Karachi's mighty Shiraz Coach

Updated June 27, 2015

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—Photo by author.
—Photo by author.

Over the deafening roar of the Shiraz coach, my headphones comfort me with Slipknot, as I sit in a corner women's seat aligned with the chassis of the bus. It isn't my first time on this bus, but every time I climb aboard it I need a moment to brace myself for the hour-long ride ahead, all the way from Tower to Jauhar — which is rarely ever trouble-free.

As I get on the bus, the biggest struggle is to find a place first. Offices around my destination all close around the same time, so the 6 o'clock evening bus never fails to carry more than double its capacity.

Now, the bigger concern: a bus full of men exploding out of the men's section and spilling all over the women's section, which has just three females (including myself), to fix their eyes upon. As the impulsive Pathan bhai speeds across Burns Road, every time he jolts the breaks, a few men will occasionally lose control and tumble forward.

Plus, as we all know, Karachi temperature is insufferable (39°C on this particular day) and the air unbearably humid. And that causes almost every other breathing being to sweat out raindrops and generate the most unbecoming of fragrances.

—Photo by author.
—Photo by author.

The NGOs and all the artsy, cultural types like to talk about the rich and colourful atmosphere of Karachi's public buses. But wait till they cross over the galleries and exhibitions into the inside of an everyday public bus, to really see how suffocating the beautifully embroidered curtains are and how utterly irritating the symmetrically hanging beads are, forever dangling over your head!

Tiny windows are present, but mostly in an invisible corner far from where you're sitting, and beyond the wall of a million cramped men, squirming against each other for one whiff of freshly polluted air from the outside.

Also see: Karachi’s public transport on the verge of collapse: report

But, it’s not all bad, you know. We've covered half of our route now and a lady sitting next to me, gets off, leaving the oxygen struggle between a total of two less lungs. Now I'm silently singing the happiest songs in my head, easing out my stiff tendons, moving sideways, trying to get closer to the window.

I get a chance to look at the men now, who are all ages and staring right back at me throughout the entire journey. How flattering. I clutch my dupatta to cover any small part of exposed skin.

Actually, some of them might not be ogling me but the woman sitting next to me, who was about 50 to 60 years of age and wrapped up in a huge chaadar.

—Photo by author.
—Photo by author.

My phone beeps to remind me that its battery is running low. With a heavy heart, I unplug my headphones and place them safely in my bag. Suddenly, the bus stops with a jerk. A very pleasant-smelling young girl enters the bus and I inwardly thank her for the shampoo she had used that afternoon.

She places herself between me and the old woman, quickly takes out a hundred rupee note from her bag and hands it over to the conductor. The conductor returns her five rupees less than the balance for the her route's fare. She looks at the money and indulges in an exchange of adjectives regarding the extra fair he had deducted.

As things cool down, a fare is agreed upon with mutual consent. She takes her phone out of the bag and calls someone. It isn't the 60-second call, but the half-an-hour-tele-reunion or I-missed-the-gossip-so-tell-me-everything call.

On approaching Sabzi Mandi, the bus gets into a fierce-looking acceleration competition with every possible car around in the least amount of space available – I mean a traffic jam, obviously.

Read on: Karachi gets advice from Colombia to improve traffic system

We suddenly stop near the Edhi Morgue. Amidst the traffic jam, the cars, the buses, the qinqis, the motorcycles; all honking their way out, our driver peeks outside the bus door, shoots a stern look at the qinqi-driver on the side, pulls his head back, spins around to face the conductor and orders him to bring his naswaar.

As I observe all this, I have decided upon the worst part of this journey: The impulsive brakes.

—Photo by author.
—Photo by author.

Just as we cross Hassan Square, our driver suddenly stops the bus in the centre of a road and under a bridge, to get some passengers on. Now, not only are the seats full, there are more men in the women's section, but the driver appears to be convinced that at least 20 more can be stuffed in.

Also read: PM announces Rs15bn transport project for Karachi

As we cross the gates of the Karachi University, the routine continues: jolting brakes and passengers falling over each other. Excited about my home drawing closer, I try to tightly wrap my dupatta around me, so as to decrease my chances of tripping over it as I get off.

Finally, the long awaited moment arrives and the mighty Shiraz stops for just a millisecond to allow me to disembark. I have barely managed to plant my feet on the ground when off it goes, jerking and tumbling onward on its unending cycle of journeys across the metropolis; seemingly indifferent to all that it has just put me through.

Tomorrow, I will see it again.


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