KARACHI, Sept 14: In a big metropolis such as Karachi where the value of even an itsy bitsy piece of property is beyond the reach of the common man, what do the people who can’t even afford to rent a roof over their heads do for shelter?
The answer lies right there under the many flyovers and bridges of the city. Guddo Bibi sits under the Nazimabad Petrol Pump flyover applying henna on her daughters’ and her own hands. It is a good day as a motorbike with two people and a big basket had stopped by earlier to distribute packets of biryani among the people living under this flyover.
“My daughter found this cone mehndi in the trash over there,” she gestures with her chin towards a pile of rubbish many little kids are rummaging through. “People throw away so many things that we find use for,” she says as she shows off her decorated hands.
Guddo Bibi, mother of four children — three daughters and one son — came to Karachi with her family after the floods. “We lost our home and belongings, we lost everything. We have come here and will stay till the water flows out of our village. Meanwhile, our men do odd jobs in order to earn something. Some sell fish, some balloons, some paan and cigarettes. But it isn’t enough to get us a proper roof over our heads, so we live here. Some people give away food to us as charity, some bring half-spoilt things from their fridge. The children bring pieces of firewood for warming the food over. I just pray they don’t get run over by any vehicle,” she says quietly.
A newborn baby sleeps in a kind of hammock nearby. “That’s my sister’s baby,” says Guddo Bibi. “She lost her older son soon after coming here to meningitis. God has blessed her with another boy now.”
Lal Bakhsh is another victim of the recent floods living under the same flyover with his wife and children. “I sell the pieces of paper and cardboard I find in the trash to make a buck. KMC people and police come here often threatening to throw us out. The little money I make comes in handy then. Instead of helping us poor folk they even have a problem with our finding this little roof without walls over our heads,” he complains.
The Lyari Expressway is a few minutes drive from the Nazimabad Petrol Pump flyover. There was an old furniture market around it that has now also made its way beneath it. Asked if it is a little dangerous to be working under a flyover with the quality of construction being as it is these days, Liaquat Ali, a furniture seller, says, “Well, this is Karachi. What to worry about what happens tomorrow? If the bridge collapses over our heads, then we’ll see.”
A few feet away from him, Mohammad Zahid, a carpenter, goes about his daily routine, fixing old furniture. “Everything goes in Karachi,” he laughs.
Just beyond his shoulder one can see square patches of greenery. “Some people have utilised the land where the river used to pass from to grow vegetables. There is spinach, turai [ridge gourd], pumpkin, corn and radishes and carrots, too, growing here,” he says.
Moving further, the Shaheed-i-Millat Road flyover provides parking space as well as space for small shops under it. Mohammad Omar runs a mobile phone shop and a PCO here. Asked how he acquired the shop, he says, “Well, this is railway land so I pay a bit to railway people in order to let them let me stay here.”
The shop is well-lit and cool, thanks to the lights and ceiling fans in it. Asked how he got an electricity connection there, the man shrugs and smiles, “It’s all kunda system here, sis.”
The Fatima Jinnah bridge near the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre is even bigger on the business front. There you’ll find tailoring shops, motor mechanics, rest houses, recycling shops and whatnot. Similar is the case with the Gizri flyover where you’ll also find daily wage earners, bun-kekab, chaat and fruit vendors going about their daily business.
Only Kala Pul, the Clifton bridge and Irani bridge don’t have that much chaos underneath them as under the Irani bridge is the Clifton Bridge and under the Clifton bridge and Kala Pul are railway tracks. As for the rest of the places mentioned the situation is very much like sweeping things that you can’t deal with under the rug.