese (or ching-chong, as some Pakistanis call us). To add to that, and most of all, a really unlucky being. So if there is anyone who had to wait half an hour for her driving instructor out in the cold, it would be me. And it was only the first lesson.

But fine, it was 6:30 pm; I could totally understand that “heavy traffic” explanation. As soon as I saw my instructor, I literally heaved a sigh of relief and thought “now I can finally breathe”, which turned out to be yet another overstatement.

You see, the car had no windows, which made breathing in an unpolluted space impossible (don’t get me started on the street pollution). But the thing that struck me most - there were no seatbelts. I have never driven a car or taken up any driving theory lesson before, but I always thought that wearing a seatbelt is a ‘needless to say’ kind of traffic rule in any country, not excluding Pakistan. Apparently not.

If I am to ram into a tree or other vehicles, am I perhaps supposed to thrust myself backwards at that precise moment so that I would not fly through the windshield? Yes I do have an instructor who might want to make sure that doesn’t happen, but… we will get to that.

So let’s go back to 6:30pm. The car finally arrived after half an hour of cold waiting and I got into the passenger seat and five minutes later, my star-crossed aura struck once more – the tire bust. After a few tough minutes of hand signing, I finally understood what my instructor meant by “wheel”. Well a punctured tire might sound very much like an inauspicious start, but my spirits were still up, surprisingly, because I got to have a free lesson on changing tires, though it simply meant I got to watch from the side.

My instructor swiftly replaced the “wheel” while I invited ogles beside the car with a big red-lettered “L” for Loser plastered on the rear window. Okay maybe it’s “L” for Learning, but you can’t possibly blame me for thinking otherwise. After what seemed like 15 minutes, the man turned to me and said, “You, drive.” If there was any instance I felt like hitting anyone in Pakistan, it was then. But of course, back then I did not know this is what everyone does during their first driving lesson – they just cut straight to the chase and into the driver’s seat. But in my defense, they are not in an old and tatty car with an engine that sounds like metals of all kinds breaking into a gazillion pieces.

Now to the metaphysical part of my story; I always feel like the spirit of a world-class car racer lives within me, or perhaps I carry some of him or her (yes my car racer ghost can be a woman) from my past life. Anyway, my past experience with a Daytona in a climate-controlled arcade usually attracted envious looks from aggressive little boys with goofy larger-than-life grins, who at my every turns and drifts, frowned like they never had even when their teachers were lashing at them. That’s my achievement on the four-by-three arcade screen. In real life, it wasn’t that pretty.

See in the world of Daytona, the only living organism are those invisible spectators who exist for the sole purpose of clapping for me, and even that is contestable since they don’t subsist beyond the screen. But behind the steering wheel in Karachi, it is as if people want to run into a car just so that they could be seen. Until now, I had not managed to grasp that concept, which is why I know I might not be explaining it well. They come from all places, left right back and front, and they want you to be more afraid of them than you should be, like a cat which thinks it is a lion. But seriously, who are they kidding?

The onlooker who sat next to me seemed to understand these messed up dynamics. So he kept saying to me, “be careful of cars, and be more careful of humans”. Well it could also be interpreted as he does not want me to kill someone, but no I would not think of him that way because I know he definitely does not value life as much as I do – especially after what he shared about his hunting trips, the glorious and not-so-glorious facts. Thus I prefer to regard it as “he does not want me to kill someone with him sitting next to me,” which runs well by me, because I would not have the kind of money to get myself out of prison like CERTAIN people from CERTAIN walks of life do.

They (public service advertisements that are definitely not shown in Karachi) always advise people to not get distracted while driving, so there are in fact a lot of traffic rules dedicated especially to that. The most common of all being the “no texting or calling while driving” rule. There is a reason why that law exists. It is hard to understand how a person could brake in split seconds, and daringly place his or her life on the mechanics of a tattered car. But it happens, and quite frequently so, because I do not think headsets exist in Karachi, at least not for these drivers.

That still treads the dangerous but acceptable line, like single rope cliff climbing, it is inconsiderate and the innocent ones usually die first, but we are human, and subconsciously we have the tendency to conclude our lost meaningless lives in a big whoosh, usually with the company of others, without even intending to.

But driving in the opposite direction of incoming traffic? That is the last straw. It is akin to suicide bombing, it is premeditated and there isn’t a single excuse on planet Earth that suffices to explain why it could be done. It is intolerable and should not be condoned. No amount of blinkers would make me safe, driving amongst this suicidal bunch.

With that angry thought, I expected nothing less than another punctured tire, because angry karma comes in one full round, and this rings true even on an inanimate object. Once again, I had to get down, but lucky for me (my first peek of luck, fancy that), my house was not far, so my instructor walked me home.

The first time I drove, I had to walk home, that is life with a big capital “L” in Karachi.


The author is an Intern at Dawn.com from Singapore who likes to write on films, books and music (but is in fact a doraemon aficionado who is curious about everything, real or imaginary).

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (39) (Closed)


Iqbal
Jun 03, 2013 05:19pm

very good article. Dawn.com! your intern is doing good.... By the way, you will soon develop the reflexes to drive in the very same conditions. Good luck

Shawez
Jun 03, 2013 06:21pm

Firstly let me be the first to say, bravo on trying to learn driving in Pakistan. Secondly I am really sorry you had such a bad experience - but that is exactly why they say 'If you can drive in Pakistan, you can drive anywhere'. Amazingly written article though - I havent read anything this good from Dawn Blogs in a long time.

P.S. Please dont get offended by what some people call Chinese people. Let me assure you, most of us Pakistanis call you guys our eternal friends.

Falcon
Jun 03, 2013 07:13pm

That's a funny story and you have certainly a good sense of humor. Hopefully, you give Pakistan another chance to let you drive. Starting out small might be a good idea before moving to scary bigger roads.

Karachite
Jun 03, 2013 07:11pm

But this is the beauty of Karachi. The organized unorganization.

gangadin
Jun 03, 2013 10:18pm

It looks like that you did not have a good experience driving around in Pakistan. But don't despair, guns are easily available. Get one and make sure you don't get distracted and miss your head.

SM
Jun 03, 2013 11:30pm

Poor you. Well at least you can write in English and hopefully speak good too. And you are a foreigner. So you can't be that big of a loser in Karachi.

Muzaffar Chaudhary
Jun 03, 2013 11:34pm

I have been living outside of Pakistan for the last 38 years. Your depiction of surroundings remind me my childhood. It was funny and hilarious but I still want to go back and live there. I feel, no stress, take my time and enjoy, this is another way of life people have to get use to.

Kick back and relax, most of the people have good heart.

Enjoy

Sameer
Jun 03, 2013 11:50pm

Welcome to Pakistan :) You are a pretty expressive writer. Great read.

Ahmad
Jun 04, 2013 12:04am

I will say .... Best of Luck. Hopefully you will be great driver soon. :D

Concerned
Jun 04, 2013 12:30am

I empathies with you… also I am impressed that you had the courage to make an attempt to drive in Karachi. Every other year when I am in Karachi I am unable to gather as much courage as you to drive in the city where I was born and raised. Also I like the fact that you are brave enough to find humor in the term “ching chong” which I feel is the true intent of the term and not to offend you or any Chinese.

siraj
Jun 04, 2013 01:18am

Its funny but so true about trafic in karachi

Umer
Jun 04, 2013 05:33am

Where in Karachi was this driving experience from hell? But I recall most driving schools had very decent cars. You may have displayed your credentials as a journalist and requested a better car. Well to be honest you would have hoped any car would have a seat belt.

But you are on the money. If you can drive in Pakistan, you can own streets anywhere!!

Bilal Akbar
Jun 04, 2013 08:37am

You have summed up a nice post. But all these things are getting into our routine so none cares about it and everyone say let it happen the way it is happening.

Muhammad Jamil
Jun 04, 2013 09:35am

what do you mean by this sentence . """"I must first give some premise on what kind of a person I am. A foreigner is one, a Chinese (or ching-chong, as some Pakistani call us). """".. is that your desire to tell the China Peoples that pakistani make a fun of them???? ....We love china as china do with us.. okaaaayyyyy.. U american tatoo apni khoti chama tay bano's

Gerry D'Cunha
Jun 04, 2013 12:49pm

any one can drive in pakistan!!! even a blind person who was given a driving licence in karachi - I am not joking - this was confirmed in a TV programmr 'saray arm' a few months back at the karachi clifton driving licence office

maestro
Jun 04, 2013 01:54pm

Don't be offended by what some people call chinese people. They are illiterate and just make stupid jokes even of other Pakistanis from other provinces. They mean no harm by it. You should know that the majority of Pakistanis consider the Chinese as their good friends and will out of the way to make sure you are happy here. Karachi is a vast metropolis - yes driving is not the best talent of Pakistanis but go to a city like Sao Paulo in Brazil or Cairo in Egypt or even New York. Karachi traffic will seem like a cake walk to you then. Enjoy your time in Pakistan. Majority of us are hospitable, good people. Cheers.

Ammar Hassan
Jun 04, 2013 03:03pm

Its not true that if you can drive in Pakistan you can drive anywhere.. otherwise I wouldn't have wasted 1500 euros here in germany and still not sure... I drove 8 years in Pakistan (Rawalpindi and Islamabad) and no hassles...

The thing is in Pakistan there are no signals apart from traffic lights...which is not a great thing.. as everybody is jostling with no regard for priority..

Curious
Jun 04, 2013 04:10pm

Why exactly are you living in Pakistan? We're you exiled from our country?

Stranger
Jun 04, 2013 05:38pm

Now thats what I call a totally racist article. I am sure roads in Beijing are not much better than those in the subcontinent. And NO I am not from Pak. I dont know how DAWN published this . this should have been a personal blog .

Novice
Jun 04, 2013 06:00pm

Firstly, it's a nice article. Secondly, it's not true that if you can drive in Karachi, you can drive any where in the world. In Karachi (or read "Pakistan"), driving sense is different than western world. Our roads lack road signs and proper markings beside road safety issues. However, with few exceptions, in huge metropolitan cities like Karachi, traffic issues are either similar or in fact worse.

P kumar
Jun 04, 2013 08:03pm

Roads in Beijing are as good as newyork and in shanghai they are actually better with three tier roads and caterpillar three dimensional flyovers.no,I am also not from Pak , or china

Zac
Jun 05, 2013 01:11am

@Stranger: Are you blind, author is from Singapore! Can't you read?? How is it in any way racist? Did she even mention anything about colour? The only colour mentioned is RED, and she used it on herself. But I don't blame you, 'cause you obviously can't READ.

KHAN
Jun 05, 2013 09:36am

@Muzaffar Chaudhary: now that is just stupid.... let me think!!!!! were there so many vehicles and such traffic 38 years back? I dont think so!!!! what rubbish!!!

KKrishna
Jun 05, 2013 10:45am

Pakistani cars are highly sophisticated such that even a person wearing a full burqa can drive it without removing the veil.

Doc
Jun 05, 2013 10:58am

Wow we can be really mean in Pakistan. I learned how to drive in the Middle East and drove there for 2 years before I came to Pakistan to study. I was too intimidated to drive. One day I was late for an exam and had to get to North Nazimabad at noon. I drove. Got there in one piece but it was scary. I've changed tires on the main road with no help except 'helpful' comments from my male brethren. Why can't we just accept the fact that driving is bad here and getting worse. As for her other "rascist" comments, really how polite are we amongst ourselves to those who are different in looks, religion, colour or country of origin?

SHAHREZAD SAMIUDDIN
Jun 05, 2013 11:21am

do you have a/c in the car?

Ahmad
Jun 05, 2013 12:19pm

@gangadin: umm.. what?

Ahmad
Jun 05, 2013 12:24pm

@Muhammad Jamil: And by writing this comment you had to show how uneducated and uncouth you are?

Ahmad
Jun 05, 2013 12:23pm

@Muhammad Jamil: And by writing this comment you had to show how uneducated and uncouth you are?

ahmedj
Jun 05, 2013 01:47pm

Certainly it is more of a cultural shock than bad driving. I understand in Singapore one can't even chew a gum due to serious maintenance issues but in Karachi every corner of a staircase is red and on every traffic light crossing one find the colour texture of the road pale red in colour due to the "paan" spitting. That is what Karachi is. Lahore or Islamabad are far different to Karachi.
In Islamabad one has to put on seat belts by law. There is a proper driving test before issuing with a licence. However, if you really want to learn and drive in the world. Pakistan is not the right place for learning. You will take bad driving habits with you. How many of us know before entering a round-about to stop, look right and give way to the traffic coming from the right side? We don't even know whose right of way is there.
Take this as a positive life experience and carry on with a smiling face.

Anonymous
Jun 05, 2013 03:47pm

It should be like this that 'If you can drive in Karachi & Lahore, you can drive anywhere'. In Islamabad traffic is much much better than the traffic in these 2 cities... If you brake rules in Islamabad you are fined for it but in Lahore & Karachi case is different... You brake signals in front of a traffic warden in these cities and they wont say you anything, they will be busy on their mobiles... So You cant say 'If you can drive in Pakistan, you can drive anywhere' because Islamabad is also included in Pakistan as its Capital City....

AK
Jun 06, 2013 02:32am

The article is mediocre and could have been edited better. Not funny, insightful, or interesting in any manner. Reads more like a 9th class student’s essay. Would this have been published if the writer was a Pakistani?

All large metropolises, Mumbai, New York, Sao Paulo, (don’t even get me started about the Italians) have their own set of challenges. Mostly due to over-congestion, large and small vehicles sharing limited space, aggressive drivers breaking rules whenever they can, infrastructure not designed for the volume of traffic, etc. If you can drive in any of these places you can survive the rest. Just remember which side to drive on.

If you select a cheap driving school and bad instructor, who puts you on a busy road the first day, this is not misfortune but someone playing a prank on you by referring you to this school.

Karachi traffic, in my opinion, has improved over the last ten years with the overpasses that take many large trucks off the city roads and eliminated many signals.

Haris
Jun 06, 2013 10:49am

True! But most of the drivers in Pakistan fails to pass driving test in foreign countries.

andrew
Jun 06, 2013 12:10pm

I am a foreigner living in Lahore and, in spite of having driven 40,000 Kms every year for many years in the UK I find driving in Lahore terrifying. For an honour based culture the rudeness and selfishness of drivers is breathtaking. I survive by adopting the attitude that everyone is out to get me. Every time I get home in one piece with no new scratches on my car I thank God for a new miracle. I make a mental note of the worst examples of driving and the record is currently held by a lady driving with a small child on her knee while texting on a phone. And as for our Chinese friend learning to drive in a clapped out car in Karachi, well sir you deserve medal for bravery.

Mohammad Sami
Jun 06, 2013 01:32pm

First of all, it's nice to see a Chinese national as a guest in Pakistan. I agree with a lot of what you wrote but its a bit curious to hear your surprise about pollution when it's much higher in China than anywhere in Pakistan. Secondly,yes there is no traffic discipline but that's because Karachi is over-populated.

Go to Islamabad and see the police forces there. When salaries are good, there's integrity and law enforcement

Mohammad Sami
Jun 06, 2013 01:32pm

@Haris:

who cares - we can drive wherever we damn please.

JustMe
Jun 06, 2013 05:32pm

@ahmedj: buddy first think about what u r writing. Karachi is the largest city of Pakistan. there are 20Million people in there. which is almost 5 times the population of lahore and islamabad combined. karachi gets less funding than both these cities. the police which is deployed in karachi is not of lahore or islamabad standard. they are not even treated equally, both in terms of compensation, facilities and they equipment provided. not to mention the motives of these police deployments. thts an entire different story. i have driven in all three cities and i find karachi's traffic more fluent that any other city. its just too many cars on the road at one point. but thats with every metropolitan.

Riz
Jun 12, 2013 11:22pm

Hello ALISIA PEK XUE NING

I can completely picture what a Chinese would feel like in anywhere in pakistan, even, the capital Islamabad. I have lived in Hunan China, and I travelled extensively in China. What a wonderful country. Nicest people on earth. I am impressed. I am a Pakistani national and I can't drive in my home town either. I remember I used to back in the days..

A piece of friendly advice as a friend, Do not hang out openly in anywhere. I once took my Chinese female friend with me to Punjab. She liked to climb buses as no body touches nobody in china on purpose. She got touched on her butts a couple of times in public places by bad people. Somebody stole her passport, which we finally recovered by zig-zagged way. Anyways, have fun and be safe!

Love and peace from Urumqi, Xinjiang.

Ali
Jun 19, 2013 08:03pm

I totally agree but the driving is not that different than driving in China major cities. I been to both places but you chose not post my comments about driving in China. Oh well, at least you know what I said.