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DAWN - Features; August 18, 2003

August 18, 2003

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Bahawalpur Ittehad enters the fray

AS electioneering picked up after the filing of nomination papers for the by-election of Naib Nazim, Bahawalpur tehsil, the comeback of Bahawalpur Ittehad to capture this slot is surprising for the local political circles.

Bahawalpur Ittehad was formed on a non-political basis in April, 2001, by several former legislators belonging to different political parties. They pledged to contest the elections for district and tehsil Nazims on the slogan of ‘progress of Bahawalpur’.

Former minister Tasneem Nawaz Gardezi and parliamentarian Syed Tabish Alwari were elected president and general secretary of the Ittehad, respectively. However, it was opposed by a group led by Nawab of Bahawalpur and ex-MNA Salahuddin Abbasi and his supporters, including former ministers Farooq Azam Malik and Mian Riaz Husain Peerzada, now MNAs.

Bahawalpur Ittehad emerged victorious in August, 2001, when its candidates won the slots of district Nazim, Naib Nazim, tehsil Nazim in Bahawalpur, Hasilpur and Yazman. It lost in Ahmedpur East — the stronghold of Nawab Salahuddin Abbasi — and Khairpur Tamewali, the constituency of MNA Mian Riaz Husain Peerzada.

In the October, 2002, election, the Ittehad became divided over the candidature of many of its members. Its stalwarts made decisions on their own and gave preference to their political parties, with the result that it became dormant. The Ittehad leaders did not come to the help and assistance of their office-bearers in the election and fixed their own priorities. Owing to their contradictory policies, the Ittehad candidates were defeated in the general elections.

Now the nomination of Liaquat Lodhi and his covering candidate, Zahid Channar, is an attempt to show the existence of the Ittehad to the local population who are aware of the differences between district Nazim Tariq Cheema and tehsil Nazim Najeebuddin Owaisi. They have only rejoined hands in common interest. Najeeb Owaisi wants to revive his relationship with district Nazim Tariq Cheema to retain his tehsil nazimship as rumours are rife that the latter was out to bring a no-confidence motion against him. And in return Tariq Cheema wants to get elected his man i.e. Liaquat Lodhi (PPP) to have a grip on the tehsil administration and pave the way for the ouster of Owaisi.

The Ittehad recently decided to elect a Seraiki-speaking Naib Nazim from the urban areas of Bahawalpur as Mr Owaisi belongs to rural area of Khanqah Sharif. This was decided under the chairmanship of Tariq Cheema who, though a Punjabi, was supported by a Seraiki-speaking councillor in his election. Now the Punjabi-speaking population and their councillors have been ignored in the by-election.

It is felt that when Mr Owaisi, who is Seraiki-speaking, was tehsil Nazim, the office of Naib Nazim should have been given to a Punjabi Naib Nazim of Bahawalpur. But this principle has not been kept in view by the Ittehad while nominating Mr Lodhi.

The nomination of Liaquat Lodhi, basically a PPP activist, from the Ittehad platform has harmed the PPP as it has not fielded any candidate for the Naib Nazim’s slot. The local political circles are of the view that the PPP should have fielded its own candidate in view of its continued struggle for democracy and to prove its existence in Bahawalpur. These circles have expressed disappointment over the non-participation of PPP in the by-election and have decided to inform PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto of her party’s poor performance here.

* * * * * *

AFTER the exit of Bahawalpur cricket centre from the list of national test centres, talented cricket players here are being ignored at the national and international levels.

The latest example is of the local left-handed opening batsman, Usman Tariq, who has been unjustly omitted from the list of 20 probables announced last week for national cricket training camp to play against the visiting Bangladesh cricket team despite his outstanding performance in domestic cricket for the past two years. Boys from other developed cities with an inferior performance record have been selected for the national team.

Tariq scored magnificent 1,376 runs in one-dayers and first class season of the year 2002. He made 435 runs with an average of 61.85 per cent in eight innings of six matches. His first class career includes 2,041 runs. He also bagged a total of 61 wickets in 2002. He put up an all-round good performance in English Liverpool League in 2002.

The local sports circles while protesting over the exclusion of Usman Tariq from the 20 probables have appealed to the Pakistan Cricket Board president to provide him an opportunity to prove his worth and utilize his services for the country and nation in international matches.

Replacing a lost column

BELIEVE it or not I lost the piece originally intended for this week. I had written on the Sawan in Lahore and the performance of the president of the Model Town Cooperative Society, Mr Khalid Ikram Malik, who should be delighted at my loss because I hadn’t half a word praise for him. Nor should he be satisfied at the way he is conducting himself. Unfortunately, however, I cannot go over all that again. So Mr Malik gets a reprieve but it is; I assure you, not an acquittal I’ll get back to Mr Malik in a week or so.

Let me continue today with the old chronology that I have, The Statesman 1875-1975. We are now well into the twenties, barely a couple of decades away from independence. Let us see with what issues the paper concerns itself. For example on August 23, 1923, the paper wrote:

THE census returns of the last two or three decades have armed the Mohammedans of Bengal with fresh arguments in support of their claim that the spread of Islam in the province is due not to forcible conversion in the past, but to immigration and the natural fertility of races of Arab or Pathan origin. There have been no forcible conversions during the period of British rule, yet the Mohammedan population has crept steadily upwards, until the last returns actually show that in the province furthest removed from non-Hindu influences, in which Hinduism should therefore enjoy special predominance, the Mohammedans command an absolute numerical majority. Indeed, there are now more Mohammedans in Bengal than in Punjab. It is difficult to say when the theory was started that the Mohammedans of Bengal are mainly descendants of converts, or on what facts it was based. Wholesale conversion of the Hindu population in the time of the Moguls could not have been effected without attracting the liveliest attention but Mohammedan historians have not a word to say on the subject. Nor does tradition amongst the supposed converts preserve any record of such an event, except in the case of a few families who admit that their ancestors were Brahmans

* * * * * *

The Mohammedans of Western Bengal claim a different origin, stating that they entered the country in the wake of Moghul and Pathan invasions. They profess to be descended from soldiers who were settled on the land, and trace their ancestral homes to the Hindukush and the steppes beyond. Many families indeed have preserved their private records and can produce the very sunnads of the Mogul Emperor. The bulk however have no evidence beyond tradition, but they point to the manifest racial difference between themselves and the Hindus. Their appearance is that of Turks, Pathans, Tartars or Khirgiz. There is also to be found in Bengal a Mohammedan type unlike any other to be seen in India — people of short slight stature with small hands and feet. These say that they followed Nadir Shah into India originally from a select and aristocratic race which had its home in the Caucasus. In any case, they are obviously not Indians. The recent awakening of national and racial self-consciousness invests these questions with more than academic interest, any further light that research can throw on the subject will certainly be welcomed.

On May 18, 1924 The Statesman wrote:

“SOCIALISM made a man of me,” declares Mr George Bernard Shaw, replying to a letter in a Torquay newspaper. A Mr Grey had been stated by a correspondent to have said that there were millionaires in the Labour Party and named Mr. Shaw as one. “Mr Grey is quite wrong about my being a millionaire.” Writes Mr. Shaw, “though I am glad he recognizes that the men who began life 40 or 50 years ago by proclaiming themselves socialists — to the horror of their uncles and the despair of their parents — were not such fools even from the commercial point of view, as they were supposed to be.

“I should have been not only a less useful man, but a poorer and less successful on as a conservative. The family conservatism made a snob and a fool of me. Socialism made a man of me.”

On May 16, 1925 the paper wrote:

The death of Sir Rider Haggard sweeps the memory of most of us back to childhood when we were first held spell bound by the virile adventures in “King Solomon’s Mines” or the shuddering horror of the death of “She”. Sir Rider Haggard as a romanticist never rose higher than in those early books of his. Much of his later work with the pen was an attempt to recapture for his readers the some-what crude thrills of which he once commanded the secret, but the world had somehow changed its taste and a new novel by Rider Haggard was no longer an event of its type his early work was excellent. It set a new fashion. It turned the thoughts of readers to that Dark Continent in which as a young officer Rider Haggard had himself lived and worked. It was not in great style or conception, but it was good, wholesome stuff with emphasis on the strong qualities of strong men.

On June 15, 1927 the paper wrote:

On June 1 the Trade Union Act came into force in India. The event has gone comparatively unnoticed for obvious reasons, since it applies to a movement which is in its infancy in India, and nearly two years have passed since the provisions of the Bill were under keen discussion. The consideration of the Trade Unions Bill at Home, as it happens, has considerable bearing upon the Indian measure and enforces the wisdom of more than one decision taken by Indian legislators. Thus in India when political funds are raised by trade unions’ contributions the member paying has first to express his wish to do so. He must “contract in”. In England any objecting has had to “contract out” but that will be changed for the future if the Trade Unions Bill passes. The English measure also follows the Indian practice in allowing state servants to have unions of their own. In India the new Act has no special provisions against intimidation by picketing, the government holding that this can be dealt with by the ordinary law.

On September 30, 1927 the paper wrote:

Neatly clad in green khadi cloth, the first volume of Mr Gandhi’s autobiography (the story of My Experiments with truth by Mr MK Gandhi, Navajiran Press, Ahmedabad, Rs.5-8) has now been published. Printed with flawless type from a fresh fount with a well-produced front piece by the author, clad only in a loin cloth, in an arresting contemplative attitude, its appearance reflects credit on those responsible for it. The autobiography itself is full of human interest, for Mr Gandhi has followed in the footsteps of Rousseau and set out to write a true confession. His political experiments, he tells us, have for him not much value, and the title of Mahatama they have won for him not much value, and the title of Mahatama they have won for him has often deeply pained him. But in the spiritual field his “experiments with truth” have made up his real life, and the account of these, he rightly judges, may be of use to others. In one sense the narrative of his painful life’s journey is a brave confession of tragic failure. For thirty years he has been ‘striving and pining’ to achieve self-realization. “To see God face to face to attain Moksha”. For this he has experimented with non-violence, celibacy, vegetarianism, with every kind of renunciation, and has walked a path” narrow and sharp as a razor’s edge” yet at the end of these years all he lays claim to have had is “faint glimpses of the absolute Truth, God.” He has not found God or realized Truth, though he has reached complete certainly that God exists and is the supreme reality.

Of cola wars and water conflicts

A SCANTLY noticed theme in the messages of the Indian president and the prime minister on Independence Day pertained to the arriving water crisis, one that could throw the entire region into turbulence, not just India alone. Interestingly, only a few days earlier, a veritable “Cola War” had erupted on the Indian firmament. A common thread in both happenings seems to be their influence in directly or indirectly spurring the move underway to privatize the region’s depleting water resources.

There was a time when western soft drinks were seen as a symbol of neo-colonialism and several mainstream political parties in India and elsewhere would galvanize their followers to oppose it.

Nowadays, as with most other burning issues of the moment such as regional and global peace, human rights, poverty alleviation, gender equality et al, the anti-cola campaign too has been “outsourced” to a clutch of non-governmental organizations or NGOs.

The resultant ideological chaos and masking of issues is too obvious to be ignored. For example, the current controversy in India over claims of pesticides found in soft drinks is a deceptively technical issue, not a political one, even though it pretends to carry the clout of popular support.

The findings by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, a high-profile NGO, that showed an unacceptably high content of pesticides in Pepsi, Coca-Cola and other packaged soft drinks, did lead to an uproar in parliament and a few noisy demonstrations on the street.

But look again and you may find that apart from the vigorous rebuttal by Pepsi and Coke to the CSE findings, the controversy itself is not new.

Moreover, the public outrage generated by the CSE report stems from the as yet not fully proven claims of pesticides found in the popular sodas. In other words, the controversy is based on a very narrow untested premise. According to this thinking, if you wish to dissipate the public anger on the issue all that is needed is to show the people in some credible way that the pesticides levels, if they were there in the first place, have been really taken care of and that the soft drinks were now kosher.

The real issue, according to the almost daily friendly analyses of the cola controversy, revolves around the quality of the Indian water supply itself. Newspapers and TV channels alike seem to be making some sort of a daily discovery that much of Indian tap water and large tracts of ground water are actually of dubious quality, which might have contaminated the popular bottled drinks.

The discourse would be bizarre if it were not old hat. For, anyone who had seen Kundan Shah’s rip-roaring black comedy “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro”, made almost 20 years ago, would have difficulty forgetting the corrupt and pompous municipal commissioner of Bombay who discovered that in New York they had separate pipes to carry the city’s sewage flow and its water supply! Why go that far back in history? The day the pesticides story broke, there was a smaller story on the inside pages of 75 people laid up with cholera in Delhi. Cholera is a waterborne disease.

By bringing the quality of water into the discussion as the main issue in the cola controversy, someone has surreptitiously prepared the ground for the arriving remedy — namely, privatization of our water resources.

But before privatizing the water supply, we would need to control and corner the water resources. What did President Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee say to alert us about the impending move in this direction?

“Within the next two decades, we will encounter a totally new situation of acute shortages of water, energy and minerals,” Mr Kalam said. “No single nation will be able to handle this situation by itself. Humanity will require mega-missions for harnessing solar energy, drinking water from seawater through the desalination process and bringing minerals from other planets. In such a situation, the present reasons for conflict will become insignificant and unwarranted. I call upon the neighbouring countries to see this perspective and have a bigger vision.”

Mr Vajpayee, in his address on Friday, said: “For decades a debate was going on about a project to link our rivers, as a way of freeing India from the curse of floods and droughts. Now we have taken up this challenge. I am pleased to inform you that work on two river-linking projects, with the cooperation of state governments, will be taken up before the end of this year. We will mobilize necessary resources for these projects.” The “necessary resources” that Mr Vajpayee did not mention in the project amounts to a staggering $112 billion.

How will he cope with the political fallout of the huge investment, and for whose benefit is he making it? Mr Vajpayee, as would any politician in his shoes, has offered a doublespeak solution. He told the National Water Resources Council last year that “the (water) policy should also recognize that the community is the rightful custodian of water. Exclusive control by the government machinery, and the resultant mindset among the people that water management is the exclusive responsibility of the government, cannot help us to make the paradigm shift to participative, essentially local management of water resources.”

On the other hand, at the same meeting, the officially adopted National Water Policy said: “Private sector participation should be encouraged in planning, development and management of water resources projects for diverse uses, wherever feasible. Private sector participation may help in introducing innovative ideas, generating financial resources and introducing corporate management and improving service efficiency and accountability of users. Depending upon the specific situations, various combinations of private sector participation in building, owning, operating, leasing and transferring water resources facilities, may be considered.”

The river-linking project has already got an angry response from Bangladesh and from the Bihar government, who see in it a plot to divert their resources. But the global water business is a multi-trillion dollar affair and has its own way of finding a way out.

* * * * *

MPs from non-Urdu/Hindi speaking southern India who recently visited Pakistan have been fuming for being sidelined by the more assertive Punjabis and other assorted north Indians.

N.P. Durga of the Telugu Desam Party was quoted by the Indian Express as saying that “the south is not as emotionally involved in Kashmir as the Punjabis and thus MPs from the south should be given more space to make constructive and balanced suggestions.”

In fact, the former editor of The Statesman, Surinder Nihal Singh, said India-Pakistan should be taken away from the Punjabis and columnist Prem Shankar Jha said there was no reason why the language of exchange between India and Pakistan should be Urdu and Punjabi. Instead, talks should take place in English.

“Only upper caste people in our state are attached to the plight of the Kashmiri pandits,” said K.E. Krishnamurthy of the TDP, “but the ordinary folk are not really bothered or interested in Kashmir,” according to his remarks in the Express survey.

What happened to KCR?

CITIZENS of Karachi could not possibly have forgotten that last month a high-powered committee was brought into existence to report how soon the city would have its Circular Railways (KCR) resurrected, revived and put into the service of the fourteen million people that live here. Headed by the governor, the committee had everybody who matters on it: the chief minister, the chief secretary, the provincial secretary holding the charge of transport (or the chaos that goes under that name) and the top boss of the Pakistan Railways (PR).

This high-powered committee (can you imagine a higher-powered assemblage?) was supposed to look sharp and report back without delay how the throttled Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) could be resurrected, revived and got moving. There can be only two options. Either this high-powered body really wishes to leave the KCR dead and forgotten, as it is at present, or it genuinely wishes to give this city a decent urban rail system.

Either way, the task is simple. It can be accomplished in virtually no time. If the idea of an urban rail system is to be rejected, all the committee has to do is to dig out the files in which lies buried the death sentence passed on the KCR. Alongside resides the recorded fact that it was buried by the very hands that were to keep it running, growing and flourishing.

If in the rather unlikely eventuality of a genuine desire to do the only sensible thing about urban transport in this deliberately mistreated city, the task of reviving the KCR is by no means beyond the ken and capabilities of even our bureaucrats, such as they happen to be. After all, these same people (or their predecessors of their own ilk) had planned the KCR in the early 1960s and ran it in a manner that was passable.

One may be repeating it for the umpteenth time (no apologies because this repetition only indicates how difficult it is to get the attention of public servants in the secretarial ivory towers) that there is not a single city like Karachi without a decent, efficient and inexpensive urban rail system. For those who still do not know enough about Karachi, including the governor and the chief minister, Karachi has so many dimensions.

Just to mention a few: It is (1) the capital of Sindh province; (2) it is the country’s largest air and seaport; (3) it is this country’s biggest industrial centre; (4) it is the hub of the nation’s commerce and financial activity; (5) it has scores of art galleries; (6) it has more than a dozen universities; (7) and, in addition; (8) it includes 18 full- fledged towns. This is not a complete list but sufficient for even moderately intelligent persons to form a correct idea of what Karachi is. And now note that this city does not have what all cities in the world like Karachi — even those smaller - have, that is, a city railway system.

Citizens of Karachi! if this is not a shame, what other shame are your waiting for?

The stage of mincing words and taking care to be extra polite in comment on matters of public interest has long since past. Now we have to talk straight, with fear of none but the Almighty. We ask: What prevents the powers that be from instituting a serious inquiry why Karachi is the only city of its size and importance in the whole world without a proper and adequate urban rail system? Why was the urban rail system that did once exist bludgeoned, stifled and buried on the patently framed charge that it was not financially viable.

Let us admit that any enterprise that is deliberately sabotaged by those assigned to run it will sooner or later give up the ghost. Equally indisputable is the simple statement that any enterprise that is properly planned and managed will be a success, will prosper, develop and grow from more to more. Such success will do proud all those working for it. There need be no hesitation in asserting in categorical terms that all those who had anything to do with the demise of the KCR ought to be ashamed of themselves.

It would be nothing short of poetic justice if they are named publicly and put on public parade. What on earth is this jazz about accountability if it is selective or if some parts of this process are treated as time-barred — only up to so far back in years and no further. The period between 1963, when the KCR set off on its career, and the year when the Pakistan Railways bosses declared it dead and buried is not pre-history. Declaring the KCR dead amounted to a confession of failure of public servants to properly perform a public function for which the public had been paying them in a fair measure.

We have been reduced to the abyss of frustration. If the idea of reviving the KCR is presented again shrouded with all those typically moronic excuses, the harried people of Karachi would be well within their rights to demand a judicial inquiry into the causes that led to the contrived death of the KCR. This probe should be open to the public, and if some senior citizens feel so persuaded, they should be made a party to this process of accountability.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Karachi shall have no choice but to go on living with perpetual traffic jams, road accident deaths, over-crowded buses that follow no discipline of any kind, observe no rules, not even traffic signs and continue to prosper so well as to be able to buy the favours of the benign officers who are appointed to ensure that there is some sign of civilized behaviour in the conduct of those who transport human beings with less consideration the truckers who carry carcasses from the abattoir to the city butcheries.

Towards a better drainage system for Karachi

By Arif Hasan


As predicted in various newspaper articles and research monographs by Karachi’s academics, professionals and development activists, the monsoon rains have devastated the city. They will devastate the city again, irrespective of how much money is claimed to be invested on the rehabilitation of the city’s civic infrastructure, unless three important issues are understood and addressed.

First, Karachi’s civic infrastructure is not mapped or documented to monitor its scale and directions of its growth. Without proper documentation effective planning is simply not possible, even if funds are available. The city’s infrastructure has been laid piecemeal over time by the activities of the KMC, KPT, KWSB and various cantonment boards and cooperative housing societies. Ad-hoc changes and additions, on a large scale, have been made to it which have never been mapped. In addition, the infrastructure has also been altered by community organisations; MNA, MPA and councillor funds; and NGO projects. What is required to address this serious problem is the setting up of an autonomous mapping unit under the city government.

The mapping unit should collect all available documentation, digitize it, identify gaps in it and remove them through a process of surveys and their documentation. Updating of these maps should be a continuous affair. The establishment of such a unit would be a great gift to the planners, professional and academic institutions, NGOs and communities of Karachi, and above all, to the UCs and towns of the city, whose elected representative and technical persons would have easy access to information regarding their areas. The establishment of such a unit would make planning possible.

The other issue is that Karachi’s sewage disposes into its natural drainage system. It has to be understood that this is not by default but has been planned as such. Official policy seeks to change this. However, this change can only happen if we dig up thousands of kilometres of sewage lines and replace them or by establishing hundreds of pumping stations. Neither of these two options is feasible in financial or physical terms, and as such sewage will continue to flow to the sea through the nullahs of Karachi. Over time, these nullahas have clogged up with silt, garbage and encroachments. At many places they flow higher than the sewage lines and because of this, and because of their reduced capacity, there is flooding with the minimum of rains.

What is required is the desilting of the nullahs, securing their width, their conversion into box trunks and the setting up of small treatment plants, where they meet the sea or the creeks of Karachi. Where this process has been adopted (no treatment plants have been set up so far) such as for the Manzoor Colony, Welfare Colony and three nullahs in Orangi, there has been no flooding. Many cities have developed their sewage and drainage systems in this manner and the Orangi Pilot Project, Research and Training Institute has detailed documentation of how this can be done for Karachi along with the documentation of social and physical infrastructure in three hundred Karachi katchi abadis.

The third issue to be addressed is that there are no drains along the curbs of even major roads in Karachi. Rainwater flows through the roads to the nearest nullahs. Because of this roads are washed away and areas where there are depressions get filled up with water. It is, therefore, necessary for us to design our roads to take the pressure of flowing water. These areas should be filled up where possible, or they should be linked to the nearest disposal system that is available. The process of creating drains along the curbs is a long and expensive one and may take many years to be completed.

Documentation, plans, and policy decisions, are essential for development but do not bring about development. For a realistic policy, ground realities have to be taken into consideration and to implement policy and plans, effective institutions are required. Unfortunately, policy decisions regarding Karachi’s development plans and projects were not related to the realities on the ground or the priority needs of its citizens.

According to press reports and various government documents, Rs460 million were spent on the Karachi Development Plan-2000 (KDP), and Rs340 million have been spent on mass transit studies. But neither of the projects have yielded desired results and a UNDP-sponsored evaluation of the KDP-2000 had identified serious shortcomings.

On the implementation and management side, the KWSB has borrowed heavily from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for development work. At present it owes the ADB more than Rs42 billion. The Board has very little to show for this huge debt except sewage treatment plants, that function at a fraction of their capacity, while Karachi’s sewage continues to flow into the sea.

The creation of effective planning and implementation institutions requires professionalism which cannot be acquired by state organisations because of their low salary structure. It is therefore necessary to explore other avenues, such as hiring professionals on contract. Also, professionalism cannot be created in planning, management and implementation institutions if they are subject to political considerations, as often in our case, of undemocratically appointed ministers and governors. Many of Karachi’s institutions, which had considerable expertise and knowledge, have been destroyed over time through a process of nepotism and decisions based on political expediency.

The City Nazim, who has inherited an almost physically ravaged city, with demoralized and ineffective management institutions, is now looking for money to set things right. It is hoped that he will take the ground realities of the city into consideration when taking policy decisions, and for doing this he will initiate a process of public consultation, with those individuals and institutions who have been working on the infrastructure-related issues of Karachi.

Music in the city

Good music records are hard to come by in the city. At the risk of sounding pompous and snobbish, one must declare that most people have lost the taste of music. They are content to purchase the substandard stuff that passes for ‘pop music’.

In Karachi, finding rare recorded gems, be it the folk recordings of Allan Fakir, a soulful Qawwali rendered in Ajmer Sharif during the annual Urs or a Shehnai recital by Ustad Bismillah Khan, could be as arduous as recovering the golden fleece.

Local neighbourhood stores are of little help, as the sales staff are not very knowledgeable and their collection usually spans the latest ‘hits’ from Bollywood soundtracks to shabbily put together compilations of western numbers. If one is seeking to expand one’s musical horizons, one must steer clear of such dubious operations.

Relatively good material can be found at Rainbow Centre, the grand bazaar of pirated material in Karachi. The centre is awash with all sorts of material, from seedy, risque VCDs containing stuff you wouldn’t want mother to find about to albums the dedicated audiophile would gladly trade an arm and a leg for. The prices are reasonable (these are for compact discs of course, as cassettes are fast becoming relics), starting at Rs65 and rising to almost Rs100 for hard-to-find scores.

The major drawback is that the sales staff is rude, uncouth and devoid of any musical knowledge. There have been instances when shoppers requested certain titles, and though there were ten copies available behind the display case, all they got to hear from the scatterbrained sales clerk was “all out”. The good stuff is here. It is only that you will have to look and look hard. There are two or three stores that stock artists who have made names for themselves in both the rock and pop genres. But if one is interested in eastern fare, that too can be found. For instance, there is a store that sells nothing but titles from the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation’s archives. Great names like Faiz Mohammad Baloch, Khayal Mohammad and Abida Perveen can be found here.

Another good spot for music shopping in Saddar is the ‘subway’ area close to the general post office. Though the collections here are more limited than at Rainbow, the staff is a little more courteous and the prices are affordable. But one of the best little music shops in the city is one in Defence. Here, the staff are not only polite, they also have adequate knowledge of the music records they sell. The range they provide is also quite vast. The store stocks everything from latest Western hits to new volumes of Azadari and Marsiyas. The phrase ‘complete picture’ seems highly apt here.

It seems that for those with the dedication and the thirst for discovering new musical horizons, finding good musical records in Karachi is not such a tough job if one knows where to look.

The animal farm

People living in urban centres flock to villages and farms for a change of scene. Tired of the hustle and bustle of fast-paced city life, many Karachiites are discovering that in addition to usual picnic spots — such as the sea front, the zoological garden, Hill Park and Safari Park — there are many farms on the outskirts of the city which they can drive to on a daylong trip.

A friend took his family to one such farm in Gadap off the Super Highway on Independence Day. As he hummed his favourite song to himself lying lazily on a hammock with his eyes closed, his children romped about in the garden. His wife enjoyed the delights of birdwatching when she trained her binoculars, borrowed from a local, on the field. The children were later introduced to a wide variety of plants and trees growing in the nursery.

Most farms in Malir and on the Super Highway offer three packages: economy, standard and VIP. Charges are proportional to the area covered by the farm and services offered. A family outing at a farm could be very relaxing for the elders and very informative for children without being a drain on the pocket.

Ban on Indian

channels

Addicted to long-running Indian soap operas, a large number of viewers in the city were unhappy when the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority recently prohibited cable operators from showing Indian channels. In view of hopes of detente between India and Pakistan the cable operators had thought it safe to reintroduce the proscribed channels.

The elimination of Indian TV channels reduces the viewers’ choice but it affords local broadcasters an excellent opportunity to move in and prove their worth. (The justification for the ban is not being discussed here.)

While we should not depend on bans, wars and riots to make people watch our shows and listen to our music, this Pemra clampdown is a chance for local broadcasters to prove their creativity.

Relief camps

The government may not have done much to repair the civic infrastructure of the city battered badly by the downpour in July, but it has managed to provide relief for those made homeless by the rain. This is what a colleague learnt when she visited a relief camp at a government college in Metroville III.

Over two hundred people of neighbouring Sikander Goth moved to the school when their shanty town was submerged by rainwater. Roaming the huge corridors of the college, they appeared relaxed, and said they were happy with the arrangements made by the government.

“This place is much better than my shanty which was washed away by the rain. Besides, we are getting three free meals a day,” one rain victim said.

While the temporary occupants of the college had messed up the place considerably, it wore a lively look as children, screaming at the top of their voices, frolicked about in the open. A few women prepared a meal on makeshift stoves unmindful of the large number of flies humming around them. “There is some time left for the food to arrive, and my kids are hungry,” one of them said.

A man claiming to be a volunteer associated with a political party was issuing instructions. He asked the rain victims to tidy up the place so that they could leave it in a day or two. “The college will open in a few days. They cannot live here forever. They have already made it so filthy,” he explained.

The much-awaited food van arrived at noon. A scramble for the edibles followed. One thought that five cauldrons containing quorma and a couple of large plastic bags filled with bread would be enough for the rain victims. One was wrong. In a trice the food was gone. The relatives and acquaintances of the rain victims had also come to partake of the feast.

Too watchful?

A family travelling from Karachi to Hyderabad by car on the super highway the other day were sailing along smoothly till a mobile police patrol mobilized and asked the driver to pull to the side. The family watched as the police and the driver argued. The police asked the driver to hand over his licence. At this, one of the women in the car got out and asked what the problem was.

The police said the driver was in the fast lane and had ignored the car behind that was flashing its lights to be given way. The driver said he couldn’t change lanes right then because the next lane was blocked by traffic.

The lady then said: “Wah, how I admire you policewallahs. I must tell Dawn how efficient you have become that you now even watch drivers not giving way to other drivers. What attention to detail. Shabaash. It’s another matter that you don’t bother about people suddenly changing lanes without warning and ignoring all other traffic regulations. Well done.”

The sarcasm was apparently not lost on the police, who handed back the licence and brusquely asked the driver to drive on.

Once safely away, the driver told the family that he was once before pulled up for the same “offence”. He had to fork out Rs200 on that occasion. Either the driver is a fast lane hog, or the super highway police have hit on a new excuse to earn a little extra money.

— By Karachian

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