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DAWN - Features; July 23, 2007

July 23, 2007

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Forget Karachi?

In the recent gloom and doom that has enveloped Karachi, it was heartening to see so many young people of this troubled metropolis gather in a small place to hear one of the oldest dwellers of their city remember old Karachi.

An octogenarian, Ardeshir Cowasjee at least has some pleasant memories to look back on as far as Karachi is concerned. Born in 1926, he grew up here and is still very much around. The generation of the ’70s and ’80s don’t even have that. With so much restlessness and violence to look back at, they may only foresee a bleak future.

Although he too has had his share of bad luck here, what with his being jailed by former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for 72 days for no apparent reason and losing his ships, there were plenty of good times as well. As a young boy growing up in Karachi, Ardeshir took interest in sports, music and theatre. Attending the Bai Virbaiji Soparivala (BVS) Parsi High School, he had a high regard for all his teachers. One of them he remembers rode a bike to school even though he was paid a handsome sum in salary. It was not about status or caste or creed that differentiated one person from the other in those days. Those differences didn’t even matter and the people knew how to live in harmony. Today, in contrast, everyone takes everything far too seriously when there are so many things that don’t even deserve a second thought.

In Mr Cowasjee’s younger days, when Karachi didn’t have as many parks and stadiums as it has today, even a barren piece of vacant land could be converted into a sports field for an hour of fun. But now with so many grounds at hand, there are few who would know how to make the most of them.

Well, even now seeing him drive around the city in his convertible Mercedes with a police mobile, for his own protection, struggling to keep up with him while he breaks all kinds of traffic laws, it is quite obvious that the man still knows how to enjoy himself. Yet he tells the younger generation, listening so intently to what he had to say, to pack up and leave while they can. So is it really time to forget Karachi and look towards newer shores? The pleasant picture painted by Mr Cowasjee of the bygone days seems to be more of an attitude thing. And watching the friendly, courteous and well-behaved crowd gathered to listen to him, standing around and sitting on the coffee shop floor and even the tables when the chairs ran out and feeling inspired by his stories, it was quite evident that all is not lost. There is hope yet.—Shazia Hasan

A biker’s tale

Unless people revert to the good old days of horse and carriage (if wishes were horses …), getting around Karachi can be a cumbersome exercise without a vehicle. The state of public transport is pathetic at best, and despite the tall claims of officialdom, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon.

In this context, this writer has arrived at the conclusion that the best way to get around the metropolis is on the trusty old two-wheeler. Indeed the motorcycle, apart from having the obvious economic and space-saving benefits, has a certain romanticism attached to it that speaks of eternal youth, even if the ‘youth’ in question is pushing 40.

But apart from the romanticism bit, a word on the more tangible benefits of owning a motorbike:

The first plus point of motorcycles is the economic one. With petrol currently hovering around Rs53 a litre, whizzing about town on a four-wheeler can get mighty pricey. Of course with the increasing popularity of CNG as an alternative fuel for automobiles, with many vehicles now coming with factory-fitted CNG kits, the balance seems to have tilted in favour of four-wheelers.

But affording automobiles is not within the reach of everyone, and many middle-class folks opt for bikes because of their overall cost efficiency. Due to the flooding of the market with Chinese and Pakistan-China co-produced bikes, prices have come down considerably. About five years ago, when the Karachi motorcycle market was largely dominated by a single Japanese brand, the price of a 70cc bike was over Rs70,000. Now, with the stiff competition, the same manufacturer has reduced the price by about Rs20,000.

Another factor that has contributed to the growing number of bikes is the financing facility; now, by paying as little as Rs10,000 down payment (or even less in some cases), one can get a bike on easy instalments.

Apart from saving money, navigating through Karachi’s nightmarish traffic is also a relative breeze on a motorcycle. Whereas one can be stuck for hours in gridlock in a four-wheeler, sneaky, not always legal shortcuts can ensure that you can get where you want to go in a fraction of the time on a bike. Also, finding parking is much easier for bikers, especially in the city’s commercial areas.There are, of course, negatives associated with driving a motorcycle in Karachi. The erratic, at times highly dangerous driving habits of certain bikers put themselves and other motorists at risk. Also, in case of an accident, chances are greater of surviving in a four-wheeler, whereas the results are often quite grisly for bikers.

Additionally, some bikers tend to carry their whole extended family on the poor two-wheeler, which elicits more pity for the poor bike than for the people on it!

But at the end of the day, there’s little that compares with the thrill of shooting down a deserted road on a well-maintained two-wheeler. Just don’t forget to wear a helmet.—QAM

Drug stores

A Karachiite to the hilt, I have always believed that there is nothing that can’t be found in Karachi.

This rang a bit too true for comfort, when a friend called last week and narrated her woes on how she was sold fake medicine. Nothing out of ordinary, many would say, after all, we all know how competent we are as a nation when it comes to marketing counterfeit products. The sadder part was that she had bought the medicine from a reputed shop in an upper-middle class locality of the city. What’s more? This friend’s doctor had suggested a few shops from where to buy the medicine (the motive can be questioned, of course) but he expressly warned her against purchase of any medicine even from the hospital that she was visiting, since there was always a chance that the products may be substandard.

We are often warned against purchasing fake medicines. So we try to avoid the shady little shops run by gutka-eating old men, and prefer the more reputed stores. But what happens when established shops in upscale localities start selling second-rate medicine? As my friend vehemently asked, we can’t run to the reputed shops or supermarkets every time we need a drug. Fortunately for her, she had bought an ointment and the instant she realised that it was starting to hurt she washed it off. But what if someone swallows a fake tablet? Things will not be too easy then.

It could be a one-off case, of course, but the fear of fake medicine is such among us that it will be very easy for public to lose trust where such cases are discovered. The shop owners’ excuse is that it is difficult to tell a fake from the genuine. In her case, even this could not apply. For later, when she bought the ointment from another supermarket, she found that even the packaging of the fake was slightly different from the original. This certainly calls for verification of some sort. When we hear the established market chemists selling such stuff, it can only be attributed to their carelessness if not corrupt practices. However, in either case its criminal as this is literally a matter of life and death.—Sa'adia Reza

Compiled by Syed Hassan Ali
Email: karachian@dawn.com

Stray dogs on the rampage

The city’s canine population has grown dramatically over the last few years and as a result hundreds of people have been bitten by stray dogs, but this is not a matter of concern for the newly-created towns or the district administration.

Visits to various areas of the city reveal that a number of people have been attacked by stray dogs. A match of stray dogs with human beings can be witnessed in most parts of Faisalabad district, especially in rural areas, when the night falls. Some of these dogs are rabies-affected and they can kill human beings in no time.

City areas Kamalabad, Munirabad, Razaabad, Nighebanpura, Ghulam Muhammadabad, D Type Colony, Samanabad, Nisar Colony, Sitara Colony, Factory Area, Sidhupura, Mustafaabad, Islam Nagar, Faizabad, Marzipura and Madanpura are some of the happy hunting grounds of these beasts.

Before the introduction of the local government system, tehsil municipal administrations (TMAs) used to launch campaigns against stray dogs, but now TMAs have been replaced by town administrations, which have taken no measures so far to control this problem. It is also learnt that hospitals in the city and dispensaries in rural areas of the district are short of anti-rabies vaccine.

Dr Irfan from the Poison Control Centre of the Allied Hospital says the hospitals are short of anti-rabies vaccine. According to him, the District Headquarters and Allied Hospitals receive 15-20 dog-bitten people everyday on average.

Several stray dog victims don’t report to hospitals due to a variety of reasons, mainly poverty and illiteracy. Such people use traditional methods like applying red chillies on wounds caused by dogs to guard themselves against rabies and avoid the pain of 14 injections doctors usually inject in a victim’s navel.

District Nazim Rana Zahid Tauseef says the district government has a separate department to eliminate stray dogs. A fresh campaign, according to him, is on the cards.

About the shortage of anti-rabies at hospitals, Tauseef says the district government has received no such compliant from health officials. “The government will provide funds if hospitals face any such shortage.”



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007